How to Avoid Yosemite’s Traffic
The Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco (and vice versa) is one of the most popular drives in the world. Most visitors to California know about it, and typically, especially in the summertime, there is heavy traffic. But the roadway always seems to flow.
Yosemite National Park traffic, on the other hand, is different.
Think of the Yosemite Valley as a fishbowl. Once you begin to pour liquid into it (or in this case, vehicles), there is only so much that can fit before it begins to overflow. And with estimates of 22,500 tourists visiting the Valley per day (in the busy months of July and August), the fishbowl overflows on a daily basis.
That means long lines, crowded viewpoints and limited to no parking.
And sadly, it also means many one-day visitors to Yosemite, instead of hiking with their loved ones and seeing the wonders of the national park, are sitting in their cars for extended hours. And many are astonished by the fact. Where is the parking? Why isn’t the traffic moving? Why are there so many people?
Why are there always crowds?
Besides the fact that the park is one of the most scenic destinations in the world, it’s because many of the people who visit are at Yosemite for the first time. And because of that, many of them have no idea where to go or how to get there. They cannot find the trailhead, or parking, and then become frazzled.
After noon the parking disappears, and that is when the traffic really begins.
It starts with the parking lots. Every space is taken, yet cars continue to pour in. Next thing you know, one person waits for a spot, and the entire line of cars backs up; the movement stops. That line of cars eventually spills into the roadway, and the traffic grinds to a halt (and with trees on both sides, there is no way to get around). Two, sometimes three hours of standstill traffic begins.
The news reports in California can potentially make things worse.
Are we in a big waterfall year? Is anyone special visiting Yosemite? The more Yosemite is talked about in the news, chances are the more guests will show up. Although, unfortunately, the reverse happened in 2018 with the California wildfires: many Yosemite visitors were scared away because of news reports and many small businesses and hotels suffered, including us. The park was empty, despite blue skies throughout much of the park.
What are the ways around Yosemite’s traffic?
For starters, stay clear of the Valley in the middle of summer. There are so many other wonderful places you can visit instead. Why not check out the high country? Or Hetch Hetchy? However, if you insist on the Valley, plan your stay in the month of October—it can be virtually empty. You can find parking everywhere. Visiting Yosemite any other time besides summer (June, July and August), and any of the major American holidays such as Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and you are home free.
It’s as easy as thinking the opposite of the crowds.
Timing is everything, of course. Never enter Yosemite between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.—the peak times for the crowds, both at the entry stands and in the Valley. Decide instead to arrive in the morning when everyone else is sleeping or at breakfast. When you look down on the traffic from the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and see the mess below, you’ll be glad you did. Lastly, you can choose our favorite option, which is to stay overnight.
We always suggest more than one day in Yosemite, and sometimes even practically insist on it—not because we are trying to funnel more money into the park or into our pockets (we do offer Yosemite one-day tours), but because the national park deserves more, and so do our clients. One day just isn’t enough time to appreciate the splendor of Yosemite. And when you need to drive four hours from San Francisco each way during that one day? Really that boils down to only a few hours at the park and a rather grueling day. Why not stay overnight and see more—such as the stars, unique views, and stunning sunsets—away from the crowds? Trust us when we say the extra costs are worth it.
Are you here for Instagram or to feel what the original explorers felt when they first laid eyes on Yosemite?
This is why we are here, to unlock Yosemite’s authenticity again. The reports will say one thing—that there is traffic, a fire, this or that—however, in reality, Yosemite is so large, when you go with the right host, you can bypass those obstacles. Even during the peak times in Yosemite, even in the Valley, you can enjoy a secluded private hike by yourself. Even better, you can put on a backpack and hike deeper into the woods, with only you, the wildlife and vegetation. We offer those tours as well.
As you can see, there are several ways to avoid Yosemite’s infamous traffic, but allowing more time and going with the right hosts will always be number one. It’s not enough for your tour guide to know the most popular spots to visit. Our traffic, hiking and historical expertise is what you pay for, and your reward is a headache- and hassle-free holiday in Yosemite, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Call White Wolf Tours today to reserve your tour!