Yosemite Camping Reservations Tips: Camping in Yosemite with Kids

Yosemite camping reservations can be extremely difficult to get. Read on for our best tips on how to get a spot at the best Yosemite campgrounds with kids!
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yosemite camping with kids

There are few places on earth more stunning than Yosemite National Park. One of the best ways to visit is by camping in the Valley, where you’ll have easy access to trails and sites. Still, it can be quite tricky to get Yosemite camping reservations.

Here are some Yosemite camping reservations tips that have worked for our family for several years. They’re not foolproof, but they will greatly increase your chances of being able to secure a Yosemite campsite.

We’ve also included some thoughts on the best Yosemite campgrounds for families. While there are certainly a number of primitive campgrounds that are stunning, we believe the ones we’ve included are the easiest when camping with kids.

We hope these tips help you enjoy one of our favorite places in the world!

NOTE: This information is a resource for families interested in visiting Yosemite when it is open to the public. It should be used with care for the environment and stunning surroundings, and while following all Park rules and regulations. We do NOT encourage using the Park outside of these regulations, and certainly not during COVID-19 closures.

yosemite camping reservations tips for families

These Yosemite camping reservations tips contain affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t change your price.

Yosemite Camping Reservations: Tips for Camping in Yosemite with Kids

How to Get a Campsite in Yosemite in Advance

Yosemite campground reservations are notoriously difficult to get. Reservations open up between 4 to just under 5 months before the arrival date, and always open up on the 15th of the month. (See here for a full schedule of when Yosemite reservations become available.) If you would like to make your Yosemite camping reservations in advance, you almost certainly must book on the morning they become available.

Whether you’re coming from near or far and want to make your Yosemite reservations in advance, here’s what we recommend:

  • Before booking day, determine which campground you’d like to stay at and your preference of camp site. The sites by the river are beautiful, but also are EVEN more difficult to secure. (And depending on which month, may not be available as some sites aren’t opened up until days before depending on the river level.)
  • Before booking day, have your account set up on recreation.gov and have your credit card information ready. Recreation.gov cannot save your card information, but you should have it ready to go.
  • Reservations open on the 15th day of the month at 7am Pacific time.
  • On the morning of booking, have your computer open no later than 6:55am Pacific time. Be ready to click on your preferred campsite to add it to your cart.
  • After selecting your Yosemite campsite, you have 15 minutes to complete your transaction.
  • If you don’t get a site right at first, wait 15 minutes and try again. This is important! Some people fail to book within the allotted 15 minutes, in which case their sites become available again.
Other notes on booking a campsite in Yosemite:
  • Campsites are limited to 6 people per site.
  • If you’re traveling in a group and need more than one site, you can (and should) all book simultaneously. Reservations may be canceled, so it’s better to get too many sites than too few. You may only make 2 reservations at a time.
  • This page has other info on Yosemite tent camping versus RV usage, check in times, and number of vehicles.

tent camping in yosemite with kids

Camping In Yosemite: Getting a Reservation a Week in Advance

Visitors to Yosemite can cancel campsites up to one week in advance for a full refund. Because of this, some sites may open up in the online booking system roughly one week before you hope to visit. There’s no guarantee this will happen, and no specific time. But it does happen, so if you need a site, it’s worth continuing to check!

How to Get a Yosemite Campsite Without a Reservation

It is occasionally possible to get a Yosemite campsite without a reservation. Especially midweek during off season, you can often find camping the same day. This is much less likely to happen during peak season.

There are some first-come, first-served campsite reservations in Yosemite. This site has a full list of all the Yosemite National Park campgrounds and their open dates, as well as whether they may be reserved in advance. And this site has more information on how to secure a Yosemite campsite without a reservation.

If you do choose to try for a first-come, first-served campsite, it’s wise to arrive well in advance of the noon check in time (except for Camp 4, for which you must arrive the day before). For some sites, people begin lining up at 6am, so always have a backup plan in place in case you don’t get a spot.

While it is possible to get a Yosemite campsite without a reservation, it’s significantly more risky for a family with kids, so I recommend securing a site in advance if possible.

best yosemite campgrounds with kids

Best Yosemite Campgrounds for Families

Yosemite has 13 different tent and RV campgrounds so it can get overwhelming to choose which one. We overwhelmingly feel the best campgrounds in Yosemite with kids are the ones in Yosemite Valley.

Staying in the Valley allows you easy access to many of Yosemite’s main sites and wonders without having to drive and park or take the shuttle. Camping in Yosemite Valley gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility to see the best of Yosemite with kids.

When we go tent camping in Yosemite Valley, we love to bring our bikes so we can easily access different areas of the park. Upper Pines is the largest Yosemite Valley campground, and thus is most likely to have open spots. (North Pines and Lower Pines also typically have many spots closed in the spring due to flooding, and Camp 4 does not accept reservations.)

From the Pines campgrounds, we can easily walk or bike to Yosemite Falls, the Valley Visitors Center, and Mirror Lake. Families with older kids can also easily get to Bridalveil Falls. Camp 4 provides even closer access to the visitors center and Yosemite Falls. (Although, again, it is first-come, first served. I also don’t love Camp 4 because it is right along the main road, while the Pines campgrounds are quieter and more set back.)

Yosemite Campgrounds with Kids Outside the Valley

If you’re interested in seeing the stunning Mariposa Grove giant Sequoias, the Wawona campground is a great place to stay when camping with kids. Keep in mind that the Mariposa Grove Road is closed during the winter months and it is only possible to access the grove by snowshoeing/cross-country skiing/hiking quite a ways. (NOTE: The Wawona campground is currently closed due to sewer upgrades.)

If you can’t get a Yosemite campsite in the Valley, there are several beautiful ones outside the Valley, as well. These are also great if you’ve spent a lot of time in the Valley before and are interested in seeing a different part of the park. A few of the sites north of the Valley (such as Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, and Tuolumne Meadows) do accept reservations at certain times of the year. The first two are good locations if you’d like to explore Hetch Hetchy, and Tuolumne Meadows is worthy of a trip on its own.

yosemite with kids camping

Other Yosemite Lodging with Kids

A few Airbnb and VRBO properties do have options within the Park boundaries. (Get $55 off your first Airbnb trip HERE!) There are also a couple of hotels in the Valley, as well as the Housekeeping heated tents. We also love the Yosemite Rush Creek Lodge just outside the Park boundaries!

Yosemite Camping Checklist with Kids

This is a whole other post, but here are a few of our essentials when camping in Yosemite with kids:

  • Warm clothing. Even in the summer, Yosemite gets quite chilly at night. Don’t forget warm clothing such as socks, base layers, and a warm jacket. Here’s our general packing essentials with kids, as well as our winter packing list with kids.
  • Raft. We love taking this boat along to float along the river when the water levels allow it! Don’t forget life vests.
  • Good sleeping bags. Again, it can get quite chilly when camping in Yosemite! Here’s a helpful post on the best sleeping bags for babies & toddlers.
  • Food. There’s actually a decent number of supplies at the Yosemite Valley store. Still, it’s not the most economical, so plan to bring what you need if you can. There are also a surprising number of restaurant options if you need.
  • Gas. You can get gas in the Valley if you run out, but it’s really only for emergencies. There is also fuel available just outside the park entrance but it is expensive. Plan to fill up in Mariposa or another city about 30 minutes from the entrance. Keep in mind that the drive out of the Valley (or up to Glacier Point) is uphill.

There’s a reason John Muir picked Yosemite to persuade then-President Teddy Roosevelt that he should work to protect these lands on a federal level. Millions of people hope to visit Yosemite, and for good reason. There simply is nowhere else in the world like it. We hope you have a wonderful time camping in Yosemite!

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how to get a yosemite campground reservation

yosemite camping reservations tips for families

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