Yosemite National Park is facing an unprecedented influx of visitors, leading to mind-boggling wait times and even some traffic turning around in frustration. With the absence of a reservation system this year, the park is grappling with soaring summer holiday crowds, exacerbating the challenges posed by road closures and limited access to high-country areas due to snow.
The combination of record rainfall, significant snowfall, and previous road closures prompted many visitors to reschedule their trips for the summer months, resulting in an overwhelming surge in footfall. The repercussions have been tangible, with congested traffic, road closures, overflowing parking lots, illegal off-road parking, and extensive waits for park shuttles and restaurants.
In an effort to keep visitors informed, park staff have taken to Facebook and Instagram, providing regular updates about traffic conditions throughout the day. Recent posts highlighted the rapid filling of parking lots at Curry Village and Yosemite Village, which reached maximum capacity by early morning. By 9:30 a.m., all parking in Yosemite Valley was full, leading to the restriction of access to the east side of the valley only for vehicles with reservations for park lodgings or activities. Others were directed to turn around near El Capitan, as shared in the posts.
A prior post, accompanied by an advisory on the Yosemite website, alerted visitors to the challenging situation. The website explicitly warned of exceptionally high visitor concentrations, resulting in prolonged traffic delays, severely limited parking availability, crowded trails, and a lack of lodging or campground options. The website further cautioned that entrance station delays of one to four hours were possible during spring through fall.
Photos posted by park staff on social media portrayed the discouraging scene of long lines of visitors attempting to board YARTS buses and cars parked haphazardly in restricted areas, risking citations and towing. To avoid such hassles, the Yosemite website offers recommendations for visitors to consider, including weekday visits, early morning arrivals (preferably before 8 a.m.), and staying late. It suggests utilizing the YARTS bus system to enter the park, parking in one location for the entire day, and taking advantage of the free shuttles for getting around.
The park’s social media posts also emphasized that reservations are not required to visit Yosemite this year, a departure from the past three summers. The park acknowledges the ongoing congestion and gridlock issues it has grappled with for decades and aims to learn from the experiences of managing access in previous years.
While the reservation system in the past effectively limited the number of visitors, there were drawbacks associated with it. Some visitors arrived unaware of the need for reservations, and gateway businesses faced cancellations from guests unable to secure park entry. The system proved challenging for non-English speakers or those unable to plan trips well in advance.
Yosemite National Park is now confronted with the immense task of managing the overwhelming crowds and ensuring visitor safety and satisfaction. As the summer continues, visitors are encouraged to stay informed, plan accordingly, and follow the park’s recommendations to make the most of their Yosemite experience while minimizing inconveniences for themselves and others.