In Fall of 2018, we planned a 6 week road trip across the United States with our 25′ travel trailer. Yosemite National Park was the first place on the list! We planned 2 days to see the highlights, and I made sure to plan ahead to make the most of our time. I wanted to share our first-hand experience and hopefully give you the tips and tricks you need to help you plan your time in Yosemite National Park.
Most people head to Yosemite Valley, which is an 11.5 mile one-way loop in the center of the park. There are 4 ways to get there:
From the Northwest: Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Rd)
From the East: Highway 120 (Tioga Pass)
From the Southwest: Highway 140
From the South: Highway 41
We came from Northern California and took Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Rd).
Now, once you pass the Big Oak Flat Rd entrance to the park, Big Oak Flat Road does have vehicle restrictions:
1) Max vehicle length 45′ for single vehicles
2) Max height into the park: 13 feet 8 inches; max height exiting the park: 10 feet 3 inches
The height restriction was confusing at first since I assumed the tunnel to be symmetrical, however that confusion got cleared up once we drove through the tunnel… The height is measured from the curb to the top of the tunnel, but only the “entry” side of the tunnel had a sidewalk, therefore pushed that side of the road further towards the middle of the tunnel where it is the highest, or 13 feet 8 inches. The “exit” side of the road was closest to the side of the tunnel, where it is the shortest, or 10 feet 3 inches.
Big Oak Flat Rd then leads to a section of El Portal Rd. Restrictions include:
1) Max vehicle length 45′ for single vehicle, 60 feet for combination vehicle, and 35′ for towed vehicle from hitch to rear bumper.
2) Max height into and out of the park: 12 feet 10 inches
El Portal road then leads you to Southside Dr.,the one-way road into the valley.
Our TT was 10 feet 5 inches, so we chose to park our camper outside of the park.
Place to stay
We chose to park at Yosemite Lakes RV Resort, a campground right off Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Rd) BEFORE you enter the park.
Yosemite Lakes is a nice RV park with plenty of amenities and space for each site. October is not an extremely popular time to visit Yosemite so I was able to call just a few weeks in advance and reserve our campsite.
When I made the reservation, I let the office know that we were going to be arriving after hours, so they told us to park in the parking lot next to the office and sleep there until morning, allowing us to save money for a night.
The next morning we were able to check in and hand-pick our site.
For more details about Yosemite Lakes RV Resort, visit:
For more details about campgrounds inside the park, visit: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/rvcamping.htm
Transportation and Park Fees
We planned to take the YARTS shuttle, which is a one-way $5 bus ride from the campground to Yosemite Valley (with FREE admission into the park!!).
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the shuttle closed for the season on September 30. We missed it by just 2 weeks, so we took the truck and drove into the park. We missed out on the free admission, but we had several other national parks planned on our trip, so we ended up buying the annual national park pass for $80. This is a great deal as it covers the admission for both of us into unlimited national parks for 1 year.
Our first day into the park was on Saturday, and the wait time for admission was approximately 20-30 minutes.
Parking and Transportation Inside Yosemite Valley
RV parking restrictions are laid out pretty clearly on the National Park Service website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/rvcamping.htm
Since we only had our truck, parking was pretty simple in October. I do recommend bringing bicycles though because pedaling is still the fastest way to see the park and the only way to make sure you don’t waste any time. The park also has tons of bike racks, so make sure to bring a bike lock just for added security.
We brought both of our bikes, but unfortunately I didn’t realized that my tire tube had a hole in it and was no longer holding air. Thankfully, the park had plenty of bicycles to rent. We chose to bike around the first day, which cost $33.50 for the whole day.
The Yosemite Park website is also helpful for more details about bicycle rental locations and rates: https://www.travelyosemite.com/things-to-do/biking/
The second day we chose to use the FREE Yosemite Valley Shuttle, which arrives at each bus stop every 10-20 minutes depending on the season and stops at every major attraction the valley has to offer.
We parked at Curry Village parking lot (Bus stop #14/20).
We then biked to Mirror Lake Trailhead (Bus stop #17). There was no water to make up Mirror Lake when we went in October, however I would still highly recommend it at this time of year because we were able to stand in the center of the “lake” and take in all the views of the mountains and cliffs you normally couldn’t see otherwise when water is present.
We then took the bike path to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center (Bus stop #5/9). There you can learn more about the rock formations, the history of the park, and stop by the gift shop.
Then we biked over to the Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead (Bus stop #6) and ate our lunch on the picnic tables.
From there we headed back to Curry Village parking lot, turned in my bike, and headed out of the Valley. I planned sunset at Taft Point, which is about 1 hour away from the Valley by car. So from the parking lot, you exit the Valley Loop via Northside Dr, take a left back onto Southside Dr, and then a right on Wawona Rd. Right at the intersection is the trailhead for Bridalveil Falls. As you continue down Wawona Rd, you’ll pass the infamous Tunnel View, where you get a good look down the whole valley and a great photo opportunity.
Restrictions for Wawona Tunnel:
1) Max vehicle length 45′ for single vehicle.
2) Max height into the park: 10 feet 2 inches; max height exiting the park: 13 feet 6 inches
Wawona Rd leads to Glacier Point Rd, which then leads to Taft Point and Glacier Point.
Restrictions for Glacier Point Rd (beyond Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead):
1) Max vehicle length 30′ for single vehicle, no trailers
We chose to go to Taft Point and were pleasantly surprised. It does take an easy 1 mile walk in and out, but the views are definitely worth it. Taft point has beautiful views of El Capitan, lots of space to walk around and explore, as well as very little railings for a mostly natural view.
*With that said, there have been a few reported deaths of those who get too close to the edge. One occurred only 2 weeks after we were here. Please use your best judgment and always pay attention to your surroundings.
We had a wonderful view of the sunset and enjoyed the changing colors of the mountains.
When I originally called to make the reservation, we had only expected to stay one night before heading to Lone Pine, CA. Check out time was supposed to be at 11am, however when I asked the front office if we could potentially check out late due to a hike I planned for Sunday, they said it was no problem. They requested that we just move out of our campsite and park our camper next to the office as we had done our first night there.
So we moved our camper to the lot and drove back into the park on Sunday. This time the wait was 0 minutes! We drove straight into the valley where we parked the previous day and hopped on the shuttle at bus stop #14.
We hopped off at Happy Isles (Bus stop #16), walked across the bridge toward Mist Trail, and continued to Vernal Fall.
I chose to hike the Mist Trail for a few reasons:
- Benefit of seeing two waterfalls on one hike
- Benefit of a loop trail via John Muir Trail, rather than an “in and out”
- 5.4 mile round trip trail, which was about the distance I was looking for
- Reviews stating the views are not to be missed
- Reviews stating that the hike is not too strenuous if you are in decent shape
There are 3 main stops along the way if you choose the loop:
- Vernal Fall Footbridge (1.6 mi roundtrip)
- Top of Vernal Fall (2.4 mi roundtrip)
- Top of Nevada Fall (5.4 mi roundtrip)
For us, getting to the footbridge was not a problem, however the whole trail past the footbridge was way harder than expected! We’ve done strenuous hikes before, and I thought “We got this!”, but no, no we didn’t. We hiked up the very steep, very constant uphill climb to the bottom of Vernal Fall, with several long breaks along the way to catch our breath. By the time we made it to the bottom of Vernal Fall, we both felt every single muscle in our legs and blisters beginning to develop on our heels. Even though I was moving along very slowly, my focus quickly shifted from my screaming muscles to the beauty of the falls and a rainbow in the mist. It was the perfect spot to break for lunch, so we found a flat boulder and rested for about an hour. Following lunch, we stood back up and I no longer felt like the agile 30-year old I once was. With great contemplation and hesitation, we chose not to continue on to Nevada Fall. We had several other hikes planned at multiple national parks in the weeks coming and didn’t want to stress our bodies too much on the first hike.
For further details on the Mist Trail, see the NPS website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/vernalnevadatrail.htm.
We took our time and walked back down the trail to bus stop #16, and then we hopped off the shuttle at bus stop #20 in front of the Curry Village parking lot.
We had a great time sight-seeing Yosemite National Park and highly recommend it to anyone!