As the United States begins to reopen after a life changing few months indoors due to COVID-19, we couldn’t be more excited to return to our favorite places—our National Parks. Thankfully, the great outdoors happens to be one of the safest places to be during a pandemic. With fresh air, wide-open spaces and nature, there isn’t anything better for the body and mind.
Unfortunately, a visit to our National Parks isn’t always synonymous with the above. In the past decade, our parks have seen a surge in visitors resulting in traffic, crowded trails and a lack of wildlife. Just as the pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, it will also change how we visit our parks.
As Yosemite National Park experts since 1993, you can trust Incredible Adventures for up-to-date information on visiting this paradise of the Sierra Nevadas. Whether you decide to come with us or visit on your own, protect this special place by remembering to ‘Leave No Trace‘ and by following all social-distancing guidelines throughout the parks.
WHAT TO EXPECT
With 83 days being mostly visitor-free, Yosemite National Park (and all U.S. parks) have had some room to breath. Alpine meadows are growing thick and wildlife has been free to emerge without the fear of humans. While you will need a day permit to visit this year (see below for permit details), you can be certain to have some room to breath yourself. For the time being, gone are the days of sitting in Yosemite Valley bottleneck traffic to enter or exit the park. This year, Yosemite will only be returning to a 50% capacity of last year’s numbers.
Even though visitor numbers will be well-below year’s past, there are still a few things to keep in mind. Yosemite National Park covers an unbelievable 1,169 square miles, with 94% of that being designated wilderness. While those are some huge numbers, most everyone that visits Yosemite visits the same contained area—Yosemite Valley. What’s more, Yosemite Valley barely makes up 1% of the entire National Park.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, regardless of if you are visiting during a pandemic or not, make sure to visit multiple areas of the park. While Yosemite Valley is the most well known, there are numerous regions of the park which are just as beautiful but with less crowds.
Yosemite is currently engaging in a ‘phased reopening’. That being said, most of the park is open for visitors, minus some services. For the full and up-to-date list of what’s open and what’s not, be sure to check the Yosemite National Park Website.
As of June 11, 2020 the following areas and services are open:
- Trails: All trails are open as normal, with route modifications for the Mist Trail due to popularity.
- Campgrounds: Currently Upper Pines Campground is open at 50% capacity and Wawona Horse Camp (horse camping required) is open. All other campgrounds are yet to officially open. It is not recommended to show up to the park for an overnight stay without a reservation. Sleeping in cars is only allowed with a campground reservations.
- Hotels: Most hotels are open at a reduced capacity including Yosemite Valley Lodge and the Curry Village Tent Cabins.
- Services: Facilities and services are reduced throughout Yosemite National Park. In Yosemite Valley, the theater and Yosemite Museum are both closed. The Yosemite National Park shuttle will also not be operating.
- Roads: All roads (including Tioga Road) are now open as normal with the exception of Hetch Hetchy Road, which is only open from 8AM to 5PM.
- Sequoia Groves: There are multiple Sequoia groves around the park, all of which are currently open. Mariposa Grove can be reached by parking at the Mariposa Welcome Plaza, but once that is full you must walk the two-miles (each way) on the Washburn Trail or on Mariposa Grove Road to reach the trails of the grove itself.
- Gas: Gas is currently available in Wawona, El Portal, and Crane Flat.
It is invaluable to remember that the free park shuttle will NOT be operating this year. If you planned on a car-free visit to the park, see our recommendations below.
Wilderness permits for overnight hikes to Half Dome and the backcountry are currently open. All wilderness permits and quotas still remain in effect. If you have a wilderness permit for anytime past June 5th, it will be honored and you will be contacted on how to receive the permit via email.
The Best Time to Visit
All seasons are unique and beautiful within Yosemite National Park. Typically, summer is hot, dry and full of crowds. If you’ve always avoided Yosemite during the summer, maybe this is your best chance to visit. If you have the flexibility, the fall typically offers warm and clear days, but more comfortable temperatures.
Don’t be hesitant about visiting Yosemite during shoulder or slow seasons. Whether it’s a foggy and cool morning or a snow-covered scene, Yosemite is a sight to behold.
How to Visit
Visiting Yosemite National Park this year will differ drastically than years past. Basically, there are three main ways to visit until further notice.
1. By private vehicle
To visit the park in your own vehicle, Yosemite National Park has implemented a day-use reservation system on recreation.gov. Permits must be reserved prior to your visit, with 80% being available one month in advance and 20% being available 2 days in advance. You must make sure to enter the park on the first day of your permit or risk it being cancelled. Permits last for 7 days and cost $35 per car. You do not need to pay per person, only per vehicle.
Since the implementation of this permit system, reservations have been going quickly. It is highly recommended to be logged on at 7am Pacific Time one month prior to your visit to try and get a permit. Remember, permit numbers are based on 50% capacity of last year, so as tourism picks up there will not be enough permits to go around. Once in the park though, you’ll have the freedom to go wherever you like. Since the free park shuttle is not operating this year, it will be more difficult to reach areas outside of Yosemite Valley without a personal vehicle.
Don’t forget, it is highly discouraged to come to the park and plan to stay overnight without a reservation. For comfortable and conveniently located rooms, you can easily make your reservation with us. We often times have availability even though other sites are still sold out.
For comfortable rooms nearly at the base of Yosemite Falls, be sure to check out Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you’d rather feel closer to nature, look into the historic tent cabins in Curry Village. With heated or unheated rooms and multiple occupancy styles, this rustic option involves all the best parts of camping, without having to sacrifice comfort.
2. By public transportation
As stated above, the free National Park shuttle is not operating this year within the park. Fortunately, YARTS, the Yosemite public transit service, will still be in operation with some slight changes. The public transportation connecting Highways 108,120, 140, 41 and 395 to Yosemite Valley will offer a reduced capacity service, allowing 22 advance reservations with a maximum of 30 passengers per vehicle.
It is important to remember that while you can take YARTS into the Yosemite Valley, once you are there there will be no transportation available to visit other areas of the park. Make sure to visit https://www.yarts.com/ for more information.
3. By small-group tour
By far our favorite option, joining a tour allows you to easily visit all areas of the park while not needing to have obtained a day-use permit in advance. Yosemite Hospitality will not be operating their typical bus tours this year, but there are still a few other operators to choose from, including ourselves!
Benefits of joining our tours:
- No day-use permit needed. All of our tours include Yosemite National Park entry
- Leave the stressors of driving around a mountainous and expansive park to our professional drivers
- No need to deal with parking inside the park
- During this unpredictable time, our guides have expert knowledge of what’s currently going on around the park
- Leave lunch to us. Our Best of Yosemite and High Country Tour both include a fresh box lunch we source from outside the park
- Get tips on the best trails and how to visit the park like a pro, even under time constraints
We’ve implemented many health and safety protocols in response to COVID-19. See our Health & Safety page dedicated to the subject for all the ways we are keeping you safe.