Heading to Yosemite next summer? Better get a reservation

You’ll need a reservation to drive into Yosemite National Park by day this summer, even if you’re not spending the night.

The National Park Service announced Wednesday that it would impose an updated version of the reservation requirement that it tested in the summers of 2020, 2021 and 2022, when pandemic-wary rangers were looking to ease traffic on roads and on foot.

Last summer, when there was no reservation requirement, many days included thick traffic and full parking lots.

The new “Peaks Hours Plus” pilot program, which carries a $2 reservation fee, is intended to ease such conditions, especially in popular Yosemite Valley. The requirement does not apply to visitors who have overnight bookings in park hotels or campgrounds, nor does it affect those who arrive on Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System buses or commercial tours or those who come bearing wilderness or Half Dome permits.

For the thousands of travelers who enter the park as day-trippers, however, the program marks an important change. It will begin with weekend visitors in the spring. (And the $2 reservation fee, good for three days of visiting, is in addition to the park’s usual $35 vehicle entry fee, also good for three days.)

From April 13 through June 30, park officials said, visitors in vehicles will need reservations for any weekend visit.

From July 1 to Aug. 15, the requirement applies to all day-trip visitors, whether on weekends or weekdays.

From Aug. 16 to Oct. 27, the requirement reverts to weekends only.

Park Superintendent Cicely Muldoon said in a statement that the program has been “built from extensive public feedback, data from three years of pilot reservation systems here in Yosemite, and lessons learned from other national parks.”

Reservations will be required for vehicles entering the park between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the reservation periods. Reservations are not required if you enter the park after 4 p.m.

Visitors will choose between two types of booking: reservations valid for a full day or reservations for entry after noon.

Park officials said reservations will be available for purchase online beginning at 8 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2024, for all arrival dates (Apr. 13 to Oct. 20) at Recreation.gov. 

Reservations for afternoon arrival and additional full day reservations will be added one week in advance. (In other words, reservations for a Sept. 30 arrival date will be added on Sept. 23.)

Even before spring, some park visitors will encounter another reservation requirement. Because of a surge in visitors hoping to see or photograph Horsetail Fall in February (when the angle of the sunlight creates a “firefall” effect), rangers have imposed a reservation requirement then as well. That requirement covers visits on Feb. 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, 24 and 25.

The reservation requirement is designed to preserve a delicate park balance: protecting natural resources, allowing pleasant visitor experiences and avoiding the traffic-related problems often seen last summer and in previous years.

“Visitors to Yosemite, especially those from underrepresented communities, deserve a positive experience, not gridlock traffic,” said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Assn., in a statement.

In August alone, NPS statistics show, Yosemite had more than 591,000 visitors. In the three previous pandemic-era reservation-required years, the August visitor count was between 375,000 and 518,000.

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