Yosemite is a magical place full of wildlife, mountains and adventure, that’s if you have pre booked a camping spot a year in advance! If you have been planning a trip to Yosemite or just stumbled upon this blog and now thinking that a cheeky visit may be in order, hopefully you will find some useful info! When Johan (my partner) and I started planning Yosemite, we asked ourselves three things: 1. How do we go about booking a camping spot? 2. How can we obtain a wilderness permit? 3. How can we obtain a permit to climb Half Dome?
So let’s start with camping, naturally we turned to the interwebs for inspiration! The first site to come up is http://www.nps.gov/index.htm, now this website is pretty darn detailed and got some great advice so definitely make a visit. The main aspect of this page is to establish camping when you do NOT have a reservation, however I will skim over how to book a camp ground. Depending on when in the year you want to camp, there are specific dates you need to book by. On the specified dates below, you will also need to book as soon as the system opens as it’s usually full within 10 minutes! Check the time difference between where you live and Pacific time to make sure you book 7am their time! Go to www.recreation.gov for bookings.
Camping arrival date First day to book (7am-7pm pacific time Nov-Feb, 7am-9pm pacific time March-October)
March 15th-April 14th November 15th
April 15th- May 14th December 15th
May 15th- June 14th January 15th
June 15th- July 14th February 15th
July 15th- August 14th March 15th
August 15th- September 14th April 15th
September 15th- October 14th May 15th
October 15th- November 14th June 15th
November 15th- December 14th July 15th
Wawona group site only
December 15- January 14th August 15th
January 15th-February 14th September 15th
February 15th- March 14th October 15th
Ok, so if like us, you haven’t booked and winging it, you may find the following helpful. We were told by several friends, acquaintances and general internetty info, that if you haven’t booked a camping spot in Yosemite, you were stuffed! This led Johan and I to look at wilderness camping and obtaining a wilderness permit, ill get on to that later. Do not worry though, there is hope for us happy campers, Yosemite has several camping grounds that are on a first come first server basis. Great if this is brand new information to you but for anyone who already knew this and still thinking, how do we go about getting a spot at one of these campgrounds…..this is where your mind is going to BLOW! Okay I may be hyping this a little….or maybe a lot….here goes. The camp grounds that are reservation only are:
Camp 4 (in Yosemite Valley)/ 1 hour from Yosemite Valley
Bridalveil Creek/ 45 mins from Yosemite valley
White wolf/ Just over 1 hour from Yosemite Valley
Porcupine flat/ 1.25 hours from Yosemite Valley
Tuolumne meadows/ 1.5 hours from Yosemite Valley
Tamarack flat/ 45 mins from Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Creek/ 1 hour from Yosemite
We stayed at Bridalveil Creek can can highly recommend it. It’s 45 mins from the valley so not to far if you wanna make a visit down to Curry village. It does elevate 2200ft though so if you are in a Mustang like us….be prepared for some extra fuel costs!
For first come first serve, you need to arrive at the campsite of your choice the day you plan to camp. What we could not seem to fathom was what time. We had been told by so many people that we would be lucky to get a camp spot in Yosemite so naturally, I imagined queue’s of traffic outside these campgrounds. Needless to say I was armed and ready to fight the masses for an elusive camp spot! We arrived in Yosemite a week after the summer holidays so a lot of family’s had already left, we did however arrive over Labour day weekend which is a very busy time for Yosemite. We planned to arrive at our chosen campsite, Bridalveil for 7.30am on a Thursday, armed and ready to offer any bribes to potential competitions, we were pleasantly surprised to see a very empty campsite. At about a 3rd full, we leisurely drove around the campsite and choose a cosy little spot for Mo the mustang and our wee tent. To pay for the campsite, you have to pay cash and leave it in an envelope at the entrance to the campsite with a completed slip, it’s all provided and you can’t miss it. Remember to bring the right money as there is no change.
We expected within the hour, the campsite would fill up….but no, the campsite did not fill up until roughly midday on the Saturday. Obviously during the summer holidays I expect this is a different story but if you arrive for the time your chosen campsite opens or to be safe, an hour before, regardless of the time of year, you have a pretty good chance of getting a cheeky spot.
Bears in Yosemite
Nothing to worry about here, the bears in Yosemite literally hate people and would rather smoke leaves than be near a person. They do however love a good munch on anything they can get their hands on so you know those cheesy puffs you left in the car overnight? Consider your car broken into and only the softly sprinkled crumbs of your former favourite snack left. No joke though this actually happened to my friends, their parents soon regretted the decisions of putting them on operation ‘make sure there is no food in the car’! Each pitch in Yosemite has it’s own fire pit/BBQ and also a bear box. In the bear box goes everything that has a scent, food, perfume, deodorant, drinks etc Johan and I even went to the extent of putting our washing in there. This was however no ordinary washing, after 4 days with no shower I was afraid our clothes would grow legs and walk out the park.
On a serious note, below is information straight from the NPS website:
If you are in a developed area (e.g. campground, parking lot, lodging area) or if a bear approaches you, act immediately to scare it away: make as much noise as possible by yelling very loudly (don’t worry about waking people up if it’s nighttime). If you are with other people, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the bear. Bear spray/pepper spray is not allowed in Yosemite.
The intent is not to harm the bear, but to scare it from the area and restore its natural fear of people by providing a negative experience.
If you see a bear anywhere else, keep your distance (at least 50 yards, or about the distance four shuttle buses parked end to end would take up). If you get closer, you will be helping the bear become used to being around people.
I can give you personal advice on wilderness permits and permits to climb half dome, all other permit info can be found on the NPS website. Permits can be collected at the Valley Wilderness Center is located between the Ansel Adams Gallery and the Post Office in Yosemite Village, near the Valley Visitor Center. Park at Yosemite Village Day Use Parking. From day use parking, it’s about a five-minute walk (follow the green signs). Or, take the free shuttle bus to the Valley Visitor Center.. Here they will make sure you know how to camp responsibly, have read all the safety guidelines, have enough food/water and provide you with a bear canister.
A comprehensive list of permit issuing stations can be found here http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/permitstations.htm
Wilderness permit: First off you need to plan where you are going to start and finish your hike and on what dates, you can do this here.http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/wildernesstrailheads.pdf
You then need to fill in your permit form, unlike half dome permits, you can’t do this online. You then need to either call, fax or mail the form. For anyone outside the U.S, faxing would be the easiest if you can get hold of a fax machine! The forms can be downloaded here http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/wildpermitform.pdf. Applications are accepted 168 days in advance, for 2015 applications, you can apply on 1st December 2014. If you are planning on applying for both a wilderness permit and half dome, just do so on the same form.
Half Dome permits: Johan and I used the lottery format. You have to apply 2 days prior to the day you want to climb half dome. We applied on a thursday to climb half dome on the Saturday, we found out we were successful on Thursday evening. FYI, you have to print off your permit, they won’t accept viewing it on your phone or any other device. You are supposed to receive an email but we didn’t, I just logged into my account and saw that a permit had been issued to us. Register for an account on the NPS website, this is where you can access permits etc.
PO Box 545
Yosemite, CA, 95389.
Recommended things to do:
Half dome- If climbing half dome, I seriously recommend bringing a harness, sounds pretty cray cray but climbing the cables is pretty mental. It’s very steep, can be slippery and more than anything else, a real mental challenge due to the height and, to put it bluntly, risk of falling! I suggest a harness with 2 simple carabiner on each side to loop the cables, you will still get the thrill of climbing half dome but without the risk of….well….you know! Oh and bring gloves, do not climb Half Dome without gloves!
Glacier point- Going to Glacier point during the day is a must but also visit at night. We had the most spectacular star gazing experience and actually say the milky way! It was unbelievable! Curry village is also lit up in Yosemite valley and is pretty darn beautiful.
Tenaya lake- We brought a Sevylor Colorado blow up kayak with us to the U.S and kayaking on Tenaya lake was awesome. Fantastic views and even if you aren’t going to kayak, it’s beautiful to walk around. Please feel free to email me about travelling with a blow up kayak!
John Muir and Mist trail- Both trails are pretty cool and depending on your fitness, you can decide to do either or both. If you are hiking to half dome and starting down in the valley, I’m afraid you have to start at around 3.30am:/ We took the Mist trail up to Half Dome and the John Muir trail down. The Mist trail is pretty tough and has a very steep incline so make sure you are prepared to hike it! The John Muir trail is longer but the incline is gentle, either way, bring plenty of water! Around 4 litres each.
Hire bikes- You can hire bikes all over Yosemite and it’s a great way to see the iconic views in Yosemite like El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite falls.
Kayak- You can also hire Kayak’s where you can view the same views as above but whilst kayaking on the Merced river. We Kayaked on Tenaya lake because the Merced river was too low during the summer months, however when I go back to Yosemite, kayaking on the Merced river will be my first point of call!