Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - When Reservations Will Be Required
Yosemite National Park joins a growing list of popular national parks that now require advance reservations for entry during peak visitation periods. Starting May 2024, visitors will need reservations to enter Yosemite on the following dates:
During these high demand periods, a timed-entry reservation will be required for each vehicle (and all occupants) entering Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The reservation system aims to spread out visitation, reduce overcrowding, and provide a better overall experience for guests.
Yosemite routinely sees traffic jams and limited parking during summer months, with visitors lining up before dawn just to enter the park. Implementing the new reservation system allows Yosemite to manage visitation numbers, avoiding the frustration of long waits at entrance gates. Visitors with reservations are guaranteed entry during their allotted time slot.
When reservations first launched in 2021 due to COVID-19, they received mixed reactions. Some appreciated the more relaxed experience with fewer cars and people crowding popular viewpoints. Others complained about the extra planning required. Overall, the reservation system was deemed a success, so Yosemite opted to continue reservations permanently during peak seasons.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier National Park, and Zion National Park have also turned to mandatory reservation systems in recent years. Advanced planning is quickly becoming the norm for accessing America's most iconic landscapes. Visitors must check individual park websites for the latest policies.
What else is in this post?
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - When Reservations Will Be Required
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - How to Make Reservations for Yosemite
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Popular Attractions Covered by the Reservation System
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Exceptions to the Reservation Requirement
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Expected Impacts on Visitation
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Tips for Securing a Reservation
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Nearby Alternatives If You Can't Get a Reservation
- Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Looking Ahead to Potential Reservation Expansions
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - How to Make Reservations for Yosemite
Securing your reservation for peak visitation in Yosemite will require a bit of planning. Don't expect to just show up and waltz right in during summer weekends or holidays without one. But the process itself is straightforward if you prepare in advance.
First, you'll need to set up an account on Recreation.gov. This is the National Park Service's official reservation system that Yosemite (and other parks) utilize. Create your username and password, then add your contact details.
Once your account is active, you can start searching for reservations. Use the date picker to select your intended arrival date, then specify that you need a vehicle permit for Yosemite National Park. It will show you available entry times for that day. Choose your preferred time slot, and the system will reserve it for 10 minutes while you complete the transaction.
You'll need to input your license plate number and pay the $2 reservation fee. This is per vehicle and allows everyone in your car to enter (no limit on occupants). Your reservation also includes unlimited re-entries on that same day.
Visitors recommend logging on right when the 60-day booking window opens, as popular days fill up lightning fast. You can modify reservations later if needed, subject to availability. And reservations can be cancelled for a full refund (minus the processing fee) if plans change last minute.
Once you've secured your reservation, print or download the confirmation to present at the entrance kiosk when you arrive. Don't be late and miss your entry window, as you won't be allowed in outside your allotted time slot.
Traffic flows best when vehicles arrive at their designated time, neither early nor late. This prevents back-ups at the gates. If you realize you'll be delayed en route, call the reservation office to see if they can shift your arrival window.
While securing a reservation adds one more planning step, visitors say the new system makes for a much more relaxed, less crowded experience once inside the park. Gone are the chaotic pile-ups at the gates each morning.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Popular Attractions Covered by the Reservation System
Yosemite's reservation requirement applies specifically to Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. These are the most popular and heavily visited areas of the park. Unless you have lodging or camping reservations inside the park, you'll need a day-use reservation to access these zones.
Yosemite Valley is the highlight for most visitors. This area contains instantly recognizable landmarks like Half Dome and El Capitan. Hiking trails along the valley lead to thundering waterfalls including Yosemite Falls, the tallest in North America. Scenic overlooks of glacially-carved valleys, rounded domes and the winding Merced River are around every turn.
Without a reservation, don't expect to experience icons like Tunnel View or enjoy sunsets at Sentinel Bridge. Or see meadow wildflowers framing a postcard-perfect shot of Half Dome. Summer weekends often reached gridlock here pre-reservation, with nowhere to park near trailheads.
The reservation system makes Valley hikes like Mist Trail and Mirror Lake far more pleasant. While still somewhat crowded on peak days, gone are the claustrophobic human traffic jams of years past. Visitors have space to take pictures at scenic pullouts without jostling for position. And parking is no longer a lost cause before 10am.
Mariposa Grove hosts the largest trees on earth – the giant sequoias. Over 500 mature sequoias tower over 250 feet tall in this protected grove. Walk the 2-mile loop and gawk at the sheer scale of titans like the Grizzly Giant and Fallen Monarch. See the 1800-year-old Bachelor and Three Graces before reaching the star tree – the 209-foot General Sherman.
Without a reservation, don't expect to have many moments of solitude among these ancient giants. Or easily navigate crowded footpaths, especially the stairs leading down into the lower grove. The trees themselves can handle the throngs of adoring fans, but the crowds detract from visitors' experience.
The reservation system again improves access and reduces congestion issues. While never devoid of people, you'll have a more tranquil opportunity to appreciate the grandeur of these old growth sequoias. And you may just have a coveted photo op in front of the iconic Wawona Tunnel Tree without other tourists photo-bombing your shot.
While Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove are the main attractions covered, the reservation system likely improves the overall flow of visitors throughout the park. Limiting numbers curbs crowding at other popular but unreserved zones like Glacier Point, Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, and sites along Tioga Road including Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Exceptions to the Reservation Requirement
While reservations are mandatory for Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove during peak times, there are some important exceptions to be aware of. Understanding who still has access without a reservation can optimize your visit.
The most notable exception is for overnight guests with lodging or camping reservations inside Yosemite National Park. If you’re staying at one of the park’s hotels, campgrounds, or backcountry sites, you’ll be allowed to enter and travel freely to your accommodation without a day-use reservation.
Just show your overnight confirmation at the gate when you arrive. You can even add extra days before or after your stay when you won’t have lodging, and still get in without a reservation during your whole trip. This perk makes staying overnight in Yosemite easier and more flexible.
Another key exception is for visitors entering Yosemite via the Highway 41 entrance at Wawona. This southern access point leads to Mariposa Grove, but does not pass through Yosemite Valley. Currently the reservation system only applies to Valley-bound traffic entering via El Portal Road (Highway 140) or Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120).
So if you just want to see the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove, entering through Wawona provides a loophole (for now). Park managers hint this exemption may not last forever if it's abused. So budget a few hours to see the big trees but don't plan on accessing the rest of the Valley without the proper reservation.
Commercial tours entering Yosemite also sidestep the reservation requirement, but have strict limits on group size. Authorized commercial tours designed for visitor education and recreation are exempt, including tour buses, vendor shuttles, and guided bike rides or rafting trips.
Non-commercial organized groups like school field trips, church outings, clubs, etc. still need standard day-use reservations even if traveling together by bus. Make sure you understand whether your group trip meets the commercial tour criteria before assuming you'll have guaranteed entry without reservations.
One final exception is non-recreational through-travelers just passing through Yosemite without stopping. If you'll stay on the highway and exit the park without visiting any attractions, then advance reservations are not required. This allowance primarily benefits long-haul freight trucks needing to traverse Tioga and Big Oak Flat roads as transit routes across the Sierra Nevada.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Expected Impacts on Visitation
Yosemite's new reservation system will undoubtedly impact visitation patterns and tourist behaviors. While some impacts are already apparent, the long-term effects remain to be seen. After the initial reservation rollout in 2021, visitors reported easier access and less crowding once inside the park thanks to controlled entry. However, securing a reservation was frustrating for many late planners.
Some travelers had to adjust dates or cancel trips entirely due to lack of reservation availability. Park managers acknowledge the system may deter some spontaneous visitors who prefer a more flexible schedule. Overall visitation dropped nearly 50% in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic years. While some decline was pandemic-related, the reservation hurdle likely prevented many travelers from coming.
Looking ahead, visitors will need to plan further in advance to lock in dates. Savvy travelers are already setting calendar reminders to hop online the minute the 60-day window opens. Competing for reservations will feel a bit like trying to score concert tickets for a hot show. Visitation will likely continue depressed on peak summer and holiday weekends that sell out quickly.
However, new opportunities open up for shoulder season travel. Visitors who can be flexible on dates outside the prime summer months will enjoy relaxed access. Local families may schedule more off-peak weekend getaways when reservations are readily available. The new system empowers travelers to visit at traditionally quieter times and avoid summer crowds.
Park advocates hope the reservations also entice visitors to discover lesser-known areas. With limits on Yosemite Valley visitors, more people may venture to Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, or Wawona. These zones offer spectacular scenery and trails without the hassle of a reservation. Geographic dispersal of crowds would relieve pressure on the Valley.
However, an open question remains around where unfulfilled demand will go instead. Travelers who can't get into Yosemite may simply flock to other parks like Sequoia, Kings Canyon, or Muir Woods. Surging visitation and gridlock at alternative destinations would just shuffle the overcrowding problem elsewhere.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Tips for Securing a Reservation
Snagging those coveted reservations for peak dates in Yosemite will take some strategy and planning. But veterans of the system share their tips for scoring entry during busy summer weekends and holidays.
Book early. This one is obvious but can't be overstated. Set calendar reminders so you hop online right at midnight PST on the first minute reservations open up 60 days prior to your intended visit. Popular days like Memorial Day weekend and 4th of July sell out in minutes (yes, minutes). So you snooze, you lose.
Be flexible on dates. While your ideal trip may be 4th of July, you'll have better luck getting in if you can shift your dates earlier or later, even by just a few weeks. Schools are still in session in early June and late August, making entrance easier. Avoid scheduling trips around major holidays or events like the Yosemite Facelift or Yosemite Renaissance. Instead, opt for off-peak periods to up your chances.
Try for weekdays instead of weekends. Given the choice for a summer visit, pick Tuesday through Thursday over Friday through Sunday. Note that Mondays tend to be busy as people arrive for a long weekend. Midweek is least crowded, and reservations remain open much longer.
Book multiple days. Single-day passes disappear quickest, so increase your reservation length to gain an edge. You can always exit early if needed. Multi-day reservations stretching a week or longer have highest success rates.
Double (or triple) book, then release extras. Securing one reservation doesn't guarantee you can modify it later if plans change. So make two or three reservations for different dates as a backup, then cancel what you don't need. Just be sure to release unwanted days before the 14 day cut off or you'll be charged!
Try less popular entrance gates. Most visitors cluster near El Portal accessing Yosemite Valley. But you may have luck entering via Tioga Pass, Big Oak Flat or Wawona, then still accessing the Valley once inside.
Enroll dependents for their own reservations. Children under 16 don't need reservations if accompanied by an adult with one. But they can't enter alone. Give kids age 12+ their own Recreation.gov accounts and double your chances of scoring multiple reservations.
Pre-position in the park. Those staying overnight inside Yosemite for one leg of a longer trip gain automatic access during their whole stay. So book campsites or lodging to start your visit, even if you'll later switch to outside hotels.
Gamify the system. Approach it like a competitive sport trying to outwit others vying for same days. Follow blogs and forums to learn latest tips and tricks for gaining an edge. Check multiple devices simultaneously as you click to book, and celebrate success like winning concert tickets when you finally score the dates you want.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Nearby Alternatives If You Can't Get a Reservation
If you strike out securing one of the coveted vehicle reservations for Yosemite Valley or Mariposa Grove during peak summer, don’t despair. Nearby alternatives exist where you can still experience the soaring granite walls, massive sequoias, and roaring waterfalls that draw over 4 million visitors annually to Yosemite.
Just two hours south of Yosemite’s southern gate lies Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Though lesser known than Yosemite, these adjoining parks protect stunning Sierra Nevada landscapes. Gaze up at the world’s largest tree by volume – General Sherman rises 275 feet into the sky – then continue into Kings Canyon to marvel at one of North America’s deepest canyons carved by the Kings River. With over 850 miles of trails to explore, choosing between these bucket list hikes will be tough: alpine gems like Heather Lake and Redwood Mountain Grove, or iconic vistas like Moro Rock and Zumwalt Meadow.
Muir Woods National Monument, just 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, safeguards one of the last old-growth coastal redwood forests in California. Walk humbled among 250-foot titans over 1,000 years old along the accessible main trail. Arrive early to beat crowds, then continue exploring nearby Mt Tamalpais State Park’s lush forests, coastal headlands, and sweeping vistas of the Pacific.
Further inland, Stanislaus National Forest within an easy day trip from Yosemite beckons outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re into hiking, climbing, fishing, boating, or just relaxing lakeside beneath ponderosa pines, this Sierra gem delivers. Highlights include the pristine Carson-Iceberg Wilderness and reservoirs brimming with trout and bass like Pinecrest Lake and Beardsley Lake.
Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California remains surprisingly crowd-free considering its geological wonders: mud pots, fumaroles, and steam vents left by recent volcanic activity. Hike around emerald waters of Helen Lake or summit Lassen Peak for unforgettable views of Lassen’s remains. The lava landscape resembles past volcanic fury seen across the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Finally, outdoor adventurers shouldn’t overlook amazing opportunities on California’s coast just minutes from Yosemite’s western boundary. Big Sur’s rugged shoreline impresses driving the Pacific Coast Highway. Or escape to Santa Cruz’s sun-soaked beaches and boardwalks. Grab your surfboard, stand-up paddleboard or kayak and enjoy the laidback California vibe combined with incredible nature easily accessed from the Yosemite region.
Mark Your Calendars: Yosemite to Require Reservations on These Dates in 2024 - Looking Ahead to Potential Reservation Expansions
Yosemite’s reservation system, while currently limited to peak days in Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, offers a potential model for managing visitors across more of America’s beloved yet overwhelmed national parks.
As crowding and congestion threaten the natural wonders and experiences that draw us to parks, reservations offer a tooI for spreading use, reducing impacts, and improving access. Yosemite serves as the testing ground, but expansions seem imminent.
Crucially, reservations must balance availability for spontaneous travelers and international visitors against impacts from increasing volumes. The challenge lies in limiting numbers without excluding people, especially those without the luxury of planning months ahead.
Reservations currently cover about 20% of Yosemite’s 4 million annual visitors. Yet even this modest system strained Recreation.gov’s servers when bookings opened. Expanding reservations to 75% or more of annual visitors would require major upgrades.
Hopefully technology advances can prevent the inevitable meltdowns if reservations spread park-wide or to even busier parks like Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains or Grand Canyon. Yosemite’s small-scale launch pales compared to the demand that would swamp servers if a park like Yellowstone opened reservations.
Managing different rules across hundreds of entrance gates and zones within expansive parks also grows increasingly complex. Frustrated visitors already struggle navigating individual parks’ changing policies. Consistent communications and marketing will be essential to smooth adoption.
Expanding access for lesser-visited zones could encourage geographic dispersion if crowds in renowned areas like Yosemite Valley shift to discover new destinations. But this depends on building out infrastructure and transit options.
Ideally, parks could adopt dynamic models similar to ride-share surge pricing, adjusting availability based on real-time conditions. More last-minute reservations could open if light crowds allow. But high demand periods would see fast sellouts.
Partnering with tour operators and hotels could secure blocks of reservations for package guests unable to plan far ahead. VIP fast passes may emerge for a premium, soul-wrenching as that sounds. Lotteries could randomly dole out cancellations and unredeemed days.