So. You’re coming to Yosemite National Park. Let me ask you a few things first:
- Is it summer?
- Is it a holiday?
- Is it a weekend?
- Are there hazardous conditions (snow, fires, flooding, pandemics, etc.)?
- Is there an event going on that made you plan your trip now instead of some other time (Firefall, Facelift, whenever Alex Honnold is doing something, etc.)?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, read on. . .
1. Do your business outside the park.
Grocery shop outside the park, get gas before you enter the park, call your mom and tell her you love her outside the park, take screenshots on your phone of any valuable information you might need (reservations), set your GPS for directions if you need them, and then download additional maps of the area since even your GPS won’t know about road work in the park.
You have options in the park for all of these things if the need arises, but you’ll be better set up for success if you do all these things preemptively. That way, when you wander by the Village Store in Yosemite Valley, you can be thankful you are not one of the poor souls circling the parking lot trying to find a parking space with hungry kids in the backseat.
2. What’s cell coverage like?
You’re coming to a National Park and you want to be glued to your phone??
Just kidding. I use my cell phone all the time. Don’t hate, I’m a millennial. Here’s the scoop:
Verizon is your best bet for cell coverage, and even then it’s spotty. Yosemite Valley and a number of the high points around it have decent cell coverage for folks with Verizon. AT&T does alright. Everything else is essentially nonexistent. Then, to top it all off, if you’re coming at a busy time (i.e. weekend, summer, or park event), the cell towers get overloaded by all the visitors and become very unreliable. Your best bet is just to rely on your phone as a camera. Buy a map, and then make sure to learn how to read it before your trip (and not in an emergency).
3. I wish I could give you advice on parking. . . but there is no advice on parking.
I don’t know the exact numbers, but Yosemite Valley has like 600-800 parking spots total. On a summer weekend, there are 1,000+ cars that come into Yosemite. I think you can figure out the math. If you’re planning your trip during a busy time, and you find a parking spot, take it and then leave your car. Take advantage of the FREE buses* and pedestrian paths to get around!
In fact, you can get into Yosemite without your car! There is the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (or YARTS) that will take you into the park from any of the gateway communities. Check them out! You have to pay to ride the bus, but you don’t have to pay to get into the park! And there’s a bus lane in the park! For a second time, you can be sitting and enjoying the views, thankful you’re not part of the mad house that is Yosemite Valley traffic in the summer.
If I haven’t convinced you of the insanity of coming in your car to Yosemite during a peak time, at least bring some snacks, entertainment, and maybe something to pee in for you and/or your passengers. You can (and should expect) to get stuck in traffic.
If you’re still determined on coming in your car, I would encourage you to get into the park before 10 am.
*During normal, non-pandemic times.
4. Don’t come in without knowing where you’re going to sleep.
Everything fills up, months (years in some cases) in advance. I’m not sure how people actually get spots in the first-come, first-serve campsites. If you insist on doing this, I would recommend bringing some donuts – not for you! For the people you’re going to bribe to share a campsite with you.
5. All of Yosemite is beautiful, you don’t need to see the ONE THING.
I’m not discouraging you from getting a permit to hike Half Dome– that’s great if you win the lottery! I’m just saying there is way more to Yosemite than that one thing you heard about from your friends or the media. When you come to Yosemite, don’t have your heart set on doing that one activity you’ve heard so much about. There really isn’t a bad view in the park, so even if you have to hike a lesser known trail, climb a different climb, or if meadow restoration is keeping you off the trail that offers you the best shot of Half Dome for your Instagram, know there is something just as spectacular at a different spot or on a different adventure.
With that being said, do have a plan when coming to visit the park. Yosemite is the size of Rhode Island, so showing up with no idea what you’re getting into is a bad idea. Make a plan A, B, C, and D. You’re not going to be disappointed if you can’t hike up the side of Vernal Falls because there isn’t any parking and have to wander through the meadows (on the designated trails) and see North America’s tallest waterfall from afar. You’re not going to be upset for not getting out of the park at the time you said you wanted to be and end up seeing the alpenglow light up the Yosemite Valley walls. And if this does disappoint you, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed your original plan anyway.
There you have it! The five biggest tips an insider could give you about your visit to Yosemite National Park. It’s a fun time as long as you’re prepared, that’s the bottom line.
HERE’s another resource for you if you have additional FAQ’s, put together by the Yosemite Park Service. If you find yourself super inspired by the park, and then you want to donate money, check out their nonprofit partner the Yosemite Conservancy (you can’t donate directly to the federal government). Inspired enough to volunteer some of your time? Check out THIS SITE with the keyword Yosemite. So inspired that you want to quit your current job/have a second career? HERE’s where you apply for Park Service jobs!