If you’re anything like us, ya know horrible at planning ahead, you’ve probably realized booking a last minute campsite in a National Park can be a royal pain in the butt.  Finding a campground inside Yosemite National Park, in California, might be the most difficult of all…especially if you’re traveling in a large class A motorhome or trailer.

camping at yosemite national park

We came to Yosemite National Park during the “off season”.  Somehow even in early May the campgrounds inside the valley are completely booked up; according to a ranger “you have to book 6 months to a year in advance to get a site inside the park”.  This is where Yosemite Lakes comes into the picture.  We booked this campground 1 week in advance and when we arrived there were dozens of sites available.  We scored a secluded site next to a big shade tree for the front window; it gets surprisingly hot during the day so I can’t imagine how warm it is in the summer!

best campground near Yosemite

best campground near Yosemite

best campground near Yosemite

Naturally we scoped out the National Park campsites in the Yosemite Valley to see what we were missing…come to find out we were happier with our location outside the park.  We had full hook ups and a quiet spot all to ourselves instead of the crowded chaos of the NP campground.  Score one for the procrastinators!

We camped at Yosemite Lakes for a little over a week so we were able to explore the little town of Groveland, CA.  It’s a small town with plenty of charm; we stumbled into a great little tea house called Dori’s Tea Cottage.  We enjoyed a yummy pot of tea while taking advantage of their surprisingly fast WiFi…in fact the internet was so fast we stuck around for lunch too!  We scoped out the food scene, the few local coffee shops and pubs, but we ultimately decided we should spend as much time inside Yosemite as possible and the “city” life would just have to wait.

best campground near Yosemite

A few things you should know about Yosemite Lakes:

  • The sites on the river are our favorites, but they’re in the trees so don’t expect to get satellite TV.
  • There’s no cell reception unless you have Verizon and a booster + external antenna (we wish we would have had our sleek then).
  • The park has free WiFi in the lodge, which is nice, but your way out there so speeds are slow.
  • The gas station at the campground was 20 cents per gallon less expensive than inside Yosemite.
  • 5 miles from the Yosemite west gate entrance really means 45 minutes to the valley floor inside Yosemite.  We’re totally cool with it because we are way closer to Hetch Hetchy, Tuolumne Grove, Crane Flat and the town of Groveland.  The biggest plus:  we got to drive in through the tunnels with this spectacular view each time we descended towards the valley floor!

best campground near Yosemite

If you’ve ever considered having a tow car this is the place to bring one or at least rent one!  We drove 434 miles on our little Smart car driving around and exploring Yosemite in its entirety, Hetch Hetchy and Groveland.  I can’t imagine driving the RV at 10 MPG, fuel isn’t cheap around these parts!

What’s your experience booking a site in Yosemite National Park?  Have you ever stayed at Yosemite Lakes?  We’d love to hear your two cents in the comments below.

Disclaimer: While we were compensated to film the campground (thanks Thousand Trails!)…all of our experiences and opinions are NOT purchased and are still our own.