If you want to camp inside Yosemite National Park, you must reserve a spot at one of the campgrounds beforehand*. You can reserve up to 5 months before your stay. For example, on the 15th of January, the permits for the reserve-only campsites during May 15-June 15 went live; nearly all sites filled up within minutes. May 18th was the weekend Brett and I wanted to camp in Yosemite. Unfortunately, up until 6 days ago, I had no concept of reserving plots of land to pitch a tent. Though I knew Yosemite is Yosemite, I didn’t quite understand the demand for staying overnight in the Park. On the ground. But it’s insane. Needless to say, 5 days before our trip we couldn’t reserve a spot in Yosemite.
*That left 3 options.
- Stay at a first-come, first-served campsite in Yosemite. Yosemite has 7 first-come, first served campgrounds, but they are open depending on the time in the season and the trail conditions. Mid-May, only one rush site is open: Camp 4. You have to be there in person at 8:30 a.m. to register to pitch your tent at Camp 4. According to the Yosemite website, a line is usually formed way before then. This is clearly not a viable option for someone going after work on Friday. Camp 4 is also the site of rock-climbers in Yosemite. As I figure, if you were too oblivious to make your reservation 5 months ago, chances are the rock-climbers will be more hard-core about camping at Camp 4 than you.
- Obtain a wilderness permit and stay in the wilderness. For people going on multi-day hikes, you can get a permit to sleep in the park overnight. It really depends what time in the season you go, but you can potentially stay where ever you hike to in the wilderness. There are some permits you can get ahead of time, and others that are first-come, first-served.
- Camp outside of Yosemite and drive in for day hikes. There are multiple campgrounds outside of Yosemite in neighboring towns like Groveland on the west border and Lee Vining on the east. They each have varying levels of amenities.
Which option did we choose? Ding ding ding! #3. Though Camp 4 would be an experience, neither of us wanted to risk being turned away. And as thrilled as I was at the thought of an overnight backpacking trip, I had never slept in a tent–ever. The decision was easy. We camped outside of Yosemite in neighboring Inyo State Forest. Though it was like staying in New Jersey when you’re on vacation to see New York City, Inyo State Forest was gorgeous by its own right and deserves a trip beyond “Cause we couldn’t get space in Yosemite.”
In Inyo State Forest, there are also campgrounds available for reservation. Others are first-come, first-served. I made a list of roughly 9 campgrounds with pros and cons and Brett chose one I labeled “Cushy. Running Water, Flush Toilet, Swimming Beach, Bear Locker.” So, we reserved at Oh Ridge, a campground on June Lake outside of the town Lee Vining. Reserving felt good because we wanted to ensure having a spot to collapse after a long day’s trek. The area is speckled in deep blue lakes and dense forest. I was particularly impressed by Mono Lake, a large lake that’s gone down with time revealing two crater-like islands in the middle. The sight looks extraterrestrial and sent shivers down my back. I wish I could have captured it better on camera to share with you.
After Yosemite kicked our butts the first day, we arrived at Oh Ridge with enough time to pitch the tent and grill some sandwiches for dinner.
If you’re like me and don’t own any camping equipment, you can rent some decent stuff from REI. If you live in the Bay Area, there’s also Sport Basement. We rented a tent and stove from Sports Basement and got sleeping bags from REI. I can’t remember the brands, but the tent was easy enough to construct, the stove worked with propane and the bags were soft and everything I’d want after a long day’s hike. The whole camping thing was so simple I couldn’t believe it! However, we did have Brett’s car nearby to house extra items and did not have to make big decisions concerning weight.
I saw a bear locker for the first time in my life. You have to put all your food and anything with a scent inside the locker whenever you are not actively using it. Fruit? Toothpaste? Chapstick? Our bear prevention literature instructed us to stow it all.
I woke up to the birds chirping and sun roasting us like pigs in our tent. I couldn’t believe that we were both alive and didn’t get attacked by bears in our sleep. Relishing my second chance at life, I jumped out the tent to check out the bear locker, get a start on breakfast and sort things out for the day.
We sipped hot tea and gazed at mirror still June Lake– nearly our own private view for the morning. Brett and I compared our bruises and pains. It turned out Brett’s legs hadn’t fared well from the 12 miler yesterday. He wasn’t able to sleep on his side due to the pain in his legs and he had to waddle instead of walk his normal gait. Those trekking poles I used had spared me from the worst of a grueling hike. True be told, I felt great!
First camping trip = Success!
As dazzling as our campsite was, we left Oh Ridge around 9 a.m. to get back to Yosemite and take on the big sights in the Valley. More about day 2 in an upcoming post. Have you camped in Yosemite? Or stayed in a neighboring town? Or took your chances at a first-come, first-served campground? Let me know! I’m especially interested to learn more about hikers who have used the wilderness permit in the park.