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Yosemite Essentials: 12 Basic Things You Need to Know

Read this before you plan your visit to the park.

When you enter Yosemite National Park, you are immediately awestruck by its towering waterfalls plunging into the Merced River, the groves of giant sequoia trees and massive domes of granite, the most famous being Half Dome and El Capitan. But explore deeper and you’ll learn about historic lodges, California’s Gold Rush history, Buffalo Soldiers and the resilient people who lived in, built and advocated for Yosemite as it became a national park. Here are a few basic Yosemite essentials you need to know before planning your trip.

Plan ahead.

The Yosemite National Park entry reservation system has changed for 2023. You will no longer need a Day Use Pass in summer but you will need a Ticketed Entry reservation if visiting the park on weekends in February for the natural Firefall.

February Firefall at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite
February Firefall at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite (Photo: Jeongrae Cho)

Get your pass.

Even though no summer reservation is required, you’ll still need to pay a park entrance fee. You can buy a $35, 7-day pass at a park entrance station, or use your America the Beautiful or other interagency annual pass to get into the national park.

Catch a ride.

Skip the headache of circling for parking spots multiple times a day and take the Yosemite Valley Shuttle. Park in the lot at Yosemite or Curry villages or Yosemite Falls and then explore for the day by shuttle. Besides driving to the park, you can take an Amtrak train from select cities or a regional bus from a gateway town.

Black bear at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite
Black bear at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite (Photo: Getty Images)

Be bear aware.

Yosemite is home to hundreds of black bears so it’s important to properly store your food to make sure you don’t have an unwanted visitor. During the day, you can store food and other scented items in a locked car or RV with the windows rolled up. At night, you must store these items in a food locker located in your campground or a parking lot. Bear spray is prohibited in the park.

Drink up!

Drinking plenty of water is key to staying hydrated and warding off the effects of hiking at high elevation. Bring at least two liters of water per person with you when you hit the trails.

Hike smart.

Afternoon thunderstorms are common in Yosemite in the summer months and lightning can pose a real danger to hikers. Hike in the morning and plan to be back at the trailhead by early afternoon. If you hear thunder or see dark clouds building, turn back immediately.

Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park
Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Lace up.

Leave the flip-flops for the pool. Closed-toed shoes with good tread like hiking boots or tennis shoes will protect your feet and give you a good grip on slippery or uneven trails in the park.

Keep it beautiful.

With 3.3 million visitors in 2021, every piece of trash adds up. Skip the plastic water bottle and refill your reusable at the park’s filtered filling stations. Pack out everything you pack in when you hit the trails. Yes, that means everything, including TP.

Stay on the trail.

Walking off-trail damages plants, erodes the landscape and can lead to dangerous drop-offs. Stick to the park’s 750 miles of trails.

Know your Fido 411.

Dogs are only allowed on paved trails and on leash in campgrounds and parking lots. While Yosemite Valley’s more than 12 miles of paved bike path give plenty of opportunities to go on walks with your furry friend, it’s better to leave them at home if you want to explore more of the park than the roads. Never leave your pet in the car as temperatures can become dangerous, even on a mild day.

Only you can prevent forest fires.

Did you know that 95% of California’s wildfires are caused by human activity?* Be sure to check for fire bans before you go camping and adhere to them. S’mores taste just as good cooked on the camp stove as they do over the fire, promise.
*California Department of Forestry and Protection

Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite
Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Where to Stay?

The park has three hotels: The Ahwahnee, Wawona Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge. A variety of cabins, canvas-tent cabins and camping shelters can be found at Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp and White Wolf and Tuolumne Meadows lodges. Backcountry travelers can stay in the High Sierra Camps or the Glacier Point Ski Hut. Reservations open for lodging in the park at 366 days in advance and fill quickly. Many visitors stay in towns near the park where it’s easier to find lodging like Oakhurst, Mariposa, Groveland and Sonora.

In 2023, campers will find 12 campgrounds in the park. It’s best to make advance reservations. Camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds, or in the backcountry with a permit.