Without a doubt, Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful destinations in The United States. Covering almost 750,000 acres, 95% of which is designated “wilderness,” Yosemite is a nature-lover’s paradise. Between the glittering streams, the thousand-year-old trees, and the otherworldly rock formations and cliffs, Yosemite ‘s beauty will linger with you for long after your visit ends.
After hours of research and spending nearly a week at this park, we’ve put together this guide with our best tips for planning a trip to Yosemite National Park in California!
Yosemite National Park Travel Tips
The Best Time to Visit Yosemite
While the park is open 24 hours a day all year round, what time of year you visit Yosemite completely depends on your expectations and in which activities you plan on partaking.
If you love the heat and envision yourself splashing in one of Yosemite’s many streams while licking an ice cream cone, then visit in July or August.
However, because Yosemite’s tourist high season lands in the summertime, if you want to escape the crowds while still enjoying the waterfalls and some hiking, consider May-June or September.
If winter activities are more your thing, then keep an eye on when Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area opens in mid-December.
Book Far in Advance
Despite there being a tourist high season, no matter what time of year you plan on heading to Yosemite, it’s best to book your travel, accommodations, campsites, and/or tour far in advance. With over 4 million visitors a year, the park fills up fast!
How to Get to Yosemite
If you’re flying into the area, the closest airports are San Francisco, Fresno, Reno, Merced, Oakland, or Sacramento. From there, consider renting a car and some camping equipment, or do it like we did and rent a JUCY Campervan for your visit.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, there are plenty of excellent day tours that will show you all the Yosemite hotspots while giving you plenty of time to relax and hike.
Read more: The Best Cameras for Hiking and Backpacking
Where to Stay in Yosemite
Best Campgrounds in Yosemite Valley
If you want to camp right in Yosemite Valley, these are the best campgrounds to choose from. (Note: If you can’t snag a site ahead of time, try walk-in or even check online the night before for cancellations. This is how we got our reservations in Upper Pines!)
Upper Pines Campground
The park’s second-largest campground, this spot is situated at the east end of the valley. The campground is open year-round, but be warned that its 238 campsites tend to be reserved well in advance. Each site contains a fire ring, picnic table, a food locker, and is near a bathroom with drinking water and flushing toilets. No hookups.
North Pines Campground
This 81-spot campground located across the Merced River from Lower Pines Campground is notably one of the best campgrounds in the valley. Again, each site contains a fire ring, picnic table, a food locker, and is near a bathroom with drinking water and flushing toilets. No hookups.
Lower Pines Campground
Containing 60 campsites near the south of the Merced River, and located just west of Upper Pines, this campsite has spectacular views of Half Dome. All amenities, except hookups, are located at each campsite.
Closest Campgrounds Outside of Yosemite Valley
Pine Mountain Lake Campground near Groveland
Pine Mountain Lake is a gated community just outside of Groveland, which is about an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley. The 44 campsites here feature fire rings, picnic benches, and nearby restrooms with drinkable water and showers. There are 11 RV hook-up sites on the property.
Yosemite Lakes Campground
A full-service campground located just an hour from Yosemite Valley and 5 minutes from the National Park’s west gate, Yosemite Lakes Campground offers RV parking, yurt-style tents, cabins, and regular tent sites. However, note that this campground does not allow campfires, but does provide 231 full hook-ups.
Resting 50 minutes from Yosemite Valley just outside the southern edge of the park, Wawona Campground is one mile away from the town of Wawona, and is at an elevation of 4000 ft. The campground hosts 93 sites with fire rings, picnic tables, food lockers, and is near facilities with running water.
Cost: $26/night or $18/night from October through April. Group sites are available year round for $50.
Bridalveil Creek Campground
Resting along Glacier Point Road, Bridalveil Creek Campground is about a 45-minute drive from Yosemite Valley. There are 112 campsites at this location, and because of its views and the nearby Bridalveil Creek, is a very popular spot. Each campsite features a picnic table, fire ring, food storage locker. Flush toilets and drinking water are nearby.
Other Lodging Options Near Yosemite
Yosemite View Lodge
Just 8 miles from Yosemite National Park, Yosemite View Lodge is a good mid-range option that features a restaurant and bar, as well as a pool.
If you’re into something a little swankier for you and a group of friends, consider Craftsman Cottage. Just 3 miles from Badger, this chalet provides three bedrooms, a dining area and a kitchen.
Best Day Hikes in Yosemite
Vernal & Nevada Falls Trail
The Vernal and Nevada Waterfalls are two of Yosemite’s most spectacular sites, and both can be spotted from this trail. To do this hike, either head up the Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail, or do the loop in reverse.
Let’s be honest, the jaw-dropping views of half dome are why many people come to Yosemite. So it’s a no-brainer that you’d want to include this hike on your agenda! While doing this hike in a day is going to require some serious gumption, the 360-degree views from the summit will make the trek worth it.
Note that in order to tackle this hike, you will need to acquire a permit in advance.
Mirror Lake is an easy 2 mile round-trip hike. The left side of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible, but I prefer taking the trail to the right side of the lake as it’s extremely lush, with gorgeous views of the lake.
Similar to the Half Dome experience, Sentinel Dome’s summit provides breathtaking views of El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Falls, Mt. Starr King, and Clark Range.
Read more: The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Campers
Yosemite National Park Packing Essentials
Sun Gear: No matter what time of year you visit Yosemite, be sure to pack some sunglasses and sunscreen.
Day Hike Gear: Whenever we head out on a day hike, we always bring along some hiking shoes, hiking socks, a refillable water bottle, some bug spray, a light jacket, and a headlamp for when it gets dark.
Bear Box: Remember that Yosemite is bear country! If you’re camping in the area, be sure to pack a bear box, unless you will be camping at one of the designated campgrounds which already provide them.