Who doesn’t love a great deal?! One of the best thing about Yosemite is that you can experience majestic scenery on a backpacker’s budget or add a few luxuries into the mix. See our tips below for how to experience Yosemite without breaking the bank.
Lodging in Yosemite
For the best rates at all lodging in or near Yosemite, plan your visit for October-April. The shoulder seasons offer great weather, beautiful scenery, more availability in lodges and in campsites, and more affordable rates. One of the best value options is the Yosemite Rustic Mountain Resort. With dormitories for backpackers or private rooms with shared bathrooms, you have plenty of inexpensive options to choose from. Also, the lodge is well-known for offering one of the best atmospheres in the Sierras with the June Bug CafÃ© on-site serving up fresh and local fare, live music events and more. You can even access the on-site spa for a $15 day pass or take a refreshing yoga class!
For other inexpensive lodging options, seek out places to stay in the nearby gateway town of Mariposa. This historic Gold Rush town offers more lodging and dining options than staying in the park, as well as world-class museums. Keep an eye open for cheap hotels near Yosemite just outside the park gates. If you are traveling in a group, staying at a vacation rental or private cabin can also be a fantastic way to cook for yourself, enjoy a private cabin and have an authentic experience at an excellent value!
If roughing it is more your style, campsites that require a six month wait to get into in summer can be easily booked for the off-season and walk-in sites are a better option as well. Just be prepared for chillier nights, especially in starting in November or early December when the first snow falls.
If you are planning your trip for summer, then backpacking in the wilderness is a great option for staying in a “million star hotel” out in the wilderness. It does take planning and some backpacking experience is recommended but for the cost of an inexpensive backpackers permit you can explore some of the most beautiful areas of the park. Or you can have a “glamping” experience at the High Sierra Camps. While not exactly cheap, you can have an incredible outdoor experience that is a good intro into backpacking at the cost of your average hotel room (typically open late June-September).
Don’t have equipment? You can rent almost everything you need at the Yosemite Mountaineering School.
Activities in Yosemite
Lucky for you the best things in Yosemite (as in life) as free. Plan a full day hike to see some of Yosemite’s world class waterfalls up close. Find your favorite Instagrammable views at Glacier Point, Tunnel View, or Vernal Fall.
Entrance to Yosemite is $30 in high season (April-October), and $25 in the low season. That is for one vehicle for seven days. Let’s review that again. All the friends you can fit in your vanagon can experience breath-taking scenery in a UNESCO World Heritage Site for seven days for less than it costs to buy those same five friends each a burrito at Chipotle. Bargain!
There are free shuttle buses that run the valley floor daily, meaning you can hop on and hop off as much as you want with spending a dime. If it fits with your budget, you can also take the Yosemite Valley Floor tour or even better ““ rent bikes! In the high season this option cuts down on congestion in the park and saves you time sitting in traffic. If you do have the budget and want to experience some high-action thrills then consider spending a day whitewater rafting the Class IV rapids on the wild and scenic Merced River.
Food in Yosemite
Cheap eats abound in the town of Mariposa, near Yosemite National Park. If you have chosen this as your basecamp then we have some good options for you. Try Sweetwater Deli for dine-in or takeaway. Fresh sandwiches and delectable salads and the best fish tacos in town make this a must-stop! Another great option is 1850 where you can look for specials such as their happy hour deal where you can sit at the bar and enjoy an epic burger and beer for only $10! For some of the best Mexican food in town and the opportunity to dine al fresco check out the local’s favorite lunch spots, Sal’s Taco Truck or Tacos Sonora ““ both located at the Mariposa Rest Area. It’s not fancy, but these satisfying street tacos are delicious and will definitely give your fuel for your next hike. If you are dining in Yosemite, your best bet to spend less is Degnan’s Deli or the Curry Village Pizza Deck. If you are staying at a vacation rental in the park, then why not pack your own lunch and enjoy unsurpassed scenery by picnicking at the top of a waterfall or while watching the sunset from the top of Glacier Point?
Transportation in Yosemite
You can drive to Yosemite year-round. Highway 140 from the San Francisco/Bay Area is the least likely to have snowy or icy conditions due to the low elevation in winter. You can also take the Amtrak, Greyhound or even a budget airline, such as Boutique Air. This airline flies to Merced Regional Airport (a two-hour drive from Yosemite’s west entrance) from Oakland International Airport for $40 return!
From Merced you can rent a car or take the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus. The YARTS bus runs throughout the Yosemite Region in all four gateways and tickets are based on distance. You can come from anywhere in the Yosemite Regional gateways to Yosemite Valley for less than $15 and this includes your entrance to the park! Learn more about transportation options.
Ok, we hope we have given you plenty of inspiration for your next budget travel trip to Yosemite and Mariposa. Check out our Things to Do section or get more ideas to plan the best vacations for young adults for more ideas for your visit.