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Planning a Trip to Yosemite on Short Notice

Yosemite National Park is using a temporary Day Use Reservation system this summer which requires all visitors to Yosemite to either have an in-park lodging reservation or a day-use reservation from recreation.gov to enter the park. With almost a third of passes issued just seven days in advance, spontaneous trip planning may be necessary, but planning a trip to Yosemite doesn’t have to feel unorganized or frustrating.

You CAN get a day-use reservation and you CAN get lodging near Yosemite National Park, just be open to a sense of spontaneity and adventure during your summer road trip.

To help you through the process, we’ve created a four-step plan with information on how to plan a Yosemite trip last-minute, from securing a temporary day-use reservation, to booking lodging and getting on the road with a great plan all in just a period of seven days.

Yosemite Entrance Gates

Without that golden Day-Use Reservation or overnight lodging reservation, you won’t be getting in these gates. But don’t worry. Getting a day-use reservation is much easier than you may think.

Step 1: Get a Temporary Day-Use Reservation

The first step in planning a trip to Yosemite Mariposa County is to secure the ever-important day-use reservation. A day-use reservation is essentially your golden ticket to Yosemite, but they’re easier to obtain than Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.

Day-Use Reservations were made available to the public starting on April 21, 2021, and are required through Sept. 30. But not to worry, more than 1,500 passes are opening up 7 days in advance each day – and many are going unclaimed during midweek stays.  That’s great news for people with some flexibility in their schedule or who have non-standard weekends – there might not ever be a better time to visit Yosemite during weekdays!

To get a pass on short notice, you’ll want to be prepared. Passes open 7 days ahead of your planned visit. For instance, if you’re planning to visit on Tuesday, July 20, additional passes will be made available on July 13 at 8 a.m. PST. Be logged into recreaton.gov just before 8 a.m. to give yourself the best chance at getting a pass.

Step 2: Book Lodging For Your Trip

You’ve got your day-use reservation, now where to stay?

Yosemite-View-Lodge-

Since you’re booking lodging on the short term, you might find that everything in Yosemite is booked, but by looking further out into Mariposa County, your chances of landing a stay at a place like Yosemite View Lodge are better.

Since you’re booking lodging just a week in advance, in-park lodging may be booked up. Not to worry. The vast majority of lodging is outside of Yosemite National Park in Mariposa County and the hundreds of hotels, cabin rentals and campgrounds in the county are guaranteed to have vacancies that will give you many options to choose from.

Find hundreds of lodging options in Yosemite Mariposa County with this handy booking tool. Filter for location, dates, price range and amenities. Need a private location with room for a dog that’s near restaurants and grocery stores? No problem. Select your dates, check the box for “pet-friendly” and select cabin rental and with a bit of internet magic, you’ll have dozens of great, available lodging options at your fingertips in seconds.

Need any suggestions for the perfect place to stay?

  • Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is a full-service resort in the High Sierra with indoor and outdoor pools, a great spa and multiple restaurants on-site.
  • The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort is a unique experience in itself with a spa and onsite restaurant of its own.
  • A stay at Yosemite View Lodge is as close to Yosemite as one can get without being inside of the park’s boundaries.
  • Dozens of campsites outside of the park exist and are much more available. The Mariposa County Fairgrounds has dozens of sites that are tent and RV friendly that are easier to secure than any in-park camping.
Tenaya Lodge, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

Take our word for it: plan an itinerary and spend your time exploring different areas of Yosemite and Mariposa County each day. Treasures like the Giant Sequoias aren’t found by staying in Yosemite Valley for your whole trip.

Step 3: Plan Your Activities

Family biking in Yosemite Valley

One of the best ways to see Yosemite Valley is seated on a bicycle.

Now you’ve got your lodging and your reservation, but the planning isn’t done yet. You still need to decide what you’ll do on your visit – the most fun part of the planning process. Don’t end up stuck in traffic, looking for parking or the restroom. Here are some important suggestions to make your visit smoother and stress-free:

  • Arrive early, and get through the park gates before 8 a.m. if possible, to avoid a long wait
  • Pack plenty of drinks to stay hydrated. Picnic and bring snacks to get you through the day. Dining and retail options are still limited in the park due to COVID-19
  • Bring a swimsuit! Nothing beats a dip in the Merced River on a warm or HOT afternoon, and lounging in a folding chair makes Yosemite the most relaxing place you’ve been in a year. An air mattress is a pro-tip to make floating fun.
  • Bring a bike. The free Yosemite Valley shuttles are shut down again this year. There is no better way to cruise around Yosemite Valley than on two wheels.
  • Stay late! Make the most of your day, watch a sunset and stay for the stars. An evening at Glacier Point is a truly unforgettable way to experience the beauty of Yosemite, and your pass is good until 11 PM.

Your park vehicle pass reservation is good for three days. How do you make the most of it? We suggest spending all three days exploring something new and then spend a fourth and fifth day outside of the park in the surrounding Mariposa County area.

Everyone is familiar with Yosemite Valley’s icons like Half Dome and El Capitan – they’re spectacular and should be seen, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if that’s all you see in three days. Check out our short three-day itinerary below for tips and read up on more of our great itineraries.

Hot spots are noted with an asterisk in our suggestions below. We recommend only visiting these locations early in the morning or late afternoon. There’s no way you’ll be able to see all of these suggestions in a day. We suggest picking 3 or 4 places to see and soak in.

Step 4: Pack Your Bags and Have Fun!

And just like that, you’ve got your temporary Day-Use Reservation secured, your lodging booked and a plan for a great four-day getaway to Yosemite Mariposa County. Now all that’s left to do is get packed, and start counting down the very few days left until you load into the car for a quick and easy vacation.

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