Travel Tips for Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite


Memorial Day is an American holiday commemorating military veterans who have died serving their country. This holiday falls just between spring and summer and often signals the beginning of the summer season for travel destinations. The entire Memorial Day Weekend is one of the busiest travel periods in the United States. The warming weather makes people yearn to be outdoors, and often their favorite places to spend time outside are national parks. Yosemite National Park is no exception. Though all visitors are welcome no matter which dates they choose to visit the park, popular weekends can create traffic and congestion that contributes to a lesser enjoyment of Yosemite. With Memorial Day just around the corner on Monday May 26th, take a look at the following tips to increase your enjoyment in Yosemite over this busy holiday weekend.

1. Arrive Early! Arriving on Friday evening is better than arriving on Saturday morning, but if you must arrive on Saturday, do it before 10:00 am. This is not the weekend for a leisurely breakfast before driving into the mountains. Everyone else will arrive after 10:00 am.  Find a parking spot at your lodging or campground and breathe a sigh of relief since you won’t drive again for the rest of the weekend (See #2). If you are a day use visitor, find that parking spot early and don’t plan to leave until after 7:00 pm. Make dinner plans in the park. Another tool to help navigate the holiday congestion is the Traffic Forecast for Yosemite National Park.

2. Park Your Car (and Leave It Parked) If you have easily scored a parking spot due to your early arrival – do not give it up for any reason! There are many ways to get around Yosemite Valley, including walking, biking, and riding the FREE Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus (See #3). You can even catch tour and hikers buses for a fee from Yosemite Valley to the Glacier Point and Tioga Road. The Grand Tour will take you around Yosemite Valley, up to Glacier Point and to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Let someone else do the driving!

3. Use the Free Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus Yes, that’s right, an absolutely free shuttle bus will ferry you around Yosemite Valley to all lodging, campgrounds, Yosemite Village, Happy Isles, Mirror Lake and an extended summer route will even take you out to El Capitan. The shuttle bus is granted a special use lane in Yosemite Valley that is off-limits to other vehicles, guaranteeing a smooth ride to your next destination. Make note of the shuttle route and stops on the Valley Shuttle Map. Not only do buses cut down on traffic congestion, the Yosemite shuttle buses are hybrids – saving energy consumption too!

4. Ride a Bike Yosemite Valley is paved with 12 miles of bike paths and one of them is certain to lead you to your destination. Yosemite Valley also has 2 rental bike stands located at the Curry Village Recreation Center and at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Wave to the cars as you whiz by on a cruiser bike with the wind in your hair.

5. Arrive Early! Didn’t we cover this already? Yes, but it bears repeating. Arrive early for all activities in the park. Renting a bike? Arrive at opening time. Going to lunch at Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village? Consider eating at 11:00 am instead of 12:00 noon. Visiting Glacier Point for a half day of sightseeing and hiking? Don’t drive 30 miles in the afternoon only to find no place to park – arrive at Glacier Point before 9:00 am. Alternately, consider sightseeing at off hours: Glacier Point is wonderful for stargazing and the Mariposa Grove is beautiful in the early morning.

Memorial Day Traffic

Other things to consider include exploring some of Yosemite’s less famous but equally beautiful sights such as Chilnualna Falls Trail in Wawona, the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, and the Wapama Falls Trail in Hetch Hetchy.    Rock climbers tend to avoid busy holiday weekends, so your favorite climbing route may be free and clear. Not a rock climber, but wanting to learn? Try the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service in Curry Village for lessons.

Not All Bad News: The Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park

Though we think of wildfire in national parks as a bad thing, the fact is that positive opportunities also arise as a result of this natural process in wilderness ecosystems. For instance, Giant Sequoia trees use fire to propagate as the heat from fire causes their cones to open and drop seeds to create a new generation. A program in the state of California has inmates contributing to firefighting efforts, providing them with a chance to give back to society and perhaps learn a trade in order to craft a better future. And in Yosemite National Park, employees had the chance to rescue horses that were stuck in the fire evacuation zone with no transportation, providing a safe haven for non-humans impacted by wildfire. The Rim Fire that originated in Stanislaus National Forest on August 17 has since spread to Yosemite wilderness north and west of the Tioga Road and Highway 120. Though most of the park currently remains unaffected, road closures have affected the visitor experience. With the exception of White Wolf Lodge on Highway 120, all services and lodging remain open and available to park visitors in Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. Not only are visitors still enjoying their vacations to Yosemite, but horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoyed some rest and relaxation too.

Stables JR and Kermit

Stables Manager J.R Gehres and Packer/Shoer Kermit Radoor take a break from doing good deeds.

“I got the call late Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning we were on our way with empty horse trailers and four stable hands to help rescue and transport 40 head of horse from the Mather Corrals, “ said J.R. Gehres, manager of the DNC Parks & Resorts stable operations in Yosemite.  The Mather Saddle and Pack Station is a family run stables that have been in operation since 1929, located just outside the Yosemite National Park boundary. The Rim Fire, currently the 5th largest wildfire in California history, was quickly approaching Mather Station and the owner, Jay Barnes, had been given notice to evacuate the area.  “Jay had no way to get the forty remaining horses out of the corrals and called us for help.  On the way, we came across fire officials and explained the situation; they gave us one hour to collect the horses and get out of there.”  The horses were brought to the Yosemite Valley stables where they were fed, watered, and put up in corrals until Barnes was able to relocate them a few days later.  “Horse people take care of one another, and the Barnes family has a long history with animal packing in Yosemite – how could we say no?” said J.R.  Joe Barnes, Jay’s father and original owner of the Mather Saddle and Pack Station, was a wrangler for Yosemite’s early concessions back in the 1930s.  Though the Rim Fire came very close to the Mather Station, burning the forest and meadow land nearby, the facilities were saved. “Jay Barnes was so grateful DNC was able to help him, he had no one to turn to and DNC came through,“ J.R. noted while packing up the last few horses for their trip home.


Guest horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoying some hay at the Yosemite Valley Stables.

Thanks to Vicky McMichael for reporting on this story.

Big Oak Flat Road/Hwy 120 closed for repairs Feb. 29, 2012 thru April

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A section of Big Oak Flat Road, leading from Hwy 120 into Yosemite Valley and other park destinations is scheduled to be closed for roughly six weeks starting at 8:00 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012 to repair damage from a rockfall on January 22 of this year. The road is expected to be closed 24 hours per day, seven days per week until early April. During this time, crews will be working around the clock to the get road ready for visitors hoping to use that route to see Yosemite’s waterfalls in peak flow for spring. (You can see an interactive version of the map here.)

Meanwhile, you can still get to Yosemite Valley via Hwy 140 (El Portal Road) coming from Merced/Mariposa and Hwy 41 (Wawona Road) coming from Fresno/Oakhurst. If you’re coming from the Bay Area, the Highway 140 route is commonly referred to as the year-round Yosemite Highway, and although longer in terms of distance, adds little, if any, time to your drive.

The best way to get current road information inside Yosemite National Park is to call (209) 372-0200 and press 1 and then 1 again. This recorded road information is updated by NPS as soon as road conditions change. For other current park information, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Read the full NPS press release below:
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Big Oak Flat Road/Hwy 120 to Re-open Tomorrow

Great news for the folks heading in from Sacramento and the Bay Area! NPS announced that the Big Oak Flat Road is re-opening tomorrow morning at 8am. That section of the road surface is still currently gravel, so be aware and drive carefully. We may see some traffic restrictions or closures over the following week for paving, but specific dates and times have not been set yet, so check the road conditions line if you’re planning to take that route next week – (209) 372-0200 (press 1 and 1 again). That recorded message contains the most up-to-date information on road conditions inside the park.

A huge shout-out and thank you to the road crews for working so hard to get 120/Big Oak Flat open again!

Read the Official News Release here.

Hwy 120/Big Oak Flat Closed

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A short section of Big Oak Flat Road, the continuation of Hwy 120 inside the park, had to be closed following a rock slide at about 11:30 pm January 22. Hwy 140 and 41 are both still open for travel. Chain controls may be in effect. (See the interactive version of closure map here.)

Park Spokesperson, Scott Gediman, says a boulder “the size of a house” fell into the road approximately 1000 feet above the 120/140 junction. At the this point situation is still being assessed to determine when the road might open again, so there is no information on the estimated reopening.

Yosemite National Park remains open and Yosemite Valley is accessible via Highway 140 (El Portal Road) coming from Merced/ Mariposa and via Highway 41(Wawona Road) coming from Fresno/

With winter conditions present, chain restrictions are in place on select park roads. For 24-hour road and weather information, please call (209)372-0200 and dial 1 then 1 again. For ongoing park information, please join us on Facebook or visit the National Park Service Facebook page.

You can read the official NPS press release here.

Tioga Road Closing for Predicted Storm

NPS announced today that Tioga Road will close at 7pm in anticipation of incoming winter weather. Glacier Point Road will remain open through the evening and will be reassessed in the morning to gauge whether or not driving has become hazardous.

This year Tioga Road stayed open later than any other year in its nearly 70-year history, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to enjoy the frozen high sierra lakes. Still, the forecasted snow is a blessing for skiers and other winter sports fans who are eager to hit the slopes at Badger Pass Ski Area this winter, and for those that hope to enjoy Yosemite’s spectacular snow-fed waterfalls this spring.

Weather is notoriously unpredictable in the mountains, so stay tuned for more weather updates. For the most up-to-date road conditions, including which roads are open or closed, call (209) 372-0200 and press 1 and then 1 again.