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Travel Tips

Types of Camping in Yosemite

Congratulations! Your road trip is planned; you’re heading to California for a few weeks to see the sights and soak in some rays of sunshine. The world is your oyster at this point, and you are already chomping at the bit to find amazing places to visit.

You already have some ideas of where you want to go during this trip, but the one place that keeps floating back into the front of your mind is the world-famous Yosemite National Park. Maybe that has to do with the tranquility of the location, or maybe you just want to get lost in the wilderness for a few days, but for one reason or another, the beautiful park is on your bucket list.

After a few days of mulling it over, you Google more information about Yosemite and quickly realize that booking campsites is more complicated than you anticipated. You then do a further search and it slowly starts to dawn on you that Yosemite hotels and campsites are sold out for the summer. Uh-oh. 

At this moment you might be rethinking the idea of going to the beloved park altogether or maybe just berating yourself for not planning things sooner. Fear not, however, as your adventure is still very much alive. You have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to camping in Yosemite.

Car Camping: The Easy Way to Camp in Yosemite

Car camping. If you are not familiar with the term, it is the traditional type of camping you do with your family or friends. It can be in a car, an RV or any other type of vehicle, even a VW camper van. You will not be required to hike miles with your gear because you will park at your campsite, with restrooms and places to eat not too far away. (Note: Car camping is always better when you bring your own meals, such as marshmallows to roast over the open fire). 

In Yosemite, car camping is permitted in several areas of the park. You can choose the high country, which is only available in summer and is a good choice if it’s not your first time to Yosemite and you have already seen and experienced the Valley before. Or you can fight the crowds in the Valley for a place to car camp in the campgrounds, such as North, Upper and Lower Pines, most of which are open year-round. A few other car camping spots are available in Yosemite, and you can find them online here

It’s important to know the rules about these campsites. Yosemite restricts campers to only six guests per site (and some of the sites are smaller; you’d be stretched to even fit six tents on them). In addition, many of the campsites are first come, first serve. The ones you can reserve online, which are not first come, first serve, tend to sell out in five minutes or less upon release to the public. 

Can I Camp In My RV On The Side of The Road Instead?

If the campsites in Yosemite are sold out, you may be considering sleeping in your RV or van on the side of the road in Yosemite. Sorry, but the rangers are not new to this type of attempt at camping. They know when you are doing this, and they will wake you up and have you move your vehicle beyond the Yosemite front gates if you do not have a campsite reservation. A few used to sleep in their RVs back in the day on the side of the road, and it was no problem. But Yosemite is too world-famous now, and since the infrastructure cannot support that type of camping anymore, the rangers will instruct you to move on. 

One last option that is similar to car camping (but not quite) is to look for a camping reservation at the historic Camp 4, a designated landmark because of its history tied to rock climbing (basically, where it was invented). Because of the Internet, though, everyone knows about the campsite, so the classic character that was once there is dwindling. It’s a walk-up campsite in the Valley with reservations online that you reserve individually. 

Camping Outside of the Park

Your next option for camping in Yosemite is to camp outside the park. We know, it sounds weird—camping in Yosemite but outside the park. With a quick search on the Internet, though, you can see what we mean: it’s how many businesses promote their hotels and tours “in” Yosemite. For example, search Airbnb, and many houses will say “Yosemite Cabin Getaway…in Mariposa.” But when you google Mariposa, how far away is that town from Half Dome? About 2 hours. 

This makes a Yosemite holiday for newcomers quite stressful at times. Instead of hiking amongst the waterfalls and feeling the mist on your face, you are stuck in traffic or searching for a parking spot because you were forced to drive from Mariposa instead of camping at the base of Half Dome. This is not our favorite part of Yosemite and one of the reasons we began our tour company. We were tired of seeing others upset after trying to visit such a beautiful place, and we knew we could improve on it. 

But back to our point: If you are “camping in Yosemite,” make sure you are camping somewhat near Yosemite, because many tour companies or Airbnbs will pull the bait and switch and you will be a distance away from Yosemite’s best hiking trails. 

Wilderness Camping in Yosemite 

This is BY FAR our favorite type of Yosemite camping. We even offer tours doing this because we love it so much. Before we begin we need to offer our disclaimer, though: This is not a type of camping for lightweights. 

Every year tourists from around the world visit Yosemite with a vague idea it’s a theme park. Many people get too close to the cliff edges, near the rushing water, and do not respect Mother Earth, and sadly a few die as a result. And wilderness camping is no different. If you are considering this type of camping, you need to 100% know what you are doing, or go with someone who does. One small mistake such as the wrong gear or preparation can be disastrous. You’re in the backcountry where a rescue from a poor decision is not easy. 

But don’t let us scare you. If you know how to navigate, how to backcountry hike and make sure you ask the rangers the right questions in the permitting process, then you can have an unbelievable private camping trip in Yosemite with nobody around, a truly unforgettable experience. 

Why Do We Give You This Info If We’re A Yosemite Camping Tour Company?

You want to know why we give you this information for free? While some might think it’s just to court you into spending money on one of our Yosemite camping tours, it’s not like that at all. In fact, we firmly believe you have a choice of how you experience Yosemite. You should do what you believe is best for you.

And whether you choose to go on one of our tours or not, we want you to have all the Yosemite information available in order to make the right decisions. Furthermore, we want to warn you of some of the roadblocks you could run into while planning this experience, which could ruin your road trip. 

You are the consumer, and you should be informed. You deserve to know the ins and outs of this crazy adventure and what you are getting yourself into. From where to camp in Yosemite, to how to meet other people, all the way to finding the hot spots such as the best hiking trails, you should be informed.

None of this is going to be easy, though, and you will probably be second guessing yourself throughout the planning process. That’s where we come in. We know the spots you want to see and the ones you should see. We know the experiences you want to have, and we know how to guide you through all that these Yosemite experiences have to offer. The bottom line is: you can kick back and relax and let us do the planning. 

Again, feel free to plan your Yosemite tour yourself. You could end up having a pretty awesome experience, but what if you don’t want to do all that planning? What if want an expert to show you the best of Yosemite? What if you want to go with a few friends or meet new people? That’s where we come in.