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Updated On: 01/04/2017 by Brian Eagen

How to Make
Yosemite Camping Reservations

Camping in Yosemite National Park is a very rewarding experience -- thousand foot granite towers, tall pines, rushing rivers... But with over 2 million summer visitors, the limited camping can fill up within seconds.

The most sought after spots are found at the three Pines campgrounds: Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines. These campgrounds place you in very close proximity to many of the parks iconic spots, which is largely why they are so popular and instantly fill up.

Reserving a spot in Yosemite Valley can be intimidating, and if you get it wrong you might miss out on the opportunity to stay there. This guide is intended to help walk you through the process of deciding where you want to stay, getting a reservation, or finding alternatives if everything is full.

How To Make Yosemite Camping Reservations pano

What Campgrounds Are Available?

Yosemite's 13 campgrounds can be broken down geographically into three categories: campgrounds in Yosemite Valley, campgrounds north of the valley, and campgrounds south of the valley (1).

Yosemite Campgrounds

The campgrounds in Yosemite Valley, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, and Camp 4 (not reservable), are the hardest spots to get because of their close proximity to most of the park's icons. Four campgrounds are open year-round: Upper Pines, Camp 4, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow. The rest are open seasonally sometime between March - October of each year. See the chart below for estimate opening times, campground location, reservability, and total number of sites.

Campground Open (approx.) Reservable? Daily Fee # of Sites
Yosemite Valley
Upper Pines All Year Yes $26 238
Lower Pines March 29 - Nov 1 Yes $26 60
North Pines Apr 3 - Nov 6 Yes $26 81
Camp 4 All Year No $6 / pers. 35
South of Yosemite Valley
Wawona All Year Apr 10 - Oct 9 $26 93
Brivalveil Creek Jul ? - Sep 18 No $18 110
North of Yosemite Valley
Hodgdon Meadow All Year Apr 11 - Oct 10 $26 105
Crane Flat Jul ? - Oct 9 Yes $26 166
Tamarack Flat Jul ? - Oct 15 No $12 52
White Wolf Jul ? - Sep 25 No $18 74
Yosemite Creek Jul ? - Sep 4 No $12 75
Porcupine Flat Jun 5 - Oct 15 No $12 52
Tuolumne Meadows Jul ? - Sep 25 50% $26 304

While the Pines campgrounds and Camp 4 offer instant access to many fantastic spots, you should consider other aspects of your camping experience as well before deciding where to stay.

Benefits for Staying in Yosemite Valley

  • - You can ride the shuttle anywhere in the valley, making travel to key destinations less stressful
  • - Most of the park amenities are found in the valley
  • - Trails to Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and many other highlights are found just a few miles from camp
  • - It's an iconic campground with towering granite cliffs all around you

Benefits for Staying Outside the Valley

  • - These campgrounds are MUCH quieter and less crazy
  • - It's easier to reserve/find a spot
  • - The high country offers more solitude and fantastic scenery (especially in the summer)
  • - There are countless trails and climbing spots to be found, even if they are not as "Classic Yosemite"

Why is it so Hard to Get a Spot?

It all comes down to numbers. Between the months of June and September, over 2 million people will visit Yosemite National Park. The vast majority of those visitors will be spending their time in Yosemite valley because it is home to most of the park's landmarks. There are only 414 campsites available in Yosemite valley (2), which means there is way too much demand and not enough supply.

Since the reservation system is online, all of those people are vying for the campsites at the exact same time each month. So it all comes down to being fast and flexible.

How Do I Reserve A Site?

This is primarily for Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines campgrounds. However, on weekends and busier summer periods (July & August) it would be worth it reserve spots in places like Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, and Wawona as well.

Sometime Before the Reservation Date...

Step 1) Determine Your Travel Dates

If you have the flexibility to visit during the week you will have a higher chance of securing your campsites. Try to arrive Sunday and depart on Friday so that you don't have to compete with weekenders coming in from nearby cities. Also, consider what you'd do if you can only get 2 or 3 nights in the park. Lay out a series of action steps you can quickly work through so that you don't waste time when the reservation window opens. Here's an example:

Plan A) Get a campsite in Yosemite Valley for 5 nights -- arriving Sunday and departing Friday.

Plan B) Get a series of campsites for 5 nights in Yosemite Valley (which means moving camp once or twice) -- arriving Sunday and departing Friday.

Plan C) Get a campsite at Crane Flats (outside the valley) for 5 nights -- arriving Sunday and departing Friday.

Plan D) Get 2-3 days in Yosemite Valley (for limited availability) then get a site in the nearby National Forest for the remainer of the time.

Step 2) Determine What Day your Reservation Window Opens

Now it's time to figure out when the booking window for your dates opens up. Reservations open on the 15th of the month, 5 months prior to your arrival. See the chart below to determine exactly when the first day to make reservations is.

Arrival Date Day Reservations Open (7AM)
March 15 - April 14 November 15
April 15 - May 14 December 15
May 15 - June 14 January 15
June 15 - July 14 February 15
July 15 - August 14 March 15
August 15 - September 14 April 15
September 15 - October 14 May 15
October 15 - November 14 June 15
November 15 - December 14 July 15
Wawona Group Site only:
December 15 - January 14 August 15
January 15 - February 14 September 15
February 15 - March 14 October 15

Note that you CAN book campsites in the following reservation window as long as your arrival day is within the current reservation window.

Step 3) Recruit Helpers

Enlist the help of two other people who can attempt to make the reservations at the same time as you. You will each choose a different campsite to go for and see who succeeds at getting one. Don't worry about overbooking sites, there is a holding screen which allows you to dump extra reservations before purchasing them. Make sure your helpers are tech savvy and can move quickly.

Step 4) Sign Up at Recreation.gov

Navigate to Recreation.gov. On the upper right corner click the "Sign In/Sign Up" button. If do not have an account yet then now is the time to create one. Fill out the information fields and make sure to remember your email address and password. Helpers need to create their own accounts.

THE MORNING OF - Get Set Up (6:45 AM PST)

You can work through a couple of steps before the reservation window opens. Then, once the clock hits 7AM PST, you will only need to click one button to hold your spot.

Step 5) Navigate to Yosemite Page on Recreation.gov

Navigate to the Yosemite National Park page on Recreation.gov. Sign in if you are not already (IMPORTANT). Select the campground you wish to reserve a site at by clicking it under the "Make A Reservation" sidebar.

A search box is located on the upper left side of your browser. Enter the details for your Plan A option.

Recreation.gov

Select your arrival date and departure date, then choose if you are flexible in your dates or not (for this example we are choosing Not Flexible) Use "Not Flexible" if you are trying to get specific dates.

Leave "Any Loop" as the criteria under the Loop drop down.

Enter the site number you want to get. If you don't have a specific site in mind that's fine, you will pick a site later on.

Select whatever type of equipment you are using from the Looking For drop down.

Leave the check boxes open.

Select an Electric Hookup option and enter your camper Length if pertinent.

Enter the number of people you estimate are visiting under Occupants. There is a maximum of 6 people per campsite.

Hit Search

Step 6) Navigate to a Specific Site

If you didn't enter a specific site number then click on the Facility Map tab on the next page.

Choose a Yosemite Campground

Now you can navigate through the map of the campground and choose a site that you want to try to get. If you selected a specific site number then the map view will be immediatly available. Use the zoom and arrows to move the map around. Click on an icon to pull up more details about a particular site.

Choose a Yosemite Campsite

Note the type of equipment this site allows. For folks using RVs and trailers pay special attention to the max length allowed and whether they have electric (or nonelectric) hookups. You will not be able to switch sites later on if you book something that doesn't fit your vehicle. Tent campers can legally stay at any sites, but the ones marked "RV non-electric" might not offer flat ground for your shelter.

Once you find a site that you like, click on the Find Next Available Date button.

Step 7) Verify that Everything is Correct

This screen is as far as you can go before the reservation window opens. You will see a bunch of dates with a N under them (meaning not open to reserve, yet).

Booking Page

Take a minute to double check the dates, equipment type, and length of stay.

Step 8) Open up the Official Clock

Open up a new browser window with the official US clock. You can find it at this link. Make sure pacific time is selected.

Official Clock

Step 9) Wait...

Now it's just a waiting game until the clock hits 7:00 AM PST. Make sure your enlisted help also has their sites ready to go. Double check that they are not trying to reserve the same site as you (each person should target a different site number).

Step 10) Go!

Once the clock hits 7AM PST, click the big orange button that says Book These Dates.

Booking Button

You'll know you've succeeded if you are taken to a new page that says Order Details on the top.

Successful Screen

Step 11) If you have Succeeded... Communicate with your Enlisted Help

If you arrived at the Order Details page then you are temporarily holding the campsite for those dates. You have 15 minutes before they are released back to the public.

Communicate with the enlisted help and see if they were also successful. You don't want to book more sites than you'll need. Have them keep their Order Details window open until you complete the last steps.

You'll need to fill out a couple fields again: Primary Equipment, Occupants, and Vehicles. Choose who is the primary occupant. This person must show a photo ID when checking in.

Read all the information to double and triple check that you are getting what you wanted. Then select the checkbox that you have read everything.

Finally, hit Continue to Shopping Cart.

Proceed to Step 12.

Step 11B) AHHHHH! It didn't go through - Check in with the Help

If you clicked Book These Dates and this red line of text showed up...

Cannot Book Image

...then it's time to quickly check in with the enlisted help. Very quickly see if anyone made it to the Shopping Cart page. If so, take a deep breath and have them carry on to Step 12. If not, it's time to scramble.

Step 11C) Find out if there are still Sites Available at the Campground

Click Find other sites just underneath the red warning text.

Find Other Sites

Now click the Date Range Availability tab.

Date Range Availability

You'll see a list of sites that may or may not fit the criteria you had been searching for.

Campsite Availability

Chances are good that you can still grab a site for the dates you are interest in. If so, click the first blue A for the date range you want.

If there is nothing available for the entire trip length, then it's time to move to Plan B, Plan C, or Plan D. You can try to piece together the dates you need for your trip. You can only have two reservations held in your cart at a time though, so you may need to use your enlisted help to get things done.

Or try searching other nearby campgrounds. Upper, Lower, and North Pines campgrounds all go very quickly, but try checking Crane Flat for a nearby alternative.

Once you have added any/all of the campsites reservations to your cart, proceed to Step 12.

Step 12) Verify Shopping Cart

Now you'll arrive at the Shopping Cart page. Note the Reservation is held for: time (you are on a bit of a timeline here so keep moving). If that all looks good then click Checkout Shopping Cart.

Shopping Cart

Step 13) Enter Payment Information and Complete Purchase

Enter your credit card information, and then click a few boxes to acknowledged that everything is correct. Then hit Complete this Purchase. Again, don't linger too long since the hold time is still ticking.

Complete Purchase

Step 14) Let the Other Reservations Go

Now, if that all went through properly, you can instruct your enlisted help to release their campsites (or just wait 15 minutes and they will be released automatically).

Step 15) Take a Deep Breath

Good work. You've successfully booked a campsite at Yosemite National Park. You will get an email confirming your reservation which you should print off and bring with you when you visit. Give yourself (and your team) a highfive!

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What to do if you Didn't Get a Site?

Don't despair. Here are some other options available to you.

#1) Camp Somewhere Less Busy

This might mean that you're not sleeping directly in Yosemite Valley, but there are some HUGE advantages (quieter, less impacted) to staying in one of the other campgrounds in the park. You may be able to snag a reservation at Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Wawona, or Hodgdon Meadow.

#2) Try to get a First-Come, First-Served Site

Camp 4 is the only first-come first served site in Yosemite Valley, and is a pretty hard spot to land (there are only 35 sites there). Other first-come first-served sites include Bridalveil Creek, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Porcupine Flat, and half of Tuolumne Meadows. Arrive as early as possible (noon is usually far too late) and wait at the kiosk or visitors center. Shoot for 6-7 AM for Camp 4 or Tuolumne Meadows. The other campgrounds are easier to secure spots in.

#3) Camp Outside the Park

While it means more driving time, there are a number of camping options outside of the park. You can stay at one of the private campgrounds near the west entrance or at one of the National Forest campgrounds outside of the park (use recreation.gov to find them).

Here's a great list of 10 free campgrounds that are fairly close to Yosemite.

#4) Choose Different Dates

Or you can always try a different range of travel dates, and you might have more luck. Try visiting in the autumn of late spring, before the park get's especially crazy.

#5) Visit a Nearby National Park

Yosemite is just one of nine fantastic national parks that are found in California. Head south to Kings Canyon / Sequoia national parks for equally breathtaking scenery. Or go north to Lassen Volcanic National Park for a cascade volcano and beautiful alpine environment.

Now It's Planning Time

Now that you've successfully figured out your camping arrangements, it's time to start planning your trip!. Here are my three favorite resources for the park.

James Kaiser's Yosemite: The Complete Guide is a beautiful collection of the best hikes, sights, and hidden gems in the park. For just the short hikes and highlights, Best Easy Day Hikes Yosemite is a good option. Also, consider getting a National Geographic Park Map for more detail on those longer hikes.

James Kaisers: Yosemite the Complete Guide

Yosemite: the Complete Guide, by James Kaiser

Best Easy Day Hikes Yosemite

Best Easy Day Hikes Yosemite, by Suzanne Swedo

National Geographic Yosemite Park Map

National Geographic Park Map

Wrapping Up

Remember that while it is a huge hassle to secure a campsite in Yosemite, in a few short month you will reap the benefits by sleeping in one of America's classic parks. Good luck!

The Beta:

Most of the content from this article was taken from the multiple NPS Yosemite pages which also covers camping reservations. For the official documentation visit:

Sources

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