Summer visits to Yosemite are not a thing one just does on a whim. Traffic entering the park backs up quickly, each day, sometimes requiring hours inching along in a car to get in. Lodging books well in advance, backpacking permits too. Once you’re in the valley, it’s a bustling town, loud with talking and vehicle noise. Winter is a little less crowded, but still crowded, and still with lodging headaches.
But the plan to re-open the park, formulated by Yosemite authorities to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, will reduce a whole lot of those headaches. If it’s approved by the Department of the Interior, that is.
Day use from the most popular entrances, which are on the park’s western Sierra slope along highways 41, 120, and 140, will require reservations booked at least 48 hours in advance through recreation.gov. The eastern Sierra entrances, which are busy but nothing like those allowing easy access from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno metropolitan areas, will not require reservations for day use.
Anybody with camping reservations won’t require separate day use entrance permits.
The plan is to reduce visitor capacity by roughly 50 percent.
“On any given day, I think the ability to wake up in the morning and decide to go to the park is not really an option this year,” said a Yosemite official on a conference call with reporters.
If this plan is approved, cars entering the park for day use will be reduced to 3,600 per day, which is roughly half of how many are normally allowed entrance. For perspective, there are about 2,400 parking spaces in Yosemite Valley, including spots that cars are allowed to park alongside the road. 1,900 cars are allowed in for overnight and backcountry stays.
“We’re trying to plan as if we can open in early June,” said Acting Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon, “but that is just a planning date, and really we’re going to move with the state. So when the state says stage three, we’re going to be ready to go.”
Yosemite won’t open until Governor Newsom initiates what’s called phase 3 of the COVID-19 guidelines, which would free up non-essential travel, even though other state and federal parks have begun opening in California.
Though the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Valley Lodge will be open at full capacity, the Wawona Hotel will be closed to 2021, and Curry Village will only accept half the number of guests.
Individual campgrounds will open on a car-by-case basis, and the Half Dome cables will be installed by June 5.
If you’ve ever visited Yosemite in the teeth of the summer and wished you could see it without all the crowds, well, this could be your chance.
Photo: Trent Erwin
If you want to bring the majesty of Yosemite to your coffee table, Yosemite and the High Sierra, a book of some of Ansel Adams’ best photos of the park, is a must have.