Yosemite - View from Glacier Point

How to Visit Yosemite In the Summer of 2021

Visiting Yosemite in the summer of 2021 is a bit different than it was in earlier years. The main reason for this is their new reservation policy that limits visitors to the famous park.

I visited the park during the first week of June with my family during a longer road trip, soon after the new rule came in effect. While I saw notifications about the need for a reservation on every website that mentioned Yosemite, and along the road leading up to the gate, we still noticed cars turned around, leaving because they showed up without one.

In the Summer of 2021 You Need a Reservation to Enter Yosemite National Park

They have no exceptions to this rule. However, they have a few different choices for reservations. Those who plan on stay in the park overnight, can use their lodging reservations, good for the number of days they are staying.

This also includes campers in 2021. Though in the past years, camping in the park was available on a first come first serve basis, this is changed now. You also need a reservation to camp in Yosemite, and you need to have it before entering the park.

If you are not staying in the park overnight, you need a reservation for a day pass. This is what we had, since we stayed in Lee Vining, just outside of the Tioga Pass entrance.

How to Get a Day Pass Reservation to Yosemite National Park in 2021

You can only get a day pass reservation online. Don’t drive up to the park entrance, thinking you can buy one there. The whole point of this system is to monitor how many people enter the park, so unless it is advance reservation, it would not work.

When we were entering the park, we saw quite a few cars turned around and leaving. The line wasn’t long, but it was extremely slow because of this. The first day w entered, a van full of people thought they could enter without it.

“Can’t we just buy one here,” the driver asked the ranger. “No, you can only get reservations online,” I heard the ranger answer. “I’d have you pull over to the side and try, but we have no signal up here. I’m sorry, but you need to drive back to town, and try, hope that someone cancels for today.”

This was only one. The next day we entered, someone on a motorcycle was trying to drive in without a reservation or pas of any kind. “I have friends inside the park, I am just meeting them there, can I go?” Obviously not.

Yosemite National Park has links posted to all types of reservations on its official website.

Or, go directly to the reservation site for a day pass, at recreation.gov.

The pass is good for three consecutive days. This means you can enter and re-enter during any of the three days, through any of the entrances. At $2.00, the price is nominal. However, you need to pay it in addition to the park entrance fee, or you need to enter your National Parks Pass when you buy it.

What Happens at the Gate?

To help things go smoothly, have your reservation ready when you get to the gate. We just pulled it up on our phone, never needed a printed copy. The ranger at the gate will give you a sticker to put on your windshield with the dates your day pas is good for.

For reservations that include lodging you get a different colored sticker, with the dates your reservation is good for.

If you have a back country reservation, you don’t need to regular day-pass, your back-country reservation counts as one. Of course, you’ll get a different sticker with that.

But what happens if you are just driving through the park? The road crossing the Sierra Nevada leads through Yosemite National Park. In that case, you tell the ranger you are just driving through, and you get a sticker with entrance and estimated exit times stamped on it. Obviously, you can’t stop anywhere with that sticker. I looked up this information, I have not seen anyone use it. After all, people who drive to Yosemite want to visit the park. But, since the road leads through, they have a policy for that.

Remember that Services are Limited at Yosemite in the Summer of 2021

When visiting Yosemite in the summer of 2021, you won’t find the Visitor Center open, and you’ll find limited services. Though the Visitor Center itself is not open, most restrooms are open inside the building.

A tent is set up just outside the building with information about the park. And the Gift Shop is open, though it requires everyone, fully vaccinated or not, to wear a face mask, and they have separate doors designated for entrance and exit.

The shuttle service is not operating in Yosemite this season, either, to keep everyone healthy and safe, and because of lack of staffing. But most of the trails, overlooks, lakeside beaches, and picnic areas are open.

On the Hottest Summer Days, Stay at Higher Elevations

If you end up going during some of the hottest days, like we did, spending most of your time along the Tioga Pass Road will make your stay more enjoyable. With the striking elevation change, you’ll enjoy cooler weather here, besides less crowds. Most people still tend to spend most of their time in Yosemite Valley. While it is the most spectacular part of the park, the Valley also gets hot, and congested. That is the best time to spend time close to Tioga Pass, in the Toulumne Meadows area, and on the shores of Tenaya Lake.

Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park
Tenaya Lake on a sunny day in June 2021

Take a hike in a shaded forest, enjoy a stroll by an alpine lake, sit on a beach along Tenaya Lake, or have a picnic along the rushing Yosemite River upstream. Spend time in Yosemite Valley early in the morning or late in the day.

Drive up to Glacier Point for the Best Views of the Park

No matter how much time you spend in Yosemite National Park, for the best views drive up to Glacier Point. While you may have heard horror stories about crowds, unavailable parking, and traffic congestion (I did), this year, thanks to the reservation system in place, w had no problem with finding a parking spot – in the designated parking lot. Also, while it was the most crowded area we’ve encountered, it was not so overrun that we could not enjoy a stroll on the paved trail.

The views from here are the Ansel Adams images you think of when hearing the word Yosemite. This is the place of the grand vistas of waterfalls, iconic rock formations, and giant sequoia groves all in one. Here, you’ll find the images John Muir describes:

The walls are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons, and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously arranged on a level floor, that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an immense hall or temple lighted from above.

John Muir, The Yosemite
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
View of Yosemite National Park from Glacier Point

Though we had to leave early to get to our next destination, I imagine the views are even more spectacular at sunset. I’ll leave you with them, just like we left the park with them as our last images of the park. (Almost. We had a long way down, through spectacular forested areas still.)

Yosemite in the summer of 2021

10 thoughts on “How to Visit Yosemite In the Summer of 2021”

  1. It’s a good problem to have though, having to limit visitor numbers. It’s great to see examples of countries where the continuity of gems like these takes priority over for-profit tourism.

    1. You are right, it is good that National Parks get the visitors instead of big resorts. Even if some of them get too many – they can learn to manage the crowds, while they protect the areas, and keep the land from developers and mining companies. I’m not sure it takes priority over for-profit tourism, but at least it’s an alternative and fortunately a large segment of the population prefers it.

    1. It became one of my favorites, too. The new procedures really work, I was so impressed by the way they have everything set up for both safety during the pandemic but also to handle the crowds in general.

  2. We visited Yosemite the first time as a quick stop on a driving day. But always planned to go back. I don’t think Canadians will get to California in the summer but I am still holding out hopes for the fall. We will be sure to check on the need for reservations or day passes in the off season. We would definitely want to stay close so we could stay for sunset views!

    1. Thank you, Megan. I really appreciate the new system, it helps us all enjoy the park better; just feel bad for people who don’t know ahead of time and show up at the gate without a reservation. So, hope to help with this. 🙂

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