A brief introduction to Yosemite National Park
A gem in the US National Parks Service’s crown, Yosemite National Park wins over all who witness its spectacular beauty. Yosemite’s glaciated landscape is home to clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and awe-inspiring mountains. These natural wonders attract sightseers and inspire adventurers from all corners of our planet.
Camping at Yosemite National Park
World-famous Yosemite National Park offers a wide variety of camping types. Some campsites are walk-in, you can reach others can by horse or boat. The park does not provide hook-ups, so those with RVs must be self-contained. A few areas offer cabins and yurts.
Given this park’s majestic setting, it is wildly popular. Campgrounds sell out immediately when they open for reservations. (Even canceled reservations get rebooked within seconds.) If you can’t find a campsite within the park, consider staying outside Yosemite and shuttling in for day trips.
Yosemite National Park contains 13 campgrounds. Some are closed or operating at a limited capacity. Check the NPS site for Yosemite when planning your trip to the park. Each campground is different, with some offering flush toilets and others having vault toilets.
Yosemite's exact number of campsites is hard to pin down (even the NPS website totals show discrepancies). There are roughly 1,470 campsites in the park, but many are closed. There are standard, double, and a few group campsites. Many of these campsites have fire pits and picnic tables. Food storage lockers are present, and their use is essential.
Groceries, gas, and supplies are available at various locations throughout the park. You’ll also find a variety of bars, eateries, and restaurants within the park. Staff is on-site seasonally to support the park’s four million annual visitors.
Yosemite works to accommodate a wide variety of visitors. Those with accessibility requirements will find accessible lodging, parking spaces, and picnic areas. Captioning, listening devices, sign language interpretation are also offered. Service dogs trained to perform specific tasks to assist a person with a disability are allowed to go anywhere in the park visitors go.
Location, geography, and history
A world heritage site, Yosemite National Park encompasses 1,187 mi² (3,027 km²) of California’s most spectacular terrain. It is situated in eastern central California and flanked by the Sierra National Forest and Stanislaus National Forest. It is approximately 160 miles (255 km) east of San Francisco.
Much of Yosemite National Park is in the high country, in the Sierra Nevada Range. Its tallest peaks exceed 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). Deep U-shaped valleys shaped by glaciation leave rock walls, narrow canyons, waterfalls, domes, peaks, and steep river beds. Granite is a dominant feature in the area.
Although inhabited for nearly 3,000 years, it’s believed that people visited the Yosemite Valley as much as 10,000 years ago. The indigenous Ahwahnechee people’s heritage is found all over the park. The first tourists visited the area in the mid-1800s. Yosemite is the first park to have land set aside for public use by the federal government.
Features, wildlife, and vegetation
For many, the Tunnel View is their first glimpse into Yosemite National Park. Once in the park, visitors will find thousands of lakes and ponds, two scenic rivers (Merced and Tuolumne), and many waterfalls. The park contains mountain ranges, meadows, and granite cliffs (including the renowned El Capitan). Yosemite also contains some small glaciers.
Approximately 90 types of mammals live within the park. These include black bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. In the park, common birds include the Steller’s jay, American robin, and dark-eyed junco. One turtle, seven lizards, and 13 snake species live in the park. The park also contains native fish species (California roach, Sacramento pikeminnow, hardhead) as well as trout.
The many elevation changes in Yosemite National Park result in various unique ecosystems. The hot and dry Foothill-Woodland Zone leads into a lower-lying forest with many tree species. The Upper Montane Forest has cold temperatures and snow that lasts as late as June. Yosemite also contains a subalpine forest and an alpine zone. The vegetation in these areas is representative of the colder and harsher conditions.
Activities at Yosemite National Park
For climbers and hikers, Yosemite is heavenly. The park offers are over 750 miles of trails to explore and countless climbing challenges. Should they ever grow tired (ha!) of such pursuits, rafting, swimming, boating, fishing, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding await them.
Most of Yosemite is designated wilderness. As such, visitors might choose to bask in the park's expansive valleys, mountain vistas, and desert regions. Some will take in nature on their own. Others will opt for one of the park’s tours. Yet others might choose from one of Yosemite’s walks, presentations, or programs.
One can take in the park by car. A museum, nature center, heritage center, and the Ansel Adams gallery welcome visitors who wish to learn more about the park. Round out the day with an outdoor picnic or meal at one of the park’s dining locations. (If you have energy left, consider sticking around into the evening and stargazing.)
Risks, cautions, and notes
Yosemite is bear country! Take caution in the park by storing food properly, following posted speed limits, and leaving no trace. As with any park, keep a sufficient distance from wildlife (even small animals that seem friendly) and respect that this is their home.
Water represents the greatest threat to your life in the park. Take care near water, being mindful of currents that could whisk you away into a rapid or waterfall. Be cautious on wet rocks that could be slippery.
Take time to prepare for any in-park excursions you have planned. Wear suitable shoes and clothing. Bring extra garments in case of weather changes. Pack extra water and food. Bring a headlamp, compass, map, and first aid items. Also, tell a friend where you’re going, when they can expect you to return.
Yosemite is a wildly popular destination that’s visited by millions. Plan your trip well in advance, arrive before peak hours (to avoid crowds), and be patient when you arrive.
Information about Yosemite National Park
Tioga Road Hwy 120 & Hwy 140 Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra National Forest. From San Francisco, travel east on I-580. Continue along 1-205 E and then merge onto 1-5N. Take exit 461 for CA-120. Follow Highway 120 east into Yosemite National Park.
Range: 2,127 ft – 13,114 ft (648 – 3,997 m)
Up to 5 months in advance of arrival date (available in blocks of one month at a time, on the 15th of each month at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time.)
Park open year-round; campground dates vary
Number of sites
Total: ~1,471. Total varies from one season to the next, and some campgrounds may be closed or operating at partial capacity. Check current campground status on NPS.gov.
12:00 p.m. (noon)
12:00 p.m. (noon)
Permitted in all campgrounds except Camp 4 and group campsites. Pets must be on a leash and may not be left unattended.
Permitted (please check for fire bans and seasonal restrictions)
Yes (Bridalveil, Hodgdon Meadow, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona)
Max. site occupants
Vehicles per site
2 (plus trailers if they fit on the parking pad)
Maximum vehicle length
Varies based on campground. A few campsites accommodate vehicles up to 40' in length; many more sites can house vehicles up to 35'.
Features vary based on campground, but some offer:
Number of accessible sites
As Yosemite contains many campgrounds, accessibility accommodations vary based on the campground. Some accessibility features include:
For more detail on accessibility at Yosemite National Park, view Yosemite National Park’s Accessibility Guide.
Facilities vary based on the campground, but some offer:
Conveniences vary based on the campground, but some offer:
On site options vary based on the campground, but some offer:
Support varies based on the campground, but some offer:
Waste options vary based on the campground, but some offer:
Cell coverage varies based on campground
ARE Yosemite National Park campsites SOLD OUT?
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Contact Yosemite National Park
- Booking site: https://www.recreation.gov
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Camper reviews for Yosemite National Park
A spot in the Valley!
OK--so if you can get a camp site in the Valley, it makes exploring this part of Yosemite so much easier. And if you miss getting a reservation, you should absolutely make use of CampNab!
I didn't know this before visiting, but Lower Pines, North Pines and Upper Pines are all very close to one another--you can pretty much walk between them. So they are all outstanding spots. But, we really lucked out when we snagged site #089 in Lower Pines. It was slightly removed from the crowds and we had access to the Stoneman Meadow boardwalk right from our site. It was a great location!
I also highly recommend renting bikes in the Valley. It is a fun way to explore the breathtaking scenery! And our kids were old enough to take a map and set out on their own--fun for everyone.
Yosemite’s best campground
Upper Pines is the most enjoyable campground in Yosemite Valley. Close to trails, trams, dining and rental conveniences. My 1st trip to Yosemite was in 1967 - the trials of getting a campsite sure has changes thru the years. Due to my discovery of CampNab, I was able to “nab” a great spot 2 weeks before my scheduled trip this past July!
View a map of Yosemite National Park
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