A Non-Camper Camping at Yosemite

On my trip to Northern California last September, I was faced with a dilemma as to where to stay in Yosemite National Park. There were basically three options; one- book lodging at one of Yosemite’s hotels (the cheaper tent villages were all full), two- book a hotel in one of Yosemite’s gateway towns, or three- camp inside the park.

The first option of staying in one of Yosemite’s hotels was, by far, the most expensive option. Prices for the hotel rooms were well over $200 a night, and at three nights, would have been over what I had budgeted for lodging for the whole 15 day trip. The Ahwahnee, Yosemite’s world famous, top end hotel, has a few rooms available, all priced in the $400 a night range. 
The second option, booking a hotel in one of Yosemite’s gateway towns, was cheaper, only about $100 a night, but would have necessitated a long drive each day to visit the park. 

My rental car & site at Yosemite

I chose the third option (as you, my intelligent reader probably surmised from the imaginative title of this post)- camping inside the park. I was lucky to book one of the last remaining sites at the Lower Pines Campground, in the heart of the valley.

“Camping” out of the van in 2004

It’s not that I’m a complete non-camper. I have camped before, and generally I really do enjoy it. I have camped a lot less since I got my first laptop and digital camera in 2004, mostly because I like editing some of my photos at night and even trying to post some on either my website or on this blog, and while many campgrounds now have wifi, few have a strong enough signal for uploading photos or using Skype. While I still don’t mind camping, the type I usually do is out of a van, where I have protection from the elements, a comfortable mattress and storage for the overpacking I usually do. 

The Lower Pines Campground Ampitheatre

There were advantages and disadvantages to camping in Yosemite, but as I found, the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages. 
I loved being able to attend the ranger programs in the evening. The ampitheatre was a short walk away from my site in the other part of the campground. It was like stepping in to a time warp for me, as my family and I used to attend these when we did our long family road trips when I was in my teens. It was those experiences that helped me develop my love of travel and our National Parks. The one I attended in Yosemite was on the wildlife of Yosemite, and was lead by and intelligent and enthusiastic young ranger. 

On the way back from the program, I was able to stop and take a picture of the moon, a shot that took 20 minutes of trial and error to get, but one that has quickly become one of my favorite shots ever. I doubt such a clear image would have been impossible if I hadn’t been in the pitch black of the valley. 

Glacier Point, shortly after sunrise

I strongly considered the second option of staying in a gateway town, as I’m not usually opposed to commuting into a park so that I have the comfort of a hotel bed, but I knew I wanted to get up early and do some early morning photography. Having a drive to drive in would have required me to get up an hour before sunrise. This part of the decision paid off wonderfully, as not only did I get the pictures with soft morning light I had been looking for, I also got some of the best wildlife pictures from the trip, as the park’s animals are notoriously busier during the dusk to dawn hours. 

The Pavilion Buffet at Curry Village
Social Hour in Curry Village

The campground’s proximity to Curry Village was something that I also appreciated. Since I had flown to California from my home in Michigan, I had limited space packing. I had been able to pack my tent and camping essentials, but not any of my cooking supplies, meaning I would need to have access to food while camping, or be satisfied with PB&J sandwiches for those couple of days. After a long day of hiking, I knew the sandwich route was fine for lunch, but for dinner, I would need some real food. There were numerous options available at Curry Village. They were more expensive, being inside the park, but I have no problem paying for a little convenience. The first night I ate the Pizza Deck, a cute little take-away pizza cafe, and the second night I indulged in the more-expensive Pavilion Buffet, which was worth every penny with it’s many excellent options. 

One of Yosemite’s free shuttle buses

The campgrounds had restrooms, but no showers, and again, Curry Village’s close proximity came to the rescue there, as showers were available there for $5, which was money well-spent. Being right in the heart of the valley, Curry Village was a short hike, or an even shorter shuttle ride away from the campground. I made good use of Yosemite’s convenient free shuttle. It stops at all the major trail heads and tourist attractions, and allowed me to leave the car parked instead of having to worry about parking all the time. 

Bear-proof (!) containers in the campground

The biggest downside to the camping experience were no fault of Yosemite’s. I’ve already mentioned that I was limited in the amount of packing gear I could take since I was flying and only willing to pay for one extra bag. I had intended to buy a cheap air mattress to sleep on when I got to California, and also a cheap sleeping bag, if I could find one. When I did my shopping at a Wal-Mart when I got to California, I couldn’t find a cheap air-mattress I was willing to buy and then throw away before heading home. I elected to purchase a camper’s pad, which was woefully inadequate. I attempted to soften my sleeping surface by layering the pad with all of the clothes that I had brought, but that experiment also failed.

I had a few uncomfortable nights sleeping, but the days were busy and exhausting enough that I really could have slept anywhere. Each morning when I woke, the exhilaration of “I’m right here in Yosemite Valley” was enough to offset any lingering stiffness from sleeping on the ground. Even if you are a non-camper, the wonderful campgrounds of Yosemite provide a convenient and inexpensive option for travelers to one of America’s finest National Parks. 

(Disclaimer: During the height of the tourist season, June though July, you’ll want to book your site well in advance, as they fill up quick. The other option is to  put your name in for one of the first-come, first-served sites left available every morning, but that requires some luck and an early arrival.)

6 Responses to “A Non-Camper Camping at Yosemite”

  1. Samantha says:

    Have been to once with my Friends but unfortunately Climate had ruined all our program ! 🙁

  2. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Camping or not, Yosemite is an absolute can't miss. You'll love it!

  3. Ali says:

    I'd love to get to Yosemite one of these days, but when I do, I don't think I'll be camping. Not my thing. Sounds like you had a great trip though!

  4. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Thanks for your kind words! You're young and spry and I suppose camping won't be as hard for you as it was for an old man like me 🙂
    Seriously, though, the tent villages looked like a good (if slightly claustrophobic and noisy) option, but book well in advance. One of the park officials told me those can be sold out 5-6 months in advance!

  5. Dana Flynn says:

    Nice! I appreciate this take on Yosemite especially because I'm a little concerned about lodging, etc. Thanks for another fun read!

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