Camping World’s Guide to RVing Yosemite National Park

Camping World’s Guide to RVing Yosemite National Park


When you think about national parks, there are a few places that immediately come to mind. Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, and, of course, Yosemite. With its stunning landscapes, iconic rock faces, and pristine wilderness, Yosemite is one of the country’s most popular outdoor destinations. It is a must-visit place for hikers, backpackers, and rock climbers, although it has plenty to offer anyone who appreciates breathtaking scenery on an epic scale.

Ansel Adams spent his life trying to capture the essence of this beautiful place, capturing some of his most memorable photos there. But, you can’t truly appreciate what Yosemite has to offer until you visit it yourself. Here’s how to make that happen and what you should see and do once you get there. 

Yosemite National Park
Image by Unaihuiziphotography/Getty

Why Visit Yosemite in Your RV?

Covering nearly 760,000 acres, Yosemite is epic in size and scope. There is so much to take in here that a single visit only scratches the surface of what the park has to offer. By visiting in an RV you’ll have the perfect base camp for your outdoor adventures, with a comfortable and warm setting to return to at the end of the day. Hike the trails, soak in the scenery, and enjoy a beautiful campfire after sunset. This is a place that any adventurous traveler or outdoor enthusiast will fall in love with, and most likely return to again in the future.

Yosemite National Park
Image by jssuley/Getty

When to Visit Yosemite

As with most national parks, Yosemite is open year-round and accessible 365 days a year. If you’re RVing, it’s best to go in the late spring through early fall, avoiding chances for major snowfall at the lower elevations. You’ll find that all of the park’s areas are open from June through September, although it is the busiest time of the year for travelers. Be prepared to share the roads and parking lots, as even on weekdays, it can get very crowded. 

Yosemite in the Spring

Spring brings warming temperatures and a slow, gradual thaw to Yosemite National Park. The park’s numerous mountain peaks continue to be shrouded in snow, but at lower elevations, winter is in full retreat. Daytime temperatures average in the mid-50ºF to mid-60ºF range in the Valley, falling into the low- to mid-30s at night. All temperatures are colder at altitude, although much of the backcountry remains closed throughout March and April. Snow showers are not unheard of at this time of year, but most days are clear and sunny.

Crowds remain at a minimum but continue to grow throughout the season, making this a good time to visit if you’re looking to avoid traffic jams. By May, Yosemite is ramping up for the busy summer season, with plenty of visitors making their way into the park.

Note: Due to high traffic volumes, a reservation may be required to drive into the park from 6:00 AM – 4:00 PM daily from late May through the end of September. Visitors who have a camping permit will not need a separate entry reservation.

Yosemite in the Summer

The warm summer weather causes the park’s winter snows to melt off, swelling its streams and rivers. This is good news for visitors who have come to take in Yosemite’s numerous waterfalls, as they are at their peak in June and early July. As the summer wanes, the waters retreat, with some drying up altogether. Temperatures average in the upper 80s in Yosemite Valley and upper 60s at higher elevations during the day and as much as 20ºF cooler at night. Hotter conditions are possible throughout July and August, so be sure to bring plenty of water on any backcountry excursions. Rainfall is minimal, but showers do occur throughout the park all summer long.

Most of Yosemite’s 2+ million visitors come during the summer, which can make getting in and out of the park a challenge. The vast majority of those travelers spend the bulk of their time in the Valley, which means backcountry trails are usually quiet and mostly empty. Traffic jams on the roads are not uncommon, so be patient and adjust your schedule accordingly. Thankfully, there is plenty of stunning scenery to enjoy along the way.

Note: Due to high traffic volumes, a reservation may be required to drive into the park from 6:00 AM – 4:00 PM daily from late May through the end of September. Visitors who have a camping permit will not need a separate entry reservation.

Yosemite National Park
Image by edb3_16/Getty

Yosemite in the Fall

The weather in Yosemite becomes less predictable in the fall, with wild fluctuations in temperature and an increased chance of snowfall starting in October. How early that snow arrives dictates how much of the park remains open, with backcountry trails and locations shutting down for the year as the snow accumulates. In September, the average high temperature is still in the lower 70s, but by November, it drops to about 50ºF. Autumn blizzards can close roads, so be sure to check the park’s website for the latest conditions.

The summer crowds diminish substantially after Labor Day, yet the weather conditions remain warm and stable throughout September. That is a popular time to visit Yosemite and still have full access to the park. In October and November, the number of visitors drops dramatically, but weather conditions are harder to predict. When the snow starts to fly, trails and campgrounds begin to close for the year, greatly limiting access.

Note: Due to high traffic volumes, a reservation may be required to drive into the park from 6:00 AM – 4:00 PM daily from late May through the end of September. Visitors who have a camping permit will not need a separate entry reservation.

Yosemite in the Winter

Yosemite Valley and the Wawona area remain open to vehicle traffic all winter long, but other parts of the park are completely shut down. The park is often sunny at this time of year, but temperatures can be chilly. The average high temperature in the Valley during the winter is 53ºF during the day and 28ºF at night, although it is not uncommon for the mercury to drop much lower. Heavy snows are possible at any time, with some road closures possible. Check the Yosemite website for the latest information.

Winter is the quietest time to visit Yosemite National Park. Visitors are few, and traffic is at a minimum. Due to the weather conditions, travelers should dress warm and be prepared for potentially challenging conditions. Especially if they plan to go hiking, backpacking, or camping.

Yosemite National Park
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Where to Stay

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds that are open to visitors, each with its own features and amenities. Of those, only Camp 4 is off limits to RVs, although motorhomes and travel trailers are not recommended in Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek, and Porcupine Flat. All others are open to RV camping.

Reservations are required at all campgrounds and can be made through recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. There are no first-come, first-serve RV campsites within the park, and visitors without a reservation will be turned away. Sites can be reserved up to five months in advance and go quickly, so be sure to book early.

The park offers free wilderness permits for backpacking and camping in the backcountry. Apply for your permit well in advance if you plan to camp in a remote part of Yosemite. The trails there are extremely popular with hikers and backpackers and the park uses a lottery system to hand out most backcountry permits. It is recommended that you apply 24 weeks in advance of your planned visit.

Yosemite RV campgrounds include the following:

  • Upper PinesOpen all year, this campground has 238 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.
  • Lower PinesOpen April to October, this campground has 60 sites and accepts RVs up to 40 feet in length.
  • North PinesOpen April to October, this campground has 81 sites and accepts RVs up 40 feet in length.
  • Wawona: Open all year, this campground has 93 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.
  • Bridalveil Creek: Open all year, this campground has 110 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.
  • Hodgdon Meadow: Open all year, this campground has 105 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.
  • Crane Flat: Open June to October, this campground has 166 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.
  • White WolfOpen July to September, this campground has 74 sites and accepts RVs up to 27 feet in length.
  • Tuolumne MeadowsOpen June to October, this campground has 304 sites and accepts RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Tips for Booking a Campground in Yosemite National Park

  • All of Yosemite’s campgrounds are completely full from April through September. Reservations are required for any stay during that time. Book plenty early if you hope to get a spot.
  • Reservations aren’t necessary for late fall through winter, but it is a good idea to book your campsite ahead of time anyway.
  • The National Park Service lists the opening and closing dates for all campgrounds on the Yosemite website, but those dates are tentative. Weather can impact when those locations open to visitors and how early they close in the fall. If you’re making reservations for early spring or late fall, plan accordingly.
  • Dump stations can be found at the Upper Pines Campground all year round and near Wawona Campground and Tuolumne Meadows Campground during the summer.
  • No campsites in Yosemite National Park offer hookups of any kind.
  • Showers can be found in the Curry Village pool locker room but are not available anywhere else in the park.
  • All Yosemite campgrounds that accept RVs have tap water available and regular bathrooms.
  • Visitors to Yosemite may camp within the park for up to 30 nights per year. From May 1 to September 15, they are limited to 14 days, with only seven of those nights at Yosemite Valley or Wawona.
  • Quiet hours are from 10 pm to 6 am. Generator use is allowed from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM, noon to 2:00 PM, and 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Generator use is not permitted at other times.

Staying Outside the Park

As you would expect with one of America’s most popular national parks, there are plenty of places to stay outside of Yosemite as well. Hotels and lodges can be found throughout the area, and there are several excellent Good Sam campgrounds found a short drive from the park’s entrance. Those include:

  • Yosemite Lakes RV Park: Located just outside the national park, this campground has 35 RV campsites with full hookups, Wi-Fi, restrooms, showers, and onsite laundry.
  • Bass Lake at Yosemite RV Park: Found just minutes away from the entrance to Yosemite, this campground has 89 RV sites with full hookups, Wi-Fi, restrooms and showers, laundry, and a snack kbar.
  • High Sierra RV & Mobile Park: Located 30 minutes from Yosemite, this campground offers 29 RV campsites, most of which have full hookups. Wi-Fi is included with the stay, and there are restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities on the premises.

 Invest in a Good Sam Membership and save 10% on nightly stays at Good Sam Campgrounds.

How to Get Around Yosemite National Park

back view of active family of two, father and son, enjoying valley and mountain view in yosemite national park, california, active family vacation concept (back view of active family of two, father and son, enjoying valley and mountain view in yosemit
Image by noblige from Getty

The drive to Yosemite National Park varies somewhat depending on the direction you are coming. If you’re arriving from the north, take I-580 to I-205 or Highway 99 south to either Highway 120 or 140 east to reach the park’s entrance. Visitors arriving from the south will travel on Highway 99 north to Highway 41 north, heading into Fresno and eventually the park itself. Check out the NPS website for detailed driving directions to Yosemite from major surrounding cities. 

Yosemite can be reliably accessed from May through September, but during other months of the year, some roads may be closed due to snow. If you plan to visit outside of the summer season, be sure to check the park’s website for information on any current road closures. You can also find a list of roads that are closed for the winter on the website as well.

If you aren’t staying in the park, you can take advantage of the YARTS public transit system to avoid the hassles of finding a parking place and dealing with traffic jams. The service runs year-round, although there are more active routes and buses during the summer months. Tickets can be purchased in advance of your visit.

Once inside the park, visitors will find a free shuttle system that can help them get around without the need for a car. For instance, the Yosemite Valley Shuttle operates from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM and arrives at designated stops every 12 to 22 minutes. Other shuttles can be found in Tuolumne Meadows and Mariposa Grove, with one running between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows as well.

The shuttles are a great way to see the most popular regions of the park without having to move your vehicle and find parking throughout the day. At peak travel season, the parking lots fill up quickly, and RV parking is at a premium any time of the year.

Places to Go

camping worlds guide to rving yosemite national park

There is so much to see inside Yosemite National Park it can be hard to know where to begin. To help you get started, we’ve gathered some of our favorite places that should be on your “can’t miss” list.

Yosemite Valley

When you think of the quintessential landmarks in Yosemite, you’re probably thinking about Yosemite Valley. Tunnel View Outlook is the most popular photo-op in the entire park, welcoming visitors in a grand fashion. At this breathtaking vista, you can take a photo of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome all in a single shot.

Down in the valley itself, you’ll find dazzling meadows and boardwalks throughout the area with some of the most scenic hiking in the park. You can spot waterfalls and wildlife, or spend hours watching world-class rock climbers take on Yosemite’s most iconic climbing routes. And when you’re ready to grab something to eat, head over to the famous Ahwahnee Hotel for lunch or dinner or the Village Store for snacks, drinks, and other items. 

Wawona & Mariposa Grove

The Wawona area wasn’t added to the park until 1932, but it’s one of the must-see destinations on an RV visit. Located about 25 miles from Yosemite Valley along Wawona Road, the drive is a spectacular one, with plenty of great views. That includes some of the most impressive waterfalls in the entire park, along with several other awe-inspiring stops along the way. 

One of the best places to stretch your legs is in Mariposa Grove, home to nearly 200 giant sequoia trees. The most impressive of those is one called Grizzly Giant, which is estimated to be over 2000 years old. The tree stretches over 210 feet in the air and has a circumference of more than 92 feet at the base.

Also, be sure to drop by the beautiful Big Trees Lodge and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center to learn about the rich history of the Native Americans that once called this area home. The museum is open all year long and provides some fantastic insights into the Yosemite area prior to it becoming a national park. 

Tuolumne Meadows

The Tuolumne River meanders through this beautiful meadow, which is set in a basin and surrounded by granite domes. It’s less crowded than Yosemite Valley and offers wide views of the Cathedral Range. It is a popular destination for hikers and backpackers, with a number of excellent hiking trails accessible from the area, including routes that wander deep into the park’s backcountry. 

Take a drive along Tioga Road, which runs through the Tuolumne area, offering 47 miles of scenic views and turnouts en route. Tenaya and Siesta Lakes are both located in this beautiful meadow and offer great swimming and fishing spots when the weather allows. Or take a short hike to Soda Spring, a cold, carbonated water spring that flows directly out of the ground.

Glacier Point & Half Dome

glacier point and half dome

At Glacier Point, you’ll find one of the best viewpoints in the park. It has sweeping views of Half Dome and a number of other granite formations from this view. Plus, it is a great location to spot towering waterfalls like Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls. Head to this location near the end of the day to catch some of the best sunsets imaginable. 

Half Dome is one of the most recognizable features in Yosemite National Park, drawing thousands of climbers and hikers on an annual basis. The granite dome dominates the horizon throughout the region and is truly one of the most famous sights not just in Yosemite, but in any national park in the US.

If you’re not hiking or climbing it—which are significant undertakings—Mirror Lake is one of the best places to see Half Dome up close. There’s a two-mile paved trail in Yosemite Valley that takes you right to the base of the famous rock. 

Things to Do

Yosemite National Park
Image by bluejayphoto/Getty

You won’t run short on activities in Yosemite. Here are a few of our favorite ways to pass time inside the park.

Hiking

Of course, hiking is at the top of the list. There are tons of beautiful hiking trails for all ages and abilities. You’ll find at least 10 hiking trails in Yosemite Valley alone, including Bridalveil Falls Trail which is an easy, half-mile hike that takes you to the base of this titular waterfall.

If you’re looking for a more moderate hiking experience, take the Yosemite Falls Trail on a two-mile, round-trip hike to Columbia Rock. Or continue on to the top of the Falls. It’s a more strenuous hike but worth it if you want to see the best views of the waterfall.

The hike to the summit of Half Dome is probably the most famous hike in Yosemite. The 14-16-mile round-trip trek is not for the faint of heart, climbing 4,800 feet in elevation, including 400 feet up a set of metal cables near the top. The hike requires 10-12 hours to complete and can be dangerous in inclement weather. The rewards for reaching the summit are enormous, however, offering an amazing sense of satisfaction and some of the best views imaginable.

Yosemite National Park
Image by Alisha Bube/Getty

Water Activities

Swimming is allowed almost everywhere in the park, with a few exceptions. Enter the rivers and lakes through sandy beaches to preserve rocky shorelines and beware of swift currents and cold water—particularly in late spring and early summer.

Visitors can go white water rafting on the Merced River or take a kayak out onto Tenaya Lake for a more serene experience. Fishing is allowed in all lakes and reservoirs year-round and stream fishing runs from the end of April through the middle of November. You’ll need a California fishing license if you’re over the age of 16.

Rock Climbing

camping worlds guide to rving yosemite national park

Yosemite is one of the most popular rock-climbing destinations in the entire world, with some of the best climbers on the planet visiting the park to test their skills. The solid, vertical face of El Capitan is a favorite of many thrill-seekers, but there are all different types of climbs to be found throughout Yosemite Valley.

Many of the big walls found within the park are available for multi-day ascents, although a Wilderness Climbing Permit is required. Alternatively,  you can climb the cracks in the walls of the Merced River Valley. And many climbers love to tackle the granite domes surrounding Tuolumne Meadows, which are much less crowded than the popular Yosemite Valley. 

Rock climbing is a dangerous activity and many of the routes found in Yosemite are among the hardest in the world. All climbers should have plenty of experience, skill, and proper gear before embarking on an ascent.

Yosemite National Park
Image by Bakstad/Getty

What to Bring and How to Prepare

Before visiting Yosemite National Park, here are a few things to know:

  • Groceries are available in Yosemite Valley year-round and seasonally at Wawona, Badger Pass, Glacier Point, White Wolf, and Tuolumne Meadows. While we recommend stocking up before arriving, it is fairly easy to restock if needed.
  • Cell service is available in eastern Yosemite Valley and on a more limited basis in Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona, and Crane Flat. If you wander out of those areas, it is mostly nonexistent. Consider bringing two-way radios to stay in contact with your group and packing paper maps for navigating.
  • Temperatures and weather conditions can vary greatly from one section of the park to another, with the valley usually much warmer than locations at higher elevations. Bring layers of clothes to keep you warm, even during the summer months.
  • Clear skies are common in Yosemite, but a rainstorm can develop anytime in warmer weather. Pack a rain jacket and keep it with you at all times.
  • Keep all food properly stored inside your RV at all times. Any food left outside can attract bears, even in a busy campground.
  • Campfires are allowed at most campsites so long as they remain inside a fire ring. Wood can be obtained at convenience stores located inside and out of the park.
  • Mosquitoes can be a nuisance in the summer, particularly in Tuolumne Meadows. Bring bug spray to help keep the insects at bay.
  • Finding water inside the park is not an issue, but you’ll want to either boil or filter it before drinking.
  • Plan on arriving in the park early in the morning. Traffic is especially bad between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. If you come earlier or later than that, you’ll encounter fewer slowdowns.
  • Stay away from the wildlife. It is against the law to come with 100 yards of a bear or 25 yards of other animals.

History of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The gem of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite National Park has a rich and storied history. For thousands of years, the Ahwahneechee people called the area home. The name “Yosemite” comes not from the Ahwahneechee, however, but from a neighboring tribe known as the Miwok. Rivals of the  Ahwahneechee, the Miwok thought their neighbors were violent and cruel. The word “Yosemite” is a variation on their word meaning “they are killers.”

The Ahwahneechee occupied the land in the Yosemite Valley until the mid-19th century when the discovery of gold brought an influx of Europeans. This created conflicts between the indigenous tribe and those coming west to seek their fortune. After centuries of living on their ancestral lands, the tribe moved out to make way for the newcomers.

On June 30, 1964, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, a bill that set aside money to preserve the land that would later become Yosemite National Park. Although Yellowstone was the first national park in the country, the Yosemite Grant was signed a full eight years prior to Yellowstone’s formation.

In the years following the passage of the grant, sheep herders overgrazed the meadows, within the region, and logging took down many of the ancient sequoia trees found there. In 1890, after persistent lobbying by explorer John Muir, Congress passed an act that created Yosemite National Park, protecting the land from further destruction.

When the National Park Service was founded in 1916, management of the park passed to that organization. Since then, it has expanded in size and popularity. As tourism in California grew, Yosemite become one of the most popular destinations in the state, with thousands coming to see its sweeping landscapes. Today, it remains one of the top ten most visited national parks in the US, drawing more than 2.2 million visitors each year. 

Plan your next trip to the national parks in an RV. Rent an RV, trade-in your RV, or buy a new or used RV and start traveling for less than $5 a day.


Have you been to Yosemite? What did you think? Leave a comment below!

Camping World's guide to RVing Yosemite National Park



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