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Why you shouldn’t count on camping in Yosemite until August at least

Rafters paddle down the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on June 11
Rafters paddle down the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on June 11, the day the park began to slowly reopen after a 2½-month closure because of the pandemic.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

If you’ve been counting on a camping trip in Yosemite this July, it’s time to rethink it.

Yosemite National Park kept most of its campsites closed when it partially reopened June 11, opening only Upper Pines Campground (at reduced capacity) and Wawona Horse Camp. Now it has canceled most July reservations, and no one can be sure about August.

Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said Tuesday that authorities have found no cases of coronavirus in the park so far. Still, in monitoring “all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19,” park officials decided to cancel reservations with arrival dates through July 31 at the park’s Bridalveil Horse Camp, Crane Flat, Lower Pines, North Pines and Tuolumne Meadows.

Those campgrounds have been closed since late March.

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Earlier this month, when rangers reopened half of the sites within the 240-site Upper Pines Campground and some at Wawona Horse Camp, many reservations at recreation.gov for later in the summer were left in place. Park officials so far have given no dates for reopening the rest of the Upper Pines sites or any other Yosemite campgrounds.

In response to the pandemic, anyone who wants to enter the park must have a day-use reservation (good for seven days) or a lodging or campground reservation. All others are turned away. The park is admitting half the number of visitors who usually come in June to allow for social distancing and smaller crowds at popular landmarks.

Richards said park leadership is monitoring “all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19, and has decided to extend existing campground closures through July 31.”

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Many campers had hoped more campsites would open up during peak summer weeks. One of those campers, upon seeing an email notice that her Upper Pines reservation had been canceled, tweeted at the park.

A park representative Monday told the perplexed camper that because Upper Pines will remain at 50% capacity through July, “we’re having to cancel half of the reservations (we canceled arrivals for July 6 to 30 today). We’re really sorry.

Lodgings at the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Valley Lodge and Curry Village (at half capacity) in the park are open. Lisa Cesaro, spokeswoman for Yosemite concessionaire Aramark, said that summer availability for rooms “is still very limited, but we have availability in the fall. Most of that open availability is in the month of October onward.”

With reopening dates unknown in many state and national park campgrounds, legions of would-be campers have received similar cancellations. With every month that the closures continue, more reservations are canceled.

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In the park website’s FAQ section, Yosemite rangers say that Camp 4, popular with climbers, “is closed due to the shared nature of the campsites, which doesn’t allow for adequate social distancing.” Other campgrounds, the site says, “are closed due to lack of staffing” because of pandemic safety measures.

Camping at Hogdon Meadow was canceled through Aug. 15 because it’s a great gray owl nesting spot.

Also closed for the season: High Sierra camps in the backcountry; housekeeping camps on the Merced River; shuttles for Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows; and White Wolf Lodge.

Yosemite, which closed in late March as the coronavirus outbreak spread through California, began to reopen June 11 with many restrictions, including a limit of 3,600 vehicles per day, reservations required.

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That’s about half the number of cars that typically arrive at the popular park in early summer.


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