The West is full of natural splendor. But you won’t see things like Yosemite anywhere else on earth. Carved out by glaciers, granite cliffs thousands of feet high tower over the Yosemite Valley. Pristine waterfalls cascade into the valley floor, feeding the Merced River and the lush temperate forests that cover every free inch of soil in sight.

But the park is much more than just the valley as it covers over 1,100 square miles of land in total. Yosemite is also one of the largest uninterrupted wildernesses in the Sierra Nevada, and crosses through a number of unique ecosystems. 

If reading this is starting to make you feel like you need to pack up the car and get out, like way out, for a while, check out these amazing campgrounds we found for your next trip to Yosemite. 

In The Yosemite Valley: 

Yosemite valley

The main reason to visit Yosemite National Park is Yosemite Valley. As such, we would be remiss not to mention some of the campgrounds in the Yosemite Valley right up top.

Some of the park’s most photogenic and awe-inspiring features can be found right here. Most visitors will recognize Half Dome, rising nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor by its shape – the peak forms an almost perfect dome on one side, with a sheer, vertical face on the other.

El Capitan is also a standout, often described as the most impressive rock wall on earth. El Capitan is a favorite among rock climbers, offering limitless adventure to those with the know-how and gear to climb it. You’ll also find countless waterfalls in the area. Possibly best of all is Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest in the world. Tumbling over 2,400 feet from the upper shelf into the valley floor, Yosemite Falls is visible from multiple places around and above the valley.

A trip to the park would be incomplete without paying a visit to the valley to take in some of what it has to offer. If you’ve never been to Yosemite and want to see what all the fuss is about, this is definitely where you should start.

Luckily for the millions of folks who visit the park annually, there is plenty of room for overnighting in the valley, and all of the campgrounds in the area have amenities nearby. Curry Village is located on the eastern side, nearer to Half Dome, a historical camp created in 1899 with indoor lodging, groceries, and showers. Further west you’ll find Yosemite Village, which also has supplies available. Centralized within the Pines campgrounds is the National Park Service visitor center for information, maps, and guidance. 

All of the Pines campgrounds are pet-friendly and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. All of the campgrounds in the valley have running water available by tap.

Upper Pines

Why drive an hour to get to the valley when you can wake up, roll out of your sleeping bag, and be right in the heart of it? Upper Pines sits on the far east end of the Yosemite Valley, at the foot of Half Dome. Open all year, Upper Pines gives you a front row seat to the dramatic views Yosemite has to offer.

This makes it a good option for those planning to see how the valley looks in the winter when the waterfalls freeze into cones of ice and the hustle and bustle dies down. The campground offers 238 sites with access for RVs up to 35 feet (no hookups) and a dump station. Camping fee is $26 per night. 

Lower Pines

Just around the corner from Upper Pines, Lower Pines sits on the banks of the Merced River. It offers 60 campsites and tremendous views of Half Dome. Access to the river is also preferable for those interested in fishing or water sports. Lower Pines is generally open April through October for camping and RVs up to 40 feet (no hookups). Camping fee is $26 per night. 

North Pines

Across the Merced from Lower Pines is North Pines, located more centrally between Half Dome, North Dome, and Glacier Point. Each of these dramatic stone walls peek down through the trees at North Pines. You’ll feel truly surrounded by nature here. Open March through October, North Pines has 81 campsites for tents or RVs up to 40 feet long. Camping fee is $26 per night. 

Camp 4

Frequented by the area’s diehard rock climbers, Camp 4 sits directly under El Capitan. As seen in the 2018 film Free Solo, El Capitan is a 3,000 foot tall sheer wall of granite that must be seen to be believed. Camp 4 is located west of the Pines campgrounds and the nearest groceries can be found at Yosemite Village.

Camp 4 opens from late May through early September. You can reserve a site in a once-daily lottery, held one day in advance. The area offers 36 walk-in tent sites (NO RVs/trailers, or sleeping in vehicles). Unlike the other campgrounds in the valley, pets are not allowed in Camp 4. However, at just $6 per night, Camp 4 may be the best value in the entire park. 

North of The Valley:

Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park

North of the Yosemite Valley is the main east-west thoroughfare through the park, Tioga Road. Heavy snowfall keeps the season here short (normally from July through September). But in the season, Tioga Road gives access to more than a few amazing spots to camp, hike, and explore.

Lakes, rivers, and mountains roll on and on, leaving you without enough time to take it all in. The high elevation of the road gives a completely unique experience. The campsites along Tioga Road are in the high alpine, amidst sweeping fields of glacial polish and meadows of wildflowers. Hiking over the land is easy and worthwhile, with many high points, lakes, and views to trek to. Here are a few campsites along Tioga Road worth investigating.

All of the campgrounds along Tioga Road have water available, though several are only from creeks and must be boiled before consumption.

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows - Yosemite

Sitting higher than any other campground in Yosemite at 8,600 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is a fantastic spot for its access to hiking and alpine charm. The area is rife with meadows, peaks and high points, and smooth granite.

Sitting near the junction of the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, two of the best through-hikes in the Sierra Nevada, Tuolumne Meadows is a popular stopping place for backpackers hiking the entire west coast from end to end.

There are 304 tent/RV sites, with space for RVs up to 35 feet long, seven group sites, and four horse sites here. Groceries are available nearby in Tuolumne Meadows. Half the campsites can be reserved, while the other half are first-come, first-served at $26 per night.  

Hodgdon Meadow Campground

Hodgdon Meadow is located further west, along Big Oak Flat Road. It sits lower than most of the campgrounds north of the valley, and as such, has a longer season.

Hodgdon Meadow is available for reservations generally from April through October. This is a good option for those who want good access to the valley (a beautiful 45-minute drive) and plan on reserving a site in advance. There are 105 sites available for tents or RVs up to 35 feet long, and four group sites. The area is also pet-friendly. Sites are $18 per night.

Porcupine Flat Campground

Porcupine Flat is a smaller campground (only 52 tent sites, no RV sites) with great access to some of the scenery along Tioga Road.

In particular, Olmstead Point is a view not to miss, looking down into the Yosemite Valley from the northern fork. Tenaya Lake is also a short drive east. For those hoping to avoid crowds, Porcupine Flat is a great option. The campground is first-come, first-served, available July through October at just $12 per night, making it one of the best value spots along Tioga Road. 

Yosemite Creek

Yosemite Creek Campground is located south of Tioga Road along Yosemite Creek. Following the road further south will take you to the top of Yosemite Falls, one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park.

Being further from the main road than most of the other campgrounds on the north side, it receives less visitation than others. The season is shorter than most here, and the campground is generally open only from July through September due to weather conditions.

But the access to both the Tioga Road and one of the best overlooks of the valley makes Yosemite Creek Campground a great centralized spot in the park. There are 75 tent sites in the campground at just $12 per night. 

South of The Valley: 

South of the Yosemite Valley is a broad, sweeping expanse of wilderness. Rolling hills, winding canyons, and miles upon miles of dense, uninterrupted forest. The vast majority of the interior of the park is accessible only by hiking trail, but following the Wawona Road and the Glacier Point Road will take you further from crowds. For fans of wildlife or those hoping to get “off the beaten path”, the campgrounds South of The Valley will surely not disappoint. 

All of the campgrounds south of the Yosemite Valley have water available by tap.

Bridal Veil Creek

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy

The Bridal Veil Creek Campground is located up the Glacier Point Road. Following this road to its end leads to Glacier Point, an overlook on the south side of the Yosemite Valley with tremendous views of Half Dome, North Dome, Liberty Cap, and the beginning of the north fork of the valley where Tenaya Creek comes winding out of the hills.

It’s higher up than most in the area, sitting at 7,200 feet. Bridal Veil Creek Campground offers 110 tent or RV sites, with room for RVs up to 35 feet long, two group sites, and three horse sites. Open July through September, Bridal Veil Creek is first-come, first-served, and costs $30 per night. The nearest groceries and services are found in the valley, a 45-minute drive. 

Wawona Campground

Mariposa Grove trees

The furthest south of all the campgrounds in Yosemite, Wawona does not boast the same dramatic views as you will see in the valley proper. It is, however, more secluded, quieter, and exponentially more peaceful. It isn’t without its own share of attractions, either. Nearby is Mariposa Grove, a copse of giant sequoias. There is also, of course, a great deal of space to be enjoyed here. One of the Wawona Campground loops is open all year, while the other two are available April through September.

In the off-season (roughly October through March), campsites are first-come, first-served. However, in the busy season, you can make reservations up to five months in advance. Campsites go for $26 per night, or $18 per night in the off-season. There are 93 Tent or RV sites, with space for RVs up to 35 feet, one group site, and two horse sites. You can purchase groceries nearby in the town of Wawona.

“…the grandest of all…”

Famous American writer and conservationist John Muir’s fondness for Yosemite is shared by visitors from across the globe. And it’s easy to see why. The sheer magnitude of it captivates the heart and mind. Whether you’re returning for the fiftieth time or just venturing out for your first visit, there will always be something new in the natural wonder found in this “special temple of nature”. In Muir’s own words, “the mountains are calling, and I must go.”

Conrad Lucas
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