Yosemite National Park reopened Thursday after an 83-day shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Only a few cars were lined up at 5 a.m. when gates were unlocked at the park’s south entrance. An hour later, a lone visitor at the usually teeming Tunnel View watched the sun rise over Half Dome and the Sierra.
Like national parks across the country, Yosemite is taking a phased-in approach to gradually reopen parts of the park and setting new rules and protocols designed to keep visitors and employees safe. Visitors lucky enough to get in — you need a day permit, an overnight reservation or a wilderness permit — had the park to themselves, something unthinkable on a typical June day at California’s beloved national park.
On Thursday, campgrounds (only one is open) were quiet, waterfalls still held their spring thunder, rangers wearing masks convened at an outdoor visitor center, and at least one bear and deer were seen roaming as they did during the people-free days.
“There is no place like Yosemite, and we can’t wait to welcome visitors back,” acting park supervisor Cicely Muldoon said in a statement this week. “It’s going to be a different kind of summer.”
The closure was unprecedented in the park’s 130-year history. Popular landmarks such as Glacier Point, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in the southern part of the park, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy and trails are open. Museums and visitor centers remain closed, and park shuttles around the Valley and at Mariposa Grove won’t operate this summer.
The biggest change is letting in just 1,700 vehicles a day, half the number of visitors that usually turn up in June. That means you can’t just show up and expect to get in. On average, about 488,000 people visit Yosemite in June. Last year, the park welcomed almost 4.6 million tourists.
Day visitors must pay $35 for an entry pass and vehicle permit at recreation.gov. Vehicle permits are required even for a drive through the park on Tioga Road (Highway 120), which will open Monday. People who have overnight reservations or back-country hiking permits don’t need to get a vehicle permit.
Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village and the Ahwahnee will reopen Saturday. Upper Pines Campground, the only camping spot open in the park, is limited to 50% capacity. Others campgrounds remain closed because the park doesn’t have enough staff to keep restrooms clean and trash removed, according to Yosemite’s website. The park opened June 5 to hikers who had permits to hike up Half Dome or access the wilderness.
Also, visitors are asked to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines to stay at least six feet from others, whether on a trail or in a parking lot, and wear a face covering when you can’t social distance (few visitors were seen wearing masks Thursday).
Taking the plunge
Closed for now
Sunrise at Tunnel View
The deer, bobcats, coyotes and bears no longer have to deal with the hordes of camera-toting tourist vying to capture nature. They now roam unfettered.
L.A. Times photographer Brian van der Brug contributed to this story.
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