If you’ve been to Yosemite the past few summers and you’re planning to go again in summer 2023, there will be at least one significant change—reservations will no longer be required to enter the park.
Yosemite first instituted a reservation system in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic. The idea at first was to limit crowding to keep the park open safely, but then it quickly became seen as a measure to relieve crowding pressure generally. In 2021 the system remained in place, then in 2022, it was instituted again, this time because there were major infrastructure repair projects underway and the park wanted to limit crowding.
It worked. From May 30 to September 30 of 2022 there were 507,923 visitors to the park, a 28% drop from 2019, the last year there were no reservations needed.
But park officials have decided the system is no longer warranted and once again this summer it will be come one, come all.
For many who were unable to plan visits in the future and for those who simply felt it’s a right to enter the park whenever they’d like without having to reserve a spot, the reservation system was onerous. But for others who’ve been visiting Yosemite for years, gritting their teeth and bearing the crowds, the reservation system was a badly needed respite from the sea of humanity—and their cars—that choke the park entrance and popular trailheads.
“We don’t want to see a return to the days of visitors being stuck in hours-long traffic lines before hiking overcrowded trails,” says Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kurtis Alexander. “This sudden change to pause the reservation system for a summer sends mixed messages and will also create more uncertainty and confusion for visitors and nearby communities.”
Park officials are certainly no stranger to the thorny issue of overcrowding and likely view the past few years as a successful test of what reduced entry might look like.
Yosemite has been grappling with congestion—even gridlock—for decades. We want to build from the lessons learned from the last three summer of managed access. 2/3
— Yosemite National Park (@YosemiteNPS) November 15, 2022
No matter your view, if you’re planning a visit there this summer, bake in a couple extra hours of travel time to navigate the swarmed park entrances.
Top photo: Justin Housman