Yosemite National Park is home to awe-inspiring vistas, massive granite icons and breath-taking waterfalls. It is also home to some outstanding camping opportunities. The Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and is within easy reach of both Los Angeles and San Fransisco.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information.
We visited the Yosemite National Park at the end of May 2017 and stayed in the Housekeeping Camp for one night. Housekeeping Camp is perfect for those who love camping but don’t want the hassle of putting up a tent. That sounds like us!
When to Go to Yosemite National Park
Late spring is the best time to Yosemite National Park. The temperature is fairly comfortable, roads should be open after the snow melt. And best of all, the waterfalls should be thundering after the snow melt.
We arrived right at the end of May and discovered that the nights were rather chilly at about 40 degrees fahrenheit. No problem, $15 sleeping bags from Wal-Mart was all we needed to combat the chilly nights. Daytime temps were high 60’s and sunny, perfect for hiking the many trails in the park.
During our spring visit we were fortunate to see the Waterfalls in all their glory. Although there are many attractions in the park, it is the waterfalls which make it truly spectacular. The best thing is there are loads of waterfalls all the way along the valley. Not just regular waterfalls, but towering, thunderous waterfalls which are stunning to see.
Our 9-year-old son absolutely loves camping, so a camping adventure was at the top of the list for my family. Initially I wanted to have a 3 night camping adventure at Housekeeping Camp. I went onto the Yosemite Lodging website about 3 months prior to our trip. Sadly, for our 17 day road trip there were only single nights available, meaning it was not possible to stay more than one night inside Yosemite National Park. Lesson learned: book many months ahead if travelling to Yosemite.
On a positive note, the nightly rates were very affordable at Housekeeping Camp. They were only slightly higher than our cheapest Airbnb our 17 day California Road Trip.
Since we were visiting from overseas, our camping equipment was virtually non-existent. I called the Yosemite Lodging hotline and they informed me that they have bedding packs available for rent (pillow, blanket, sheet) for a very low-cost, around a couple of dollars each. The catch is they have only a certain amount, and it’s rented out on a first in-first served basis. They advised me that they cannot guarantee bedding availability for late arrivals.
So our Yosemite shopping list at Wal-Mart ended up something like this:
- 3 Sleeping bags ($15)
- 3 Pillows ($9)
- 1 Large bear box – mandatory if you have any trace of food or water ($20)
- Assorted sealable food containers ($20)
- Padlock ($7)
- 1 Marshmallow pole & marshmallows ($9)
- 2 Head lamps ($20)
- Disposable picnic plates and utensils ($10)
- Water ($8)
- Assorted snacks
Total cost was around US$120. Considering that none of this is required if you stay in a normal lodging, you really should factor this in when budgeting for accommodation.
As it turned out, we arrived at about 7pm and were one of the last cars to arrive. There was still plenty of bedding for hire at Housekeeping Camp so we did not really need to purchase sleeping bags. We were able to hire chairs for $2 each.
The cooking sets (stoves) were all hired out and not available. No problem for us as we had planned all uncooked meals. There is always the option of buying cooked take away food at the store as well.
Lockable bear-proof boxes are provided at every tent at Housekeeping Camp, and it is mandatory that they are used. Make sure you research all the bear-proof food regulations before your visit. The main ones are:
- Use the lockable bear-proof storage locker
- Bring a large bear-proof container and smaller sealed food containers
- Don’t leave any scented items in your car including food, drinks, coolers, toiletries, and trash.
- Don’t park your car next to a “people mover: car. Seriously, they say bears are smart enough to target “people movers”.
Getting to Yosemite
We drove in from Monterey, about a 5 hour drive through a town called Mariposa. From Mariposa to Housekeeping Camp is a fairly easy drive, because it follows the Merced River up through Yosemite Valley. There are some mountainous places but it’s a fairly easy non-stress drive.
The other way is to come from the South through Oakhurst and Fish Camp. This is much scarier drive than the Mariposa route, and much longer as well. Most of the journey is at high altitude through the mountains on very windy roads. If you don’t like windy mountain roads, best to go through Mariposa.
Mariposa is also a good option for accommodation, and day-tripping into Yosemite National Park. The town has heaps of accommodation and convenience stores, and is set up as a base for exploring the park. It’s about a 1 hour drive each way to the main part of the park, however it’s not really a difficult drive compared to the Oakhurst route.
We were allocated a tent site right in the middle of the camp. Some campers were lucky enough to be located riverside, however the river had burst its banks during the snow-melt so it was not the best time for riverside camping. It seems that all campsites have clean bathrooms nearby.
There is a great little food shop on site to purchase pre-cooked food or cooking supplies. You can also purchase firewood for $15 per bag, and every tent site has it’s own fireplace. We purchased 2 bags and had more firewood than we needed for our one night stay, especially since all campfires have to be extinguished by 10pm.
What to See
There are convenient free shuttle buses which drive around in a loop inside Yosemite National Park, stopping at all the major attractions. We were there on the Memorial Day long weekend so the crowds were probably a little inflated, which loaded the transit system to its limit.
The buses looked like city peak hour buses from 11am to 3pm. Buses were every 20 minutes, but I saw at least 2 buses continue because they were full, and passengers needed to wait for the next bus.
Since the buses were so full you might think that driving your car is a better option. Think again, because many of the car parks were also full and very difficult to find a parking space.
The attractions we visited were Vernal falls and Yosemite Falls. Vernal Falls is a reasonably strenuous walk of about 1 hour each way, and you get to witness many stunning mountain vistas and waterfalls along the way. I was warned by several hikers not to take my SLR camera or it will get wet, due to the mist blasting off the falls.
Sure enough, about ¼ mile from the lower falls there was a steady mist. From there on it was waterproof camera country. No wonder they call it the Mist Trail!
Yosemite Falls was a similar situation. However you could get much closer at Yosemite Falls before being blasted with mist coming off the falls. If visiting during the snow melt, definitely consider taking waterproof photography equipment!
There are many other vista stops along the roads where you can pull over to photograph stunning waterfalls, massive granite outcrops and beautiful meadows. You could fill your photo album from the roadside stops alone! But I am so glad we experienced at least one of the hiking trails.
On the way out we took the Southern Route. Along the way, a tourist convince us to make the detour to Glacier Point. They told us it’s only 20 minutes drive from the road, however it’s a dead end so you must return the same way. They insisted that 1 hour should be enough. We decided to go for it, our last stop in Yosemite National Park.
What we found was the slowest, windiest road we had encountered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But then at the end was the most stunning scenery I’ve ever witnessed. It’s know for being the most awe-inspiring lookout in Yosemite National Park. Snow capped mountains, several waterfalls, granite mountains, panoramic views – it’s got the lot.
It was absolutely amazing, particularly because of the snow and the raging waterfalls. It took about 10 minutes to walk from the car park to the viewing point, and then I felt like I just wanted to stand there mesmerized by the magnificent beauty of this place.
Whilst at Glacier Point we also saw several wild deer, and got to play in the snow. A 1 hour return trip does not do this place justice, I recommend allowing 2-3 hours from the turn off, you won’t want to rush this awesome stop.
Highlight of the trip
Overall our camping trip to Yosemite National Park was the highlight of our California Road Trip. The unique experience of camping at Housekeeping Camp was magical. The driving was wonderful with endless photo stops. The walking trails inside the National Park were seriously good fun and not too strenuous.
There were plenty of take-away food stops inside the park to buy lunch. And the bus system was well laid out and easy to use. About the only negative was that we did not stay long enough. I would have loved to take in a couple more hiking trails, in particular Mirror Lake. I guess that’s a splendid reason to go back a second time around!
Do you have any questions about visiting Yosemite National Park or Housekeeping Camp? Drop us a comment and we’d be happy to answer your questions.
If you would like to read more about our family travel adventures, you can subscribe by clicking HERE and we’ll email you each time a new blog post is published.