What to know about National Park reservations: Yosemite

Yosemite National Park entrance sign

When it comes to nature and hiking destinations in the United States, there is perhaps no better-known place than Yosemite National Park, and for good reason, it is a truly magical place. From its famous granite domes and stunning waterfalls, to its giant Sequoia trees and endless opportunities for recreation, Yosemite is nature lover’s paradise.  

Before opening to the public as a National Park, the lands within and surrounding Yosemite, and continue to be, the ancestral home of the Ahwahnechee peoples of the Southern Sierra Miwok tribe, as well as the Paiute and Mono tribes. These indigenous peoples had a deep connection with the land, utilizing it for food, medicine, shelter, and spiritual practices.

It is important to recognize this heritage and respect these lands so that both present and future visitors can continue to enjoy it.  

More recently, John Muir, a Scottish born conservationist, was awe-struck by the grandeur of wild Yosemite and successfully motivated the establishment of Yosemite Valley and its surrounding areas as a National Park in 1890. Predating this, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant of 1864 which protected Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, making it the first time in history that land was set aside for preservation and public use.

Over the years, the park has continued to expand its boundaries and in 1984, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Yosemite has continued to be popular year after year, receiving over 3.8 million visitors in 2023, making it the 6th most visited national park in the country. With such high visitation, Yosemite reservations may be needed to enter the park if you plan to go in 2024. 

Know Before You Go:

A visitor enjoys views of Yosemite National Park

Let’s face it, you aren’t the only one with the notion to go check out Yosemite this summer with your family. So let’s talk about how you can turn this idea into a reality. 

When was the reservation system implemented and why is it needed? 

The year 2019 marked the last year in which Yosemite National Park did not require reservations to enter the park. In 2020 and 2021, the park piloted a reservation system due to the pandemic and the influx in visitors during those years. The park set up a Peak-Hours reservation system in 2022, which will continue to be in use through the end of 2024. A few key issues this Yosemite reservations system addresses, as stated by the National Park Service, are outlined below: 

  • Road and parking congestion that delays emergency response and causes unsafe conditions for visitors and staff. 
  • Long waits at entrances that detract from positive visitor experiences. 
  • Insufficient numbers of staff responding to intense use and maintenance of facilities. 
  • Vegetation impacts from non-designated parking. 
  • Human waste along roads and turnouts and in parking lots. 

Management of traffic congestion and its impact on the visitor experience has been an ongoing issue since the 1980s, and today continues to be the most common complaint. This piloted Yosemite reservations system is a way for the park to collect data and evaluate different strategies in order to develop a more permanent solution to address these issues. More details can be found here: Visitor Access Management Plan. My advice is to bring a bicycle to the valley! 

When do you need reservations in 2024? 

A reservation will be required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from spring through fall in 2024.   

February 26 – April 12 

October 28 – December 31 

No reservation required to enter the park. 
April 13 – June 30 

August 17 – October 27 

A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays (May 27, June 19, September 2, October 14). 
July 1 – August 16  A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm every day. 

Even if you are simply driving through the park (ex: Tioga Road), a reservation is required if entering between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a Peak-Hours reservation day. You can always enter the park without a reservation before 5 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

How to make a reservation

Yosemite falls and half dome Peak-Hours reservations are valid for 3 consecutive days (including arrival date). 

Most reservations for all dates from April 13 through October 27, 2024, became available on Recreation.gov January 5, 2024 at 8 a.m. Pacific time. Reservations remain available until all are taken. If on Recreation.gov it says reservations are “not yet released” for the date you selected, this means no more reservations are available until additional reservations are released. 

Additional reservations become available seven days before the arrival date at 8 a.m. Pacific time. Reservations go almost immediately so be sure to already have a Recreation.gov account and be logged in and ready at 8 a.m.!  

Yosemite reservations options are either for a full day or an afternoon only arrival time. With a full day reservation, you can arrive anytime during the established peak hours of 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. to enter the park. Afternoon only reservations only allow entry to the park between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. during all three days of your reservation period. 

The non-refundable reservation fee is $2 (this charge is in addition to the $35-per-car Park Entrance Fee or National Parks pass purchase costs). 

Each user is allowed one reservation for each three-day period. The reservation holder must be in the vehicle and show photo ID at the entrance station. Groups with accommodations booked within Yosemite (see next section for a list of these) may arrive in more than one vehicle as long as each has a copy of the reservation and of the photo ID belonging to the person who made the reservation.  

Yosemite tent camping

Here is an example to summarize: 

I have a trip planned for Yosemite from July 15 – July 20, 6 days in total. On July 8 (7 days before the 15th) and July 11 (7 days before the 18th) I would book my two reservations (3 days each) on Recreation.gov, costing me $4. In addition to this, I would pay $35 to enter the park with my vehicle (a one-time fee that is valid for 7 consecutive days, unless I am using a lifetime or annual Parks Pass).  

Do I still need a reservation if…? 

If booked for a stay at one of the following accommodation options within the park, Yosemite reservation are not needed for entry, as your booking allows you to enter any time during the length of your stay or for 3 days (whichever is longer). However, the $35-per-car 7-day entrance fee still applies.  

  • A Yosemite National Park campground (ex: Camp 4)  
  • Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp, Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Ahwahnee, Wawona Hotel, White Wolf Lodge, and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge 
  • Private lodging or vacation rental in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta 
  • Yosemite wilderness permit (for backpacking) or Half Dome permit* 

*With a wilderness permit, you are allowed to enter the park a day before and leave the park one day after the date range on your permit and you can stay at a backpacker’s campground. That’s two extra days! Unfortunately, a Half Dome permit does not allow you to camp in Yosemite.  

Mother and son walk through giant sequoia tree at Yosemite

I don’t have a reservation, what are my options? 

Don’t worry, you can still enjoy Yosemite! Check to see if a Peak-Hours reservation is needed on the days you plan to visit. If not, you are all set to go enjoy the park as you wish. However if it is required, you can get an early start before 5 a.m. or try to squeeze it all in after 4 p.m. In the summer this is still plenty of time as it stays light until close to 9. E

ven with an entrance station receipt, you still need to arrive on subsequent days during this same timeframe, outside the peak hours. The park is open 24 hours per day so why not plan some fun night activities? 

Please note that reservations are not available for purchase at entrance stations. During Peak Hours check Recreation.gov before you arrive at the park to see if any reservations have become available last minute due to cancellations. If getting into Yosemite doesn’t working out, there is an endless supply of beautiful nature to indulge in just outside the park boundaries, such as the Sierra, Inyo, and Stanislaus National Forests, or Kings Canyon National Park to name a few.  

Another option is the Hetch Hetchy entrance. This quieter area of the park can be visited without a reservation while it is open (sunrise to sunset).  

If using the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus or as part of an authorized tour group, you do not need an additional reservation to enter the park. 

Yosemite Tours with Wildland Trekking

Yosemite meadow boardwalk in the morning

Adventure on! 

Yosemite National Park is truly an awe-inspiring place that can provide any visitor with the experience of a lifetime. Being prepared when navigating the Yosemite reservations system and having a backup plan will be your keys to success. Now get out there and go enjoy those enormous granite walls and breathtaking sunsets for yourself. 

About Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith wildland guide and blog contributor

-Wildland Guide and Blog Contributor-

Originally from a small town in northeastern Massachusetts, Tommy grew up exploring the mountains of New England on his snowboard. He later discovered his passion for nature, hiking, and rock climbing in college at Clark University, where he studied Geography and Environmental Science and pursued research that utilized satellite imagery to support conservation and climate change initiatives. Living in Colorado further cultivated his love for exploring the backcountry and protecting these pristine and natural landscapes. Not only did he get to hike on the weekends but he also got to do it on the job while working for the Bureau of Land Management undergoing vegetation surveys. Learning about new cultures, food, languages and ways of life also greatly excites Tommy, and he enjoys attaining such knowledge through travel, whether it be domestically or internationally. His favorite travel experience to date was spending a summer road tripping around the Western US exploring the many national parks and living out of his car and tent. When he is not adventuring in the great outdoors, Tommy enjoys reading fiction, playing boardgames, exploring ways to live more sustainably, and questioning social norms.

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