My friend and I were driving across the country and up California when we decided to add Yosemite to our itinerary at the last minute. Most of the highways in southern California have very poor reception and internet access, so we had not done much research other than looking up the address, weather, and camping costs. That being said, Yosemite National Park was an incredible experience. Here are a few lessons learned to make your trip even better!
1. Camp in Sierra National Park for more seclusion (and no camping fees).
Yosemite was an unexpected addition to our cross-country road trip. While many people make their camping reservations months ahead of time, our trip was relatively un-planned, so we had to wing it. Unfortunately, things weren't looking that great when we arrived at 6PM to find that there were no camping sites available (not really a surprise).
Luckily, the Ranger we met was kind enough to let us in on a secret (that I expect wasn't really a secret, but it was news to us!). Only half a mile down the the road from the south entrance, there is a dirt road that winds up Mount Raymond. Since the area is part of the Sierra National Forest, we were able to camp there for free! With another stroke of luck, we found plenty of areas that had been previously cleared by past campers.
The only downfall is that building fires in National Forest illegal (though that certainly didn't stop everyone). Campsites are also much more secluded, which may be good or bad depending on the kind of camper you are.
2. Get up and get out before the sun.
Not only will you get to see the sunrise, you will also avoid the midday crowds. Yosemite National Park is among the Top 10 most visited National Parks in the United States, with around 4 million visitors each year. That also means it can be one of the most crowded National Parks, and if you plan on driving around the park after midday, you can expect traffic jams and parking battles that are comparable to NYC. My advice is to get out there as early as you can, and spend 12PM-5PM somewhere on the trails, rather that in traffic.
3. Use the shuttle.
Yosemite has a network of shuttles that will take you all over the park. This will save you from parking battles, and from spending too much money on gas. When I was there, we didn't use the shuttle, but that was largely because we were camping outside of Yosemite and we were only spending two nights in the area, so we wanted to make sure we hit everything we wanted and didn't spend too much of our day waiting for the shuttle to show up. Still, if you plan on spending more than two nights in the area, the shuttle is also more environmentally friendly, and can be a great way to meet some new hiking/travel buddies.
4. There is a grocery store (with booze) in Yosemite Village.
There are also several restaurants, a few hotels, public restrooms, and places to rent bikes and organize adventure trips. Somehow it hadn't occurred to me that this National Park would provide so much access to civilization. My past experiences with National Parks had taught me to always enter with enough food and water for your stay, and plan to carry it out with you. This experience was a little different (although we welcomed it, since we had not planned ahead and food is kind of important).
5. Fill up on gas before you enter the park.
This one is pretty straight forward. There are gas stations in the park, but they are pricey and scarce. It's definitely a good idea to fill up in the closest town before you enter.
Is there something you think should be added to this list?
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