Do you want to visit Yosemite this Summer but don’t have a Reservation?
Here are some options
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” — John Muir
Story and photos (except as noted) by David A. Laws
Beginning in late May, Yosemite National Park in California is instituting a reservation system for admission during the summer of 2022. Designed to reduce congestion while major infrastructure construction projects are underway, Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman estimates that the park will see about 70 percent of peak hour traffic compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Depending on their success in reducing overcrowding, reservations could become a permanent factor in planning your trips to this and other popular national parks. The "Ways to Get a Reservation" section at the end of this article provides details of how, when, and where to apply for a permit. But if this summer is your one chance to visit Yosemite and you cannot secure a reservation, what are your options?
While it may not fit everyone's schedule, you don't need a reservation if you arrive at the park entrance before 6:00 AM or after 4:00 PM. So, if you are an early riser and plan to spend a day hiking in the valley or are staying nearby and wish to enjoy a few hours sightseeing in the long summer evening, that window may work for you.
The best alternative for many planning to visit the park for the first time is to stay in a hotel or rental accommodations in one of the surrounding communities. You can then ride a public bus or join a small group tour and leave the driving to someone else. Riders do not require reservations and prices include the park entrance fee. Most tours make stops at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia redwood trees as well as at the iconic Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Valley View panorama locations.
Be aware that no tour operators will visit Glacier Point with its extraordinary bird’s-eye view of Half Dome and the upper valley in 2022, as the access road will be closed during construction. Vistors prepared for a strenuous 9.2 mile out and back, 3,600-foot elevation gain, hike on the Four Mile Trail from the valley floor will have a unique opportunity to enjoy this spectacular setting without the typical crowds jostling for the best selfie viewpoint.
Scheduled bus service
YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) provides regularly scheduled, peak summer transit service between gateway communities along Highways 140 (Merced and Mariposa Counties), 120 (Tuolumne County), 395/120E (Mono County), and 41 (Fresno and Madera Counties) to the Visitor Center and Yosemite Lodge.
YARTS buses are air-conditioned, equipped with onboard lavatories, and are bicycle-friendly and wheelchair and ADA accessible. They serve mountain bikers, hikers headed for the Pacific Crest Trail, and visitors who wish to enjoy the valley experience on their own schedule.
Private and small group tours
Several local companies operate fleets of SUVs and vans carrying from six to a dozen passengers that can stop and visit spots not accessible to larger vehicles.
Crossroads Tours offers a wide variety of small group and private tours with pickups in Fresno/Clovis and Oakhurst that include a personal guide and a picnic lunch. Visitors from Los Angeles and San Francisco can select transportation via Amtrak train, bus, or private aircraft.
Discover Yosemite operates public tours out of Oakhurst in 14–27 seat buses and private tours tailored to guests' interest in Cadillac Escalades and Sprinter Vans. Tours include park entry, all fees, water, and snacks and Full Day Tours include a picnic lunch.
Pat Althizer's Photo Safari Yosemite offers Group Charter Tours as well as specialty tours, such as Sightseeing, Trekking and Photography Days, and Dog's Day tours for those who travel with their pets. He warns that you are "responsible for cleaning up any gifts left by your pet."
Luxury resort services
Visitors seeking a luxury resort experience with convenient access to the park can choose from three residential alternatives at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. The Delaware North facility at Fish Camp near the south entrance to the park has 352 guest rooms in Lodge, Cottage, and Cabin accommodations spread across 75 acres of pine forest bordering the Sierra National Forest. Fifty Explorer cabins combine the privacy of a two-bedroom suite with your own front door and access to all the resort offerings.
As a destination resort, Tenaya's on-property recreation and relaxation activities span archery, fat tire biking, rock climbing, a LEED certified spa, two 18-meter swimming pools, and several dining venues. It is noted for its dog-friendly policy and is recognized as the West's Best Pet-Friendly Resort by Sunset Magazine. Electric vehicle drivers will appreciate access to charging stations, including eight Tesla Superchargers. But from the perspective of this article, an important consideration is that if you purchase a Yosemite tour operated by the hotel, you will not need to reserve an entry pass for that day.
Tenaya's most popular eight-hour summer season tour includes a picnic lunch and allows time for you to explore Yosemite Valley on your own on foot and using the free shuttles. It is not necessary to be a hotel guest to book a seat on one of Tenaya’s bus tours. Note that the open-top Mercedes bus in the photograph above has been retired and the resort is upgrading its entire fleet of Yosemite touring vehicles for the Spring 2022 season.
Ways to Get a Reservation
The following information is from the National Park Service website.
Seventy percent of reservations for all dates from May 20 through September 30, 2022, will be available on Recreation.gov on March 23. Thirty percent of reservations will be available seven days before the arrival date (e.g., make a reservation for an arrival date of September 30 on September 23).
Reservations are available each day at 8 AM Pacific Time. Reservations are taken almost immediately. Be sure to have an account and be logged in and ready to get a reservation promptly at 8 AM Pacific daylight time.
The non-refundable reservation fee is $2 (this does not include the $35-per-car park entrance fee).
Each user can make one reservation for each three-day period. For example, if a user makes a reservation for a Friday arrival (valid Friday through Sunday), the user won't be able to make a second reservation for an arrival that Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The reservation holder must be in the arriving vehicle and show a photo ID at the entrance station.
Peak-hours reservations are valid for three consecutive days (including arrival date).
You do not need an additional reservation if you have a reservation for in-park camping, lodging, or vacation rentals at private inholding areas. You still pay the $35-per-car entrance fee upon arrival (credit card only) unless you have an annual or lifetime pass. Your reservation for in-park lodging or camping, a Half Dome permit, or a wilderness permit allows you to enter the park 24 hours per day for the duration of your reservation or for three days (whichever is longer).