Tips & Tricks for Booking a Campsite in Yosemite During Peak Season

I’ve always wanted to go to Yosemite. This year, I’ve made it a priority to get there and check off this long standing bucket list item. Thanks to some help from my brother-in-law’s girlfriend, we are finally going to make this trip happen!

The first obstacle was to obtain Half Dome Permits in August. Thankfully, that panned out, as we all applied to the lottery to increase our chances, and we ended up getting offered way more permits than we actually needed. That’s my first tip, have several people in the group, if not all apply for the permits to hike Half Dome on your preferred dates, as the permits are limited in the peak season.

Sweet, now that we had Half Dome permits, we needed to actually figure out where we should camp, and how to get a site for the dates we needed. I knew it was tough to get a decent campsite closer than an hours drive from the main entrance to the National Park, but who knew it was more like trying to win the actual lottery??

It’s a bit ridiculous…and really way too stressful for just trying to go camping! However, as bad as it is, if you want to get a campsite in one of the better campgrounds instead of spending hours driving back and forth to the park every day, you have to go through it.

Based on our recent experience and success in obtaining a campsite for the dates we needed, I decided to share some tips for how to secure a campsite in Yosemite during the peak season.

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Tips For Booking a Campsite in Yosemite During Peak Season

1. Decide on the dates you want to book, and look up when the booking window opens for the dates you are planning to visit.

2. Take a look at the campgrounds and campsites, and decide which ones you like the best. Choose an ideal campsite (or sites), and choose backup ones in less ideal locations. River campsites are probably the most popular, so we had a few people trying for river sites, and I tried for a desirable site, but one a bit off the river. Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines are the closest campsites to the village and located in Yosemite Valley.  There are other sites that are quite beautiful and probably way less crowded, but if you are looking for proximity, the valley is probably your best option. Information on distances to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center from campsites and other locations are available here.

3. Choose dates that are not in the beginning portion of the booking window. For Example: The booking windows open beginning the 15th of a month, 4 months in advance. So, if you are planning on going the 15th or 16th – 20th, you are going to have a tough time getting a site, as people could have booked those dates in the booking window a month prior. Think about changing your trip to arriving on the 14th so you can use the earlier booking window or move the trip at least 7 days back so the dates are not already booked.

4. As ridiculous as it sounds, practice searching and trying to book the campsite before the booking date. You want to be familiar with the process so that when the window opens, you are able to quickly and efficiently book the site.

5. Have multiple people in your group create accounts on recreation.gov, and have everyone try for different sites for your preferred dates when the booking window opens. You will need to log in and try to book a site at exactly 7 AM PST on the day the window opens. Campsites literally go within seconds! Believe me, you need all the help you can get…there were five of us trying, and only I ended up getting one in my cart.

6. You may only grab a maximum of 2 camp sites before needing to complete your purchase. Keep in mind, the campsites in the valley have a limit of up to 6 people.

7. If you do miss out on securing a reservation within the first 5 minutes, then wait around for 10-15 minutes. Keep checking availability, as some sites could become available again once people decide not to purchase sites they may have held as backups.

8. If you are not able to get a campsite for an entire stay and your dates are not flexible, you may want to consider staying at two different sites during your visit. Although it is a pain to move sites, the convenience of being in the village and moving to a new site may outweigh driving at least 30-45 minutes each way every day.

9. If you come away without a campsite, it’s not the end of the world. There are a number of first-come, first-serve campsites in the area that you can get or there may be sites that become available in your desired campground due to no-shows on your day of arrival. Also, there are some private campsites or lodges/hotels that can be booked instead of the NPS camp sites.

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Have you been to Yosemite before? If you have any other tips or tricks for other readers, feel free to share in the comments below!

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