Yosemite Valley’s only campground that didn’t require reservations has new online lottery

Yosemite Valley no longer has a first-come, first-serve campground for the summer.

That used to be Camp 4, but now from late May to early September, visitors wishing to stay there must enter an online lottery via recreation.gov from 12:01 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time the day before they want to start camping.

The lottery is random and similar to what’s now used for Half Dome permits. Entering the daily lottery earlier in the day won’t increase a chance of getting a campsite, said Yosemite National Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards.

Camp 4, located near world-renowned rock climbing on El Capitan, has a reputation as a beloved base camp for climbers. The walk-in campground is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in developing rock climbing as a sport. Midnight Lightning, widely considered the world’s most famous bouldering problem, is inside it.

The aim of the new lottery system is to improve the camping experience there. Richards said people were waiting in line throughout the night to get a site, which also led to issues with improper food storage – attracting bears and other wildlife – and that there were conflicts between visitors competing for the same campsite.

Said Ken Yager, president of the Yosemite Climbing Association and founder/organizer of the Yosemite Facelift volunteer cleanup: “We’ll see how this works, but I think it’s probably a pretty good compromise.”

Yager said the lottery will likely change the campground’s culture, but that it’s changing anyway. He said many American rock climbers now sleep in camper vans, for example.

Yager hopes the Camp 4 change might precede others, like a designated parking lot for camper vans, or a location for people passing through Yosemite to easily roll out a sleeping bag and sleep without it being deemed illegal camping.

How the lottery works

The daily lottery for Camp 4 will open May 21 for the next day’s camping on May 22.

This is a pilot program. At its conclusion in the fall of 2019, staff will reevaluate the lottery and make any needed changes.

Camp 4 has 36 shared walk-in sites. Visitors will be notified whether they received a campsite after the lottery closes at 4 p.m. and before the next day.

Richards said visitors can request multiple days of camping via the lottery, and that campers can also extend a stay by talking to a park ranger once they’ve been awarded a site through the lottery.

Up to 12 people can be included on a camping application.

From mid-September to mid-May, the campground will revert to its original first-come, first-serve basis, with no reservations available.

For those without a computer, Richards said there is a library with computer access in Yosemite Valley, and that the park has locations where Wi-Fi is available.

Yosemite staff answered some of the many questions from visitors via social media.

There is a 30-night camping limit within Yosemite National Park in a calendar year. However, park rules state the camping limit between May 1 and Sept. 15 is 14 nights, and only seven of those nights can be in Yosemite Valley or Wawona.

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.