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Tips for camping in National Parks last Minute!

This is a post I wish I had come across when the idea of camping at Yosemite dropped into our minds. We did indeed decide to embark on a 7 hour journey to one of the most popular national parks on the most busy weekends of the year in the United States – the 4th of July weekend. Without so much as a plan.

Here are a few tips for your last minute trip to Yosemite, or any other national park of the west coast for that matter.

Yosemite has been on my bucket list for a good few years now, and from the moment our tickets to LA were booked, I knew we were going to make a trip to that beautiful national park happen. It’s just camping. Reserving a spot 2 weeks in advance is more than enough time… or so we thought. Turns out that every reservable camp site is fully booked out a whole year in advance. Yes, you read that correctly. We soon learned that the moment a camping spot opens up they are immediately snatched up by eager campers.

However Yosemite does have a silver lining for any spontaneous last minute bookers. The park has a total of 13 camp spots of which only 7 can be reserved in advance.
Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Wawona, Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows.

The good news is that all other campsites at Yosemite are on a first come first serve basis. Camp4, Bridalveil Creek, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek and Porcupine Flat. These 6 campsites can be occupied without a reservation. Well that was easy, choose one of those and you are good to go. I may as well end the article here right? In truth, yes you can get a spot in one of these camping sites, but if you are going on a weekend (any weekend but the 4th of July weekend, because..who does that?) you may be out of luck. Vacationers are quick to catch a spot in the middle of the week and hold this over the weekend. So even if you arrive right at the foot of a campsite as early as 6am, you may be asked to turn around and sleep in your car at Walmart, which really was our plan B.

There is one more option however. An option no introvert will ever brave and the option we were forced to take. Ask a fellow camper to share their hard earned spot.
Having done a little bit of research before, I was well aware of the popularity of the camp sites near Yosemite Valley, meaning that Camp4 was out of the question as this would permanently be booked up. Therefore we opted for one of the outer lying campsites, Bridalveil Creek. It was close enough for a day visit at Yosemite Valley, yet far enough to improve our chances. Circling the campsite we were after a very certain criteria to again ensure success.

And so we found our chance. One tent, one car (up to three tents and two cars permitted), on what seemed to be the biggest campsite on the lot. Big enough for us to pitch our little 2 man pop up tent with enough space to retain personal bubbles. And the occupants; a young married couple who may have been the friendliest couple I have ever met. They even offered to share their supplies with us. Thank you Emily and Alfred!

You could also try your luck in obtaining a wilderness permit, either through reservation (which we will assume you don’t have or you wouldn’t be reading this far), or by the same principal as getting a camping spot without reservation. Consider a first-come, first-serve permit for an overnight stay in the wilderness.

Surely everyone knows that there are bears out in the wild at the park. Unfortunately a fact missed by most europeans. We were also blissfully oblivious to the fact that the park was additionally home to mountain lions, rattle snakes and hyenas. Therefore after receiving some advice from a friend, we marched into an outdoor camping store to purchase a hunting knife, hiking whistles and pepper spray – which was oddly enough harder to find than zombie spray. And although you may not be as naive as us, I recommend carrying these items on you anyway for emergencies. Eventually fully packed we were prepared for a showdown with a big black bear (there are no grizzlies in Yosemite). Of course we never saw one. Not even a trace of one. We did see plenty of deer and hungry squirrels though.

Should YOU ever find yourself in the situation of coming face to face with a black bear though, it is recommended to do the following:

1) Make noise. Lots of it. Shout, clap your hands, wave your arms.
2) If you are not alone stand close together with another person, appearing larger and more intimidating to the bear.
The point is to scare the bear off. According to Yosemite’s rangers Black bears have never killed or seriously injured somebody in Yosemite.

If you see a mountain lion:

1) Do not run.
2) Shout in a low voice and wave your arms or hold open your coat to look large and threatening.
3) Maintain eye contact and do not crouch down.
4) Throw sticks or rocks.
5) If an attack occurs, fight back (hence hunting knife).

Should you encounter a rattle snake:

1) Watch where you step and place your hands.
2) If you cannot see it but hear rattling, stand still and locate its position before slowly backing into the other direction.

As mentioned before, we only had to deal with hungry fluffy little squirrels that could infect us with the plague.. so I wouldn’t worry too much.

Bring a couple of litres of water. Especially in summer it can get very hot. If you are camping at Yosemite bring enough food for the time you spend there. There are restaurants in the valley, however finding a parking spot can take some circling around people silently asking: “Staying or leaving?”. Usually you will be graced with a solid “No” before the words have even left your lips.
Should you have forgotten all your food at home or have company who devoured it all at lunch, you can park at Curry Village (also known as Half Dome village) for pizza, burgers or a grocery store.

Just remember to place all your supplies into bear lockers. Everything. Food, water, sunblock, toothpaste, deodorant, anything with a scent. Or your car might be missing a door or trunk by the time you get back from your hike. Bear lockers are all around the valley, campsites and at trail heads.

What to see?
Yosemite is huge! I thought we could drive through it in a few hours, and have seen it all. We stayed two nights and only managed one hike. There are a couple of waterfalls to hike to, plenty of more advanced hikes such as up Half Dome, and El Capitan. However my favorite activity at Yosemite was Glacier point as it is absolutely perfect for star gazing. During summer, amateur astronomy clubs host star parties at the Amphitheater. We were lucky enough to catch a ranger describing various constellations and stars while filming our timelapse.

For more information check out their website!

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