Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet. If you haven’t been, the heart of Yosemite is the Yosemite Valley which sits at about 4,000ft elevation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is surrounded by Granite Cliffs which are at about 7,000ft. Yosemite Valley was formed by a glacier and is way, way, way beyond stunning.
If you want the classic private experience of camping you’re going to have to hike into the backcountry. Yosemite gets crowded, very crowded, especially on the weekends so by all means go on the weekdays if at all humanly possible.
I’m not a big fan of drive-in campgrounds unless they are private. In Yosemite Valley the drive-in campgrounds are not very private but they can still be cool. The drive-in campgrounds are few and they often sell out so make reservations in advance. There’s also Housekeeping Camp which is kind of like camping and kind of like having a cabin. It just opened for the season and they sound pretty fun. If you don’t want to camp there is the Yosemite Lodge and the super expensive Ahwahnee Hotel (where Steve Jobs got married and looks like the inside of the hotel in The Shining) which are often booked months in advance. There is also the infamous Camp Curry which rents out small cabins and canvas tent cabins. Camp Curry is inexpensive but also quite crowded. The tent cabins are stacked. You can also score some cool private cabins near Yosemite Valley and keep in mind the next accommodations are about an hour or more away. Wawona is a beautiful area and close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. You can also camp up in that area, stay at the Wawona Hotel or rent a secluded cabin. Wawona is still inside Yosemite and it’s a lot quieter than the valley. If you want to hang out in the woods and have some solitude Wawona is a great area to be. It’s about an hour drive to Yosemite Valley but you also get the legendary tunnel view on your way in and out of the valley which is a major bonus.
Right outside of Yosemite I looked at The Yosemite Bug which does have vegan eats at their cafe and a nice selection of draft beers. It seems very affordable and like a cool hang. It does take an hour or more to drive to Yosemite Valley. The drive is pretty and down the Merced River so you don’t have to drive up the curvy mountain roads like when you’re going to Wawona.
On my trip to Yosemite in early April I stayed right in the heart of Yosemite Valley. I went on a weekday and it was rather empty at Camp 4 which is a first come first served campground and only $5 per person which is rather nice. Camp 4 is a walk-in campground so you don’t have to be close to RV’s or cars but you’ll most likely will be close to other tents. It’s often used by rock climbers and I ran into a few young wanderers using it as a temporary home. I found it quite lovely and enjoyed resting beneath the granite cliffs and didn’t mind the close company. Be prepared to store your food in bear lockers no matter which campground you stay at. All the campsites in the valley have bear lockers and even some of the backcountry campsites have them as well. If you’re heading into the backcountry for an overnight visit in Yosemite you’ll need to rent or buy a bear canister.
There are so many other places to go in Yosemite but most people head directly to Yosemite Valley. It’s open all year and most of the hiking in this area is suitable for beginners and it’s accompanied by some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. Many of us are awaiting the opening of the Tioga Road which is roughly a 60 mile section of road in Yosemite that is closed all winter long. They just opened the road to Glacier Point a few days ago so you can go check out magnificent views of Yosemite Valley and get some amazing subalpine hikes in.
TIPS: the weather forecasts the last three times I’ve gone were always inaccurate. Your best bet is to hike prepared and check the latest forecasts possible. Carry a rain jacket, lots of water, and go to Degnan’s deli for ice cold bottles of beer that are under $2. You can drink the beers with your packed lunch at the picnic tables outside. We packed most of our food but they do have a small but well stocked market with Primal Strips and other vegan snacks and food. The closest full size grocery store is over an hour away. We sometimes stop at the Whole Foods in Fresno and there is a health food store in Mariposa.
If you have any camping or hiking questions please ask away. I’m obsessed.