This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling to the national parks, visit individual parks’ websites.
On Thursday, June 11, Yosemite finally reopened to the general public after closing in mid-March due to coronavirus concerns. But for the time being, a trip to Yosemite will look a little different than it used to.
To help keep visitors and employees safe and healthy and to help prevent the spread of the virus, only about half of the people normally admitted to Yosemite at this time of year will be allowed in. And those who are will be required to reserve a permit. Many park facilities, campgrounds, visitor centers, and lodgings will remain closed or partially closed for now.
The “reopening” is really one step in a larger, phased plan to gradually increase access to the park that was announced in mid-May. This strategic move will allow the park to control crowding in its first stages of reopening. Yosemite actually welcomed its first visitors since its closure on Friday, June 5, but that group only included those with existing wilderness permit reservations and existing permits to climb Half Dome.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in California has slowed down the process. On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, Yosemite officials announced that the park would delay the planned reopening of some campgrounds, canceling reservations at those spots through July 31.
The new reservation system
The most notable feature of this current stage of reopening is the temporary day-use reservation system, which was originally proposed a few weeks ago. The park will grant 1,700 passes each day, and passes will be valid from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. and last for seven days (though you must show up on the first day of your reservation; otherwise, it may be invalidated).
Visitors will be required to make a reservation online at recreation.gov, and pay a $35 fee, which includes park entrance. Those with annual passes only need to pay a nonrefundable $2 reservation fee.
And this won’t be a summer to take a spontaneous trip to Yosemite: The park has already opened up 80 percent of its day-use reservations for June and July. After that, passes for each month will be available at 7 a.m. PST on first day of the prior month, so August passes will be available on July 1. The remaining 20 percent will be available two days before the planned arrival date. You will not be able to make same-day reservations.
What about overnight accommodation?
In addition to the 1,700 day-use visitors, the park will also admit an additional 1,900 overnight visitors with reservations at the campgrounds and lodgings, including vacation rentals inside the park, many of which will reopen on June 11. The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Valley Lodge, and half of Curry Village (which includes hotel lodging as well as cabins and tents) will be open, as will half of Upper Pines Campground and Wawona Horse Camp. Currently reservations at other campgrounds have been canceled through July 31, and the park has not yet announced tentative reopening dates for those sites.
What parts of the park will be open?
Most of the park will be open for socially distanced recreation, although access may be modified at some areas that are prone to overcrowding. A portion of the Mist Trail, for example, will be closed to downhill hiking from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The Lower Yosemite Falls boulders area will be closed, as will the Bridalveil Fall area (due to scheduled maintenance work).
The Half Dome cables, which allow hikers to finish the difficult end of the 14- to 16-mile summit hike without climbing gear, are currently up and still only open to 275 permit holders per day (as usual). The hard-to-score Half Dome permits are awarded through an annual lottery that takes place in March, and hopefuls have about a 20 percent chance of success. Those lucky enough to have won must be overjoyed at the recent reopening.
Many questions left unanswered
Yosemite has been one of the last of the big-name U.S. national parks to announce its plans to reopen. Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and others increased access to the public around or before Memorial Day weekend.
While the reopening is good news, its sudden announcement may have left those with existing hotel or campground reservations for this weekend unable to make it to the park.
But leaders of the surrounding counties, Mariposa, Mono, Tuolumne, and Madera, are relieved at the reopening. In a collective letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, sent on June 1, they requested he relax the rules around nonessential travel in the area to allow overnight accommodations to open, reports the San Jose Mercury News. They said that though the park wasn’t open, crowds were coming anyways, camping illegally, leaving trash, and starting small fires.
Other California parks start to reopen
Because of California’s strict response to the COVID-19 crisis, all national parks in the Golden State have been slow to reopen. Lassen Volcanic National Park reopened Friday, May 29, and Redwood National and State Parks started increasing access in mid-May. Roads, parking lots, trails, and public-use areas in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks reopened Thursday, June 4; however, camping and overnight accommodations likely won’t be permitted until after the Fourth of July.
This article originally appeared online on June 3, 2020; it was updated on June 24, 2020, to include current information.
>>Next: Italy Reopens to European Travelers—but Not to Americans Yet