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Getting a reservation for a campsite in Yosemite National Park, especially one in Yosemite Valley in the summer, is a challenging task. Following these tips may help.
On the official website, set up a membership. When possible, select the campsite of your choice and successfully make a reservation. Be sure to bring a confirmation of this reservation along with your photo ID.
"Camping in Yosemite" information from the National Park Service here Be sure to carefully read the regulations. For example, a campsite is limited to 6 people (including children.) ALL of your food must fit in the bear locker.
For popular times of the year, it’s ideal to reserve a campsite at the exact moment that reservations open. This is on the 15th of each month at 7am Pacific Time, about 4 months in advance.
Reservation Date Arrival Date
Dec 15 April 15 – May 14
Jan 15 May 15 – June 14
Feb 15 June 15 – July 14
Mar 15 July 15 – August 14
Apr 15 August 15 – September 14
Practice making a reservation. Create a list of campsites that will suit your travel group (RV, near a bathroom, near the shuttle stop, whatever.) If possible, have a few computers going at the same time. At this point, it is unclear if all the computers can be logged into the same recreation.gov membership ID or if each computer user needs his/her own Recreation.gov membership. You cannot have more than two reservations in your Shopping Cart, so having each computer manned by a recreation.gov member is a good idea. (If you’re lucky and you each get a campsite for the same night, cancel the one you don’t want before completing the purchase.)
On the appointed day, be ready with your preferred campsite showing on your computer. Use the fastest computer and internet connection available. Watch the official time here: Official NIST US Time At 7 am (on the second), try to put the campsite into your “shopping cart” on the website. If someone else snagged it first, try to get another one. Continue trying for about 5 or 6 minutes. Then all the campsites are probably gone. Wait a few more minutes. Around 7:15, the lucky folks who put a few campsites into their “shopping cart” will decide which one(s) they want and return the rest to be selected by folks who are still waiting to find something. If you don’t have anything by 7:30 or 7:35, it’s unlikely you’ll find something today.
Note that you can search for all campsites that meet your criteria for your chosen date. Put in “RV 29 ft” or “any site” or whatever you need. Put in your date and number of nights. Then search. Grab anything that looks good to you. Remember that you can only have two “items” in your shopping cart before you need to complete the purchase.
Extend your visit forward. If you’re planning to arrive on the 15th, consider moving your plans up to the 14th. For example, your plan is to arrive on July 15 and to stay for 4 nights. The reservation window opens on March 15th for arrival dates between July 15 – August 14. You scramble to get 4 nights. Instead, plan to arrive on July 14. The reservation window for this date opens on February 15th. Make your reservation for July 14 AND the additional 3 nights that flow into the next week. You do not need to wait until March 15 to reserve the nights of July 15, 16, and 17; they are part of your reservation that you make on February 15.
River. Campsites by the river are nice but may be flooded in spring. Those sites tend to be the most popular and most difficult to get.
Finding Cancellations: Travel plans change and some folks cancel their reservations ($10 fee) and their campsites are returned. If you check the reservation website often, you might find something available. This technique also works for folks who didn’t get in on the first reservation day and who are now seeking reservations.
Sometimes campsites near the river are held back and not offered on the reservation website. When the rangers determine that the spring water has receded and that the ground is dry enough, those sites will be released on the website.
Names & ID. You will need photo ID to check into the campsite. If the person who made the reservation can’t go, pay $10 to have the name changed.
Trails, shuttles, nearby amenities. There are shortcuts or social trails through the campgrounds that lead to the free shuttle, to the river, to the bathrooms, or to Park attractions. You may or may not want to be near these social trails.
Be Flexible. Consider moving campsites if you can’t get a block of nights in one campsite. Moving your tent is better than not going at all. You can change your search option to "flexible" and search for 1 night only for the next 2 or 4 weeks. You may be able to piece together something for your multiple nights stay.
Again, the three campgrounds in Yosemite Valley fill up fastest. There is a 4th campground in the Valley (Camp 4), but it is First Come First Served, shared campsite, walk-in only. In summer, it is usually full by 7 am, sometimes as late as 8 am. And some days Camp 4 has no availability at all.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground is the easiest to find a reservation. This huge campground is not site specific. You only make a reservation for a tent site or an RV site. The rangers at the entrance kiosk will assign you to a campsite when you arrive.
Hodgdon Meadow has a few tent-only walk-in campsites. These will not work for folks who plan to sleep in their cars and definitely won't work for RVs or Campervans. Be sure to carefully check the details about the campsite you are reserving. If you show up and the campsite does not work for you (RV too long, no tent for a tent-only walk-in campsite, etc), there is no refund; you will not be allowed to stay.
The other campgrounds in the reservation system are away from the main “attractions” in Yosemite NP. Choose your location carefully, considering what you are planning to do for your time in Yosemite NP. These campgrounds can work well for some people as they are quieter and usually smaller. Mileages to Yosemite Valley
Here is an article about getting a non-reservable First Come First Served campsite. ARTICLE
Yosemite map with campgrounds marked
MAPS of each campground