What type of camper are you?
I love car camping.
Is tap water important to you?
No, I like my sites relatively rustic and remote: Campground 1
Yes. I like to brush my teeth at a sink: Campground 2 & 3
My tent is an RV.
How important is a dump station?
Not important: Campground 2
Very important: Campground 3
I am flexible with distance but want someone to cook for me.
High Sierra Camps: Camp 4
It's backcountry or bust for me.
How far do you want to hike?
Short and sweet: Camp 5
28.7 miles one way: Camp 6
1. Yosemite Creek Campground
At Yosemite Creek campground north of the valley, you’ll find your piece of paradise on a first-come, first-served basis and all for $12 per day.
Open July through early September, there’s a lot at Yosemite Creek that separates you from the throngs of tourists cavorting below in the Yosemite Valley about an hour’s drive away. The most obvious barrier is the 5-mile bumpy road that leads you from Tioga Road to the campground.
At the campground, you’ll be staying at 7,700 feet, so bring warm layers and a winter hat because temperatures up here will be significantly cooler than those in the valley, especially at night. There’s no RV or trailer camping here, so the 75 sites are all for tents, adding to the solitude of the area. Pets, however, are allowed.
Yosemite Creek runs through the campground, making a great place to take a dip. Know that site 51 is at the waterhole, so if you don’t want a bunch of strangers near your campsite, you may want to avoid it. The creek also is the main water source for the campground. All creek water must be treated with a filter, boiled or treated with water tablets. With no running water comes the inevitable ⎯ pit toilets rather than flush toilets.
An added bonus is the Ten Lakes trailhead leaves from the campground.
2. Bridalveil Creek Campground
Close to Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point, Bridalveil Creek Campground south of the valley offers solitude from the chaos of the Yosemite Valley and conveniences like flush toilets and a tap for water ⎯ all for $18 per day.
Open seasonally from sometime in July to Sept. 19, it’s a first-come, first-served campground, so get there early to try to get a spot. Home to 110 sites with scenic forest views, Bridalveil Creek campground does accommodate RVs up to 35 feet and trailers up to 24 feet.
It gets cold at night here, dropping sometimes into the 30s in July and August. Pack warm layers and a winter hat, which may seem crazy if you’ve spent time in the Yosemite Valley. You can always snuggle with Fido to keep warm in the tent since pets are allowed here.
You may have limited to no cellphone coverage, so get ready to truly disconnect from the rest of the world in this secluded spot.
3. Upper Pines Campground
Looking for a place to spend the night in one of Yosemite’s 10 campgrounds that accommodate RVs? Head to Upper Pines Campground, the only RV-friendly campground open all year round that has a dump station. It can accommodate an RV length of 35 feet and trailer length of 24 feet.
With scenic views of Half Dome, you are far enough from Half Dome Village, formerly known as Curry Village, that you feel a bit away from the rest of the crowds but close enough that you can walk to the general store to get an item you forgot to pack. There’s tap water here, which means you have flush toilets and an easy drinking water source. Shuttle stop no. 15 is at the entrance of the campground, making getting around the park without your RV simple and worry free.
From mid-February through November, advanced reservations are required and available online up to five months in advance. From December through mid-February, campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The fee is $26 per night.
Before you get carried away and throw all caution to the wind after you get your Upper Pines reservation, know one thing. There are no electrical, water or sewer hookups in Yosemite.
4. High Sierra Camps
Leave tent poles and cooking gear behind when you set out for one or more of the five High Sierra Camps in Yosemite. Located 6-10 miles apart on a loop trail northeast of Yosemite Valley, each canvas, tented camp with steel frame beds and mattresses offers different views and amenities. You can reach May Lake High Sierra Camp in a mile, but the sunsets and solitude here are exceptional. Fourteen miles in, you can reach Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, which is relatively low in elevation at 7,150 feet, which means you can spend the days swimming and relaxing.
The best part is you don’t have to worry about cooking. Each camp has a meal tent where dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. and breakfast at 7:30 a.m. The cost is $70/adult and $35 per child, which is not cheap. But it’s a wonderful luxury that frees you from carrying food and cooking supplies on your back and gets you out of cleaning cookware. Box lunches also are available at $15 for adults and $7.50 per child 12 and under. Advance reservations are required. Email HighSierraCampMeals@travelyosemite.com and include your full name and number of meal tickets required per adult and child, arrival date at each camp location for reservation and your email and phone number.
Camps are shared and dormitory style, equipped with pillows and wool blankets or comforters, and can be reserved through the lottery system at www.travelyosemite.com/lodging/high-sierra-camps. Applications are accepted in September and October for the following year. Winners are emailed in spring. All camps have restrooms and some have showers, depending on water availability.
5. Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley
For a truly family-friendly backpacking trip, consider Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, a very popular area precisely because it is such a great place for day hikes to Half Dome and for bringing the family on a short backcountry adventure. Be aware it is one of the most difficult places in the park to get a wilderness permit.
Spend a couple days hiking around this long, flat valley surrounded by granite domes, waterfalls and the Merced River that cuts through it. If you have a wilderness permit for Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, park rules mandate you must camp in Little Yosemite Valley Campground on the first night (and you can camp there on subsequent nights) of your hike. The campground is pretty rustic with shared food lockers and a pit toilet.
Camping is not allowed between Yosemite Valley and Little Yosemite Valley, so you have to set up camp a minimum of two miles past the campground. This means at or beyond either Moraine Dome or the Half Dome/John Muir Trail junction. Camping is not permitted on top of Half Dome or at Lost Lake.
You will need a wilderness permit to backpack in the park. There are some available on a first-come, first-served basis, although be sure to have a plan B in the event you don’t get one. You can try to get one at any permit-issuing station no earlier than 11 am the day before your hike begins. The permit is free. Priority for permits for a particular trailhead is given to the closest permit issuing station. This is especially important for Little Yosemite Valley because it is so popular.
Otherwise, reserve your permit in advance at $5 for the reservation and an additional $5 per person. You can reserve your spot up to 24 weeks in advance from mid-November through October. Fill out the reservation form. Then you can send it by fax at 209-372-0739, reserve via phone at 209-372-0740 or send the form via snail mail at Wilderness Permits; PO Box 545; Yosemite, CA, 95389.
6. Hetch Hetchy-Lake Vernon Loop
Tucked in the northwestern part of the park, the strenuous 30-mile Hetch Hetchy-Lake Vernon Loop is a great way to escape crowds and enjoy incredible lakeside nights. This route is relatively low in elevation ⎯ 3,900 feet ⎯ so it’s hot in the summer but with so few people around, it’s a gem.
This three-night backpacking route passes by enormous granite slabs and gorgeous, remote lakes with relatively few visitors. The trail starts at the Beehive Meadows trail, following an old road as it switchbacks up the cliffs above Hetch Hetchy and through the forest until you reach Laurel Lake 8.3 miles later.
Spend your first night at Laurel Lake, followed by Lake Vernon the following night and then Rancheria Falls for your final night before you hike the last 6.7 miles to complete the loop to your car.
After you pack up the car, stop by the Priest Station Cafe for food that tastes even more savory after three nights of backcountry cooking. In business since 1853, it is owned by the Anker family (think mountaineer Conrad Anker) who as 4th, 5th and 6th generation descendants of the original owners, reacquired the business in 2007 and renovated and reopened it in 2009.
You will need a wilderness permit to backpack in the park. There are 14 per day available for the Beehive Meadows trailhead on a first-come, first-served basis. You can try to get one at any permit-issuing station no earlier than 11 am the day before your hike begins. The permit is free.
Tip: Priority for permits for a particular trailhead is given to the closest permit issuing station, although you can go to any permit-issuing station to get a permit.
Otherwise, reserve your permit in advance at $5 for the reservation and an additional $5 per person. You can reserve your spot up to 24 weeks in advance from mid-November through October. At Beehive, there are a potential 21 spots open every day. Fill out the reservation form. Then you can send it by fax at 209-372-0739, reserve via phone at 209-372-0740 or send the form via snail mail at Wilderness Permits; PO Box 545; Yosemite, CA, 95389.
TIP: The park service will give priority to faxes.