A visit to Yosemite National Park is a must, and these Yosemite travel tips will make your trip even more amazing!
Nestled in California, Yosemite National Park is one of those places that has to be on your bucket list, even if you are not the outdoorsy type. Everything about it is spectacular and over-the-top beautiful. There is so much to see and explore, and it changes magically every season. Luckily, my family and I have been there twice and I still want to go back and see more.
My neighbors visit Yosemite every summer. Sometimes they camp in a tent, other times they rent an RV. And every summer, they find something new during their visit. So I have compiled these Yosemite travel tips so you can enjoy this gorgeous park whether it’s your first visit or your tenth!
Camping at Yosemite National Park
If you have never been to Yosemite, there is a place to stay for every budget. From their fancy hotel, to their more affordable but just as nice Lodge, you don’t need a tent to enjoy thus beautiful place. Of course, my family and I camped in a tent, but you can easily bring your RV or stay in the many other lodging options that are more rustic than a hotel, but has more amenities than a tent.
Wherever you stay, plan way in advance. Although there are some camp sites available due to cancellations, they do fill up within minutes of the opening of online booking 6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE. Some campsites are tent only, others allow RVs. You can have up to two vehicles in each campsite with a maximum of six people (including children) allowed to stay.
Lodging at Yosemite National Park
For those who want some more amenities and comfort while staying in Yosemite, there are more lodging options. If you want to stay in the park itself, you can stay in wood cabins or even canvas tent cabin accommodations found in Curry Village, Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and White Wolf Lodge.
If you are in need for more pampering and a real hotel stay, Yosemite has you covered. Yosemite Valley Lodge is a favorite for families and is located near Yosemite Falls. For an even more majestic stay, you can stay at The Ahwahnee, formerly The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, which is AAA four-diamond hotel. The Ahwahnee has traditional rooms, suites and cottages.
Even if you are camping at Yosemite, you should definitely visit these sites as they often offer places to eat as well as beautiful sites to see, both inside and surrounding the buildings.
Yosemite Water Play
Like waterfalls? There are too many waterfalls to count here, but about 10 big waterfalls that most tourists love to hike and visit. No two years are alike, as the waterfalls are dependent on the previous years rain and snow fall. Remember, California is in a drought. Some summers, the once big waterfalls are just a mere trickle compared to the big falls you normally see pictured.
Besides waterfalls, there are creeks, rivers and lakes galore at Yosemite. You can hike to the top of the waterfalls, float down the rivers and splash around in the lakes found in Yosemite. The water even during the summer is ice cold from the snow melt, but during those hot summer days the water is super refreshing. There are lakes that are deep enough to jump in, creeks that are a few inches deep with water for the toddlers, and river rafting for you to cruise down and chillax.
You do need to bring your own gear if you are going to float down the rivers. This includes inflatable floating tubes, inflatable rafts and PFDs (personal flotation devices). You can rent rafts at the park, but if you have your own then bring it. Non-motorized vessels, such as kayaks and canoes are allowed.
Like I mentioned earlier, if we had a good year of rain and snow, then rivers can be pretty powerful. The rangers will let you know if tubing is permitted. Safety is key when visiting Yosemite. So don’t forget your water shoes and PFDs especially during California’s rainy years. But places like Mirror Lake, pictured at the top of this post, has no currents and is a very tranquil and relaxing place to enjoy.
Not only are the currents strong and swift when there is a lot of water in Yosemite, but so are those waterfalls. I cannot urge you enough how to respect nature and its power. The stone steps and trails as you climb up to the falls do get wet and slippery. People do slip and people do fall and drown in Yosemite. Wear the proper attire and bring the right equipment with you and you can have an amazing time in Yosemite.
High Adventure Fun
This list of Yosemite travel tips would not be complete without acknowledging and providing tips for the super adventurous amongst us. There are countless mountains to climb and rocks to hop. And those hikes around the waterfalls aren’t for the faint at heart. Some parts are steep and labor intensive.
And as I mentioned before, the path can get slippery and you really have to pay attention or you could slip, fall and never be found again. You don’t have to be limited to one camping spot. You can also get lost and go backpacking all over this massive park.
For those serious mountain climbers, there are so many places to climb in Yosemite depending on what level you are. Conquer El Capitan or choose something smaller, either way, you will have the time of your life.
If you want to tackle the epic Half Dome, it requires planning and a permit – which is issued via a lottery system. This high adventure hike is 12-15 miles round-trip with the elevation at summit being 4800 feet. I know teenagers and retirees who have climbed Half Dome, so it is all dependent on your physical strength and skill level.
Wildlife and Nature
We camped with several other families and had a great time hiking together, playing together and sharing our meals together. There is wildlife at Yosemite, like deer and bears, but luckily the bears just want your food, not you. Each campsite has a bear locker to hide your food, but don’t be fooled.
Those rascals really do have a great sense of smell. One night I forgot about some snacks I had in a swim bag and the next morning found the entire contents (including 20-dollars in numerous bills) scattered around camp. The snacks were gone. Luckily, the bears left the cash behind.
Every inch in Yosemite you can find something to marvel at and enjoy. From the moss covered rocks to the lady bug crawling on a branch. I found myself taking strolls on my own with my camera, so I could capture as much as I could. All of these pictures were taken in July at Yosemite, but in two different years (one year had more water than the other).
Friends of mine have visited during the winter months and the snow is breathtaking! One of these years, I’ll make it there to experience winter in Yosemite.
There are miles and miles of trails and roads throughout Yosemite. If you can, bring bicycles as it can help you get to wear you are going more easily. There are small markets and cafes in Yosemite, as well as restaurants in the hotels. But since we normally camp, we bring our own food and cook over the campfire.
Luckily the market had plenty of ice whenever we needed to restock our cooler. And those bikes came very handy for quick ice runs. If you have younger kids, by all means, bring the bikes and bike trailers. Even when our kids outgrew the bike trailer, we used the trailer to haul camp chairs and other gear to various river spots and lakes.
Explore Outside Yosemite
Surrounding Yosemite three is even more to see. Only during the summer months can you drive through Tioga Pass. It is the eastern entrance into Yosemite and is typically closed November through late May or early June because of ice and snow. The elevation is just shy of 10,000 feet and even in July you can still find snow patches in this area.
The pass is about 64 miles long and takes about 2 hours to drive, if you don’t make any stops. But there is plenty to see and explore in this part of California, especially because it is only open during the summer and early fall months. You can learn more about Tioga Pass here.
Tioga Pass ends at Mono Lake, which is a large based salt lake. All over Mono lake tourist flock to see the Tufa Towers, these limestone towers that form over the water’s surface. It really is a site to see, especially as the sun sets and the lake reflects the gorgeous oranges and pinks across the sky.
Approximately 30 miles south of Mono Lake is Mammoth Lakes, a gorgeous and sleepy ski town with even more natural wonders to explore any time of the year. There are over 100 lakes in the Mammoth Lakes basin and plenty of trails to hike and sites to see. You can easily camp there, stay at a hotel or rent an Air BnB very easily.
The southern entrance to Yosemite takes you through a small town of Wawona. It may not look like much, but it has a wonderful Old West town for you to explore: blacksmith, horse and carriage ride, and some historic cabins. The Wawona Hotel is right there and it’s a great place to stretch your legs as the road to Yosemite is long and windy. And during peak tourist season, can be a slow ride.
Final Yosemite Travel Tips
Just as any camping trip, whether you are camping or not, plan for the unexpected. Yes there are small markets throughout Yosemite, but do pack everything you might need with you. Drink plenty of water as the best way to fight off altitude sickness is to hydrate. Keep your energy up for those hikes with high energy snacks and meals.
Yosemite sees 4 million visitors a year so plan ahead. Summer is peak traffic season, so if your schedule allows it, visit in the fall or spring. This is California. We layer our clothes, so bring a light jacket for cool nights. Stay safe from the sun and bring hats, sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
Don’t go hiking in flip flops! Wear the right shoes, socks and even walking sticks. Water bottles and backpack style hydration packs keep you hydrated while on the move. Don’t just bring your cell phone for taking pictures, but a real camera with extra memory cards and batter packs. There is so much to see and photograph!
But most of all, bring your spirit of adventure and prepare yourself to be overwhelmed by the awesome magnitude of nature that Yosemite holds. You are going to have an amazing time!