Yosemite is a National Park that is, usually, opened 24/7/365. Its official web page (www.nps/yose) provides the official details of the park, road conditions, hours of operation, directions, transportation and the like. For lodging in the park, visit www.travelyosemite.com/ currently operated Yosemite Hospitality, LLC.
There are four main entry points into the park. There is the “South Entrance” from Fresno, up along State Highway 41. To the right of the entrance is Mariposa Grove, a collection of giant redwoods and Sequoias. To the left is Wawona Road through the southwest portion of the park. It passes through its namesake, Wawona, a small area with a restaurant, shops, lodging and one of two service stations open year-round in the park. Beyond that is a turnoff to Glacier Point. On that road you’ll come upon Badger Pass opened all year long but most popular in the winter for skiing. Glacier Point Road is closed beyond it during the winter. There is a western entrance to the park along California Highway 140 through Mariposa and El Portal called the “Arch Entrance” because it passes through a rock archway. The road runs along the Merced River into the valley. Another western entrance comes in along California Highway 120 just north of the Arch Entrance called “Big Oak Flat Entrance”. It comes into the park above the snowline, but usually remains open year round (though chains may be required). The road travels through Crane Flats, a camp area. At this point, Highway 120 turns left past the second of two service stations in the park opened year-round, but Big Oak Flat Road continues on until it terminates at Highway 140 at the Merced River. Finally, there is an eastern entrance that comes in from Lee Vining and Mono Lake. This entrance also on Highway 120 and called “Tioga Pass Entrance” at an elevation of 9945 feet and is closed in the winter. When it is opened, Tioga Road passes through the high country for about 45 miles and ends at Crane Flats as it connects with Big Oak Flat Road. Actually, there is a fifth entrance, prior to and north of the western entrance at Big Oak Flat. Hidden like an embarrassing sibling, it leads into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area and, appropriately, called “The Hetch Hetchy Entrance”. Also, it is open only during the day. There is no overnight parking unless you are backpacking. Unless you plan to hike out, you must leave by the same entrance.
Tioga Road (Highway 120) usually closes in at the first snow fall after October 15 and will open, usually by Mid May. But it all depends on the weather. One year it opened at Noon on Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, but was closed due to snow in thirty minutes at 12:30. Since 1980, the average open date has been May 27. The earliest it opened was May 2 in 2014. The latest opened date was July 1, 1998. The average closing date is November 5. The earliest close was October 17, 2004 and the latest was January 17, 2012 for the 2011 season. Check the National Park Service web site for road conditions (see above) if you want to take this route during the terminus dates
You will need to plan at least two months ahead if you want to stay in the park and more likely five or more months. You may do better if you plan your stay for midweek or stay outside the park.
Better availability can be found outside the park if you have short notice. The closest to the Valley is the Yosemite View Lodge just a few miles from the Arch Entrance. Cedar Lodge is about 7 miles from the valley; both are located along California Highway 140. But there are others at varying price points and distances. Check the above sites.
If camping, your options are not much better. Most sites require reservations but are only offered 5 months in advance and usually fill up that day. There are some walk-in, no reservation sites, but they also fill-up quickly. Again see the site for details and availability (Camping Options).
If you have never visited the park, you’re probably coming from some distance away. In which case, your first stop (assuming you’ve already secured your lodging) would be the village which contains a general store, Post Office, Museum, Visitor Center and the like. At the entrance to the park, you’ll be offered a map of the park and a calendar of “to-do” events. Nevertheless, you might want to stop by the visitor center to get a more detailed map, but I digress.
The most accessible and, arguably, the most picturesque feature of the park, is Yosemite Valley. At just 7 square miles the valley is, roughly, one half of one percent of the park. But this is where the vast majority of the 4 million annual visitors concentrate their visit.
The valley runs east and west and is about 7 miles long and a mile wide. It has two roads traveling its length. Southside Drive goes into the valley and Northside Drive takes you back out. Usually each of the roads operates, primarily, just one way. There is a two-way crossover about a third of the way into the valley allowing you to change directions from either road without traveling the entire length of the valley. At the far eastern end of the valley there is Sentinel Drive which connects Southside and Northside drive which is also a two way street. The far eastern end of the valley is also where the “Village” is located consisting of a general store, post office, museum, a deli, wilderness center and other shops. Nearby are some campgrounds and there is Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and Housekeeping Camp for those who want to semi-rough it by staying in Tent Cabins. There is also the high class The Majestic Yosemite Lodge (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel). There is also, Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls), which is right across Northside Drive from the Yosemite Falls foot trail.
Paid tours are offered, but not all year long, so call ahead if you might be interested in a bus or tram tour of the Valley. Also, through Yosemite.org, there are occasional guided/escorted tours to various parts of the park which involve a bus or hiking or both. In August of 2006 my fellow hikers had the unfortunate luck to have me along with them on a hike from Glacier Point to the Valley floor along the Panorama Trail (more about that later).
More to the point If you have a limited time in the park, such as just one day, the Valley is where you want to be. You can drive around yourself, but you may have trouble finding a good parking spot at some of the stops (especially, during the summer months). You can take a tram tour (for a fee) or the shuttle (for free) and get off at the various stops for your tour. You can hike it (but that will be about a 15 mile trek around the valley). Or ride bikes. On this site, I have a word description of the Valley auto tour (See Driving Yosemite Valley).
I have tried to hit the high spots to give you a frame work on planning your trip, but consult the park’s web site for details at specific times. The NPS.GOV web site has plethora of information for planning your trip.
The world is your oyster. Pick your pearl!
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About This SiteHello, my name is Jeff Kreider. I snapped my first photograph in Yosemite December 24, 1979. Over the years it has become a passion. It is hard NOT to get inspired by the beauty of this park. This park is more than mere scenic opportunities; it is a virtual wonderland wrought by yesteryear. It is my goal to use this site to share, not only my experiences and photos, but also some of its history and the tales of those who forged it.
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