Everything you need to do know about visiting Yosemite during Covid safely—permits, where to stay, what to pack, and what to do.
One advantage to living in California (or near it!) is all the national parks. As a California native, I’ve visited Yosemite dozens of times, but this summer (yes, it is summer no matter how weird it feels) is a little different. There are new rules, and rightly so, but it can feel frustrating and confusing to figure out what you can and can’t do. For those interested in hitting the road for some Yosemite wilderness, this guide helps answer all those questions so you can have a fun and safe trip.
STEP 1: PERMITS
Yosemite is issuing a limited number of 7-day permits each month, and yes, you will need one. Visit the recreation.gov Yosemite site to grab one. They issue permits for the next month on the first day of the previous month, but you can also keep an eye on the site; many permits become available every few days or so. We grabbed our permit just three weeks in advance. Also, you’ll need to show up to Yosemite on the first day of your permit to get authorized by a ranger, so plan accordingly!
HALF DOME: Permits are on a lottery basis only. You can enter the lottery two days in advance and will get results the same day. You have until 1pm PST that day to enter—use this site. Up to 6 people can be on one permit, so just make sure to mark that when you apply. The rangers will check your permit!
STEP 2: WHERE TO STAY
You can stay in or out of the park. If you want to camp, grab a permit here. The advantage of staying in the park is of course, you’re close to all the hikes and sites. But if you’re like me and not much of a camper, there are Airbnbs and lodges in nearby towns. We stayed at this wonderful Airbnb in Mariposa, which is an hour outside of the park. The town is open for outdoor dining and has a grocery store so you can stock up on food for long hikes. We particularly enjoyed drinking an entire pitcher of margaritas for the two of us at Hideout Saloon after our Half Dome hike—so worth it!
STEP 3: PACKING
Yosemite in the summer is HOT, so be prepared! Most evenings you won’t even need a jacket. Y’all are smart enough to get the essentials, but here are some extra things that saved us:
- Wet wipes – Soooo nice to clean your face with during/after long hikes
- Water filter – Even though we didn’t camp, this was key during our Half Dome hike so we didn’t have to carry so much water. Fill up your bottles in the nearby streams—bonus that the water is nice and cold.
- All Trails offline maps – There is no reception on most of the hikes, so having an offline map is super helpful. AllTrails charges for offline maps, but you can purchase a monthly plan and cancel later (oops). Worth it!
- Good grip gloves – These are crucial for hiking Half Dome so you can grab the cables. Gardening gloves may not be strong enough, so get a pair from Home Depot or Amazon.
- Bug spray, hand sanitizer, mask, sunscreen, camelback – All usual packing stuff
- Permits downloaded on your phone – Again, reception is questionable in or around most of the park, so have it all downloaded/screenshot on your phone so you can get in!
- Aleve – Good for muscle aches if you’re doing long or multiple hikes during your stay
- Foam roller – Esp if you’re not camping, this will save you. We also brought yoga balls to really fix our muscles. I swear they are magic!
TRAILS AND VISTA POINTS
The great thing about Yosemite is that there are trails for all levels, and pretty much every trail has some sort of view to enjoy. I typically like to do one big hiking day and then do smaller hikes for the following days. THINGS TO NOTE WHEN VISITING YOSEMITE DURING COVID: Even though the park is at much lower capacity, there are still enough people in the touristy spots that you have to wear your mask. No exceptions! Another way to avoid people is to leave early in the morning. It becomes pretty hot by the afternoon anyways, so best to do all the hiking and sightseeing before then.
Trails and sights I recommend:
- Glacier Point [vista point – easy]: Touristy, with iconic views of the park. Get ice cream from the general store and cool off while looking at Half Dome.
- Tunnel View [vista point – easy]: Gorgeous view of the valley, but also touristy. Bring snacks and come to watch the sunset.
- Ahwahnee Hotel: Beautiful hotel right in the middle of the park. It’s very expensive to stay in, but you can enjoy an afternoon drink in their outdoor area.
- Sentinel Dome [2 miles – easy]: Right off of Glacier Point is this short hike with sweeping views of the park, since you can climb to the top of the dome. Even with the hike being this short, we saw a baby bear!
- Elizabeth Lake [5 miles – easy]: Deep in the park past Half Dome lies this pretty little lake that nobody goes to. It’s a bit of a drive to get to, but it’s so nice to have the lake mostly to yourself. Bring a picnic, swimsuit, and bug spray!
- Half Dome [20 miles – hard]: If you manage to get a last minute permit like we did, DO IT. This is a long AF hike. You’ll hike up 6,000 of feet of elevation, up onto steep cables, and you will be rewarded. This is the longest hike I’ve ever done and it was amazing. It’s also crazy to look at Half Dome once you’ve hiked it and go, “damn, I just did that?!”
- Some tips for Half Dome: Start EARLY, like at least 2 hours before the sun comes up. You avoid crowds and the hot summer sun, and you can take your time and enjoy the views vs rushing through them.
- Take the Mist Trail up past Vernal Falls, and the John Muir Trail down past Nevada Falls, where you can dip your feet in and refill your water.
- Park in the Yosemite Valley Trailhead and walk through the forested part to the left of the lot to get to the start of the trail.
Bears are out and about, especially when visiting Yosemite during Covid with the lack of visitors, so if you’re camping in the park, make sure to properly store your food! If you’re doing day trips, pack enough protein and carb-filled snacks to keep you fueled for your hikes. My favorite things to eat include Clif bars, PB&J sandwiches, mustard/turkey/salami/cheese sandwiches (I ate 2-3 of these everyday), trail mix, bananas, and apples. We made oatmeal and coffee each morning in our Airbnb, and packed beer for our picnic day.
This is a long ass post (sorry!), but it’s worth reading through and being safe when visiting Yosemite during Covid. I feel you all in being stir crazy and overwhelmed with what travel options are available, so hopefully this guide helps. Personally, it felt really good to get out of mundane city life for a few days, turn off the news and social media, and just be outside for extended periods of time. I hadn’t realized how much the pandemic had been weighing my mind and body down, and it was so refreshing to get lost in the beauty of nature around me. I hope you get to do and feel the same.