Yosemite National Park has been an iconic destination since Ansel Adams’ black and white photos and John Muir’s writing brought it to the attention of Americans across the country. Today, it’s one of the most visited U.S. national parks. Make the most of your RV trip to the Yosemite with these tips.
1. Where to Camp
Check For Length
Many of Yosemite’s campgrounds can accommodate RVs. In Yosemite Valley, stay at North Pines or Lower Pines campgrounds with an RV up to 40 feet in length. There are only six sites available for the maximum length at each campground, so make your reservations early. If your RV is 35 feet or shorter, Upper Pines also has RV sites.
South of Yosemite Valley, stay in Wawona or Bridalveil Creek campgrounds with rigs up to 35 feet in length. North of the valley, Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds can accommodate up to 35 feet in length and White Wolf Campground can accommodate up to 27 feet in length.
Hookups are not available anywhere in the park, but all campgrounds mentioned have water spigots and flush toilets available. There are three dump stations in the park. The station at Upper Pines Campground is open year round and there are stations near the Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds available in the summer. Throughout the park, generators are allowed only during the following times: 7 a.m. - 9 a.m., 12 p.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
In recent years, camping at Yosemite National Park has become notoriously popular. Advance reservations are available at www.recreation.gov five months in advance, one month at a time, starting on the 15th of the month at 7 a.m. PST for Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Wawona, Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds. For instance, if you want to reserve a campsite on July 14, reservations would start on Feb. 15. If you wanted to reserve a campsite for July 15, reservations would start on March 15.
During peak season, reservations fill up within minutes or sometimes even seconds of the window opening. For the best chance of guaranteeing a campsite, “camp out” at your computer with reliable internet access in the minutes proceeding the reservation window opening. Don’t forget to refresh your screen at 7 a.m. PST.
If you weren’t able to snag a reservation, White Wolf and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds, north of the Valley, have first-come, first-served sites available. For the best chance at a site, come early in the day and avoid holidays and weekends, especially in the summer months.
2. Choose Your Route and Be Prepared For Mountain Roads
Yosemite lies in the Sierra Nevada mountains and visiting the park requires driving on mountain roads. It’s important to know that vehicles longer than 45 feet are not allowed on any of the roads leading into Yosemite Valley. If you have a vehicle over 45 feet in length, either park outside the park and take public transportation in (see below) or stick to Tioga Road between Lee Vining and Crane Flat Campground.
If you are confident driving your RV under 45 feet, most of the roads leading to the park shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you are scared of heights, or less confident maneuvering a big vehicle, Hwy. 120 through Groveland is a route to avoid due to its steep grade and winding turns.
Regardless of your route choice, it’s important to be aware and smart when driving mountain roads. Pay attention to posted and suggested speed limits, as curves can quickly become more intense than anticipated. Don’t let narrow roads fool you. The lane is wide enough for your vehicle, so you should never veer outside of your lane. Be sure to check your brakes and coolant levels before starting your trip. Use a lower gear when going downhill to slow yourself without overtaxing your brakes. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge when doing this, and pull over if your vehicle gets too hot.
3. Where to Park
Parking in Yosemite Valley can be a challenge in the summer months, even in a passenger vehicle. If you’re in an RV, make sure to arrive early and know where you can park.
Class A and B RVs can park in the Half Dome Village Day Use lot, or in the parking lot west of Yosemite Valley Lodge, across from Camp 4. Class C RVs can park in the day use parking area at Yosemite Village, or in the parking area west of Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Once you’ve snagged a coveted parking space, the free, in-park shuttle will take you all around the valley.
Want to skip the parking headache all together? Keep reading.
4. Let Someone Else Drive
If you’re just visiting Yosemite for the day, or you’re staying in one of the park’s hotels, skip the parking headache and take public transportation to the park. The YARTS busses offer four routes to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center originating from Sonora, Merced, Fresno or Mammoth Lakes, with stops along the way. Park your RV at one of the designated bus stops and ride into the park. From there, you can take the free, in-park shuttle throughout the valley. Learn more at www.yarts.com.
5. Scenic Drives
There are many beautiful scenic drives in Yosemite National Park, but it’s important to make sure your RV isn’t too long, wide or tall to enjoy them.
If your vehicle is longer than 45 feet in length, you’re better off parking at one of the YARTS bus stops and taking public transportation into the park. Vehicles longer than 45 feet are not allowed on Wawona Road (known as Hwy. 41 outside the park), El Portal Road (known as Hwy. 140 outside the park) and Big Oak Flat Road (known as Hwy. 120 outside the park to the west). The road to Glacier Point, past Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, is restricted to vehicles 30 feet in length and shorter. The Mariposa Grove Road and the Hetch Hetchy Road are restricted to vehicles 25 feet in length and shorter.
You likely know how long your RV is, but do you know how tall and wide it is? If not, it’s time to break out a tape measure. Because of the tunnel, El Portal Road (Hwy 140) is restricted to vehicles 12 feet 10 inches in height or shorter. Big Oak Flat Road (Hwy 120) also has a tunnel, vehicle height is restricted here to 10 feet 3 inches or shorter. Hetch Hetchy Road has a width restriction for vehicles over eight feet mirror to mirror.
6. Be Bear Aware
While bear sighting in Yosemite aren’t as plentiful as, say, Yellowstone, there are still many black bears in the park. When leaving your RV, make sure all windows, doors and vents are sealed. All food should be stored out of sight of windows. If you are storing any food inside your RV, it should be completely hard-sided. Bears are very clever and can break their way into any soft-sided areas.
Related: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear
Armed with these six tips, you’ll be ready to explore Yosemite National Park in your RV. Ready to start planning? Check out 10 Things to Do in Yosemite.