a group of people walking on a rocky path
Image by fermiart from Pixabay

Watching thrill seeker Alex Honnold’s award winning documentary “Free Solo”, there are two things to marvel at. One, the free climbing, and borderline insanity required to summit a mountain face without ropes, often upside down. The second though, the mountain face its self: El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.

While Honnold’s daring bravery was the focus of the doc, it was El Capitan in the California wild that stole the show. Beauty left, beauty right, the glory of untouched wilderness all around.

It’s simply stunning, and despite many factors, there’s actually never been a better time to visit Yosemite, whether you’re climbing or not. If it’s been on your bucket list, this is the year to go. Here’s why.

a mountain with snow on it
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Reservation System

Like many of the world’s most iconic attractions, Yosemite suffered from over tourism in recent years with unprecedented traffic, not just on the ground but even climbing up mountains.

But in response to covid-19, the National Park service initiated a reservation system for day use of Yosemite through October, which means typical park crowds are currently at a bare minimum, and the number of cars entering the park is strictly controlled. The fee is $35 for a car.

With schools in full swing, weekdays through the end of 2020 will remain remarkably quiet, and what fall foliage exists is never better. From November 1st, the reservation system for ‘day use’ will be dropped, but capacity will be controlled to ensure public health. In other words, the park will still be at a fraction of the capacity, which makes it all the more worthwhile.

Even better, park shuttle busses aren’t running this year, which means fewer people will go as deep into the best parts of the park, so if you know how to get around, or take a guide, the already untouched will be even more so!

It may be in the name of health, but the current benefits for visitors are massive, and guests report seeking Yosemite in ways that haven’t been experienced in decades. Not just in terms of crowds, but wildlife too. Animals are returning to once packed visitor areas, bringing epic wildlife photography opportunities. Picture a park all to yourself, with each peak as untouched as ever before. 

Getting to Yosemite: a California road trip is always a good idea, but Fresno Airport offers the easiest access to Yosemite park, as does Mariposa-Yosemite Airport. Fresno offers excellent regional connectivity. Flying into San Francisco, or even Los Angeles involves a considerable drive, but for many, that’s half the fun.

a large rock formation in the background

Socially Distant Accommodations

Yosemite typically caters to campers, but that’s mostly off right now, with many camp grounds closed. The good news is many nearby areas have set up new glamping – aka glamorous camping facilities to accommodate travelers from near and far.

Public and private lodging spots will range from basic to glamorous, but none of the above will feel like you’re in a mega 1,000 room convention hotel with uber crowded elevators. If you’re looking for a safe getaway during these uncertain times, outdoors is the way to go, and small boutique lodges present far fewer challenges than mega hotels.

You can reserve public or private accommodations around Mariposa, Upper Pines, Foresta and more via the Yosemite National Parks website, or via a quick Google search for “glamping Yosemite” to see what’s open. 

Guides For The Win

All tempting, but don’t know the first thing about gear, hiking, mapping or what you need to do if a beautiful brown bear says hello? Yosemite has incredible guides for private and semi private tours, which benefit from special access to the parks and other perks.

Guides can range from $200 to $1000 per day, depending on what’s involved and whether or not they’re bringing their special camping cookware along to serve you a meal after all the exercise. If you’ve been thinking about Yosemite, now might really be the time to go, because it’s unlikely it’ll ever be this quiet again. Just don’t be surprised if the wildlife is excited too.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Agree completely – In a similar vein instead of taking a previously planned trip to Germany this fall (rebooking for fall 2021 and crossing my fingers I can make my trip to Lisbon in late April 2021) I am going on a trip to the 5 US states I haven’t been in. This includes SD/ND/MT/WY/ID and will involve stops at Mt Rushmore, Deadwood, Badlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Little Bighorn, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

    Flight is only time I’m around anyone and stats have shown airlines aren’t a major threat to spread the virus. After that it is me alone in a rental car, almost exclusively outdoors where I can easily distance and in hotels by myself. Yes I will go to restaurants but I do that at home and if it is too crowded or doesn’t look like precautions are being taken I won’t stay.

    Like your suggestion on Yosemite I think this is a great time to check out National Parks and other such sites both due to reduced crowds and also that it is a relatively safe activity (with respect to the virus) since you can easily distance.

  2. Personal suggestion from someone who lives in Northern California: check your favorite air quality monitoring Website for information about Yosemite Valley over the past six weeks or so. Active fire zones exist in the park although not in the Valley where tourists are likely to visit. I am sure that a visit now or in November would be lovely assuming that rainy season actually starts this year before Thanksgiving. Otherwise come prepared for a smoky, dry stay.

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