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Blog Rumor vs Reality Visiting Yosemite in Summer
06/21/2019Biking, Camping, Family Friendly, Hiking, Nature, Photography, Road Trip, Seasons, Tours, Tours, Transportation, Waterfalls, Wildlife |   

Rumor vs Reality: Visiting Yosemite in Summer

School’s out, and you’re ready to rock and roll, hit the highway, see the sights. Yosemite’s been on your mind, but you’ve heard the rumors. Don’t go there; traffic is a nightmare. There’s no parking. People everywhere.


If you invest a little time doing homework before you arrive, you can have an awesome summer visit to the Queen of National Parks, despite crowd craziness.

In a nutshell, here are the main things you need to know.

Yosemite National Park is huge: the size of Rhode Island at 1,200 square miles. There are over 800 miles of hiking trails within the park’s boundaries and four entrances, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.  If you can’t secure lodging inside the park, be prepared to drive between an hour to two hours to reach Yosemite Valley. The best entrance for you depends both on where you’re traveling from and which entrances are open.  (HINT: winter in Yosemite is not calendar-determined; check road and weather conditions before you book a hotel and continue to check until your arrival.) 

Views of Half Dome and Little Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Yosemite Valley is relatively tiny, only 7 miles long and 1 mile wide at it's maximum, but it is where everyone wants to be pretty much all at the same time. Parking is limited. There are only 5,400 parking spaces to accommodate visitors, lodging guests, and employees. On weekends the park can see an influx of some 8,000 vehicles. Obviously almost half of those vehicles won’t find parking. Lodging inside the park books up a year in advance. Camping is nearly impossible to come by in summer. Camping reservations can be made up to 5 months in advance, and summer spaces fill up within minutes of the opening.  Lodging reservations can be made by visiting or calling (888) 413-8869. Camping reservations are secured on-line at or calling (877)444-6777. No same-day reservations are accepted, and the limited number of first-come, first- served campgrounds fill by 9 am during the busy months.

It is highly recommended that you don’t arrive without reservations because the likelihood is that there may not be any accommodations available for you—and certainly not at the price point you might be able to find by booking ahead of time. The same applies to camping. Keep in mind that no campgrounds in Yosemite or the Sierra National Forest have RV hookups. Once you’ve determined the best area to stay, call or visit the website often. You are likely to score someone else’s cancellation.

Tent Camping - Curry Village

If you can’t stay inside the park, excellent lodging of all sorts can be found in the gateway communities. Just know, however, that staying outside the park necessitates a drive of at least 45 minutes to as much as 2 to 3 hours to reach an entrance. From there you’ll have to drive to your destination. For example, if you stay in Oakhurst, 13 miles from the south entrance, you’ll have a drive of one and a half hours to arrive in Yosemite Valley, depending on traffic.

These typically are the least crowded days. Avoid Fridays and Saturdays if at all possible during the summer months.  If a weekend is the only time you can go, arrive early. What’s early? We hate to tell you but for summer weekends you should be parked in Yosemite Valley by 7 am. During the week, 8 am might work. By 9 to 9:30 am every day virtually all parking is full. (And if you can’t park, the only thing you can do is drive through the valley at a snail’s pace, taking photos from your car.) To take the timing thing even further, consider an "off-hours" visit.

There is no disputing that Yosemite Valley is grand. But there’s so much more to see in the park.  Visit the Mariposa Grove, Wawona, Glacier Point, Hetch Hetchy or Tioga Road. Allow sufficient time to take this all in. You should plan a minimum of one full day in Yosemite Valley. An ideal park visit would encompass at least three days (and may likely still leave you wanting to see much more).

Yosemite boasts spectacular views no matter your mode of transportation, but you’ll employ all your senses as you hike or walk. Smell the incense cedars. Savor the soil beneath your hiking boots. Gaze at the booming waterfalls (in season).  When you’re tired, hop on the free shuttle (Yosemite Valley or Mariposa Grove only) to take you back to your vehicle. In season the shuttles run about every 15 minutes, feature the maroon line to the west side of the valley and the green line to the east end. The green shuttle has 21 stops, runs from 7 am to 7 pm, is hop-on, hop-off so you can spend as much or as little time at each location as you wish.  Be aware that shuttles can be very full on weekends and during the middle of the day.  Explore the shuttle map on the reverse of the Yosemite Guide park newspaper to plan your adventures.

Yosemite Valley Shuttle System Map - Courtesy of the National Park Service

During the summer months, public transportation via YARTS can be boarded in Oakhurst, Groveland, Mammoth Lakes (and points in between) and Mariposa. You don’t have to get up as early, and you don’t have to worry about parking. The downside: this is transportation only, not a tour, so it doesn’t stop at popular spots like Tunnel View and Bridalveil Fall. YARTS runs year-round from Merced/Mariposa/El Portal to Yosemite Valley; however other runs are seasonal.

Professional guides pick you up at your hotel or a nearby location and do all the driving and interpretation. Typically these tours visit Mariposa Grove, Wawona, Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley.  From the Southern Gateway, two companies, Discovery Yosemite Tours and Crossroads Tours provide a variety of tour options.  Note - these tours need to be booked at least one day in advance. 

You can take tours from Yosemite Valley Lodge ranging from the two-hour Yosemite Valley Floor Tour to the eight-hour Yosemite Grand Tour (it combines Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Glacier Point with Yosemite Valley for a full memorable day of adventure. The only downside: you must arrive at Yosemite Valley Lodge at least a half hour before your scheduled tour—and you must be able to park your vehicle (or take an appropriately-timed YARTS bus). To ensure a seat, book these ahead of time, as well.

Call us. We at Visit Yosemite │ Madera County pride ourselves on our passion for Yosemite and its surrounding communities and invite you to call (559) 683-4636 or email us ( to assist you in planning your visit to our area. We can talk to you about everything from the weather, to current road conditions, to hiking trails, to the best way to take advantage of the amount of time you have. We want to help you.


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Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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