Yosemite's High Sierra Camps are a great way to see the Yosemite backcountry without having to sleep on the ground every night. They're just the thing if you like to hike and would love to see the mountains up close but think camping is what people did before God invented hotels.
Yosemite National Park operates five High Sierra camps arranged along a loop in Yosemite's High Country. They are set up to be a day hike apart, about six to ten miles. They are open from late June through September, depending on the weather and snowfall.
What the High Sierra Camps Are Like
At the High Sierra Camps, you sleep in canvas tent cabins with dormitory-style steel-framed beds. Groups of less than four people may have to share a cabin with others.
The camp provides mattresses, pillows, woolen blankets or comforters. All you need to take is sheets or sleep sacks. It's not the kind of accommodation that would be described as "glamping," but it's better than sleeping on a rock.
The High Sierra Camps also serve a full dinner and a family-style breakfast. You can also order box lunches in the evening, to take on the trail the next day. If you take your own food to the camp, you must use the food storage lockers at the camp, to keep the bears out.
Hot showers, soap, and restrooms are subject to water availability, but no matter what, you need to bring towels. Glen Aulin and Vogelsang camps have no showers.
To visit the camps, most people start from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, then hike to Glen Aulin Camp, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake and Vogelsang, ending at Tuolumne Meadows. You can also hike it in the opposite direction or hike out to just one camp and back. If you hike the entire loop, you'll cover 49 miles (79km). You can see their locations on this map.
If you'd like to see the sights, but the hiking isn't for you, try a four-day or six-day saddle trip to the High Sierra Camps. Guests are limited to 225 pounds, which includes their body weight and everything they're carrying. And they can only sign up after they get a space through the lottery. Find out more at the TravelYosemite website.
No matter how you choose to travel between camps, you need to be up to the challenge. You need to be fit enough to hike six to ten miles a day, at elevations above 7,000 to more than 8,000 feet. Get ready by walking or hiking with the pack and shoes you plan to use.
Altitude sickness can affect some people at that elevation or even lower. It's hard to predict who may get it. Fitness level is not predictor although previous episodes may be. Find out more about what it is and what to do if you experience those symptoms.
To help prevent altitude sickness, you can stay at Tuolumne Meadows or White Wolf a day or more before you start and increase water intake starting a week before your trip.
The Camp Lottery
High Sierra Camps' season depends on how much snow fell during the winter, and how much of it has melted. At the most, it lasts for less than three months and varies by year.
So many people want to stay in them that demand outstrips availability. To give everyone a chance at the experience, reservations are assigned by lottery.
To stay at the High Sierra Camps next year, fill out a lottery application online in September and October. Exact dates are posted on their website. The more flexible you can be with your dates, the better your chance of getting in.
Occasionally, winter snowpack can be so deep that the camps don't open at all. When that happens, you can get a refund or reschedule to the following year.
Other Ways to Visit the High Sierra
If you can't get a space through the lottery, consider a backcountry guided trip instead. Scheduled multi-day trips are available with a National Park Service Ranger Naturalist. Custom trips can also be arranged through the Yosemite Mountaineering School.
If you don't mind the hiking but don't want to carry the gear, the saddle trip folks will take it in on one of their regular supply trains for a few dollars per pound. Get the rates and schedule here.