Yosemite Area Camping: Where to Camp Outside the Park

Camping in the forest
Tom Merton/Getty Images

Most Yosemite visitors want to camp inside the national park. They have a good idea and camping in the national park campgrounds saves time on driving around. The sad truth is that Yosemite doesn't have enough campgrounds to accommodate everyone who wants to stay there.

Reservations fill up far in advance. If you're planning a camping trip and that happens to you, there are more options. Some of these campgrounds are close to the park entrances and others provide more amenities than you'll find in the national park. 

You can find places to camp along all of the main routes into Yosemite.

Groveland Camping Near Yosemite (Highway 120)

Groveland is about an hour's drive from Yosemite Valley via CA Hwy 120. Local businesses like to say it's closer, but they're using the numbers to their advantage: The entrance gate is much closer to town than Yosemite Valley, which is what most people want to see. Campgrounds in the Groveland area include:

  • Pine Mountain Lake is a gated community just outside of town with lots of vacation rentals. They also have campsites for rent. The good thing about Pine Mountain is that you get access to all of their facilities, which include a place to eat and a swimming hole.
  • Stanislaus National Forest campgrounds are an option, but most of them minimal amenities. Expect vault toilets (porta-potty style), no showers - and you may have to bring your own water. Dimond O, Lumsden, The Pines, Lost Claim, and Pretty Sweetwater campgrounds are good places to check. You might be surprised to find out that some of the national forest campgrounds also get quite hot in summer. At the National Forest website, you will find links to their campgrounds. And you can search by highway number.
  • Yosemite Lakes is a full-service campground. They have RV parking, regular tent sites, bunkhouse cabins, and yurt-style tents with plenty of amenities. If you dislike the idea of a national park campground where your smoke allergies and breathing problems may act up — or if just don't want to go home smelling like you've been in a forest fire, this is the place for you. Yosemite Lakes is one of the few camping places around Yosemite that doesn't allow campfires.
  • Yosemite Ridge Resort: At this resort, you'll find camping cabins, family cabins, RV sites, and one-bedroom cottages. Their rates are reasonable and cottages fall in the mid-priced range.

    Highway 41 Camping (South of Yosemite)

    Highway 41 enters Yosemite from the south, through the towns of Oakhurst and Fish Camp. If your Yosemite stay centers on the south side, the Wawona area or the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, this is a good option. If you plan to spend all your time in and around Yosemite Valley, it's not the best choice. It's an hour-long, winding drive from Fish Camp into the Yosemite Valley.

    • Sierra National Forest: These campgrounds are in the national forest south of the national park, along the Highway 41 corridor. They offer pleasant surroundings, but minimal amenities. Expect vault toilets (fancy porta-potties) and possibly no running water - you may need to bring your own.

    Highway 140 Camping Near Yosemite

    If you choose a campground along Highway 140, you have the advantage of being on the Yosemite Area Transit (YARTS) bus line. Using it gives you a way to get in and out of the park without having to drive your car (or big RV) and hassle with parking in the valley.

    • KOA Midpines has full hook-up sites (some are pull-throughs), water/electric sites, and tent sites. They also have a few cabins.

    Camping Around Tioga Pass

    If you want to get up into the high Sierras on the east side of Yosemite, the Inyo National Forest is the place to go.

    Not all campgrounds in the Inyo Forest are close to the national park, but Sawmill Walk-In Camp, Ellery Lake, Big Bend, and Tioga Lake are. They're all in the very high country (over 9,000 feet) near Tioga Pass. Like other national forest campgrounds, expect minimal facilities and vault toilets. Check to find out whether the campground you choose has running water - you might have to bring your own.