Yosemite Permits--a plan for next year

posted Dec 1, 2015, 11:07 AM by Paul Wagner

The view from Glacier Point©backpackthesierra.com
As you start to plan your big visit to Yosemite, you might want to keep the following in mind.  While June is often when the season opens, that date can vary by as much as a month or more in either direction...

Depending on the weather, June can be either warm, sunny and dry, or snowy and slush.  It all depends on what happens over the next six months...and a foot of snow on the ground will obliterate just about all traces of a trail you might want to follow.  Most of Yosemite outside of the valley itself is over 7,500 feet.

If we get the predicted El Nino big wet winter, then you could be in for snow levels at 7,500 feet or so---and that includes the top of Half Dome.  If that's the case, they won't let you climb it.   On the other hand, in most years they open it up around mid to late May...just saying it would be a good idea to keep your options open.

A couple of examples of loop ideas: 

1.  Take the John Muir Trail from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows, then hike back down to Happy Isles through Rafferty Creek, Tuolumne Pass, and Fletcher or Lewis Creeks. This would be the busiest section of the backcountry in Yosemite

2.  Go off the grid a bit:  Hike past Glen Aulin on the first day from Tuolumne Meadows.  From their hike up Cold Canyon to Virginia Canyon or McCabe Lakes.  Hike cross country by contouring past Roosevelt Lake to Young Lakes.  And then back to Tuolumne Meadows.  You won't see many people on that route. M atop the ridge, starting down into Echo Lake....with Cathedral Peak behind her.  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Bear in mind that the number of people you will see in the back country is directly related to two things:  How close you are to the John Muir Trail and Half Dome, and then how close you are to a trailhead and on a trail.  On a trail and one day in from a trailhead, and you will have lots of company.  Off trail, or two days in, and the number of people you will see will drop by about 80%.  And that is also true of the availability of permits.  Avoid the busiest trailheads, and you should be able to get a permit.   The photo at right is on the shoulder of Echo Peaks, off trail, where we saw a total of six people in three days---and two of them were wildlife biologists doing research.  The rest were rock climbers.

Wilderness permits allow you to spend one day BEFORE and one day AFTER the dates on your permit in a backpackers' campground.  There is one in Tuolumne Meadows, and another in the Valley.  If you want to spend additional time sightseeing in the park, you can usually find a campsite if you start looking early in the morning for a first-come/first serve sight in some of the regular campgrounds.  That's easiest to do if you spend the night before in a backpackers campground.  So:

1.  Reserve your wilderness permit in advance.  
2.  Arrive in the park early the day before your permit starts, and pick it up at a wilderness office. 
3.  Set up camp in a backpackers' campground and enjoy the day sightseeing in Yosemite.
4.  Start your backpacking trip with your permit on the date specified.
5.  End your trip on the day specified....and spend that night in a backpackers' campground.
6.  Get up early the next and prowl the regular campgrounds looking for someone who is packing up.  Reserve their space and you're good to go. 

There are fabulous hikes in Yosemite that don't involved Half Dome or the John Muir Trail.  If you want a true wilderness experience, you'll have to go where other people don't go.   We have a long list of backpacking trips in the destination sections on our website