Part of the process of planning a trip to Yosemite is deciding where to stay near Yosemite National Park. I hope you’re reading this post about 6-12 months before you intend to go to Yosemite because figuring out lodging there is such a challenge! Have no fear, I’m here to help you understand your best options on where to stay at or near Yosemite National Park.
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ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR YOUR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK VISIT
- Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Always check the NPS website to determine if there are any extreme weather conditions, road closures, reservation requirements, etc.
- Cellular service is spotty, and you will probably not have service at some point during your trip. With that said, there are a few ways you can prepare so that you’re still able to find your way around the park: (1) Grab a map at the entrance of the park or from the visitor’s center. It’s moderately easy to navigate around the valley by just identifying landmarks you drive by on your physical map. (2) Download Google Maps offline so you can use your phone to navigate even without a connection.
- If you’re looking to stay in a hotel or lodge in the park, make reservations one year in advance. Yes, you read that right— one year! Yosemite is a super popular park and hotel rooms sell out quickly. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, there are lots of options nearby the park entrances as well.
- There are 13 different campgrounds at Yosemite. If you’re looking to camp, you’ll also need to plan far in advance. Competition for campground reservations are high too. If you’re looking at campgrounds for a weekend trip in 2-3 months, chances are you are already too late.
- Because Yosemite is located in the mountains, there are frequent road closures during the winter that may not open back up until May. Make sure you check the official NPS website for the latest on road closures, current conditions, and opening dates.
- Special Natural Phenomenon Events: The Moonbow (a rainbow that appears at night – April through June). The Firefall (the waning light of winter days hits at just the right angle to create a streak of orange on the fall, resembling a lava flow – late February).
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK PACKING LIST
America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | Yosemite National Park costs $35 for a 7-day pass. However, the national parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more NPS parks or sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here. [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE! ]
Water Bottle | No matter what you decide to do in Yosemite, every trip into the park warrants that you bring water. If you plan on being in the park for an entire day, you should plan on bringing a few liters of water per person. This is especially true in the summer when temperatures rise to the 90’s and even the 100’s. For shorter hikes, packing a lightweight 1L water bottle such as the Nalgene water bottle will suffice. On hotter days, consider bringing an insulated Hydro Flask packed with ice and water so that your water stays cold all day. For longer hikes, I recommend a 3-liter hydration reservoir.
Daypack | Bring a daypack to carry your camera/phone, snacks, water, and other gear while exploring the park. For a more traditional style daypack with more room, the Osprey Daylite is sturdy, comfortable, and has never let me down on long day hikes. For shorter hikes on hotter days, I like bringing my Camelbak Rogue 2.5L since the shape of the backpack minimizes sweaty back issues and doubles as a water reservoir.
Snacks | Carrying snacks with you is a must for replenishing your energy while day hiking or in case you’re not close to a lodge restaurant or a cafeteria.
- If you plan on bringing fruits/vegetables, pick harder options such as apples, pears, cucumbers, and carrots since these do better in heat and backpacks compared to more delicate produce.
- Go for energy bars that don’t contain chocolate to avoid the melted chocolate messes. Stinger Waffles are loved by outdoor enthusiasts and are delicious and easy to eat. Shot Bloks Energy Chews are also a great source of quick energy and super easy to pop in your mouth on those shorter breaks. Other snacks to consider include dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix.
- Lunchables: super easy to pack and always a great option regardless of how old you are.
Cooler | If you don’t enjoy warm beverages/snacks, you’ll want to bring a heavy-duty portable cooler with you. Cracking open a cold drink is such a luxury after a walk or hike out in the blazing sun!
Sunscreen | Even though there are plenty of trees in Yosemite, there are many areas or parts of hikes that are exposed and shadeless. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. Make sure you have a face sunscreen or a hat as well. Protect yourself!
Hat | A wide-brimmed sun hat can double as sun protection to your face and neck. Here are a few stylish yet effective options for men and women. For added protection, I’d recommend a sun hat with a neck cape.
Sunglasses | Similar to sunscreen, you should bring a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
Hiking Boots | Hiking boots are the way to go with Yosemite hikes. Instead of simply wearing sneakers, consider hiking boots. They not only provide better protection for stepping on all of the rocks at Yosemite, but you’ll find yourself slipping a lot less on waterfall mist, dirt, and loose gravel. Trust me, it’s easier to hop around and walk on rocks with the extra traction provided by hiking boots as opposed to running shoes. Lowa Renegades are my go-to pair for life, I highly recommend them to everyone.
Sandals | Birkenstocks make for the best sandals for the car ride home. It’ll be great to have these in the car after a long day of exploring.
First Aid Kit | A compact first aid kit is essential for any national park trip. You can pack it with you in your daypack and it won’t take up too much space. It’s better to be prepared in case you have any mishaps on your adventures. This one is as compact as it gets and is super easy to carry.
Portable Battery Charger | You’ll be in and out of the car all day, but mostly out of the car. If you’re using your phone to take photos or navigate around the park, be sure to bring a compact portable charger with you. This foldable portable solar charger is another option. It’s such a powerhouse of a tool to have with you.
Flashlight | Pack a flashlight or headlamp in case you decide to embark on a sunrise or sunset hike. Check out my favorite tried and trusted all-weather flashlight.
WHERE TO STAY AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
CAMPING AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Camping and tent cabin rentals are affordable and ultra-convenient lodging options. However, campsites within Yosemite National Park are extremely popular and almost always sell out as soon as they’re available for booking. This is understandable, you’re paying under $50 a night to be smack dab in the middle of the park’s breathtaking beauty!
There are 13 campgrounds inside the park with varying availability. Some campsites require reservations year-round, while others are first-come-first-served. If you’re looking to make camping reservations, make sure you’re looking at least 6 months in advance! I recommend the following Yosemite Valley campgrounds:
- Upper Pines Campground: Upper Pines Campground is a larger campground, boasting 240 campsites. It may very well be the most popular campground in Yosemite Valley due to where it’s situated, surrounded by iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome. If you’re looking for something lively, this is the campground for you. (Might not be the best for visitors looking for peace and quiet.) Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- Lower Pines Campground: Lower Pines is equally as popular as Upper Pines Campground. This campground is smaller with 60 spots and has a more relaxed vibe. Showers are available here. Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- North Pines Campground: This campground is situated perfectly with the Merced River on one side and Tenaya Creek on the other. There are 80 sites and showers are available. Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- Camp 4: Super popular campsite among the rock climbing crowd. The campground is open year-round, with 35 sites. The sites are in the perfect location to walk/bike anywhere in the valley, and fantastic climbing is within a stone’s throw from this campground. There are usually people in line even before 4am. The ranger usually shows up early to check people in.
If you’re interested in trying for a first-come-first-serve site, be sure to get there as early as possible– they can fill up by 8:30am. Since Yosemite is extra popular on the weekends, your best bet would be to get there Thursday for the best chances at snagging a spot.
LODGING INSIDE YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Curry Village: Most Affordable Option
Curry Village is the largest affordable lodging facility in Yosemite Valley, offering many lodging options including motel rooms, wood-sided cabins, and canvas tent cabins. This lodge is one of the most popular options inside Yosemite due to its convenient location. It’s also the most convenient area to stay if you’re looking to hike Half Dome in the early morning.
Within the village, they also have a cafeteria and snack bar with surprisingly good pizza. Due to its popularity, Curry Village sells out quickly so be sure to make your reservations about 1 year in advance to ensure you snag a spot.
Other lodging options inside the park can be quite expensive. They also get booked up quickly.
The Ahwahnee: Most Luxurious Option
Known for its stunning interior design and architecture, The Ahwahnee was designed to reflect its natural surroundings, featuring Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. One reason why it’s super cool to stay at? The hotel is a National Historic Landmark!
Inside The Ahwahnee sits The Ahwahnee Dining Room, which is a culinary delight. It is open year-round, serving very well-made breakfast and dinner. With ceilings over 30 feet high and massive windows that take in the surrounding views, the dining room evokes a feeling of grandness and opulence.
If you can get reservations at this hotel, then enjoy the splurge and the luxury of waking up inside the park. They book up a year in advance.
LODGING OUTSIDE OF YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Affordable lodging outside the park can be few and far between. Many of the hotels within minutes from the park entrances can cost an arm and a leg. Venture a bit further and you’ll open up a world of affordable lodging! It really depends on when you’re booking— if you’re looking at lodging options last minute, you might have more limited options. That’s why booking as early as possible is the rule of thumb when it comes to visiting Yosemite!
Outside the park, one of my favorite lodges is Sierra Sky Lodge in Oakhurst. Though it is further away from the park entrance, I find that this historic ranch is one of the nicer hotels in the area! The rooms are impeccably decorated with ranch-inspired decor and the hardwood used throughout the property really warms up the lodge’s atmosphere. There are such cozy common areas here and the rooms are offered at super affordable prices. Check them out here!