We all know how amazing National Parks are. No really, we all do. The unfortunate side effect of this popularity is, well, popularity. Sometimes the worst part of your National Parks adventure is just finding a place to lay your head at night. Campsites inside the parks can be crowded, expensive, and sometimes full of bears. Fortunately, Yosemite, like many National Parks, is surrounded by National Forests, BLM land, and private campsites. Despite being slightly more removed from the park’s main sights, these can make for a much easier and often nicer alternative. With that in mind, we’ve collected the best campgrounds just outside of Yosemite National Park.
*Yosemite is a huge park with tons of sights to see outside of the main valley. Still, we know most visitors want to see the iconic glacier-carved cliffs and waterfalls that make this place famous. For this reason, we’ve estimated drive times from these campgrounds to ‘the valley’ at the top of each section.
Lee Vining and Tioga Pass
1.5 hrs from ‘The Valley’
The Eastern Entrance to Yosemite is a long slow climb from the volcanic flats of Nevada’s Mono Lake up into the valley itself. It’s a beautiful and unique environment, and the campgrounds located on this side of the park reflect that. Campgrounds in this area include Tioga Lake, Junction Campground, Ellery Lake, and Sawmill Campground. These are all first-come first-served, but far enough from the valley that you. Of course, if you feel more comfortable booking in advance or just want more amenities, try Mono Vista RV Park, just down the pass road in Lee Vining. Lee Vining is also home, it’s important to note, to this author’s favorite gas station in the world. This area is perfect for those heading to or from our Las Vegas hub.
Big Oak Flat Entrance
30 min from ‘The Valley’
If you’re arriving to Yosemite from San Francisco, this is most likely your route. You’ll wind up steep hillsides to campsites on a high plateau that actually sits above the famous valley. There are several campgrounds that can be reserved ahead of time, including Dimond O Campground, Lost Claim, and The Pines. These sites range from 7 to 16 miles from the park entrance and cost anywhere from 0 to 25 dollars, depending on the season. First-come first-served camping can be found at South Fork Campground. Although it is deceptively far from the valley, this site rewards those who brave the road up with spectacular views. No matter which you choose, the road into the valley from here is the park’s most iconic. With tunnels and classic vistas of Half Dome and the park, it’s a ride to remember and your luxury Moterra van is the best ride for it.
Arch Rock Entrance
20 min from ‘The Valley’
Those looking to camp as close as possible to the valley without having to enter the park will want to stop somewhere near the Arch Rock Entrance. After all, the entrance is just 9 miles from the valley floor. These campsites are mostly offered on a first-come first-served basis. So camping at Dirt Flat or the BLM Campgrounds at McCabe, Willow Placer, or Railroad Flat can be a tricky proposition. Those looking to book in advance can reserve sites at Dry Gulch Campground or Indian Flat RV Park. Depending where you land you will be 7-25 miles from the park entrance, making valley access easy.
50 min from ‘The Valley’
Visitors arriving from Southern California will typically use the South Entrance to Yosemite. For us, it’s the perfect area to camp on a trip through Yosemite and down to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Campgrounds here include Summerdale Campground, Big Sandy Campground, Fresno Dome, and Nelder Grove (free!). Except for Summerdale, these sites will all be first-come first-served, so plan ahead. Reservable spots and more amenities are available at High Sierra Mobile and RV Park just down the road in Oakhurst. It’s important to note that all of these sites are over 40 minutes from the park entrance except Summerdale Campground, which is just 5 minutes away.