A Guide to Hiking at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park Hiking: Hiking and Camping

If you're really interested in sleeping out in the open at Yosemite National Park, you can – just make sure to get a wilderness permit first.
If you're really interested in sleeping out in the open at Yosemite National Park, you can – just make sure to get a wilderness permit first.

If having tap water, flush toilets and maybe a soft cot to sleep on is important to you, then you'll probably opt to camp in one of the 13 campgrounds scattered around the park. There are 1,504 sites to pitch your tent or park your RV. Reservations for summer months are available five months in advance and are snapped up almost instantly. A few campgrounds allot spaces on a first-come basis [source: NPS]. You can also find spaces at commercial campgrounds outside Yosemite or at National Forest facilities nearby.

For a true wilderness experience, you should plan to backpack and sleep in the wild. The Park Service limits the number of overnight campers, so you'll need to obtain a wilderness permit. They give out 60 percent of the daily quota of permits in advance. The remainder is available at the various trailheads after 11 a.m. on the day before you plan to hike. Campgrounds set aside for backpackers near the trailhead allow you to get an early start.

With a wilderness permit, you may be limited to a certain site your first night out. After that, you can camp anywhere you can hike to. You have to stay 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the trailhead and 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from any road. If possible, choose a campsite that's already been used and make sure it's at least 100 feet (30 meters) from water or from a trail. Campfires are permitted under certain conditions using dead or down wood [source: NPS].

Conditions at Yosemite mean that you'll need to bring some specific gear in addition to your ordinary camping equipment:

  • Extra water -- Vigorous climbing can dry you out. If you're going to filter water from natural sources, make sure you know where they are on your route.
  • Lip balm -- The dry air can leave you chapped.
  • Insect repellant or netting -- Mosquitoes can be fierce, especially in spring and early summer.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses -- Many Yosemite trails are exposed.
  • A warm jacket and rain gear -- They let you stay comfortable in case of a sudden downpour or chilly night.

Remember that you must store your food in bear-proof canisters everywhere in Yosemite. Bears are common, and they'll go for anything edible, including your trash. Place canisters at least 100 feet (30 meters) from your camp. If you see a bear in the wild, keep back at least 50 yards (46 meters). If a bear approaches you, make noise to scare it away. Don't panic -- no one has ever been killed by a black bear in Yosemite [source: NPS].

In 1903, four decades after Lincoln signed the law preserving Yosemite, another president, Teddy Roosevelt, came to the park. He actually spent several nights camping in the wilderness. He later told reporters, "I've had the time of my life." Plan a hiking trip to Yosemite and you'll have an unforgettable experience as well [Kaiser].