Giant rock formations, waterfalls and deep valleys, pristine lakes and rushing rivers, gorgeous meadows, giant sequoias, and vast wilderness areas make Yosemite National Park one of the most loved and most visited national parks in the U.S.
But this popularity comes with a price; in recent years, the famous park has become congested, making it hard to enjoy for those who don’t have backcountry permits. This, alongside the COVID pandemic, prompted the park to make some changes in 2021, meant to make all visitors’ stay enjoyable. Limiting crowds and implementing social distancing protocols are only a couple of them. Since they proved to work, some of these changes are still in effect.
Since my family visited the park in 2021, shortly after these changes were first implemented, I can attest to the fact that they work — though it helps if you know what to expect before you go. With that in mind, here are some tips for visiting Yosemite National Park this summer.
1. Make A Reservation Before Driving To The Entrance Gate
To limit the crowds and keep us all safe, the park is keeping a reservation system in place, during peak hours, between May 20 and September 30, 2022. Everyone who enters the park between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. during this time frame needs a reservation. Before driving up to the gate during this time, make sure you have one. Even driving through the park during these peak hours also requires a reservation.
Standing in line at the gate to enter during our visit; I noticed a few cars were turning around and leaving, the car ahead of us being one. They didn’t have reservations to enter.
“Can I just buy one here?” the driver asked the ranger. No, he could not.
“You might get lucky and get one, if someone cancels, but you can’t check here,” I heard the ranger say. “We have no signal. Drive back to the nearest town and try to get a reservation online. Good luck.”
If you are staying in Yosemite overnight or have wilderness permits to backpack through the park, you don’t need to make an additional reservation, just show your permits at the entrance. Otherwise, you need to show a reservation for a day-use pass. They’re issued for three consecutive days and only cost $2. They are available at the Recreation.gov site. You need them in addition to the park entrance fee.
However, if you enter the park during non-peak hours (before 6 a.m. or after 4 p.m.), you don’t need a reservation. And entering during non-peak hours still allows you to stay in the park during peak hours.
2. You Also Need A Reservation To Camp In Yosemite National Park This Summer
Lodging in any of the hotels in Yosemite National Park always requires advance planning and reservations. However, this year, the same is true for camping in the park. You need a reservation for all open campgrounds in 2022.
Most campgrounds are open, with reservations, except for four of them: Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Bridalveil Creek, and Porcupine Flat.
You can’t camp in the park without a reservation, and same-day reservations are not available. However, if you do have a reservation, just like your lodging reservation, it serves as an entry pass for the length of your stay at the park.
3. You Can Use The Shuttle Service In 2022
After a year of interruption, you can once again use the Yosemite Valley Shuttle Service in 2022. The free shuttles offer convenient and eco-friendly alternatives to car-traffic, with over 20 stops throughout the park. The shuttles will operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., though some routes have shorter hours.You can find all the information about the shuttle system on their system map (JPEG).
Wearing a mask is required when riding the shuttle.
4. Drive Into Yosemite Valley Early Or Late In The Day
Though the reservation system limits the number of visitors, Yosemite Valley, the most popular area of the park, may still get congested. To avoid it, make the Valley your earliest — or latest — destination in the park.
Not only does this ensure you can park and stop at any of the spots you want, but you’ll also enjoy more pleasant hikes when temperatures are lower. Summer days may get hot in the lower elevations in Yosemite, so spending time there early or late in the day is more pleasant.
Visiting the park during some of the hottest days of early June (and we had to stick to our reserved dates — couldn’t change them), we spent most of our time in the upper elevations, near Tioga Pass Road.
We drove to Yosemite Valley first thing in the morning, but even then, we found it too hot for longer hikes. But we avoided congestion and had no trouble parking anywhere we wanted to stop.
5. Be Aware Of Road Changes In Yosemite Valley This Season
To further avoid congestion in the most popular area of the Yosemite Valley, the park implemented some road accessibility changes this summer. The changes for 2022 will be in effect between mid-May and mid-October. Drive slowly and watch the signs closely when you drive in the Valley.
We ended up driving around in a large circle when we missed a new turn while visiting the first time they implemented the new system, in 2021. Still, it wasn’t difficult to get back to where we wanted to be. The system seems to work, and it is easy to follow — if you pay attention.
In 2022, Glacier Point Road will be closed all season for construction.
6. You’ll Need To Hike Up To Glacier Point For The Most Famous Views
No matter where you go within the park, you’ll find gorgeous views of waterfalls, gorgeous meadows, and stunning rock formations. So, you shouldn’t miss too much of the famous views from Glacier Point.
In the summer of 2022, you won’t be able to drive up to these famous viewpoints, since Glacier Point Road will be closed past Badger Pass Ski Area until May 2023.
However, if you are a good hiker, you can still access these viewpoints through several strenuous and long hikes. The Four Mile Trail (9 miles round trip), Panorama (17 miles round trip), and Pohono (13.5 miles round trip) all start in Yosemite Valley and offer access to the famous viewpoints.
However, if you are not prepared for such long and hard hikes, wait until next season to drive up to Glacier Point. Enjoy the rest of the park instead, and for the best views from above, stop at the viewpoints on Tioga Pass Road, on the other side of the valley.
7. On the Hottest Days, Spend Most Of Your Time On The Highest Elevations
Tioga Pass Road also offers access to the best places to enjoy the hottest summer days. During the heat of the summer, the higher elevations in the park offer the best experiences. Instead of spending most of your time in the famous Yosemite Valley, enjoy the cooler weather along Tioga Pass road.
You’ll find alpine lakes, shaded pine forests, and hiking trails for all abilities here. Visit Yosemite Valley early or late in the day, and spend midday on the beaches of Tenaya Lake, picnicking along the Yosemite River, or hiking one of the shaded trails in the higher elevations.
8. Stay Safe In The Park
Though we only encountered deer and small animals during our visit, the park is home to a large population of bears. Follow protocols in parking lots and trailheads, always lock the bear-safe garbage bins, and when necessary, lock your food in the designated boxes provided in the most bear-prone areas.
Drive slowly, and enjoy the views, keeping an eye out for wildlife. You want to be the person who sees them, not the one who hits them.
Be aware of the elevation in the park. Remember that the higher areas of the park are over 9,000 feet in elevation.
Yosemite Valley can get very hot in the summer, especially mid-day. During those times, stay at the higher elevations, or sit by the river in a shaded spot. Hike early or late in the day, wear a hat, and use sunscreen.
9. Find A Few Hiking Trails You Enjoy
Yosemite has plenty of hiking trails with gorgeous views, ranging from easy strolls in the forest to strenuous, multi-day treks that require a backcountry reservation to complete. Yosemite’s best-known trails are long and strenuous, so they should only be attempted by extremely fit hikers prepared for the challenge. But don’t worry — you’ll find plenty of easy and moderate trails anyone can enjoy.
Pro Tips For Summer In Yosemite
Overall, the reservation system, along with the shuttle system should help make Yosemite National Park less congested and more pleasant to visit than before the pandemic. Yosemite has been so congested in the past years, we stayed away from it, especially in the summer. Using the reservation system when it was first introduced helped make our experience pleasant and more relaxed.
Still, the main entrances into the park might get congested, especially during the weekends. To avoid this, visit during the middle of the week, and get to the gates early. When it’s open, Tioga Pass entrance is usually less congested than the main entrance. Or, you can always enter during off-peak hours to avoid lines and congestion. As a bonus, you don’t even need a reservation during those times.
Always remember to stay hydrated and choose shaded areas when hiking. Also, time your hikes, especially the more strenuous ones, early or late in the day, to avoid the heat of the midday sun.