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best campground near Yosemite

Camping in Yosemite Lakes California

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.

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (29)

  • Tammy

    Is Yosemite Lakes the same as this one? https://rvonthego.com/california/yosemite-lakes-rv-resort/rates We need to find a place to park our 39 ft fifth wheel and 3500 Ram dually . We are trying to plan a trip for spring 2020. I cant seem to find anything big enough inside the park

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    • That is it! You are correct, I don’t think they have parking for your size of RV inside the park.

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  • Rick

    I left a comment last year as I was thinking about buying a handicap accessible RV. I ended up buying a 2002 Rexhall Roseair diesel pusher that’s wheelchair accessible. It is 39′ long, and has a wheelchair accessible minivan toad. We are traveling to Yosemite Valley from the east side of the mountain (Bidgeport, CA, which is south of lake Tahoe). Did you cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in your RV when visiting Yosemite? We are looking at taking 120 or 108 west, to 49 south, and then 140 into the park. Do you know if that is RV friendly?

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  • We just called and found that Yosemite Lakes could accommodate our 45-foot motorhome but the 50-A sites are limited. We were going to stay at Bass Lake, but Yosemite Lakes looks much nicer. It sounds like you’d go back there, so thanks so much for the heads up! We’ll be there last week of May.

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  • James

    The best ride on a bike is 120 from Lee Vining over the top to the Valley floor with some nice cold beer waiting for you. And in one day. One loooooooooooonnnnngggg day. But freakin awesome.

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  • Do you see a need for a digital volttmeter display? we are just in the early stages and have a 1500 pure sine inverter and the 120 potable unit. a few other gooodis but not sure about the volt meter display. Would you suggest that as additional accessory to complete an early start into the solar usage?

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  • Jack & Val

    My wife and I attempted to “scout out” Yosemite Park by driving “the circle,” big rig plus toad. YIKES we couldn’t even stop anywhere to take a look. Parking was out onto the roadsides and I couldn’t chance trying to get into any of the parking lots to take a peek for fear of getting trapped. We took in whatever sight seeing we could while on the move and exited with our tails between our legs. So, having read the “Wynn Experience” we will tackle this from a new angle in the near future. This time we will get to enjoy all the park has to offer via the tow vehicle. Thanks for sharing guys.

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  • We were lucky to find spots in the valley in October while the leaves were changing. It was really beautiful. This was before we got our toad and I wish we’d had it then. Here’s a link to our post:

    http://www.nyctousa.com/2011/10/yosemite-national-park/

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  • Mary. Van

    Beautiful waterfalls! I look forward to the day I get there!

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  • Rick

    Another great post from you guys. Yosemite is a beautiful place. However – in looking at the maps it looks like the area where you stayed at Yosemite Lakes RV Park in May was involved in the recent Rim Fire in August. Checked out their web site for more information and they do appear to be in operation and taking reservations. Apparently that area was a staging area for the firefighters. But did see some comments about the area experiencing some burn damage – just very unclear what current state is. And the fire covered the entire area where Rte. 120 goes into the park. Presume the road is open but that section just won’t be the beautiful drive through the forests that you experienceed. Good thing you guys got there when you did
    Also appreciate the comments about how you use your “Dinghy”. I am not sure you have been to Yellowstone yet, but that is a huge park where you can really use a high mileage car to help get around.
    Thanks again.

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  • Randy Spencer

    It’s pronounced To All o’ Me, the Tuolumne river you were on. And they were there back in June, it takes time to make a great video. They have since been to Canada and are now in Oregon. Maybe they’ll come back now that the government has reopened.

    -Randy

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    • You know Randy we asked 3 different people who worked at the park and they pronounced it the way we did….oh hell!
      Thanks for clearing it up, our error will go down in YouTube history forever and ever 🙂

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  • Pam

    One of my most favorite places. I have stayed in Yosemite Valley campgrounds and at Crane Flats which is 16 miles outside the valley. I’m with you as far as being more secluded and away from so many tourists in the Yosemite Valley. I went to Crane Flates in September time frame and it was quiet and more enjoyable than staying in the valley . Will have to try Yosemite Lakes in the future. So glad you posted on this. Is the size of you RV even allowed in Yosemite Valley camp grounds? Is there a size restriction?
    Safe Travels…..

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    • Pam,
      see the RV Geeks comment below, they took their larger Fleetwood Bounder into the Valley floor. Now I’m not 100% sure Yosemite Lakes is always quiet…it just was while we were there.

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  • What a great post! Even though we’re pretty good at planning ahead when needed, trying to get a site in the valley can be a real challenge for larger rigs. There are simply not enough large sites available. Even planning ahead might not work, as each entire month’s reservations become available 5 months beforehand on the 15th of each month at 7am Pacific time! It’s like a clusterfreakshow trying to get a site all morning on the 15th every month! And if your RV is large, therefore limiting your choice of sites, it’s even tougher. In 2004 we spent two weeks, split between Lower Pines and Upper Pines campgrounds, in our first RV, a 39′ Bounder Diesel. BOY did that take a lot of work, and luck, to secure those sites! Groveland is a great alternative, as is Oakhurst, near the south gate, very close to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. Whatever it takes to find a campsite, it’s worth it to see Yosemite!

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    • I swear you guys get all the crazy permits and camping sites: from the Wave to 2 weeks inside Yosemite! Luck must be on your side!

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  • Chuck

    Your photos bring back great memories. We been to Yosemite before going full time. Tough climb but worth it. Next time will break off toad at bottom of the hill. We enjoy your website.

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  • Mark

    One of your best posts to date! But you have to fix your first sentence…”we” is missing!

    You’ve given me hope, as I thought I’d never be able to bring an RV anywhere near Yosemite…now you’ve proven it can be done (and done well!).

    Thanks so much for sharing!!! It’s now a “must do” on our trip list!

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    • Plenty of people take their RV into the Valley floor, it’s not too difficult…but either way I’d say a tow car is a MUST or at least a rental. There is a bus system that gets through most of the park, but you have to know the routes.

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  • Katie

    It sounds like you both had a great time. My family and I have been to Yosemite. How did you get into Yosemite with the government shut down?

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    • We were in Yosemite early this year, it takes us some time to put all the pieces together so the only way to really know where we are now is follow on Facebook or Twitter…or by looking at our “current location” on the right of the screen.

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  • Lisa

    Hi
    Would Yosemite park be a good place for mopeds?, that is our form of transport with our RV …

    We ( Duncan and Lisa ) live in Plymouth Ma , love getting your news letters, we have been RVr’s for one year, not full time ( I wish ) we are still learning, we love our mopeds, we bought Two Honda Ruckas , they were the icing on the cake for rving

    Love to hear from you
    lisa

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    • Hey Lisa, I would think a moped would be awesome in Yosemite! You should strap those puppies on and head that way around early May!

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    • Rick

      Most of the traditional Yosemite scenes/tourist areas are in a relatively small area in the valley, which is ~ 8 miles long. We have been there several times and it is a great area for bike riding. It is very flat there, and riding bikes around is a great way to see the scenery, explore the valley, and to avoid traffic. So I would think that it work well for mopeds as well. Just be aware that the roads coming in/out of the park are like many other National Parks – they go through mountains, over passes, around cliffs, etc. so tend to be windy and narrow in places. But if you are more adventuresome and experienced riders (I also ride a motorcycle) you should have no problem riding mopeds into the park from an outside location – such as Yosemite Lakes – if that is where you were staying.
      Have fun!

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      • PN

        ALL THUMBS UP for bike riding in Yosemite Valley!!

        Did it in 2011 – AMAZING!!

        reply

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