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JUNE: Planning a Yosemite Vacation

It happened again this year. Somehow Memorial Day came and went and you still haven’t made plans for your summer vacation. Think it’s too late for a trip to California’s most exalted national park? Think you don’t stand a chance at finding accommodations or securing a campsite? Think again. With some careful planning, you can still enjoy a memory-filled summer trip to Yosemite National Park. Here’s how: 

Forget camping in Yosemite Valley. Camping in Yosemite Valley is so crowded, it’s a lot like camping in downtown Manhattan. Instead, head for one of four campgrounds on Tioga Pass Road that do not take reservations—Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Porcupine Flat. At these “first-come, first-served” camps, you can find a place to pitch your tent almost any summer night, although Saturday nights can be dicey, especially if you wait until late afternoon to start your search. Your best bet is to begin your vacation on a Sunday or Monday, when you’ll have your pick of the available campsites.

Of these four Tioga Pass campgrounds, Yosemite Creek and Tamarack Flat are located 4.7 and 3.7 miles off Tioga Pass Road, respectively, requiring a long drive to your campsite. The campground access roads are narrow and slow going, and not suitable for trailers or large RVs. White Wolf and Porcupine Flat are only a short distance off Tioga Pass Road.

Another camping option for those without prior reservations is Bridalveil Creek Campground on Glacier Point Road. Get there early in the day to reserve a spot; this camp usually fills up sooner than the camps on Tioga Pass Road.

Any of these first-come, first-served campgrounds puts you in an ideal location for day-hiking. Among many terrific options, don’t miss the Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Trails off Glacier Point Road, and the Lembert Dome and Tuolumne Falls Trails off Tioga Pass Road. 

Forget trying to stay in Yosemite Valley in the summer. Even if you are lucky enough to secure a reservation at one of the Valley’s accommodations (and it is possible even this late in the year, since cancellations happen every day), you’ll still be stuck in the most crowded region of the park. Far better to stay outside of the Valley, then drive in and visit it if you wish.

If you have your heart set on staying within the park’s borders, you have a fair chance of obtaining a reservation at the Wawona Hotel in the south part of the park, and a slim-to-fair chance of obtaining a reservation at White Wolf Lodge or Tuolumne Lodge on Tioga Pass Road. The historic Wawona Hotel has a Southern appeal, with a wide verandah out front and porch chairs scattered about its green lawns. Of 150 rooms, only 50 have private baths, and these fall on the high end of the $130-195 room rate. The lower priced rooms share communal bath and shower facilities.

White Wolf Lodge and Tuolumne Lodge on Tioga Pass Road offer very rustic accommodations in tent cabins—large, off-white tents on raised wooden platforms, which are almost bare inside except for a woodburning stove, candles for lighting, and a couple beds. Guests share a communal bathroom and shower house. These two lodges are open only from mid-June to mid-September. The rates are affordable—a mere $110 per night. White Wolf also has a few higher-priced wooden cabins with private bathrooms, but your chances of getting one of these are slim to none. 

For reservations at these or any of Yosemite’s in-park lodgings, phone 801/559-4884 or visit www.yosemitepark.com. If you don’t get the dates or lodgings you want on your first try, try again later. In the summer months, the reservation agents recommend that you phone (or use the website reservation system) as often as 10 times a day. If you are persistent, you’ll get what you want.

A wide variety of motels, cabins, and lodges are located within a 20-minute drive of one of Yosemite’s entrance stations. Here are some recommendations located near the park’s western and southern entrances off Highways 120, 140, and 41:

•  Sunset Inn, off Highway 120 near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance; 888/962-4360 or 209/962-4360; website: www.sunsetinnusa.com. The one- and two-bedroom cabins have queen-sized beds, fully equipped kitchens, private bathrooms, and woodburning stoves. Wonderful owners and a first-rate location for exploring Yosemite! 

•  Yosemite Lakes, off Highway 120 near near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance; 800/533-1001 or 209/962-0110; website: www.1000trails.com. This large family-style resort offers a wide variety of accommodations, including a bunk-style hostel, cabins, and yurts. 

•  Evergreen Lodge, off Highway 120 near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance; 800/935-6343 or 209/379-2606; website: www.evergreenlodge.com. This large cabin resort is ideally suited for families who want to visit either Yosemite’s high country or Hetch Hetchy. Lots of activities and a good restaurant. 

• Yosemite View Lodge and Cedar Lodge, off Highway 140 near Yosemite’s Arch Rock entrance; 888/742-4371 or 209/379-2681; website: www.yosemite-motels.com. Managed by the same company, these two large lodge complexes offer all the standard motel amenities. If you want to stay at a place with a pool, cable TV, HBO, cocktail lounge, restaurant, and the like, these two fit the bill. 

• Narrow Gauge Inn, off Highway 41 near Yosemite’s South Entrance, 888/644-9050 or 559/683-7720; website: www.narrowgaugeinn.com. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, romantic getaway near Yosemite, this is your best bet. Everything is well done here, from the room furnishings to the restaurant menu to the lovely wooded grounds. 

• Tenaya Lodge, off Highway 41 near Yosemite’s South Entrance, 888/514-2167 or 559/683-6555; website: www.tenayalodge.com. This huge, 244-room resort sits on 35 acres and comes complete with indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, and spa services. 

• Yosemite West, off Highway 41 near Glacier Point Road, is a medium-sized development of private homes located within the park. Several companies, as well as private individuals, rent homes here. Contact one of the following:
Yosemite West Cottages, 559/642-2211 or website: www.yosemitewestreservations.com; Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders, 888/967-3648 or website: www.scenicwonders.com; or Yosemite’s Four Seasons, 800/669-9300 or 209/372-9000 or website: www.yosemitelodging.com.

For more information on where to stay and what to do in Yosemite National Park, check out Moon Handbooks: Yosemite by Ann Marie Brown.