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What you need to know about the Yosemite temporary vehicle reservation system – and what to do if you don’t get one.

The National Park Service recently announced that a temporary day-use reservation system will be put in place for this summer due to COVID-19 and the resulting staffing and operational hurdles that creates. If you’re planning a visit to the park this summer, you’ll need to get up to speed quickly on how to get the vehicle reservation pass you need.

Here are the essentials of what you need to know to secure your vehicle reservations.

Day-use vehicle reservations are temporarily going to be required this summer, between May 21, 2021 and September 30, 2021.

Do you even need a day-use vehicle reservation?

Before you go to the trouble of getting a day-use vehicle reservation, make sure you actually need one. Many Yosemite visitors will find that they already have permission to enter the park through some other reservation or permit system.

First, you won’t need a vehicle permit if you’re planning to visit before May 21 or after September 30.

Yosemite Valley lodging at The Ahwahnee

If you have a lodging or camping reservation inside the park, you will NOT need an additional day-use reservation. This includes hotels like The Ahwahnee (pictured), Curry Village, or Wawona Hotel, vacation rentals in Yosemite West, Wawona or Foresta, or campgrounds inside the park.

Even if you are visiting while the vehicle reservation system is being enforced, you don’t need a separate day-use vehicle reservation if:

  • You already have an overnight lodging or camping reservations inside the park. This includes reservations with Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Ahwahnee, Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp or the Wawona Hotel, NPS-campgrounds in the park, and vacation rentals located in Yosemite West, Foresta, or Wawona. Entry to the park is included with these lodging reservations. Work with them to get the paperwork you’ll need.
  • You have other permits like a Half Dome Permit or wilderness permit for backpacking. If this is your case, be sure to read more about what that means for you for park entry.
  • If you enter the park on regional transport, like YARTS bus, or with a tour group, you’re already covered. Here’s a list of tour operators you might be interested in.
  • If you want to hike, bike, or ride a horse into the park, you don’t need a permit either.
  • If you’re just passing through to get to a destination on the other side of the park, and don’t plan to stop. (You’ll get a time-stamped permit with enough time to get from one gate to another. You do have to take the most direct route of travel only, and stopping is prohibited. The entrance fee still applies.)

Note to Annual Passholders: You DO need a day-use vehicle reservation, but your annual pass covers the entrance fee, so make sure you look for a check box on the recreation.gov site so you only pay the $2 reservation fee and not the $35 entrance fee.

How To Get a Day-Use Reservation

What the reservation is good for

entrance gate to yosemite

You’ll need a day-use reservation for your vehicle to enter Yosemite between May 21 and Sep. 30, 2021. Make sure you get one online ahead of time at recreation.gov.

The reservation is good for three consecutive vehicle access days. Unlike 2020, you don’t have to arrive on the first day of your reservation to validate it. As an example, a reservation for May 22 allows unlimited park entries on May 22, 23, and 24.

The day-use reservation allows one vehicle to enter the park regardless of how many people are in that vehicle. The person who made the reservation must be in the vehicle and have a photo ID. This helps prevent reselling reservations. If you have a reservation, but can’t make the trip, please cancel. Those reservations will immediately become available through the booking system.

The vehicle reservation is for day-use only. That means you can come and go freely between 5 am and 11 pm but are not allowed in the park outside those times.

Tips on how to reserve

Make the vehicle reservation online through recreation.gov – Yosemite National Park Ticketed Entry – as soon as vehicle reservations become available for your dates.

Vehicle reservations are likely to be go quickly due to high demand. For the best chance to get a reservation prepare ahead of time. Create an account in advance if you don’t already have one, and be logged in and ready to make a vehicle reservation at exactly 8 am Pacific time.

If your schedule is flexible, consider that traditionally the busiest times in the park have been on the weekends. More passes are being issued for Sunday through Wednesday’s than for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If you can arrive/visit mid-week, you’ll have less competition for those precious reservation slots and more chances to win one.

If you have an annual pass, you will still need a day-use vehicle reservation to enter the park. Keep your eyes open for a checkbox that says that you are an annual pass holder. You will still pay the $2 reservation fee, but this will eliminate the $35 entrance fee payment, and all you’ll need to do is show your pass at the gate.

When to apply

Most reservations are available in spring, but if you don’t plan that far in advance or miss the first round, you can still get vehicle reservations seven days before you arrive, or when someone cancels their vehicle reservation.

Arrival Date When to Reserve – 8 am Pacific Time
May 21 – June 30 April 21, or 7 days before your arrival
July 1 – 30 April 28, or 7 days before your arrival
August 1 – 31 May 5, or 7 days before your arrival
September 1 – 30 May 12, or 7 days before your arrival

For example, if you want to visit Yosemite on July 8, the first reservations will go on sale at 8 am Pacific time on April 28. If you miss that date, an additional batch of reservations becomes available on July 1 at 8 am.

Each person can make one vehicle reservation per day. If your group must arrive in multiple vehicles, you will need multiple day-use vehicle reservations.

If someone cancels, their vehicle reservation immediately becomes available again on recreation.gov.

What If You Don’t Get a Vehicle Reservation (or your vehicle reservation doesn’t cover your whole vacation time)?

No problem. Yosemite Mariposa County is filled with exciting options. (Pro tip: you will want to check some of these out even if you do get a vehicle reservation to enter Yosemite.)

There is a corner of the park that doesn’t require a permit.

woman at hetch hetchy reservoir

Explore Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite Valley’s quieter twin without a day-use vehicle reservation.

Hetch Hetchy is a water-filled twin of the majestic Yosemite Valley with soaring granite cliffs, waterfalls, and some spectacular hiking above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The road to this area is separate from the entrance to the other regions of the park and doesn’t require a reservation.

There’s so much to do outside the park.

The outdoor recreation opportunities and beautiful natural scenery don’t magically end at the park boundary. In fact, the area’s most spectacular spring wildflower display is west of the park on the Hite Cove Trail.

Nearby Sierra and Stanislaus National Forests boast miles and miles of pine-scented hiking trails through meadows and forests in the rolling Sierra foothills. You can even pick up a trail along the famed Merced River as it leaves Yosemite and courses down the canyon. That same river canyon is home to some of the area’s most popular whitewater rafting trips and excellent fly fishing. There’s so much to do along the Merced River, that there’s even a whole itinerary based around it.

A little further west, you can tear up the trails at the and then take a refreshing dip in Lake McClure. Or maybe the Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park on nearby Lake McSwain is more your style. Both of these lakes offer a wide variety of on-the-water fun from sailing to waterskiing or jet skiing.

From the region around Fish Camp and Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, you’ll want to explore the sequoias by horseback with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures. There is even a backdoor trail from this area into the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias that makes for a great ride on horses or mountain bikes. Ride the steam train at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

Enrich your trip by panning for gold. The quest for gold built many of the historic towns near Yosemite, and you can join the stories by simply wandering the streets of towns like Mariposa, Coulterville, and Hornitos. For an even deeper dive into gold rush history, check out the Northern Mariposa County History Center in Coulterville or the Mariposa Museum & History Center in Mariposa. Once these stories of intrepid miners have come to life in your mind, be sure to stop by the California State Mining and Mineral Museum for a peek at the Fricot Nugget – a beautiful 13.8-pound piece of crystalline gold.

Speaking of historic towns, Mariposa County is full of hidden gems like Mariposa, Coulterville and Hornitos where retail, dining and recreation are all in reach. The town of Mariposa is home to museums, wine tasting, locally-brewed beer and even a great and easily accessible nature preserve, the Stockton Creek Preserve, where the hiking is great and comes with options. Hornitos is a gold nugget of a town where the past is still very much alive – and it’s just a stone’s throw from Lake McClure. In historic Coulterville, the town feels as if you’re walking through the set of a wild west film, just as long as the wild west has modern cars on its roads.

This is just a small sampling of activities in the greater Mariposa County area. For even more ideas for things to do outside Yosemite, be sure to visit our list of 100 Things to Do in Mariposa County.

Get into the park without a day-use vehicle reservation.

It can be done. If, despite the many alternatives available, your heart is set on Yosemite National Park, you can still get in without a day-use vehicle reservation.

  1. Take regional transportation. YARTS busses run from all of the major gateway communities into Yosemite National Park. This affordable option even allows you to bring bikes with you in the under-bus cargo area for transportation around Yosemite Valley as needed. (Bikes are also available for rent in Yosemite Valley at Curry Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge.)
  2. Take a tour. Local tour guides know Yosemite best and provide a wide range of itineraries. Plus, letting experienced tour guides do the driving frees everyone in your group to relax and enjoy the scenery.
  3. Join Yosemite Conservancy for an Outdoor Adventure, Custom Adventure, or art class. These special programs include entry to the park for the duration of the program.
  4. Hoof it. The day-use vehicle reservations only apply to vehicle entries. If you have a lot of energy, you can walk, ride a bike, or take a horseback ride with Yosemite Trails into the park without a reservation.

Still have questions?

We have even more information about park operations and logistics on our FAQ page. Also, feel free to connect with us on Social Media or send us an email at info@Yosemite.com. We are here to help you plan the best trip to Yosemite Mariposa County that you can.

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