If you've tried and failed before, Yosemite camping reservations may seem like an impossible thing to get. And it's no wonder. One of America's most beloved national parks draws more people than it can handle. But don't despair. Instead, use this guide to get some tips and ways to beat the odds.
When Do You Need Yosemite Camping Reservations?
March 15 through November, you need a reservation for drive-in campgrounds in Yosemite Valley. You also need them summer through fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and part of Tuolumne Meadows.
The maximum total days for Yosemite camping is 30 per year. Between May 1 and September 15, the limit for one stay is seven days in Yosemite Valley and 14 days elsewhere.
How to Make Yosemite Camping Reservations
Housekeeping Camp and the tent cabins at Curry Village are managed under a different system than other Yosemite Campgrounds. They're the only Yosemite campgrounds that have showers, too. You can reserve for them online with fewer restrictions than those described below.
Yosemite camping reservations for the rest of the national park are released one month at a time, five months in advance, on the 15th of each month. I know, it's confusing. Here's an example: If you want to camp between July 15 and August 14, count back five months from the beginning of that period (not from the date you want to camp). You can start reserving for any date between July 15 and August 14 on March 15. You can also see a reservation calendar on the Yosemite website.
Don't delay even one second. Reserve on the 15th promptly at 7:00 a.m. for the best selection.
You can reserve Yosemite camping by telephone at 800-44-6777 or 518-885-3639 from outside the United States and Canada. You can also make Yosemite camping reservations online. In my experience, the online reservation system is more than frustrating. I recommend an old-fashioned phone call instead.
If you use the online system and are having trouble finding a spot, don't give up. Try reserving more than one site, each for a different date. Even if you want to stay several days, start your search with just one night and see what comes up.
If you didn't get the reservation you wanted you can try using the website Campnab. For a small fee, they will scan the reservation system for up to four months, checking for openings and notifying you when openings appear. They scan every five minutes to an hour, depending on how much you pay for the service.
Getting Ready to Make Yosemite Camping Reservations
You have to be fast to get the campsite you want when your reservation window opens. Here's what you need to do ahead of time, so you're ready to click at 7 a.m.
Use the campground guide to decide where you want to stay before you go into the reservations system. Pick two or three campgrounds you're interested in. Look at the maps in the guide to figure out which campsites suit you best. Once you get into the reservation system, less information is available and being prepared will help you get through a phone reservation faster, too.
Figure out how many sites you need. The maximum per Yosemite camping site is six people (including children) and two vehicles. You can only make two reservations per phone call or online transaction, so if you need more, find a friend to help.
Smaller campgrounds fill up first, and they are also more pleasant and less smoke-filled in the evening. If one of them is your top pick, reserve it first.
You Can Camp at Yosemite Without Reservations
Many people mistakenly think you need reservations for all Yosemite campsites, and you need them far in advance. That's not 100% true. If you can't get a reservation, you may be able to find a site at the last minute - if you're prepared and know how the system works.
In fact, about 400 Yosemite camping sites are available in the summer on a "first come, first served" basis with no reservations needed. In the winter, only half of the 500 Yosemite camping sites that are open that time of year require reservations.
If you want to try for a first-come, first-served campsite, get there early. The Park Service recommends arriving by noon on weekdays and mid-morning on weekends from spring through fall, but I'd try arriving at 9:00 a.m., an hour before checkout time. Or earlier.
You'll have to be there even earlier for Camp 4 or Tuolumne Meadows. It's also particularly hard to find first come, first served campsites in the park during May and June before Tioga Pass Road opens, and more spaces are made available. You can get recorded availability information at 209-372-0266. Get more details at the Yosemite website - including a list of all campgrounds that don't require reservations.
From fall through early spring, it's much easier to get into a campground. In the middle fo the week you can often find open sites even at the campgrounds that require reservations, but if you're driving from a long distance away, don't risk it.
If you get there late on the first day of your reservation, you will find your campsite assignment posted at the entry kiosk. If you're really late and arrive the following morning, they will cancel your reservation at 10:00 a.m.
For example, if your reservation starts on the 5th and you arrive at 11:00 a.m. on the 6th, you're too late. If you know you'll be late, try calling 209-372-4025 to make arrangements.