Yosemite National Park spans about 1,200 miles along the border between California and Nevada, and welcomes more than 4 million visitors each year. It’s home to El Capitan, a vertical wall famous for being the ultimate rock-climbing conquest, and has over 800 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore.
Is Yosemite National Park open?
Yes — Yosemite is doing a phased reopening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with restrictions. Through October 2020, it plans to limit the number of vehicles entering the park to 3,600 daily, which is a 50% reduction compared to last year. Most campgrounds are closed, though two are still open.
To enter the park, you must either have a day-use reservation, which you can purchase in advance, or another acceptable reservation or permit. Be sure to check the park’s website in advance, to understand exactly how your visit will be affected.
The best time to visit Yosemite depends on your personal preference. Here, we break it down by weather and affordability:
Spring and summer
Yosemite is busiest from March to October, when the mountain passes are open and the weather is temperate. Accommodations are the priciest during this time, though you can save money by visiting in April, May, September or October, when summertime tourists are at bay.
Expect temperatures ranging from 70°F to 90°F.
Fall and winter
From November to February, the average temperature in Yosemite is between 30°F to 50°F. The park is still open, as are four campgrounds. You should be able to go hiking, but it depends on the weather conditions prior to your arrival.
If you don’t mind bundling up — and dealing with possible snowfall — Yosemite can be an amazing experience during this time. There’ll be fewer people and accommodations will likely be cheaper, thanks to off-season pricing.
Tioga road is impassable between October and May.
Yosemite park hours
Yosemite National Park and campgrounds are open 24/7, though its restaurants, lodges and other facilities all have specific hours. Use the national park website to plan your visit accordingly.
What is there to do in Yosemite?
Yosemite offers all the classic outdoorsy activities you’d expect from a National Park — camping, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, kayaking, birdwatching and more. During your visit, you won’t want to miss:
At one mile wide and eight miles long, Yosemite Valley is the most popular destination in the park, carved by an ancient glacier and framed by majestic cliffs with Bridal Veil Falls flowing and scenic views of Half Dome in the east, and El Capitan in the west. There are nine hikes out of Yosemite Valley, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous.
Two movies have been made about El Capitan in the last decade: Free Solo and The Dawn Wall.
Mariposa Grove is a forest in Yosemite with over 500 sequoias. It’s worth seeing because sequoias are the world’s largest trees, with enormously wide trunks and very little taper toward the top. Gaze up at two of the largest trees in the world — the Washington tree and the Grizzly Giant.
Fun fact: The Grizzly Giant is estimated to be between 1,900 to 2,400 years old
There are four hikes in Mariposa Grove worth noting:
Big Trees Loop — less than a mile
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail — 2 miles
Guardians Loop Train — 6.5 miles
Mariposa Grove Trail — 7 miles
How much does it cost?
Here’s how much it costs to visit Yosemite National Park:
$52 for CA residents
$140 for nonresidents
$30 per person
Guided day tour:
$160 per person
Save some cash by taking advantage of these Yosemite discounts:
US citizens or permanent residents affected by permanent disabilities get in free.
Seniors can buy an annual pass for $20, or a lifetime pass for $80.
Active US military members and dependents get an annual pass for free.
4th-graders and their families get in free by signing up for the Every Kid Outdoors program.
Yosemite free days
Entrance to Yosemite is free on select days. In 2020, visiting Yosemite is free on:
January 20: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 18: First day of National Park Week.
August 25: National Park Service Birthday.
September 26: National Public Lands Day.
November 11: Veterans Day.
How to get to Yosemite
Yosemite is located directly east of San Francisco in California, along the Nevada border. There are five entrances:
Hetchy Hetch — northernmost western entrance, tends to be quieter.
Big Oak Flat — Direct route from the Bay Area.
Arch Rock — Also a fairly direct route from San Francisco.
South Entrance — Southwest entrance, best if you’re starting in LA or San Diego.
Tioga Pass — Eastern entrance, for travelers coming from Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas.
Flights to Yosemite
The closest commercial airports to Yosemite are:
Merced Airport (MCE)
Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT)
Mammoth Yosemite Airport (NMH)
Stockton Metropolitan (SCK)
Oakland International (OAK)
Sacramento International (SMF)
San Jose International (SJC)
San francisco International (SFO)
Reno/Tahoe International (RNO)
There’s public transit available from most airports to Yosemite via Amtrack or Greyhound. MCE and FAT offer a bus route called YARTS, with year round service to the park.
Driving to Yosemite
It takes about three hours to drive to Yosemite from San Francisco, four hours from LA and nearly seven from Las Vegas. However, driving to Yosemite is gorgeous. And if you start in Las Vegas, you could take a detour through Death Valley National Park, which is well worth the time — think colorful rock formations and Mars-like topography.
Renting an RV can be an exciting way to visit Yosemite, because every campground has space for RVs up to 35 feet — except for White Wolf, which has a 27-foot limit. However, none of these sites offer pull-through parking, so the smaller your RV rental, the better.
Also, various roads in Yosemite have vehicle size restrictions, due to tunnels or other natural barriers. You’ll want to research this in advance.
While most Yosemite campgrounds require reservations, there are three first-come, first-serve RV camping sites:
Bridal Veil Creek
There’s also RV camping in nearby Mariposa Country.
RV and camping trailer rentals starting at just $81/night
Everything from motorhomes to campervans, travel trailers and fifth wheels available all across the US.
Compared to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, Yosemite offers more months of warm weather, endless mountaintop views, and relatively close proximity to the Pacific Coast. It can serve as your ultimate destination or stopover on a more extensive adventure throughout the US.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, but not the redwoods you’re probably thinking of — Yosemite is known for its giant sequoias. The giant sequoia is sometimes called the “Sierra redwood,” and its immense truck qualifies it as the largest tree in the world.
True redwoods, on the other hand — the world’s tallest tree — are more frequently found in Redwood National and State Parks. It can be confusing because both redwoods and giant sequoia are part of the genus sequoia.
It takes about 11 hours to drive from Yosemite Valley to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Amy Stoltenberg writes about lifestyle and money for Finder, researching the best options for shopping, banking, insurance and authentic travel experiences. After studying writing and fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked designing apparel at a corporate behemoth before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop’s closed, she can be found wandering the streets looking for happy hour and hole-in-the-wall eateries.
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