Let’s face it, Yosemite National Park is known for two things: the spectacular granite cliffs, El Capitan and Half Dome, and traffic congestion.
Now, in a move intended to “spread visitation out and reduce chronic congestion in the park,” the National Park Service has announced that Yosemite will use a reservation system this year during peak hours. Beginning May 20 and running through September 30, visitors will need a reservation to enter the park between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Reservations will be required all 7 days of the week.
“A visit to Yosemite should be about enjoying the beautiful granite-lined landscape, not sitting in gridlock,” Cicely Muldoon, Yosemite National Park’s superintendent, said in a statement. “Yosemite visitors deserve a high-quality experience in this magnificent place. Our goal with the peak hours system is to ease overcrowding during the busiest times this summer while still offering access for all.”
A Treasured Place
Seated in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is known around the world for its waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, and, of course, the granite cliffs El Capitan and Half Dome visible from Yosemite Valley. Then again, since there are nearly 1,200 square miles within its boundaries, the park is also home to deep valleys, giant meadows, vast sections of wilderness, and an abundance of wildlife.
The flip side of the coin is that visitors travel from around the world to Yosemite so they can see those sights. In fact, almost 4.5 million visitors traveled to Yosemite in 2019. Although visitation was down in 2020 due to COVID-19 related park closures, it surged again in 2021, when Yosemite logged almost 3.3 million visitors, according to the National Park Service.
The result, as you would expect, is that Yosemite, and Yosemite Valley in particular, are crowded and traffic is congested. Last summer, the park’s rangers even cautioned visitors to expect extremely high visitor concentrations, which in turn, created extended traffic delays, very limited parking, busy trails, and a lack of lodging or campground availability.
“Expect delays of an hour or more at entrance stations, and up to 2–3 hours in Yosemite Valley,” the rangers explained.
Making A Reservation
This isn’t the first year that Yosemite has used a reservation system.
The park first implemented a day-use reservation system when it reopened in June 2020 following a closure due to COVID-19. Yosemite also used a day-use reservation system last year from May 21 through the end of September as a means to “manage visitation levels to reduce risks associated with exposure to COVID-19.” Naturally, it also reduced traffic in and around the park.
Yosemite will use the same type of reservation system this year from May 20 through September 30. During that period, visitors will need a reservation to enter Yosemite between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. It must be noted that visitors entering the park after 4 p.m. will not need a reservation.
The $2, non-refundable reservations will be offered starting March 23, on the recreation.gov website, at 8 a.m. Pacific. Each reservation, which will be valid for 3 days, is valid for one vehicle and its occupants.
You can learn more about making entrance reservations at Yosemite here.
Know Before You Book
If you plan to visit Yosemite this year, there are two things you absolutely need to know about the day-use reservation system.
First, only 70 percent of the reservations will become available on March 23. The other 30 percent of the reservations will be held back, and then become available 7 days before the arrival date.
Secondly, reservations will become available each day at 8 a.m. Pacific. It’s expected that reservations will be filled right away, so it will be crucial to already have a recreation.gov account and be logged into the system so you are ready to make your reservation as soon as they become available.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read the rest of our Yosemite National Park coverage, including: