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Wilderness Camping
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Brooke | 11/11/2021Camping, Forest Bathing, Hiking, Nature, Rock Climbing, Tours, Tours, Winter Fun |   

Wilderness Camping

Imagine! Lying in a sleeping bag beneath a star-strewn sky, alone or with a few cherished friends, a full moon rises over the Sierra Crest, and a soft breeze rustles the trees. Just you and the wilderness. This is a magic view of Yosemite and the southern Sierra Nevada to be relished by the fit and adventurous. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, here are some tips to make your jaunt a success.

In order to camp outside a developed campground, you’ll need a wilderness permit, obtained from the government entity in charge of the trailhead you select. If your trail originates in Yosemite, you must obtain the permit

For dates May through October, permits can be reserved online 24 weeks in advance. 60% of the permits are available online at www.recreation.gov. 40% of permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 11 am on the day before the intended hiking date to collect in person, at Wilderness Center inside the park.

From November through April, much of Yosemite is covered in snow, and wilderness permits are still required. You can get a wilderness permit the day before or the day you intend to start your hike at the permit-issuing station nearest the trailhead. Trailhead quotas are in effect in the winter months.

Bear canisters are only available for rental at the Valley Visitor Center. Ensure you are prepared for winter conditions and follow all required guidelines.  

If you plan to depart via a Sierra National Forest trail and enter the park, you must obtain a permit online or from an SNF office, in advance. In either case, do yourself (and the wilderness ranger) a favor and . . . PLAN AHEAD

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  • Decide WHEN you want to go. Research weather conditions in advance; continue to monitor each day prior to your hike. Don’t get caught by surprise, and be prepared to change plans last minute if weather moves in.
  • Research WHERE you want to explore. Know your options.
    • Obtain topo maps (and know how to read them)
    • Decide on a trailhead (map)
    • Know where you are allowed to camp along your designated trail
    • Know your abilities and don’t overestimate them.
      • What are the starting/ending elevations of your hike? Are you accustomed to trekking at that elevation? 
      • Is the trail flat? If not, how strenuous a climb will it be? Can you handle it?
  • Obtain your WILDERNESS PERMIT from the proper authority. 
    • Sierra National Forest (Reserve online 24-weeks in advance. Call the Bass Lake Ranger District (559) 877-2218, for local questions.)
    • Yosemite National Park (Reserve online 24-weeks in advance. Or in-person, at 11 am the day before your trip.) 
    • Reserve your permit ahead of time, if possible, and know the rules on when to pick it up.
    • Know the days and hours of the office where you will pick up your permit. 
    • Obtain the latest trail information when you pick up the permit.
  • Gather your SUPPLIES. This is your one chance to be sure you have all you need for the time you intend to be away. Carry the Ten Essentials:
    • Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger, BUT don’t depend solely on GPS. It often doesn’t work or gives false info.
    • Headlamp: plus extra batteries 
    • Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
    • First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
    • Knife: plus a gear repair kit
    • Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove. Your wilderness permit will include a campfire permit. Research rules for building a fire or using a camp stove.
    • Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
    • Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
    • Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation; think about a water filter, and know where or if there are water sources around your route. All water in the wilderness must be filtered for safety.
    • Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation
  • Refer to the REI Backpacking Checklist for items beyond the Ten Essentials. Make a list and check it twice as the last step before departing. Don’t assume you have it all. 
  • YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – obtain a permit from one of the Wilderness Centers inside the park. The Valley Visitor Center/Wilderness Center is open year-round, as is the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station. Season stations include Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. Hetch Hetchy features self-registration for trails originating in that area at the Hetch Hetchy entrance station. Bear canisters are required to backpack in Yosemite.

Trail quotas are limited and can fill rapidly on popular trailheads, so don’t wait till the last minute. 

Be sure to leave your itinerary with loved ones and your estimated date/time of exit. If you don’t emerge as scheduled, that will be a starting place if a search becomes necessary. If you don’t wish to camp overnight, most of these hikes can be done in a day, and a wilderness permit will not be necessary. Still let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. 

Whether you decide to camp in the wilderness or do a day hike, you’ll be seeing the Sierra Nevada in a way that at least 90 percent of visitors never do. It’s an unforgettable experience.

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Like what you see? Save any of these pins (or possibly all of them) to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other travel stories/blog posts as well as itineraries for more ideas and pins!

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.
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