Ultimate Camper Van Guide to Yosemite National Park
A camper van is a fantastic way to visit the park and soak up all that it has to offer. However, Yosemite’s popularity and restrictions make it a place that is much more fun to travel to when you are in the know. Below, you can find helpful information on taking a van life trip to Yosemite, including tips on reservations, camping, and what to do while you’re in the park. Enjoy!
Camper Van Camping in Yosemite National Park
There are 13 campgrounds within Yosemite National Park. Of them, four are located in the Yosemite Valley, which is certainly the most scenic area of the park. Reservations are required at seven of Yosemite’s campgrounds, including all of the van-accessible campgrounds in the valley.
Peak season in Yosemite National Park is April-October. Campground reservations are available in one-month blocks which open 5 months in advance, on the 15th of every month, at 7 a.m. Pacific time on recreation.gov. For more campground reservation information, click here.
When planning a camper van trip to Yosemite, the first thing you’ll need to do is attempt to make campground reservations. Be aware that for May through September, and for some other weekends of the year, campsites are reserved within seconds of the 7 a.m. opening window! The 3 campgrounds that allow car camping in Yosemite Valley are Upper Pines Campground, Lower Pines, and North Pines. All three have a nightly fee of $26.
What to Do If You Can’t Get a Reservation
If you plan on visiting Yosemite during peak season, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in place should you be unable to reserve a camp spot inside the park boundaries. . While spontaneous camping is one of the major benefits of owning a Sprinter camper van, be aware that car camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds within the park. Camp 4, Yosemite’s only first-come, first-served campground, does not allow car camping in the parking lot. This rule is strictly enforced.
Fortunately, there are several options for camping outside of the park boundaries in areas that are both beautiful and close enough to Yosemite for daily trips into the park. While there’s nothing quite like waking up in Yosemite Valley, camping outside of the park and making day trips is a great option when reservations are unavailable.
Yosemite is surrounded by national forest, and RV parks and campgrounds can be found near every entrance to the park. Hipcamp offers lots of interesting options for people on road trips who want to camp in their vans near Yosemite. Alternatively, free camping is legal in many areas on national forest land.
There are too many campgrounds near the park entrances to list here, but a quick search will help you find plenty of great options. It’s still a good idea to reserve your camping spot well in advance, even if you’re going to be staying outside of the park on forest service land.
Amenities for Vanlife in Yosemite
One great thing about camper vans is that they allow you to be self-sufficient while traveling. Many camper vans include showers, toilets, and kitchens. Still, it’s always good to know where you can find basic amenities like groceries, showers, and more while you’re on the road.
Yosemite has more amenities within park boundaries than most national parks. There are several restaurants and shops located in Yosemite Village. You can find hot showers most of the year at nearby Half Dome Village. (Keep in mind that there are no showers at any of the campgrounds in Yosemite).
One great resource in Yosemite is the Village Store. The Village Store is located in the heart of Yosemite Valley. It includes a small grocery store and gear shop. You can find most things you would in a standard supermarket here, including fresh produce. The Village Store also carries basic camping essentials like firewood and tarps.
If you need full RV hookups for your van, you’ll need to camp at one of the campgrounds outside of the park. Electrical, water, and sewer hookups are not available anywhere within the national park.
What to Do in Yosemite
Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the country. But what do people who go here actually do? Depending on the season you visit, Yosemite has something to offer for just about anyone.
You can find amazing hiking in Yosemite just about year-round. Many hikes in the valley feature stunning waterfalls and breathtaking views. There is hiking for all abilities to be found in Yosemite. During peak season, you may need to get a permit in advance for a select few trails, including Half Dome.
Yosemite is the world’s premier rock climbing destination. If you are a climber, you could spend several lifetimes in ‘The Valley’ (as climbers have been calling it for decades) without experiencing all of the climbing it has to offer. There are opportunities for novices to get high on the granite walls surrounding Yosemite Valley as well. You can take guided adventures that are suitable even for those who have never tried climbing before. For those who would prefer to watch, grab a pair of binoculars and head to El Capitan Meadow, where you can get great views of parties attempting to climb the sheer 3,000-foot monolith.
Yosemite Valley features extensive bike paths, making it a great place to cycle while you take in the astounding views. Since the valley is fairly small, you can easily get to most areas by bike if you are camping within Yosemite valley.
Another great thing to do in Yosemite is to simply drive around and see the sights. A trip up Glacier Point Road for sunset or an excursion on Highway 120 through the high sierra landscape of Tuolumne meadows offers great sightseeing and a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Keep your eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife, especially when driving through the valley and near the Tuolumne Meadows Campground.
If you visit Yosemite during the summer, chances are it’s going to be hot! Daytime temperatures in the valley can soar over 100 degrees during summer. At the higher elevations near Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass, temperatures tend to be a bit cooler, but still quite warm in the summer.
Fortunately, Yosemite has some incredible swimming holes where you can cool off. Great swimming can be found in the Upper and Lower Merced River and along Bridalveil Creek, as well as in the numerous lakes within park boundaries, such as Tuolomne’s Tenaya Lake.
With proper planning, Yosemite is an amazing place to travel in a camper van. The breathtaking scenery and ample opportunities for outdoor fun make it one of America’s top destinations. The only thing that can make a trip to Yosemite better is enjoying it from the comfort of your custom Sprinter van conversion.
~Enjoy your trip! Your friends at Muse & Co. Outdoors.
I’ll have to visit and make sure I book in advance or not go during peak times. Thank you for this post.