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Old 03-09-2012, 08:31 AM   #1
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Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Hey guys, I'm starting to plan our summer trip, and as usual, we will be fitting all that we can into 2 weeks, maybe 15-16 days tops. Sounds like we've got plenty of time, except we live just outside Knoxville, Tn. As we have for the last 3-4 summers, we'll be hitting the road hard for Colorado Springs (2 full days drive) first. We have family there, and love the area. So, let's see, I'm going to try to be concise here. Days 1-2 are driving, 3-4 with family in Co. Springs, then on day 5 or so our plan is roughly to head west out of Denver and head to the Canyonlands area for a day or two. We have spent a lot of time in the Teton/Jackson/Yellowstone area on up through Montana to Glacier, and we have also spent a good bit of time in the Southwest/Monument Valley/Mesa Verde/4 Corners/GC south rim area, so we're wanting to kind of just cut straight through and stretch a little further west to Death Valley/Yosemite. We will probably detour through Zion/Bryce because it's so beautiful, but I'm hoping you westerners and world travelers can help me do some planning.
Please throw me some ideas out there considering that we are 2WD at this point, and not opposed to getting off road but not capable of getting too far off of it. Dry camping is fine and great, but we like to hit a motel every 3-4 days for showers/laundry/AC.
Questions I have: Where are the people, so that I can go the other way?? We have spent most of our trips out West so far hitting the touristy NPs, because we want to see them and expose the kids to them, but I'm hoping to find a little more quiet and solace as I spend more time out there.
What are the best camping areas (prettiest, quietest maybe???) around Yosemite?
We will probably do a clockwise loop from Vegas over to Death Valley up to Yosemite and back across maybe through Salt Lake area and maybe end back up in Co. Springs.
Sorry for the long post, guys, your help is appreciated.
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Old 03-09-2012, 10:13 AM   #2
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Scotty, DV and Yosemite are about as different as two parks can be. You'll never get away from the crowds in Yos unless you hike remotely or stay in the high country (tioga rd). In DV, it's easy to find solitude. You didn't mention if you had 4WD. In DV, that guarantees remote opportunities. There's NO offroading or freestyle camping in Yos. There will be people all around you in the campgrounds. However, along the Tioga road there is White Wolf and another camp area that are nice, and east of Tioga Pass there are some nice camp areas along the Lee Vining Caynon side roads. But, they are not close to the Valley if that is what you want to be near.

For DV, just get a map or book and look for remote unpaved roads. There are too many to write about in the time I have now.....
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Old 03-09-2012, 12:15 PM   #3
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

I don't have any specific plans (or even an SMB yet!), but I'll be reading this thread with interest, as I also like "non-campground" places, would like to explore those areas a bit, and will also be 2WD. Glad you posted it!
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Old 03-09-2012, 12:59 PM   #4
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Neither DV nor Yosemite is a place I like to visit in the summer.

DV can be HOT!!! Like 120 on the valley floor. There are place in the park that are cooler - Scotty's Castle, Racetrack, Mesquite Springs, any of the canyons that go up into the mountains, etc. And, it would be easy to spend your entire two week trip in DV and not come close to running out of places to visit.

As mentioned earlier, Yosemite is crowded in the summer. To camp on the valley floor you need reservations and they are probably all booked for the summer already. You should be able to find campspace up on Tioga Road if you arrive early in the day. Outside of the park on the west is busy also. The Sierra's are very popular. There is boondocking off 120 on the east side of the park - but it is a several hour drive to the valley floor from there.

I would try and spend more time at Bryce, Zion, Cedar Breaks and the North Rim. Cooler, more comfortable and magnificent scenery at all of them. Boondocking exists just outside the North Rim. And, it can save you a day (each way) driving across Nevada in the summer.

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Old 03-09-2012, 03:05 PM   #5
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Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Jeffrey, I'm 2wd. I know Yos will be crowded, but we want to see it anyway. Thanks for the campground ideas! Not sure if we will be spending time in Death Valley or just driving through, just want to see the area.
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Old 03-09-2012, 03:25 PM   #6
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Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Thanks Mike. I know it will be hot and crowded at both of those places, but she teaches and kids are on school so we've got to fit it in a summer trip. We really want to see them even if we just spend 1-2 days in the area and then bail due to crowds and/or heat.
Keep the ideas/CGs/etc coming. I'm paying attention!
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Old 03-09-2012, 04:48 PM   #7
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Forgot to mention the heat in DV (Thanks, Mike). Not many visitors there and the heat is intense, but as a phenomenon, it is interesting to experience even if just for a few hours of driving through. It's a dry heat, and the visuals and odors it provides are fascinating (other than your own, that is).
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Old 03-10-2012, 09:30 AM   #8
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

One of the problems with summer camping in California is that many campgrounds take reservations and those that are first-come, first-served may fill up early (like in the morning) if they are popular. 4WD gives you options but I realize that you have 2WD.

According to www.weatherbase.com, the average high temperature in Death Valley in July is 115 although it drops to 113 degrees in August. There will be plenty of spaces to camp in the paved Sunset Campground (it is a parking lot) but no shade! So, a drive through is a better idea. Driving down to Badwater and back will add an hour plus time to get out and get your picture taken at the lowest place in North America.

Assuming that you are coming from Las Vegas, I'd leave as early as you can and take Highway 190 through Death Valley to Highway 395. Highway 395 follows the backside of the Sierras all of the way to Tahoe and is beautiful high desert. You'll be at around 7,000' elevation with the Sierras going up to 12,000-13,000' in elevation a few miles to the west.

Las Vegas to Bishop, CA via Death Valley takes about 5 hours not including a detour to Badwater or lunch stops, etc. and there is camping all along Highway 395. You can also boondock off of Highway 395 and there are a lot of dirt roads which you can turn off onto to find a place for the night. However, the further north toward Highway 120 you get, the more time you'll have in Yosemite. For example, another 1.5 hours will get you to the Highway 120 turnoff to Yosemite. If you decide to spend more time on the road that day, turn west on Highway 120 (if it is near time to eat, the Whoa Nellie Deli in the Mobile gas station is great). A couple miles up the road is a turnoff to some County campgrounds along Lee Vining Creek. We've camped there in August and there were plenty of spots. Not a great campground but at least a place to stay for sure. The next day, continue west on Highway 120 over Tioga Pass (9,943' in elevation) and on to the Tuolumne Meadows area. This huge, high meadow is one of our favorite places. Camping along this section of Highway 120 is all first-come, first-served and very popular. The scenery along this section of highway is gorgeous...open meadows, granite, etc. Take your time (it has a 45 mph speed limit also) and enjoy the Yosemite high country. There are only a couple of places to eat along here...at the small burger place next to the Tuolumne Meadows general store (both are in tents!) or at the old stage stop at White Wolf, a mile or so off of the highway.

When you reach Crane Flat, see if there is space at the Crane Flat campground just west of the stop sign. If not, you can turn west on Highway 120 and see if there are camping spots at Hogdon Meadows near the 120 Entrance Station to the Park, 8 miles further up the road. This campground is usually the last to fill up since, although it has regular flush toilets, there isn't anything to do here.

If this campground is also full, I'd suggest figuring out where you are going to spend that night before heading into the Valley. I don't know if there is cell coverage at the Entrance Station but there is a pay phone (there might be a sign with phone numbers but I'd havethem with you). You can call the Yosemite Lodge in the Valley and ask if they have a room (room reservations in Yosemite can be made 1 year plus 1 day in advance and people with reservations start canceling a couple of days before arrival. My next suggestion would be Cedar Lodge (http://www.stayyosemitecedarlodge.com/) which is 8 miles out of the Park on Highway 140. We've stayed here a number of times...clean rooms, etc. Not in-expensive though in the prime summer months! There is also a motel in El Portal a couple miles closer to the Park (Yosemite View) but it is even more expensive. The next closest option is in Mariposa, 24 miles further west. There is camping along the river in only a couple of places. One is on the north side of the river opposite Cedar Lodge but it only has a few spaces which are paved parking spots along the road on that side of the river. There are also three BLM campgrounds further west on the way toward Mariposa:

http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/folsom/m ... errec.html

One of them is walk in only and the only two only have 9 camping spots between them. I don't know what the usage of these campgrounds is during the summer. It can be hot in the summer so maybe there would be spots available. There is also a KOA campground on the highway toward Mariposa although we've never stopped there.

Once you have a place to stay, head toward the Valley. There is a free shuttle all-year in the Valley...park at Camp Curry and take the shuttle to the Visitor Center to get oriented. From there, you can take the shuttle to Yosemite Falls but don't be surprised is the falls is only a trickle this year since the snow pack is very light so far. You'll see Yosemite Falls on the north side of the valley as you drive to Camp Curry. If you have the time, take the shuttle to Happy Isles and hike up the John Muir Trail (paved) at least to the bridge over the Merced River where you can see Vernal Falls. Remember that the Valley can get warm (90 degrees) during the summer. If you have a second day, I'd drive up to Glacier Point where you can see Half Dome and also look straight down to the Valley. I'd also visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias...check the Yosemite NP website for information on the free shuttle and parking problems during the summer at the grove.

To head home, I'd backtrack to Crane Flat and then continue west on Highway 120 to Groveland and on to the gold rush town of Chinese Camp and turn north on Highway 49 toward Sonora. The Columbia State Park north of Sonora is interesting...a basically intact gold rush town. Continuing north on Highway 49, there are several highways which cross back over the Sierras such as Highway 4 (a good road to the top of the range but narrow and steep on the backside) or 88 which is good all of the way. Once over the range, you can make your way to I-80.
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:24 AM   #9
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Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

Yvrr, thanks. This is exactly what I'm looking for! I just want to start narrowing down at this point. Your DV info and Yos info above are helping greatly. I've got to get my head in the atlas/google maps here for awhile.
I'm also looking for some advice from Denver over through Canyonlands area down to Zion/Bryce/North Rim.
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Old 03-10-2012, 09:15 PM   #10
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Re: Easterners headed to Yosemite area this summer, help!

I wouldn't give up yet on getting a site in Yosemite Valley just quite yet. You can make reservations on-line, but do it on the 15th of each month at 0700 hours standard pacific time exactly and use a fast internet connection. Gotta get 'em five months in advance, so it's about right for August window. Check out the rules at http://www.nps.gov/yose. Be prepared to take any site you can fit in - they get taken up within 15 minutes.

We went last September and loved it. Also stayed in Tioga Pass campground which is first-come-first-served, and I'd imagine August is more competitive. Sequoia National Park is another great place to stay (they also make on-line reservations and are much easier to get into).
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