Camping in California’s Yosemite National Park either takes months of planning or a Leprechaun’s-pot-of-gold-worth of luck. Actually, it’s usually both of those things at once. Plus a good internet connection and a deft clicking finger.

Yosemite is one of the world’s most famous national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage site so it stands to reason that campsites are booked out months in advance and those unbookable ones are snapped up quickly on the day.

I’ve been to Yosemite twice – the first time (five days after I arrived in the US) we drained the luck from Ireland and appeared at Porcupine Flat on a Saturday morning to pounce on an empty campsite.

The second visit was highly-organised affair, thanks to Mr M’s mum (mom!) who is basically the camping and vacation planning queen. She printed maps, compared camp site plans, highlighted, circled and noted bits and bobs.

Consider this an ode to her magnificent skills and everything I’ve learnt from watching her put together this trip.


If you want a guaranteed campsite (barring weather catastrophes or natural disasters), you’ll need to book one online, months in advance. Though you don’t have to rough it if you don’t want to.

There are a huge variety of ways you can stay inside Yosemite National Park.


Even with all of these options, there is lots of competition for securing a place to stay while you explore the park. Some lodges and the Majestic Yosemite Hotel accept bookings a year in advance, so it pays to plan ahead.

Other accommodation options, such as the campgrounds, open for online reservations a few months in advance. So you really need to know how you want to do your Yosemite visit well before you set off.


Before you set your accommodation decision in concrete, you really should think about how you’re going to get around Yosemite. It’s a big place. Spanning almost 3,100 square kilometres (1,200 square miles), there’s a fair distance between Yosemite’s most-loved sights.

There are various shuttle services that run to and inside different areas of the park, though most are seasonal and some charge a fee. If you’re not planning on long-distance hiking, you might want to bring a vehicle that you can easily drive from one side of Yosemite to the other.


Most roads within the park are well surfaced and are wide enough for two vehicles, however there are some hairpin turns that become a little more difficult to navigate in an RV or towing a trailer.

Driving your own (or a hired) RV is a great way of lugging all of your gear and having a slightly more comfy place to sleep, but it might not be your best bet when it comes to driving around the park. So keep that in mind.


Brace yourselves, this infographic is a long one, but it condenses all of the need-to-know information about Yosemite’s accommodation into one easy-to-read spot. For more details, check Yosemite’s lodging website.

The reservation website for most campgrounds opens in February and they go in the blink of an eye, but more on that later.



This is the part that requires a bit of mental maneuvering. It’s all commonsense but once you’re in the depths of planning, some things can slip your mind. Use the campsite reservation website to get all of the extra information you’ll need.

RV or trailer

If you have an RV or trailer, make a list of the campsites that will safely accommodate it’s length. Other things you should consider:

  • The driveway grade: If it’s a severe grade it’ll be a bit trickier to park your vehicle, level it and chock the tyres if necessary.
  • Back-in or pull-through: A site that you can drive straight through will be much easier to get in and out of than one that you have to reverse into.
  • Maximum length: Check the maximum lengths available for RVs and trailers (they may differ), the max lengths depend on the turning radius available in back-in sites.
  • Dump station: Even if there isn’t a dump station near your site, there will be some on the way out of the park or near other RV-friendly campgrounds.
  • Hookups: There aren’t water, sewage or electrical hookups within the park so plan for that.
  • Reservations: Is it a reservation-only campground or will you have to take a gamble by showing up at 12pm on the day?
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Tent camping

Picking a site to pitch your tent is a little easier, although not without a few little challenges.


  • Proximity to toilets/running water: If you have young children you might want to be closer to the bathrooms. Also check if it’s a vault or flushing toilet and whether is drinkable or needs to be treated or boiled first.
  • Level of seclusion: Do you want to feel like you’re almost alone in the forest? Or do you like the community feel of being surrounded by others? Campgrounds within Yosemite Valley are the most popular, campsites are smaller and squeezed together. If you want more space, choose a campground outside of the valley.
  • Which site: Print out a map of the campground you’re considering and highlight the ones that fit your specifications. You can see which sites back onto forest and which sit in the middle of the campground. This will make it easier to pick the sites you like the most.
  • Fires: Check whether coal or wood fires are allowed in the site and plan accordingly.
  • Reservations: Is it a reservation-only campground or will you have to take a gamble by showing up at 12pm on the day?


Most campgrounds take bookings up to five months in advance. But as we’ve pointed out before, once reservations open at 7:00 AM Pacific Time, they are snapped up quickly. Sometimes they go within minutes.


Courtesy of YNP.

There are two ways you can make a reservation: online or by phone. Visit for the online reservation system. Otherwise you can call:

  • 877-444-6777
  • 877-833-6777 for TDD
  • International (outside the US & Canada) +1-518-885-3639

Only two campsites can be reserved per phone call or visit to the website. If you need more than two sites, have someone else call in or use the website. Make sure you have registered on the website before D-Day. Choose your sites early and log into the reservation website just before 7AM so that you’re ready for the opening.


Seasoned campers know the drill, but if this is your first time camping, there are a few things you should consider.

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For the most part you’ll be bringing your own food to cook (unless you’re in a hotel or lodge). If you don’t have your own gas-powered cooker to bring along, remember that you’re going to have to build a fire for everything that needs cooking.

I’ve put together a checklist of food, clothes, toiletries and personal items that you should take on a camping trip. Sign up below to get it straight to your inbox.


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