By Christopher Reynolds
The Los Angeles Times
Yosemite National Park will again require visitors, even those only passing through for the day, to make reservations in advance
The park has started taking day-trip reservations online at recreation.gov for visits through Feb. 28. Beginning tomorrow, visitors won’t be allowed in the park without a reservation.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman called the move a temporary measure, prompted by storm damage, pandemic crowd concerns and the surge in traffic that often comes in mid- to late February, when photographers jostle to make “firefall” images of the setting sun hitting Yosemite Valley’s seasonal Horsetail Fall.
The requirement applies to all visitors, including annual and senior pass-holders. Park admission remains $35 per carload, which grants access for seven days.
In setting visitor limits day by day, Gediman said, rangers will look at traditional attendance figures and conditions in the park, with no hard-and-fast cap. Historically, he noted, park traffic in February is less than one-third of summer levels.
The reservation system will stay in place “until local public health conditions improve,” a park statement said.
In fact, park officials said there’s no decision yet on when or even whether March reservations would open up. The situation on the ground, Gediman said, “will determine whether we continue on the reservation system.” For now, “we’re selling February.”
Park leaders expect most reservations to be made at the recreation.gov website; others may call 877-444-6777 to reserve.
The park introduced the day-reservation practice last year as a pandemic safety measure. Though it undercuts travelers’ flexibility, Gediman said management found that the reservation system helps rangers track and limit crowds at the popular park.
The move follows a year of abrupt park openings and closures as officials struggle to cope with surging and waning COVID-19 infection rates as well as nature’s variability.
The park closed March 20 until June 11 because of the pandemic, then again Sept. 17 to 24 because of smoky air from the nearby Creek fire in Sierra National Forest. It closed yet again Jan. 19 because of a windstorm that toppled hundreds of trees, including 15 in the park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Rangers said they plan to reopen most of the park, including all of Yosemite Valley. But the park’s southern entrance, Wawona Road (Highway 41) will remain closed indefinitely, as will the Wawona, Badger Pass, Tunnel View and Mariposa Grove areas.
The closure of the southern entrance, Gediman said, will last “several weeks, minimum.”
The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Valley Lodge hotels are scheduled to reopen Feb. 5 after a regional COVID-19 order was lifted Monday. The park’s Upper Pines campground is set to open Monday..
Visitors at those hotels or the campground will automatically get day-use reservations along with their overnight lodging bookings.
Park officials first required day-use reservations from mid-June through October, when the park was returning to life following its COVID-related closure last spring.
Preliminary NPS tallies show Yosemite admitted 2.27 million visitors in 2020, the fewest in at least 40 years and roughly half as many visitors as in 2019.
The day-use reservation plan makes Yosemite unique in the park system. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park tried a timed-entry system in 2020 and Maine’s Acadia National Park has proposed a vehicle reservation system, Gediman noted, but “we’re the only ones that have this type of system.”