The Ultimate RV Guide to Yosemite National Park

The Ultimate RV Guide to Yosemite National Park
on Jul 31, 2018

Yosemite National Park: Your Ultimate RV Guide

The Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest and most loved parks in the United States. It covers 747,956 acres - 95 percent of which has been deemed wilderness areas. It is known for its powerful waterfalls (including North America’s largest, the Yosemite Falls), towering granite cliffs (including the world’s largest, El Capitan), and Giant Sequoia trees, which are estimated to be over 3,000 years old.

Renting an RV to explore Yosemite National Park is one of the best ways to see its many attractions. Check out our ultimate RV guide to Yosemite to learn some of the major sites in the park, where you can camp with your motorhome and some key notes for RV road trips in the area.

Things to see with your campervan in Yosemite

Yosemite Falls: At 2,425 feet, the Yosemite Falls are the highest in North America. They actually comprise three separate falls and are at their most impressive around May when the snow melts. It’s hard to miss this spectacle, with many viewing areas from around the park.

The powerful waterfalls of Yosemite National Park

Half Dome: The Half Dome is a massive granite dome in the Yosemite Valley. It’s more than 4,700 feet high and one of the most iconic sights in the park. It is possible to hike it in one arduous day (10-14 hours), but many will break it up by camping in the valley. You will need a permit if you plan to hike the Half Dome.

The sun sets over Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

El Capitan: El Capitan is a 3,000-foot granite cliff face that rises straight up from the valley floor, and is the largest granite monolith in the world. It’s easy to visit on foot, and due to its size, you can capture its stunning grandeur from numerous places around the valley.

El Capitan rises above the beautiful landscape of Yosemite National Park

Glacier Point: Glacier Point is the place to go for one of the best views of a lifetime. This spot looks out over the Yosemite Valley, including the Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the high country. You can get there by vehicle from May until winter sets in during October or November.

Where to camp with a motorhome in Yosemite National Park

There are a dozen campgrounds that accommodate motorhomes in Yosemite, and keep in mind that if you’re staying the night with your RV, you must be in one of them - you are not permitted to simply pull over anywhere and sleep for the night.

It’s also important to remember that there are no hookup sites anywhere in Yosemite, which means you will not have access to water, sewer systems, or electricity at any of your camp spots. You are permitted to bring a generator to use during selected hours, and there are dump sites around the park and in certain campsites, but it is best to book a self-contained motorhome to ensure you have these basic facilities during your stay.

Autumn descends upon Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park

Depending on when you visit Yosemite National Park, some campgrounds are strictly reservation-only, some are partially for reserved vehicles only, and some are completely first-come-first-served. This does depend on the time of year, so always double check before arriving.

Campgrounds that require bookings:

You will need to reserve a space for the following campgrounds between July and September:

● Hodgdon Meadow

● Crane Flat

● Wawona

● Upper Pines

● Lower Pines

● North Pines

● Tuolumne Meadows (half of the spaces here are for reservations)

Outside of the July-September window, some of these sites open for first-come-first-served campers. Note that not all of them will be open in June however, as it depends on the conditions and remaining snowpack.

To reserve a space, you need to be very organised. Spaces come available for booking on the 15th of each month at exactly 7 am Pacific time. They come up in blocks of a month at a time, usually up to five months in advance. Generally speaking, reservations for May to September and some shoulder season weekends will book out within minutes of becoming available, so you need to be quick. One tip is to make sure your clock is accurate and to begin the first few steps just before 7 am.

To book, go online to the Yosemite National Park camping booking site. You can also call 877-444-677 from inside the US and Canada, or 518-885-3639 from outside North America. Booking online is recommended, and you can only make two reservations in one go, so you will need to start over if you’re looking to make three or more bookings, or have someone else book them for you.

Campgrounds that do not allow reservations:

If you miss out, you can aim to find a spot in a non-reservation campground. During the height of summer (July through to September), you’ll need to arrive at non-reservation campsites by mid-morning at the latest to find a spot. These campgrounds are first-come-first-served during this time (note that Camp 4 is walk-in only and does not have space for RVs):

A bison nibbles on grass in the Yosemite National Park

● Bridalveil Creek

● Tamarack Flat (not ideal for most RVs)

● White Wolf

● Yosemite Creek (not ideal for most RVs)

● Porcupine Flat (not ideal for most RVs)

● Tuolumne Meadows (half of the sites are reservation only)

Keep in mind that you can also check regularly to see if there have been any last-minute cancellations at reserved sites. You can do this online at the aforementioned booking site.

Finally, there are also campgrounds outside of the park. While it does mean you would need to start each day early to drive in, it’s better than not seeing Yosemite at all!

The main thing to remember is that the easiest way to ensure a stress-free motorhome camping experience in the Yosemite National Park is to book your spot in advance, even if it means reserving your campsite before your motorhome.

Important Yosemite RV notes

● There are bears (and other wildlife) in Yosemite, so you must carefully store all food inside your campervan. Make sure vents and windows are closed so they can’t smell food and break in, and keep it out of sight. You can also use bear-safe lock boxes within campgrounds.

● Be mindful of cars behind you when driving through the park. If you notice a line forming, pull over to allow quicker vehicles to pass.

● There are parking spaces at attractions throughout the park, but they often fill up by mid-morning through summer, so aim to arrive at the sites you’d like to see early in the morning or later in the day when it’s less busy.

● Some roads in Yosemite have restrictions for certain RVs, so do your research before you arrive. These include Glacier Point Road, Mariposa Grove Road, Wawona Road, and Hetch Hetchy Road, which have height and length restrictions.

A curvy road winds through Yosemite National Park

● If you’d prefer not to drive to some attractions or know your motorhome may not handle the access roads well, there are a number of free shuttles and fee-based tours available that will pick you up from campgrounds to ferry you to the major sites.

● You are best to book a smaller RV. The entire Yosemite Valley is limited to motorhomes of maximum 40 feet, and there are only a handful of camping sites that can accommodate this size. A smaller campervan will also help you to navigate the winding, hilly roads in the park better.