Yosemite is the crown jewel of America’s national parks, a marvel of ice age forces that carved a grand realm of sheer granite walls, thundering waterfalls and inspiring scenery. This epic panorama has remained a place of pilgrimage for nearly 150 years.
This year, traveling to the Park has a temporary hurdle: reservations are required to enter the Park in personal vehicles now through the end of September. Visiting an iconic attraction like Yosemite always benefits from a bit of advance planning, and now more then ever.
While the challenges of navigating the current reservations system can feel daunting, if you take a step back they’re trivial compared to those faced by early Yosemite Mariposa pioneers like John Muir (who walked across California to get there) and early tourists who clambered aboard trains, stagecoaches, and trusty steeds just to behold Yosemite’s High Sierra splendor. Honor their spirit and savvy as you mindfully plan your next Yosemite National Park adventure.
Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park in 2021 just takes a little know-how. Find out more here.
Securing a day-use permit is your go-to strategy. They are available to reserve seven days in advance at Recreation.gov promptly at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. Permits are $35 and valid for three consecutive days for unlimited entries, but are not valid for overnight use (the park is only open to day-use permit holders from 5am to 11pm). Day-use permits will be required for Park entry through Sep. 30, 2021, or until local public health conditions improve.
Pioneer Pro Tip’s: 1) If you have an annual National Park Pass, the cost to reserve is just $2.00. 2) Create a Recreation.gov account in advance if you don’t already have one, and be logged in and ready to make a vehicle reservation by 8 a.m. Pacific. Plan your stay for Sunday-Wednesday for the best chance of connecting.
Tours like the Tenaya Lodge Yosemite Tours are a great way to see Yosemite National Park. And you don’t need a day-use reservation to take one into the park.
If permits are fully booked for your days of travel, don’t lose your pioneer spirit! There are detours. The first and easiest path is by not arriving in a personal auto. If entering the park via YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) motorcoach, bicycle, on foot, or on horseback, visitors do not need a day-use reservation (park entrance fees still apply for all above modes except YARTS).
With comfortable, air-conditioned coaches and windows made for the views, YARTS conveniently stops in these Yosemite Mariposa cities:
Reservations for YARTS are not required but highly recommended, especially during the summer. Reserving your tickets on-line in advance, is the only way to guarantee your spot is held for a specific return trip time out of Yosemite. All YARTS tickets include Yosemite National Park entrance. Bags and backpacks are always welcome on YARTS buses. Bikes are stowable as space allows on a first come, first served basis (each bus is equipped to carry two bicycles in the lower luggage bay). Renting a bike in Yosemite Valley is also a great play.
Another way to enter Yosemite National Park without a day-use permit is by taking a guided tour. Local tour operators know Yosemite best and these outfitters offer a wide range of activity and itinerary options. Plus, letting professional tour guides do the driving frees everyone in your group to relax and enjoy the scenery. An added bonus – tour fares cover your entrance fee for additional value.
Pioneer Pro Tip: YARTS service connects with both Amtrak and Fresno Yosemite International Airport to make car-free travel convenient and carefree.
Stay inside the park at hotels like The Ahwahnee or vacation rental cabins inside the park boundaries.
Guests staying at one of the hotels and vacation rentals inside Yosemite National Park do not need an additional day-use permit. The overnight vehicle permit you receive will be valid for unlimited entries for the duration of your reservation or three consecutive days (whichever is longer). Reservations at Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp, Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Ahwahnee, and the Wawona Hotel, and private lodging or vacation rental reservations in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta all work. Here’s the rub: lodging reservations are highly competitive and rates inside of the park tend to be higher than outside the park and at this relatively late stage, few remain available at qualifying properties.
Pioneer Pro Tip: Consider lodging at a Yosemite Mariposa County property located outside the park and deploying Doable Detour strategies for gaining Park access. (Reservations for lodging or vacation rentals outside the Park do not come with overnight Park access.)
Camping is a great way to stay close to nature. Plus, if you have a campsite inside Yosemite you won’t need to bother with the day-use reservation system.
Once upon a time, all Yosemite visitors were campers. It’s still the crunchy choice for an immersive Park experience, and Yosemite campground reservations include an overnight permit just like lodging and vacation rental reservations. But just like with hotels, there’s the supply-and-demand dynamic. This year, campsites are operating with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and most are fully reserved through September 21. And this year, no first-come, first-served campgrounds are open. There’s hope. Reservations are occasionally cancelled, and go back into the available pool at Recreation.gov (where they are quickly snapped up, so check back often).
The following campgrounds are open for 2021:
Pioneer Pro Tip: Consider finding a place to camp outside the park and follow Doable Detour strategies for gaining Park access.
Take advantage of Yosemite’s trail system – backpackers with a valid wilderness permit don’t need an additional permit to enter the park.
Backpackers are always required to secure a Yosemite National Park Wilderness Permit to stay in the park. Administered by the Yosemite Conservancy, wilderness permits are available online using a two-week-advance lottery system. Apply 15 days in advance of your desired start date for your best shot. The deadline to apply for a permit is four days before a trip.
Things needed to apply for a wilderness permit (not including backcountry equipment and pioneer spirit!) include starting and ending trailhead, first night camp location, group size and hike start and end date.
Yosemite’s sister valley, Hetch Hetchy, is open without a day-use reservation.
John Muir once described Hetch Hetchy Valley as “a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.” Even in the summer, when visitors from around the world are exploring Yosemite Valley, relatively few make it to the gorgeous northwest corner of Yosemite National Park.
The Hetch Hetchy area is open with no reservations required. However, access is limited by available parking spaces. Hetch Hetchy Road is open from 8 am to 5 pm, and all visitors must exit the area by 5 pm.
Gaining access to Yosemite is just the start of your modern pioneer adventure. Now it’s high time to plan your vacation! Fortunately, we’ve already done the legwork! Just take a walk through Yosemite.com for a wealth of resources including maps, weather, road conditions, and FAQ.
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