Camping in Yosemite is always a great idea, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you may not enjoy the experience as well as you should. In fact, you may not even be able to go camping at Yosemite at all, if you’re unable to get permits and reservations. Heck, you might even get lost on the way to Yosemite! All these potential problems can be solved simply by heeding our Yosemite camping tips.
When is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite?
That depends on you and your preferences. After all, your vacation time may come at any time of the year. It also depends on what you want to see and do. May and June are great if you want to see waterfalls.
July and August are your best months for hiking in the High Sierra. If you hate crowds, go in September. Winter camping is even an option, especially if you want to get to the Yosemite Ski area.
So let’s consider the seasons one by one:
- Spring. Many consider spring as the best time to visit Yosemite. You have blooming wildflowers, waterfalls at their peak, and no annoying summer crowds. The temperatures in the daytime are terrific, though at night it can get a bit chilly.
- Summer. This is the time of the year when Yosemite receives the most visitors. It’s summer break for the kids, so the entire family can take a break. AS a consequence, you have to deal with long lines and traffic jams. Daytime temperatures can go up to the 90s, and by the middle of summer many of the famous waterfalls have run dry. Yosemite Valley can be too warm and crowded, so head on out to Tuolumne Meadows as it’s peaceful and refreshing. You also find it easier to get to the fantastic hiking trails in the High Sierra of Yosemite.
- Fall. Many prefer to come to Yosemite in the fall, especially after Labor Day. At this point you don’t have the crowds to deal with, plus the temperature during the day is cooler. So come in September if you’re planning to go rock climbing and hiking in Yosemite.
September, however, gives you freezing nights in Tuolumne Meadows. The end of September will have the services on Tioga Road shut down. After the first heavy snow that usually falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, the road closes for winter.
In October, even the largest waterfalls will have been reduced to a trickle. But you can still console yourself with the sight of the fall foliage. Check out the dogwoods, maples, and oak trees.
- Winter. This may be the season that sees the fewest visitors in the park. Tioga Road is shut down completely, so you can’t reach the High Sierra and Tuolumne Meadows.
But the snow on Glacier Point Road will be plowed to let get to the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard area. This is a small ski resort, which offers cross country and downhill skiing.
You can visit the Ahwahnee Hotel as well during this season if you’re in Yosemite Valley. The hotel offers the famed Christmas Bracebridge Dinner, the Chefs’ Holidays, and several wine tastings.
In the latter half of February, you can also visit to get a glimpse of the Firefall phenomenon in Yosemite Valley. That’s when the Horsetail Fall seems to have lava flowing like a cataract of fire.
How to Get to Yosemite
This can get very complicated to explain, though it’s actually simple for you to get to Yosemite using only Google to find instructions. Your best bet is to check out the travelyosemite.com website to find the best route to the most convenient entrance.
Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
Once you’re there, what are the things to do in Yosemite? Pose that question to a Yosemite veteran, and you’ll probably get an incredulous look. In Yosemite things to do will certainly be a lot:
- Stay in a cabin. Here you can relax and just sight-see at the very least.
- Go camping. You can sleep in a tent in the great outdoors, while you explore your surroundings.
- Sightseeing. You can take it easy and ride a bus or a shuttle to take you to the most iconic sights in Yosemite.
- Hiking. This is one of the most popular activities here, as you have 750 miles of trails to explore. A lot of hiking awaits at Yosemite so check out our top quality hiking boots reviews here. If you’re backpacking and staying overnight in the wilderness, you’ll need to secure Yosemite backpacking permits for your party. There’s a quota for each trail head, so you’re better off getting a reservation.
- Take photos. These can be the wondrous views, or you can take plenty of photos of wild animals.
- Swimming and canoeing. There are plenty of lakes here and your cabin or campsite may be right by a lake or lagoon.
- Dine. It’s actually possible for you to enjoy fine dining in the park, if you visit the Ahwahnee Hotel (now known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel). This does require proper attire, which means at least trousers and collared shirts for the gentlemen and a skirt, dress, or trousers for the ladies.
- Enjoy BBQ. If your palate leans to more casual fares, then you should visit the Tenaya Lodge and experience the Summerdale BBQ Experience. As the name says, this is for the summer. For other seasons, try Jackalope’s Bar and Grill for outdoor dining, with great burgers, sandwiches, and house-cooked kettle chips).
- Sky diving. Skydive Yosemite is the place to go, as it’s the only skydiving center that gives you a view of Yosemite National Park. You get on a Cessna, fly 14,000 feet in the air, get a fresh view of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome, and then jump while you enjoy the view of the Sierras.
- Rode horses. Some trails are for horses, so you can ride instead of walk to enjoy the magnificent sights. One of these trails can lead you straight to Mariposa Grove, where you’ll find some of the oldest and largest trees in the entire world. Here you’ll find the Grizzly Giant, estimated to be 2,700 years old.
- Drink beer. Find the Southgate Brewing Company and enjoy their handcrafted quality beer.
- Take outdoor art classes. These are available from April through October. At least you won’t run out of inspiring sights to get you going.
- Relax in a spa. It’s true that you can relax in a campsite away from the urban tension. So why not take relaxing to the max and get yourself to an actual spa? In Yosemite, there’s the Ascent Spa that will really relax you after a strenuous hike.
Things to See in Yosemite
Actually, you can probably just get into any area of the park and you’ll find a lot of wondrous sights that you never saw wherever you came from. You can stay in any of the Yosemite campsites and when you wake up you’ll immediately be greeted by fantastic views of the outdoors.
But the park does have sights that you have to see to believe, and many of the best Yosemite hikes can lead you to great vantage points for the best views of these iconic attractions. So if you’re going to Yosemite, make sure you see at least one of these fantastic sights:
- Yosemite Falls. This is found in the central Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. It’s certainly a major attraction and a majestic sight as it goes up to 2,424 feet. It’s the highest waterfall in North America (and 6th highest in the world). The best time to see it is in late spring, when the snowmelt leads to rather vigorous flows.
- Half Dome. It’s a sight in itself, though you might say that the things to see in Yosemite might include the ones that you see from the summit of Half Dome. This is a granite dome that stands as the park’s most popular rock formation. It rises at least 4,737 feet as measured from the valley floor. You can climb it, though you’ll have to use cables as well.
- Tuolumne Meadows. There’s a section along the Tuolumne River that looks like a meadow, so that explains the name. Here you’ll find numerous wild and wonderful tree and plant species. But the view is just terrific, and when you’re there it just feels peaceful and fantastic.
- El Capitan. This vertical rock formation looks utterly imposing, as it rises up to 3,000 feet from the bottom. Once it was regarded as un-climbable, but now plenty of rock climbers tackle it. The sight of these climbers going up the sheer wall is just exhilarating.
- Valley View. What you want to see here is Yosemite Valley, which is 8 miles long and a mile wide. But one of the best ways to see it is from this turnout called Valley View.
- Lembert Dome. It’s a mountain that seems to invite you to climb it. It’s only 800 feet high, and you can climb it after a 2.8-mile hike. Then you get a great view of the Tuolumne Meadows and afterwards you can tell your friends you hiked your way up to the summit of a mountain. It’s technically true!
- Bridalveil Fall. This seems like a very pretty fall indeed, with a slender trail of water falling down to the rocks. It rises up to 617 feet. Its name originates from a Native American tribe legend, about how inhaling the mist boosts your chances of getting married. So bring a significant other here if you want them to be your spouse instead.
- The View from Tunnel View. When you get to Tunnel View, it’s like getting a view of the all-star attractions in Yosemite. Take a single photo, and it can contain Yosemite Valley along with Half Dome, El Capitan, and the Bridalveil Fall.
- Cathedral Peak. It’s well-named, as it seems to rise up into the air like a huge cathedral. This peak goes up to 10,911 feet. It looks difficult to climb, though it’s been first climbed way back in 1869.
- Vernal Fall. This rises 317 feet, and you can climb it when you hike from the Happy Isles trailhead.
- Mariposa Groves. As we’ve already mentioned, you’ll see the oldest and largest trees in the entire world here. These include the sequoia tree known as Grizzly Giant, estimated to be 2,700 years old.
- Nevada Fall. This rises 594 feet high, and it’s located in a small glacial valley known as Little Yosemite Valley.
- The View from Glacier Point. Climb this overlook, and you’re 7,214 feet in the air. You get fantastic views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall
Where to Camp In Yosemite
What are the best campsites in Yosemite? Obviously that will depend on your own preferences. Yosemite camp sites can save you a lot of driving time when you want to see the attractions in the park. Try these places if you’re visiting Yosemite overnight:
- North Pines Campground. 81 campsites
- Upper Pines Campground. 238 campsites
- Lower Pines. 60 campsites, accepts RVs up to 40 feet
- Camp 4. 35 tent sites
- Half Dome Village. Rent canvas tent cabins or small rustic cabins
- Wawona. 93 campsites, accepts RVs up to 35 feet
- Summerdale Campground. 30 campsites
- Indian Flat RV Park. Tent and RV sites
- Hodgdon Meadow. Accessible year-round
- Tuolumne Meadows Campground. 304 campsites
Best Hikes in Yosemite
So which Yosemite trails should you hike? Try these options for Yosemite hiking:
- Panorama Trail Yosemite hike that goes 8.5 miles
- Yosemite Valley Loop Trail which goes 11.5 miles and can be done in one day in Yosemite. You can do the half loop if you want a 3-hour Yosemite day hike.
- Half Dome, which can be a bit strenuous
- Mist Trail, which only goes 3 miles round trip and you see the Vernal Falls
- Nevada Fall, 7 miles round trip
- Four Mile Trail, which gives you views of Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Dome, El Capitan, and Half Dome
If you’re new to a hike, you may want to get a Yosemite guide. Just be safe and enjoy!