16 Ways to Be a Smart Yosemite California Trip Planner

Use These Tips to Plan Your Yosemite Trip Like a Pro

Taking Photos at Tunnel View, Yosemite
••• Taking Photos at Tunnel View, Yosemite. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Too many Yosemite visitors fall into the common time-wasters and fun-busters that can ruin their trip.

They're sleeping in their car because they can't find a hotel room, stuck in summer gridlock - or standing dejectedly at the door of the restaurant because they can't get in for Sunday brunch. We're here to help you keep from joining their ranks and enjoy your trip without having to learn the pitfalls the hard way.

To be a smarter Yosemite trip planner, enjoy your vacation more and spend less of your hard-earned money doing it, try these 16 Ways to be a Smart Yosemite Visitor

Stay in the Right Place for You

You can stay inside or outside the national park, but beware of deceptive naming. Some hotels with the word "Yosemite" in their names are actually quite far away. Use the Yosemite lodging guide to find out about each area close to the park, with its pros and cons.

Reserve Ahead for Camping

All the ways to reserve a campsite and how to do it are in the Yosemite National Park campground guide. It's a little-known fact that only half of the Yosemite camping sites require reservations. If you want to stay in a campground that operates on a "first come, first served" basis, get there early. On busy days, they fill up as early as 9:00 a.m.

Know the Weather

Because Yosemite is in the mountains, many first-time visitors expect it to be cool in the summer and snow-covered in the winter.

But in fact, Yosemite Valley can be uncomfortably hot July through September. And the Valley's elevation is low enough that snow seldom sticks around more than a day or two. To know what to expect during your visit, check the Yosemite climate and weather.

Bring the Right Stuff

Judging from the items for sale in Yosemite's shops, quite a few visitors don't bring everything they need.

When you pack, think about taking these items:  Earplugs can be a big help in the campgrounds, to block out other campers' noise when you're trying to sleep. For anyone prone to it, motion sickness remedies are a must for driving on the curving mountain roads. 

To combat the effects of dry air, take lots of lotions, lip moisturizers, and eye drops. Unless you're a regular hiker using well-broken-in shoes, a blister pack in your backpack can help keep your hike from turning into an uncomfortable nightmare. The Yosemite National Park website has good recommendations for insect repellents.

Be Smart About Sightseeing

The most popular stops are Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View and Tuolumne Meadows.

They're prettiest in the early morning and late afternoon light, and they'll be less crowded then, too. See where they are on the Yosemite map. NOTE: The Mariposa Grove is closed for a restoration project and is expected to reopen in spring 2017.

Don't Drive in Traffic

If you're staying along Hwy 140 between Mariposa and Yosemite, use the Yosemite Area Transit buses to get into the park. It won't actually keep you out of traffic, but someone else will have to deal with it - and you'll save on gasoline.

Avoid Gridlock Inside the Park

No matter how you get there, once you're inside the park, use the free shuttle buses to get around and try their inexpensive buses and trams to reach Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, and other sights.

Fuel Up Before You Get There

It will not only save you money but will also prevent a last-minute panic when you check the gauge in Yosemite Valley and realize you've got only drops left and there are no gas stations.

Places to buy fuel for lower prices on any Yosemite-bound route are in the how to get to Yosemite guide. Use the shuttle in the valley once you're there and one full tank should get you in and out.

Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are even hard to find. When this was written, there were only a few near the Yosemite Village Store and the Grand Majestic Hotel.

You can call the park at (209) 372-0200 to find out if more have been added. Tenaya Lodge just outside the park has regular chargers and several Tesla Supercharger.

Take a Bike Ride

Yosemite Valley is quite flat and you can tour it by bicycle on 12 miles of paved trails. Not only is it an environmentally friendly way to get around, but you'll have time to get a good look at El Capitan instead of having a National Lampoon's Vacation moment pointing to it out the car window as you speed past. You can rent bicycles at Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge, spring through fall.

Beware of Bears

All the talk about bears in Yosemite isn't just a lot of fuss over nothing. A hungry bear can tear your car door off in minutes if they think there's food inside. To keep your stuff safe, check these tips for bears at Yosemite.

Don’t Go Hungry

Yosemite Valley restaurants close fairly early and only larger groups can make advance reservations. Check their closing times at the beginning of your visit and try to arrive at least an hour before closing time to be sure you get in. Reserve ahead for Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel), especially during summer, holiday weekends and school breaks.

Days Are Shorter Than You Think

Days at Yosemite aren’t quite as long as the official sunrise and sunset times may lead you to believe. Because of high mountains on its west side, the Yosemite Valley falls into shadows about two hours before the sun sets. Light will linger, but it starts getting cooler and things start winding down as soon as the sun’s last warm rays are gone.

Money Matters

The Yosemite National Park entry fee is charged per vehicle and is good for seven days. If your vacation plans include more than two national parks in a year, ask for an annual pass. During National Parks Week (held in April), entry fees are waived in more than 100 parks nationwide, including Yosemite National Park. Get more information at the National Parks Week website. Entry is also free on selected other days that vary by year.

Another Way to Get in Cheaper

Find someone aged 62 or older to take along. They can get a one-year pass for a lower price than one regular admission.

Traveling With Your Pet

It may be best to leave Bowser home. The park has so many restrictions that having one along could hamper your ability to enjoy the place. A full list is at the National Park website.

If you decide to bring your dog along anyway, the kennel at the Yosemite Valley Stable is open from May through September. You'll need written proof of immunizations, dogs must weigh at least 20 pounds or but they may board smaller ones if you provide a small kennel. Call 209-372-8326 for more details.

16. Get High Safely

Elevation at Yosemite varies, but the highest parts can be up to 10,000 feet. That's high enough to cause altitude sickness in very sensitive individuals or discomfort for others. For tips to stay well and comfortable, take a look at the high elevation checklist.