The National Park Service warns:
“Each year, Yosemite National Park welcomes over four million visitors. If you are planning to visit Yosemite, plan ahead and arrive early. In summer, expect extended traffic delays and extremely limited parking. Expect delays of an hour or more at entrance stations and two to three hours in Yosemite Valley . . . If you are planning to visit Yosemite valley by car for the day, arrive before 9 am, after which parking is usually full.”
(9 a.m. can sometimes not be early enough. On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, 2019, all parking in Yosemite valley was full by 9:30 a.m. and the backup / wait at the Arch Rock entrance station was a half hour.)
Parking is available at each overnight accommodation and in lots at Yosemite Village, Curry Village (briefly named Half Dome Village) and near Yosemite Falls / next to Yosemite Lodge. Maps, descriptions are below.
“If you find a parking space, plan to leave your car there; you will not be able to find another parking spot. Use the free shuttle to get around Yosemite Valley.
If you have lodging or campground reservations, park your car at your lodge or campground and use the shuttles to get around.
Once all parking in Yosemite Valley is full, you may be redirected to other areas (which will also have limited parking).”
Below are tips to help you
NOT get a Yosemite National Park traffic or parking ticket,
not contribute to preventable traffic backups
and help make your visit more fun.
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See also: services (minor emergency repairs, propane service, towing for some vehicles), at the Yosemite garage.
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It is against the law to sleep overnight in your vehicle in a Yosemite parking lot, by the side of the road, etc.
“Driving or parking on vegetation is prohibited.”
There are many more crosswalks, often not at intersections, than you might be used to at home.
We stood at the edge of this wide crosswalk, with the yellow sign pointing it out to drivers, while six vehicles drove through the crosswalk before one stopped to let us cross:
Drivers should note that there are sections of road in Yosemite Valley with two lanes (usually) in the same direction, with the right lane ONLY for the free shuttle buses, ambulances, ski bus, commercial vehicles with ten or more passengers. Do not use or block the “Bus and Authorized Vehicles” lane while driving in Yosemite Valley. “The bus lane ensures emergency vehicles can respond to incidents when traffic is backed up and provides preference for mass transit.”
If you get tired of waiting for traffic to move, and think you don’t see an officer, so you move into the bus only lane, you might find two law enforcement rangers on bikes stopping you and writing you up (in the process making the shuttle bus move over to the vehicles lane):
Rarely, (most often in storms with heavy snow or rain)
all the roads out of the park can be closed for part of a day or even for multiple days, so you should not have a tight schedule to get home.
It would be wise to have a map of, and take a look in advance at, alternate routes that might be your new way home if only one of the roads out of the valley opens up.
Sometimes one or more lanes of roads are closed suddenly due to a rock fall / mud slide / hazard tree that needs to be cleared. A contractor working on a road, bridge or culvert will intermittently close one lane of traffic to complete safety repairs. Roads that were two lanes in the same one-way direction can need to be be designated as two-way. Watch for signage.
“Valley Roads and Parking, Spring 2017
Heavy winter rains and snow are affecting on-going road improvement projects in
Yosemite Valley, resulting in road closures and detours. Visitors arriving this spring in
personal vehicles and buses may encounter delays, congestion, and detours. One-
way roads may become two way, and vice versa; pay attention to road signs.
Road segments may close to prevent gridlock when areas of the park become congested.
Printed and online maps may not reflect current road conditions.”
Driving safety notes
Please be assured that some drivers will not notice road direction changes / closures, even with multiple signs. (There was a large sign with flashing lights at the beginning of this section of road designating this change and then four of these yellow double arrow signs alongside the road on both sides. We watched multiple vehicles drive in the wrong lane for part or all of this section of road.)
Be prepared for people standing in the roadway to look at the view, get a picture,
often not looking out for oncoming traffic,
or even with their backs turned to oncoming traffic:
Be prepared for people standing alongside the roadway who
suddenly step out into the lane of traffic,
or don’t quite have the leg of a tripod for that huge camera off the roadway:
Be prepared for cars in front of you trying to move suddenly into your lane or stopping suddenly.
“Was that a coyote over there??”
Keeping an extra-long following distance can be wise to avoid rear-ending photographers
who stop their vehicle suddenly in the traffic lane
instead of carefully pulling over to the side of the road.
Sometimes people who can’t find a space in a tiny parking lot, such as the one at Swinging Bridge, where this photo was taken from, decide to park (it’s just for a few minutes, so it’s okay, right ?)
with two tires and half of their vehicle actually IN a traffic lane of the main road.
Drivers who had to try to move to the adjacent lane (some of them suddenly swerving) were honking at these two, but to no avail, as they were not in the vehicles.
A driver going even a bit fast coming around this curve
might not see the cyclists until it is too late to stop in time or swerve to miss hitting them
(and drivers coming in the opposite direction should anticipate an oncoming driver swerving into their lane):
Remember that the drivers of large RV campers, especially the rental camper vans,
are sometimes not used to driving them. They are often not used to the large size of the vehicle, especially the width of those huge rear-view mirrors AND they often are not used to how long it can take to stop a big, heavy vehicle, so watch out for them as well:
Please note that some people are not used to driving in round-abouts (rotary / traffic circle). When they enter one, they may fail to yield to traffic already in the round-about. Cyclists and pedestrians should be even more careful than usual as the drivers may be distracted.
Sometimes roads are blocked by people who ignore large signs warning them to not go any further with their not-so-small-vehicle, see the TURN AROUND NOW below in the RV section below.
The park service notes that Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations
are located only in Yosemite Valley at:
“The Ahwahnee (one Tesla and one level 1)
You do not need to be a guest at the hotel to charge your vehicle, however, you must move your vehicle from the space once it is finished charging
Village Store (Yosemite Village) (one level 2)
Yosemite Valley Lodge (eight level 2)
Located by Alder building and between Juniper and Laurel buildings.”
Sometimes these charging stations need repairs and will not be operable, perhaps even for days.
If you are driving an RV (Recreation Vehicle)
or towing a trailer
and do not have a campsite to park it at, please note Yosemite Village Day Use parking (see descriptions of day use parking lots below) does not allow trailers or RVS,
RVs and trailers are not allowed to park at most of, sometimes all of, the main Village grocery parking lot.
and some of the hotels also have signage:
despite this warning above and the “maximum clearance 11 foot 6 inches” sign at the Ahwahnee porte-cochere (roofed driveway entrance), more than one person got their large RV stuck under the roof. (Many rental RVs require a 12 foot clearance due to roof top air conditioners.)
RVs and trailers should NOT pull across multiple regular parking spaces, but should look for parking lots where there are larger spaces for them, or even better, leave their rigs at their campsite.
If you are driving an RV (Recreation Vehicle) or towing a trailer and do not have a campsite to park it at, you should head for the Yosemite Falls day-use lot or the small RV only parking area at Curry Village
OR, since parking (except at your assigned campsite) is severely limited for RVs, the park suggests that you consider parking outside the park and getting a bus ride in: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/rideyarts.pdf This advice notes that this can be much easier and less time consuming than searching for parking or trying to maneuver in tight traffic.
Large RVs and trailers are not allowed on some roads in Yosemite:
Some people who rent RVs do not have any idea how long it is.
The reason you should not ignore a sign saying you can’t turn your large RV in a specific direction on a given road, is that, (as per the sign below), you will pull out into oncoming traffic because the roadway is too narrow and has a curve right in front of you.
Class A motorhomes are generally 37 to 40 feet long. The park notes that for camping “Maximum RV/trailer lengths: In Yosemite Valley, the maximum RV length is 40 feet and maximum trailer length is 35 feet, however, only a total of 12 campsites of this size are available (six sites each in Lower Pines and North Pines, which are open spring through fall). Many more sites exist in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere in Yosemite that can take RVs up to 35 feet or trailers up to 24 feet.” . . .
“RV length and trailer length are not the same! Please note that many campsites have different maximum lengths for RVs and trailers. This is because many of the campsites are back-in sites with limited turning radius. We do not enforce the length limits as long as the RV or trailer can fit on the parking pad in the site.
However, if you reserve a site for equipment other than what you bring,
and the site can’t accommodate your RV or trailer,
we will not be able to find a different campsite for you.”
Upper Pines, the winter Yosemite valley campground that has parking spaces at each campsite,
has a 35 ft / 24 ft length limit.
The most current restrictions that affect some RVs and all trailers and tips for towing a trailer over Tioga Pass are at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/restrictions.htm
One of the biggest regrettably preventable causes of warm months and holiday weekends traffic in the afternoon is because many people do not consult maps before they go to the park. A significant number take the wrong route to their overnight accommodations, or when trying to find parking or trying to leave the park.
If you are sure of how to get to where you want to go in Yosemite valley, but have not been to the valley recently, OR If you have never been to Yosemite, I’d like to suggest that your drive could be less frustrating if you take a look at detailed driving directions from the Bay Area I created for college students on trips from the college I teach at. OR take a look at driving directions to the Ahwahnee hotel.
Your trip will be more pleasant if you need to go to the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge or Camp 4 (Camp Four) you skip driving all the way up southside drive to Curry Village. Again see the driving directions webpages linked to above.
During the February Horsetail Fall natural firefall, lanes of some roads are closed either to vehicles and/or pedestrians. Road-side parking (parts of both Northside and Southside Drives as well as El Cap crossover) and turnouts, many parking lots and picnic areas are closed to parking, and some years you need a permit to go to where you can see this natural light show.
(Horsetail Fall flows over the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.)
This Firefall comes and goes in roughly only ten minutes.
Watch for signage. Wear warm clothes, waterproof boots, possibly waterproof outerwear and carry a flashlight or head lamp, since your cell phone will not function as a flashlight long enough or brightly enough.
Permit (or no permit, depending on the year) info for viewing Horsetail Fall, the February “natural firefall,” at sunset is at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm
Watch a Yosemite Conservancy video of Horsetail Fall.
This warning from Canada can apply to parking almost everywhere: “Visitors to large cities and popular tourist destinations should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Visitors should exercise precaution to safeguard their property.”
Parking at Yosemite valley campsites, lodges / hotels :
All campsites except in Camp Four and Backpackers walk-in have parking for two vehicles (and at some sites a long trailer / RV) at each campsite. The campsite reservations system lists the maximum length of vehicles for each campsite.
In the winter the Pines campgrounds are not snow-plowed as often as the main roads and even when the parking spaces are plowed, the snow is not always moved enough for two SUVs to park. Shoveling snow with a wide bladed snow shovel makes the job go faster:
See also winter camping advice.
At the Lodge and Curry Village cabins with a bath there are some UN-assigned parking spaces near or next to most buildings, and parking spaces might be occupied by someone else when you arrive.
A few of the Curry Village canvas tent-cabins and most of the cabins with a private bath are very near potential parking spaces, but again, parking spaces might be occupied by someone else when you arrive.
At the Ahwahnee hotel there are some UN-assigned parking spaces (again that might be occupied by someone else when you arrive) and the hotel has bellmen / valet parking at a drop off entrance (covered, out-of-the-weather) to the main building, but the cottages (also known as cabins or bungalows) are a short or long walk out in the weather.
The NPS has regulations about overnight parking, including
“There is no overnight parking allowed in the Village Store, General Office, Church Bowl or other parking lots as signed.
Visitors with overnight accommodation in lodges or campgrounds may leave their vehicles unattended for the period of their stay as long as permits are displayed.” (You get the dated parking permit when you check in at the hotel.)
Yosemite valley overnight accommodations (cabins, tent cabins, hotel rooms, campgrounds) has details about each hotel / cabin complex and links to maps.
There are three large free day-use parking lots in Yosemite valley for people who are staying at hotels/campgrounds outside of Yosemite valley or just driving up for the day.
I suggest that in the summer (or even spring – fall, especially on weekends and holidays) you get to the valley early in the morning to hopefully find a parking space and also to miss out on waiting in the long lines at the entrance stations and backups of vehicles stop and go along the Yosemite valley roadways.. Rarely you may be turned away from entering Yosemite Valley if all parking lots are full and you have no reservations. A Yosemite regulation says: “Visitors may enter Yosemite Valley until westbound traffic is backed up from Lower Yosemite Falls to Curry Village four way intersections or all day use parking spaces have been filled, and/or the 18,710 person capacity has been reached.”
When you find parking, take a picture on your smart-enough phone of your parking space / vehicle from a few steps away, so you will be more likely to be able to find it. Note which bus stop you were closest to. People who are not careful about looking around when they park do occasionally “lose” their vehicles.
Here is a map of the three main Yosemite Valley day use parking lots, each with a black box with the letter P in white in it.
– – – the smallest lot is the day use parking lot at Curry Village .
There is a larger copy of the above photo at the map. You can use that page to help identity the few spaces for RV only, and the spaces set aside for guests staying at Curry Village.
Google maps street view (photo you can rotate) of part of the Curry Village parking lot.
The Curry Village free day use parking lot is served by stop #14 on the free shuttle bus system.
You will find a few bear-proof food lockers and this sign at the Curry Village day-use parking lot:
On some maps the Curry day-use parking lot is named Apple Tree Orchard Visitor Parking.
– – – The Yosemite Village Day Use parking is a short walk to the main Visitor Center, biggest grocery, museum, Post Office, restaurants), no RV or trailer parking allowed.
(If you have not been to the park before, or it has been a few years, please also take a look at the map
This free day use parking lot is served by stop #1 on the free shuttle bus system.
Again, Yosemite Village Day Use parking does not allow trailers or RVS.
– – – Yosemite Falls day use parking lot
also known as the
Yosemite Lodge Day use parking lot
is across the road from Camp 4 (Camp Four) and at the edge of Yosemite Valley Lodge.
This free day use parking lot is served by stop #7 on the free shuttle bus system.
It has the same rules about not parking off the pavement:
You will find a few bear-proof food lockers and a warning about bear damage being common at the Yosemite Falls day use parking lot:
The very back of this parking lot next to Yosemite Lodge has a long, wide row, separate from the rest of the parking, for big tour buses only.
In 2017 the park started experimenting with reservable parking spaces at Yosemite Valley Lodge Day-Use parking (Yosemite Falls day use parking) . “Reservations must be made 1 Day(s) ahead of arrival and can be made up to 5 Month(s) in advance. New dates are released in blocks, 1 Month(s) at a time.” Reservation fee through Recreation.gov was $1.50, “A $10.00 service fee will apply if you change or cancel your reservation. Late cancellations are subject to additional fees.” But I have not found recent info about it.
“Gridlock in Yosemite valley begins when inbound vehicle counts reach approximately 6,600 vehicles. Weekends throughout the summer season are now characterized by these conditions.”
The park service warns: “If you are planning to visit Yosemite, plan ahead and arrive early. In summer, expect extended traffic delays and extremely limited parking. Expect delays of an hour or more at entrance stations and two to three hours in Yosemite Valley.”
Can traffic and parking really be that bad? Watch this video.
You will find signage at times to remind you to be a courteous driver, as these at free shuttle bus stop number six reminding people to not park in the shuttle bus stop or use the shuttle bus stop to attempt a U Turn.
On your way out of the park you often find backed up traffic along this entire stretch of road in the afternoon (especially in the summer), when many people are attempting to leave the park at the same time. Leaving bit later than the crowds could be more pleasant.
when they ignore the signs warning people to not stop their vehicle:
Besides bus-only sections of some lots,
there are some lots with NO DAY USE PARKING ALLOWED.
The officer will not accept many excuses you might make up for why you parked in handicapped only spaces, emergency vehicles only spaces, employee housing, or government vehicles business-use-only lots, as they are signed and their use is often quite obvious.
People parking at Camp Four campground across the road from the Lodge MUST have a Camp Four camp space permit, 24 hours a day.
The valet parking only spaces in the far end of the parking lot at the Ahwahnee Hotel and the valet parking only lot down a dirt road at the back of the hotel parking lot are, you guessed it, for valet parking only.
There are various roads among lodging buildings that are really only for custodians, etc. and their trucks can be parked there, but you can’t.
No RV or trailer parking allowed in the Village Day Use parking lot, the spaces are too small and the roadways too narrow.
Some roads have signs indicating they are for authorized vehicles only.
For example, some of the roadways the free shuttle buses use, especially in the Yosemite Village area, are only for the shuttle buses or occasional park service vehicles.
A road that leads uphill just past the main (village) grocery store has authorized only signage, as it does not lead to any public parking, but goes instead to employee housing, warehouses, maintenance / storage, barns, the jail, the courthouse, Search and Rescue, law enforcement offices, the fire station and the elementary school. None of these areas are intended as day-use or other public parking and people are towed.
The parking lot for the main store in Yosemite Village has signs warning of time limits on parking and size of vehicles:
and a warning you could be towed if you try to park overnight:
and please respect the other places that limit the time to park, giving others their time as well:
Almost all sides of all roads in Yosemite valley are closed to parking. There are a few turnouts and you can park along sections of some roads if you get there early enough, below a section of southside drive/ Happy Isles loop road just north of Curry Village:
and here, a section of northside drive just south of a walkway to the base of lower Yosemite falls:
These two photos were taken in December, when there were plenty of parking spaces in all the free day use parking lots. There were quite a few adults in this SUV that parked at the end of the row of cars above, on the bike path, fully blocking the bike path:
Does this driver park on sidewalks at home? Did the many adult passengers really not notice the height of the curb, to be able to tell the driver that they were perhaps not parked where they should be?
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When a helicopter needs to land in the Ahwahnee meadow across the road from Church Bowl, to pick up someone who needs to go to a bigger hospital, (or when a helicopter needs to land for Search and Rescue training) people are asked to stay on the restroom/picnic area side of the road, and traffic going through is briefly stopped. A National Geographic video of President Barack Obama’s 2016 visit includes a segment of the president’s helicopter landing in the Ahwahnee meadow.
Because you won’t know a helicopter is coming and won’t be able to move your vehicle fast enough, the entire meadow side of the road at Church Bowl is closed to any parking at all times, (even to get out and quickly take a picture or use the restroom).
In this photo you can see a few parking spaces in a row alongside the restroom/picnic area side of the road and the commonly ignored stripes for no parking with big letters on the pavement that say NO PARKING, on the other side of the road:
When the stripes did not function to keep people from parking there, the park started setting out a row of red pylons and tall no parking signs, which people still ignore, as in the car at the top of this photo that drove between the pylons to park:
This family did not park in the striped no parking zone, they parked just beyond it at the end of the bike path, blocking the bike path driving over just-a-few-plants-who-would-miss-them? and setting an example for their kids:
And on the far end of the Church Bowl restroom/picnic area side of the road, a car parked off the side of the road, not in a parking space, (off road behind a large rock meant to deter anyone from parking there) with a parking ticket with a minimum $130 fine (ticket under the windshield wiper) in this photo:
Putting on your emergency flashers when you pull into a free shuttle bus stop driveway does not turn it into a parking space for you, and when the shuttle bus arrives you will be honked at to move, as the red car below was:
Did they not see the two signs at the side of the shuttle stop driveway/shuttle parking space?
A red painted curb is a no parking zone anywhere in the U.S., (including Georgia, where this mini-van was from), and in national parks, in part because some red curbs mark the space an ambulance or fire truck would need to get by. Yes, no parking is allowed even if one family member stays in the vehicle while the other rushes in to shop:
Each space in a parking lot is usually paved, has painted stripes and has a concrete beam your tires would hit to keep you from going too far (see the car on the right). In this photo, the driver of the SUV on the left decided to move into the dirt/plants to the side of a parking space at the end of a row, with tires slightly into the legal space already occupied by someone else. Ooops, tires partially in that space does not make it legal.
Did this driver from Arizona move the no parking a-frame sign over, or was it already moved over and he choose to ignore the sign, red cone, “No Parking” in large letters on the pavement and two giant trash dumpsters?
And, yes the following signs are sometimes also ignored, “it’s just for a minute so it’s okay, right?”
multiple Motorcycle Parking Only signs, and a narrow section for parking,
but it’s just for a few minutes while your friend goes into the store to shop, so it’s okay, correct?
spending a lot of time tracking down where their vehicle was towed to,
or where their ice chest / cooler was taken
when a Ranger confiscated it from their open pickup truck bed.
There was a sign out front of the Yosemite Courthouse to tell people where their improperly parked, then towed, vehicle could be reclaimed, and someone made an addition to it:
You might also want to read
Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, how to de-fog the windows, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded
Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.
Your cell phone will not function in a lot of Yosemite.
Cell phones in the wilderness has advice on how/when to use a cell phone to contact 911 in the wilderness and a warning about interference between cell phones, iPods and avalanche beacons.
Thunderstorm and lightning safety includes a warning about not using your cell phone or IPod during a storm.
The use of cell phones for photography (with or without a selfie stick) has made preventable injury or even death by selfie common They were just taking a selfie . . .
This warning from Canada can apply to any long-distance drive: “Visitors to large cities and popular tourist destinations should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Visitors should exercise precaution to safeguard their property.”
Rocky Mountain National Park asked this about damage from parking where people found it convenient when there were no legal parking places / road turnoffs near enough:
“Do your friends create parking spaces where there are none?
If their next door neighbor was having a garage sale would they accept customers partaking in this garage sale to park in their front yard?
On their prized rose bushes?
Encourage them to park in designated parking spaces in Rocky Mountain National Park. These include durable surfaces like asphalt and gravel, not on grass, meadows, bushes, or alpine tundra.”
Yosemite driving regulations from 1913 included:
“Time and speed restrictions: Automobiles are restricted to an approximate speed of 10 miles per hour on rolling mountain country . . .”
“Cars may leave Yosemite Station going out of the valley between the hours of 6 and 7.30 a. m. every morning, but at no other time during the day.”
“Every person presenting a car for admission to the park will be required to satisfy the guard issuing the ticket of passage that the brakes of his automobile are in first-class working order and for this purpose all automobilists will be required to effectually block and skid the rear wheels of their automobiles with either the foot or hand brakes or such other brakes as may be a part of the equipment of the machine.”
“All motor cycles are forbidden to enter the park.”
See also an index to over a dozen park webpages with park laws, rules, regulations and policies.
It includes the answers to these questions:
How much will I have to pay for my driving / parking ticket in Yosemite?
Will I have to go to court?
Top reasons not to speed in a National Park has defensive driving advice.
Where were they when they got that great picture in Yosemite?
Where can I take a photo that looks like the one on a Yosemite postcard I just bought?
Places to take photos of Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Staircase Falls.
You have a number of lodging choices of where to stay overnight in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, including campsites or
wood-walled cabin without a bath; heated or unheated wood floored, canvas sided and roofed tent cabin; wood walled cabin with a bath
luxury or generic hotel rooms, suites with a bath
casual, fast (grab and go)
or with table-side service,
indoor and outdoor food service