I wanted to see Yosemite for many years. My whole family had been, but I was unable to join them on any of the trips. They told me stories of grandeur and it had been on my list for years. As we planned our trip through the Southwest, I was going to have to cut across California at some point, and this seemed as good a time as any to visit Yosemite National Park!
Many friends suggested staying outside of the valley due to the sheer number of people there, and one friend suggested the Wawona Campground near the south gate of the park. Getting reservations for the summer can be a bit nerve wracking for any of the campgrounds though. You have to push the submit button on the day exactly 6 months out from your arrival, at 7:00am precisely, or you will probably not get the campground of your choice. Wawona was fully booked at 7:04am the day I registered. No joke. I was able to get a campsite, my friend was only a couple of minutes behind me and didn’t. It all worked out – she was allowed to share with me after we made several pleas, showed our itty bitty trailers and pulled the single mamas traveling alone-together card. The summer months have extraordinarily high demand and you are up against people all over the world to get a spot for the night. Make sure you know which day the reservations open and set your calendar! It is insane how quickly the campgrounds book.
All of that said, we really enjoyed our stay at Wawona and never felt like we were missing out not being in the Valley. Our campsite came with the usual CA campground stuff: a bear box, a picnic table and a fire ring. We had a lovely big spot, right near the bathrooms. There wasn’t much shade where we were, but things cooled down really nicely at night. Kids were able to ride bikes all over and there was no playground, but we were able to keep them busy. And when they got bored, they got creative!
We were in the furthest loop from the ranger booth, just across the campground road from the river and that was such a joy. Wish we had done more swimming in hindsight! There are no showers at this campground, but they have sinks and flush toilets. Bring flashlights and soap with you to the bathrooms. At night the lights are not always on and there are no soap dispensers. One way to cool off (or rinse off) is to take a dip in the south fork the Merced River. There is a great spot in the campground to do this. The water was cool, but not cold, and with the California being in a drought, it was very docile and slow moving at the time. There was even a rope swing to play on, which the kids loved! Plus, being able to swim in the river was a luxury we don’t often take advantage of at home with our water being so cold.
Showers are available in the Valley at Camper Services, which can be a bit of trek. We made a day of exploring in the Valley and finished up with laundry, showers and dinner which was really handy. There was a lot of traffic trying to get out of the valley around 4:30pm, so we avoided that by staying a little longer and we had a nice little treat of eating out!
One travel guide I was reading mentioned that it could be loud at this campground being right next to Hwy 41, but we didn’t find that to be the case and we heard very little traffic.
The Wawona Campground made a great home base for Valley and the southern sections of the park we wanted to see. We were very close to the Pioneer Village and the Mariposa Grove, we were a short drive from Glacier Road and one of our favorite hikes (up to the top of Sentinal Dome), and we were about an hour into the Village. Oakhurst, the closest town, was about 45 minutes away as well, and about 15 minutes from the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
We would gladly stay at this campground again, the next time we are in Yosemite. It is not convenient if you are interested in the area up Tioga Pass and the northern section of the Park, so I would look for campgrounds closer to that area if you are interested in it. For a nice quiet stay, in the park and close to the valley, this is ideal.