Yosemite National Park will require reservations for visitors this summer

Yosemite National Park will require reservations for visitors this summer

Visitors hoping to see the famed waterfalls, huge granite cliffs and spectacular scenery at Yosemite National Park this summer will need to do more than lace up their hiking boots and get into the car. They’ll need to make reservations first.

Concerned about the possibility of unprecedented traffic jams in the famed Sierra Nevada park due to an unusually high number of construction projects, park officials announced Wednesday that from May 20 to Sept. 30, they plan to limit the number of visitors to Yosemite by requiring online reservations to enter.

“Everybody deserves a great park experience,” said Yosemite superintendent Cicely Muldoon. “If we did nothing there would be gridlocked traffic all summer long, every day.”

The move is first time in the park’s 157-year history that the public has been required to make reservations to visit for the day due to a reason other than COVID-19. The pandemic led to reservation requirements during parts of 2020 and 2021 over health concerns.

The new rules raise the possibility that Yosemite eventually will make a reservation system permanent, something hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the surrounding communities have opposed for decades, over fears it could cut into tourism revenues.

Under the new rules, starting at 8 a.m. March 23, reservations for day use visits, good for one vehicle per reservation, will become available at www.recreation.gov.

Park visitors will need a reservation to enter between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. seven days a week. The reservation will be valid for three days. Motorists who arrive without a reservation during those hours will not be admitted to the park. However, visitors who enter Yosemite before 6 a.m. or after 4 p.m. won’t be required to have a reservation. Nor will visitors with overnight accommodations at campgrounds or hotels within the park.

At least seven major construction projects are planned in the coming months at Yosemite, totaling more than $100 million.

Among them: closure all year of Glacier Point Road. The $42 million project to replace 10 miles of pavement on the road, which was built in 1936, from Badger Pass to Glacier Point, along with culverts, trail head parking and retaining walls, is expected to result in more motorists remaining in Yosemite Valley.

Other projects include a $15 million overhaul of the trails and other facilities around Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley, and the closure of campgrounds — Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat and Bridalveil Creek — to replace aging water systems, restrooms and other facilities.

Also underway in Yosemite Valley is a $10 million project to build a new welcome center with an outdoor plaza, new restrooms, paths and signs.

Altogether roughly 800 of the 1,860 parking spaces in Yosemite Valley and the Glacier Point area will be off limits due to construction this summer.

“It’s going to be messy this summer, but it will set the park up for decades,” Muldoon said, describing the construction activity as desperately needed. “We are replacing things that are 50-60-70 years old.”

“Visitors don’t see the duct tape and baling wire that holds this place together,” she added.

But local tourism officials are anxious.

After several years where Yosemite visitation was disrupted due to COVID and wildfires, many businesses in the surrounding counties were hoping for a normal summer season, said Jonathon Farrington, executive director of the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.

“There are tens of thousands of people from around the world who have already have paid for airfare and car reservations and booked activities for trips to California and Yosemite this summer,” he said. “This announcement may not seem last minute to the park service, but from a travel perspective it is very last minute. It’s unfortunate.”

Farrington said tourism leaders hoped the park could delay some of the projects, particularly the closure of the Glacier Point Road, a popular attraction. Yosemite officials say they already delayed the project one year, and contracts have been awarded. They also have some concerns that if the federal funding is not spent, it could somehow be retracted or rerouted.

Many of the construction projects have been on the park’s wish list for decades. Congress passed a landmark law in 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act, providing billions for repairs and upgrades at America’s national parks.

Parks officials said Wednesday that the reservations system will allow 72% of the vehicles that the park received each day in 2019 between 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

When the “non-peak” hours outside those times are included, visitation will be about 98% of 2019 totals, they estimated.

“Our goal is not to limit visitation, but flatten it out,” Muldoon said.

Environmentalists and park advocacy groups generally support the reservation system.

“It’s a challenging situation for park leaders because they want to protect the park and provide a quality experience for visitors,” said Frank Dean, president of the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco that donates millions every year to help fund park upgrades. “But they also need to work with the local communities and businesses. Trying to thread that needle isn’t easy, but I think they landed in a good place.”

Some other national parks have begun requiring day-use reservations to reduce crowds and traffic, including Muir Woods, Rocky Mountain, Zion and Glacier. Muldoon said that a permanent reservation system is a possibility for Yosemite.

“I think there’s a reasonable chance of that,” she said. “We are going to learn everything we can this summer. The park has been grappling with the issue for decades.”

SJM L YOSEMITE 0121 1 1051132290 1051194974 93263216 | Yosemite National Park will require reservations for visitors this summer | The Paradise
Visitors look out at Yosemite National Park from Glacier Point in 2014 in Yosemite National Park, California. Glacier Point Road will be closed to all traffic in 2022 to rehabilitate and improve the road making Glacier Point only accessible by hiking in. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


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