Secrets to Reserving a Yosemite Campsite

Are you planning a Yosemite Valley camping trip but fear you won’t get a spot?  Well, you have come to the right place. We camp here every year and always get a site. Getting your Yosemite reservation will not be easy as millions of people are trying to do the same. However, if you use our easy to follow tips and prepare ahead of time you will greatly increase your chances of securing a spot in the jewel of the camping world.

Turn off Facebook, get the kids to put down their video games,  and walk in the steps of John Muir and Ansel Adams.  Go hiking, kayaking and mountain biking. Spend your afternoon playing dominoes or cornhole at your campsite. Make S’mores and tell ghost stories around the campfire. Be Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone for a few days instead of worrying about what Kanye West is doing. Recharge your soul by reconnecting with nature. As John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Online reservations for Yosemite open on the 15th day of each month 5 months in advance of when you want to go.  Start time is 7:00 a.m. PST. Most sites are booked within 15 minutes. To ensure your best chance you must plan ahead, be ready to act, and know exactly what you are looking for.

 

STEPS TO MAKING YOUR YOSEMITE RESERVATION

STEP 1:  

Plan ahead. Register for an account at www.recreation.gov. Simple right? Now do it again by having your camping companion (wife, husband, friend, etc.) register as well. There, you just doubled your chances in one step by having two people able to look for a reservation at the same time.

STEP 2:

Choose a spot. Actually, select a half dozen. Let me show you how to investigate each site online in a minute. Using Lower Pines Campground as an example, you can see the campground configuration at www.recreation.gov.

 

 

Using the example above, you can get the basic facts about each individual site. For instance, my favorite Lower Pines campsite is 062. When you click “Enter Date” you get a more detailed description, such as maximum people is 6 and maximum trailer length is 24 feet. We camped in space 062 last year. This is a 35 ft site and although our trailer is 25 ft long we still had room for our Ford F-150 and an E-Z Up as well. This is important to remember when making your selections. The National Park Rangers will not let you put a 40 ft motor home in a 35 ft spot and if you are tent camping you will only be allowed parking for 2 vehicles. You need to be sure that your equipment will fit in the space you are reserving.

 

Okay, now click on the campsite photo to enlarge. This will give you a good idea of what you are getting.  Next I will help you narrow down the 6 sites that best suit you. There are 3 main loops to choose from, Upper Pines, Lower Pines and North Pines. Here are a few of my favorite spots:

  • North Pines: The only problem with North pines is that it always seems to be closed early in the season. It is quiet and heavily shaded. Sites 101-113 (odd numbers only) are located right on the Merced River. The unobstructed views of the river are amazing. Sites 520, 522,524 and 526 are also on the river. Most are rated for RVs up to 35 feet in length. 525, 527, 529 and 531 are across the small road from the river. My very personal favorite is 506, it is a 35 ft spot on an end corner. Tenaya Creek meets the Merced River at your back doorstep . It is quiet, private, and has a nice view of Yosemite Falls.

  • Lower Pines: The loop nearest to the former Curry Village, now known as Half Dome Village. Ice, firewood and a few places to eat are a short walk away. Spaces Dbl 1, Dbl 2 and Dbl 3 are great for larger groups as they will accommodate 2 large RVs. The biggest drawback is being near the road does mean putting up with the constant buses and cars driving by. Again, my recommended spots are along the river. Check out sites 018,037-043, 059, 060 and the aforementioned 062 which has a great view of Half Dome and the river that greet you each morning. The only drawback was that many people stopped by on their hikes to tell us what a great spot we had. Here are some pictures from that trip:

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  • Upper Pines: The largest loop with over 240 spots, is well suited for tenting. If you are in an RV the best sites are 046, 099, 172 and 210. A short walk to shuttle stops 15 and 16 makes getting around the valley easy. As with all loops, there are plenty of well-placed restrooms. Look at sites 08-010, 062, 069, 108, 137, 156, 179, 182,197,202-211, 216. 220,228-230, 238-240. The higher numbered spots are nearest to HappyIsles and The Fen.

STEP 3:

Be ready early. You need to have done your pre-planning  homework. Reservations begin at 7:00 a.m. PST or 10:00 a.m. EST on the 15th day of the month (reservation day) 5 months prior to your desired arrival date. Remember,  there are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands doing exactly the same thing as you. Be better at this than they are. Things get fast and furious. Know precisely what site you want and your back-up sites in case that one is gone. Within 10 minutes almost every site for that available month will be gone. Here are some proven tips to help get you into  the jewel of the National Parks:

  • Schedule Monday through Friday. Most visitors will be looking for Friday-Sunday. The weekday crowds are much lighter and you will be much more likely to get a reservation.

  • Plan to go before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Most families goduring their children’s summer break. Going before or after school out will increase your odds.  Late August or early June can work as well.

  • Be prepared to move to another spot. You may be only able to get 2 nights at 1 site and then 3 nights at another. This is not ideal I know, but it is sometimes your only option. Do not worry, I will show you some awesome alternatives later.

  • Split up loops between partners. Obviously the riverfront sites are in highest demand, so have one person go after those spots while the other tries for some of the higher numbered spots in Upper Pines. If you are determined for a river spot, each camper can concentrate on either North Pines or Lower Pines. Do not try to jump back and forth.

  • One thing I forgot to mention about North Pines is the horse stables are located next door. Just something to keep in mind if that may bother you.

  • Log in to your Recreation.gov account 15 minutes before 7:00 a.m. PST. It would be a good idea to practice by making reservations for other campgrounds that are offered on Recreation.gov. Just choose any place but don’t actually pay for the reservation. If you have to learn this after 7:00 a.m., you will likely miss out. Once logged in, go to Yosemite National Park and then the Pines campground of your choice. Pick your priority site and enter all needed information. At exactly 7:00 a.m. PST hit the reserve button.

 

STEP 4:

Time to make Reservations.

  •  It’s game time. At exactly 7:00 a.m. PST  hit that reserve button. If your first choice is taken then go to your 2nd and then to your 3rd. If you can only reserve a day or two, grab them now, they will not last and you can hold them in your “basket” for 15 minutes while searching for more days. Work down your pre-selected list, saving whatever dates are available.

  • Check with your camping companion and compare results. If you were successful, congratulations! Maybe you were able to get 3 consecutive nights and your partner got 3 nights that matched with those, then well done. Just make sure to come out of this with at least one night in the Valley. You can still make an amazing Yosemite vacation out of this.

  • Click on “Date Range Availability” and continue to search . You will notice that almost everything is gone, but wait, 15 minutes after the start the “shopping baskets” will empty. Be ready to snatch up whatever you can, even if it is only one night. As I said before, there are numerous ways to enjoy Yosemite.  After 30 minutes has passed it is unlikely that there will be any spots left. Hopefully you got what you wanted, or at least a combination of sites. If not, all is not lost assuming you secured at least 1 or 2 nights. You know you are going to enjoy at least some time in Yosemite.

  • TOP SECRET YOSEMITE RESERVATION TIP:  A fact that very few people are aware of is that you can get the first 5 nights available in the next month’s reservations. Simply book the last available day of the current reservation period (the 14th), and you can reserve the following 5 nights (15th-19th).

 

 STEP 5:

If you were unable to secure enough dates, hang in there. I will show you more options. There are a half dozen first-come,  first-served campgrounds in Yosemite that you can combine with the 1 -3 days  you reserved in the valley. Public and private campgrounds surround the Park. Let’s look at more options. 

Unknown to many people,  the National Park Service almost always has campsites available at the Campground Reservation Office, located in the far corner of the Half Dome Village parking lot near Lower Pines Campground. The reservation office will reassign the campsites that were vacant. The problem with the mad rush to get reservations is that many panic buy. They may feel that friends or family will join them but never do. Many never cancel until last minute or do not show up at all. Many times we have upgraded to better spots by checking out their available inventory.

Combine your reservations with one or more of the first-come, first-served campgrounds like Bridalveil Creek Campground near Glacier Point or Porcupine Flat near Tuolumne Meadows along with Tamarack Flat, White Wolf and Yosemite Creek. Also Wawona Campground near Mariposa Grove. There are plenty of hikes and things to see and do near each of these campgrounds. I will go over all those sights and activities in later articles. Outside of the park you can try private campgrounds like Yosemite West KOA, Yosemite Pines RV Resort, and numerous public campgrounds like Big  Bend Campground near Lee Vining and The Forks near Bass Lake.

I hope this helps you get that elusive Yosemite reservation you are looking for.  Please share with your friends and come back to learn more about fishing and the outdoors.  Safe travels! 

 


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