Published on May 24, 2023

We’ve all been there. That sinking feeling when you realize a lack of planning leaves you up to your boot laces in murky water. Then the double whammy when it registers that you could have taken a few easy steps to avoid this mess altogether. It’s a grrr-worthy moment, one with the potential to derail even the best of vacations.

With its vast landscape, seasonal weather and abundant wildlife, Yosemite provides ample opportunity for such holiday snafus. But fortunately, as Ben Franklin so astutely put it “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and us traveling types are an adaptable lot. Here are some straightforward solutions on how to course-correct so your visit to Yosemite Mariposa County is as smooth as a river rock shimmering in the Sierra sun.

Bless The Beasts and the Children

Bears are wonderful to see, but make sure you know how to treat them so they stay wild!

Yosemite Fail:

Outfitted with a bevy of road snacks, your drive up Highway 140 through the dramatic Merced River Canyon is filled with oohs and aahs as the grand scope of Yosemite comes into focus. You arrive at the campground just before dark and in a hurry to set up your tent leave a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a half-eaten pack of beef jerky and some berry flavored ChapStick in the car. As morning breaks, a crowd has gathered around your family rig. What’s all the fuss? While you slept a black bear used her outsized strength to surgically peel open your passenger side door, help herself to the snacks, and amble off into the woods.

Yosemite Solution:

The answer to this one is easy, but also easy to overlook. Never leave any food or scented items in your vehicle (or tent). Black bears have a keen sense of smell, not to mention incredible strength. Campers in Yosemite are required to follow bear protocols and use provided bear lockers for all food or scented items, while backpackers are required to use bear canisters when heading into the wilderness. For more information on respecting wildlife and doing right by Mother Nature in Yosemite Mariposa County, please check out our Nature Rules! guide.

Right Place, Wrong Time

Yosemite National Park entrance sign
Your welcome to Yosemite will be so much finer if pick the best time to visit.

Yosemite Fail:

Gazing east into Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View is pure postcard fodder. El Capitan standing guard in the foreground, Bridalveil Fall tumbling 620 ft mid-frame, while iconic Half Dome vogues in the background. With bona fides like this, it’s easy to get sucked into Tunnel View’s gravity. There’s only one problem — it’s noon, and summer break is in full bloom. The viewing platform is full of visitors ranging from photographers to plein air painters and giddy families greeting Yosemite for the first time. You want to stop, you really do, but there are double-parkers vying for a coveted spot as tour busses jockey through the narrow lot. Realizing this will take more navigational skill than summiting the south face of K2, you begrudgingly keep driving.

Yosemite Solution:

Just like in comedy, timing is everything when visiting Yosemite. Afternoons and weekends are always busy in the summer months and during major holidays. If you can avoid these times you’ll be able to enjoy the Park with a bit more room to roam. Think early mornings/late sunsets and the winter/spring/fall seasons when Yosemite comes to life with a kaleidoscope of different moods. This holds true not just for Tunnel View, but for all of Yosemite’s major attractions such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point.

From Gear To Eternity

Vernal Fall in Spring | vernal falls hike
Don’t be mist-ified by the water coming off Vernal Fall in the spring – pack some extra layers.

Yosemite Fail:

A pristine snowpack is finally melting, and Yosemite’s spring waterfalls are bursting at the seams. Standing at the foot of 2,425 ft Yosemite Falls has always been on your bucket list, and it’s May in California. Sunny and warm, right? So you hop out of the car in a t-shirt and flip-flops, walk the short 1/2 mile trail and as you get closer the roar tingles your spine. Then you reach the viewing platform and- wait, is it raining? Isn’t that blue sky overhead? Yes, the skies are clear and, no, it’s not rain. What you’re dealing with is a classic case of waterfall mist. Within minutes you’re soaked, the breeze suddenly feels Arctic, and that picnic lunch you had planned just might turn out to be a bit…soggy.

Yosemite Solution:

Bringing the proper gear to Yosemite is essential to having fun. “Proper” is defined by what region you’re visiting, what activities you’ll be doing and seasonal conditions. Summer temperatures in the High Country are much cooler than the Valley, while hiking requires different gear than a picnic on the banks of the Merced. This means bringing the proper footwear (those flip-flops ain’t gonna cut it on the trail), waterproof layers, hat and sunglasses. If you’re camping, realize that there are minimal supplies available in Yosemite and be sure to check that gear list twice. An ounce of prevention, indeed.

Everywhere All At Once

glacier point
There is a lot to see in Yosemite Mariposa County. Be sure to stay a while.

Yosemite Fail:

“We’re going to pop up to Yosemite for the day. It’s so beautiful.”

“Sure is. What part of the Park?”

“Not sure. We’ll figure it out.”

As the kids say…yeah, no. Yosemite is a vast rock, water and forest-scape flaunting the best that nature has to offer. From Yosemite Valley to Hetch Hetchy and Tioga Pass to Wawona, the experiences are unique. But trying to cover its 1,200 square miles and 11,000 ft elevation range in the course of a day is guaranteed to raise cortisol levels and leave you with a nagging sense of what did I miss?

Yosemite Solution:

Taking a regional approach to Yosemite Mariposa County guarantees you’ll have enough time to fully appreciate its many facets. The best pace is a leisurely one where you can take a break from your hike and lay back on a warm slab of granite to watch the occasional Sierra cloud float by. And the best way to fully realize that Yosemite Mariposa County dream is to slow things down and spend a few nights — or even a week — close to the action. Inhale (fresh mountain air), exhale (fresh mountain relaxation).

The Great Barrier Grief

Tioga Road Tenaya Lake
Make sure that you’re aware of seasonal road openings. This spectacular drive on Tioga Road is only open during the summer and fall.

Yosemite Fail:

It’s the week before Thanksgiving and you want to recharge before the busy holidays. You’ve seen the world-famous photographs by Ansel Adams where the Yosemite high country air is pure magic — a natural filter as depth of frame and contrast collide — and it’s decided: Northern Yosemite or bust. You arrive at the Park entrance and share your plan with the Ranger. She smiles, gives a consoling nod, and does her best to let you down easy: the gate to Tioga Road is closed. Did something happen, you ask? Nope, she says, Tioga Road closes every winter.

Yosemite Solution:

Whether searching for peace in nature, striking out for late-season leaf-peeping, or simply trying to cross the Sierra Crest, there are workarounds once Tioga Road closes for the winter. First, check your dates: the gate closure varies depending on weather so be sure to watch current road conditions for Yosemite National Park (for a more nuanced approach review the historical close/open dates for Tioga Road to help plan your visit). When it comes to Yosemite Mariposa County leaf-peeping, the changes “march downhill” in autumn so late-season colors can be found at lower elevations just outside the Park in Mariposa County. Most important of all, there are plenty of Yosemite Mariposa winter activities in other parts of the Park. Snow angels guaranteed.

Dishonorable Mentions

Snowy Yosemite road in winter with icy sign
Yosemite roads can be slippery in the winter, and require tire chains or cables for traction.

Fail: Assuming you’ll have cell coverage.
Solution: Cell coverage in and around the Park is spotty. Always download any Yosemite Mariposa County driving/hiking maps ahead of time, or bring printed versions.

Fail: Not bringing snow chains.
Solution: In addition to winter snowstorms, fall and spring flurries are common in Yosemite. Check your weather, bring chains and drive safely!

Fail: Trying to backpack in Yosemite without a permit.
Solution: Obtain a wilderness permit. There’s a quota system for each trailhead, which helps preserve Yosemite’s delicate beauty. Oh, and rangers check permits: the expensive fine and bad karma just aren’t worth it.

Falls, Not Fails

View of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View
Yosemite’s iconic Tunnel View Photo: Kenny Karst

Having an unforgettable adventure in Yosemite Mariposa County is easy with just a little planning. It’s all about immersing yourself in its unique regions, respecting its natural wonders, and finding purpose by simply slowing down. From camping to full-service resorts, booking a place to stay in Yosemite Mariposa County goes a long way toward reaching this enlightened state of natural repose. After all, who wants Yosemite Fails when you could have Yosemite Falls?

Categories: General Travel Tips