Tuolumne Camping Beta Please


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Gym climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 12, 2018 - 01:51pm PT
I am psyched to be going to Tuolumne for the first time this summer to do some climbing. But I need some camping beta!

I am going with the whole family so I need to stay in the central TM campground. It looks like I can't make reservations before 7/15 because that's their official opening date. But, I expect the campground to open earlier this year due to little snow. If it does, when will the earlier reservations be opened up? How does that work?

Thanks all.
Bruce Morris

Trad climber
Soulsbyville, California
Apr 12, 2018 - 02:27pm PT
Camp outside the Park to the east in Lee Vining Canyon at one of the Forest Service CGs and drive in to Tuolumne to climb. Think there's a 15-day limit as Aspen CG for about $21 per night. There are others too. A viable alternative to Tuolumne Meadows CG.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 12, 2018 - 02:29pm PT
I think you should consider the Junction CG which is on National Forest ground just east of the Tioga Pass entrance, The main CG in Tuolumne is perfectly awful...crowded, noisy and administered like a police state.
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Lassitude 33
Apr 12, 2018 - 02:38pm PT
Agree with spending the night (first night only) outside the Park. But, camping in TMs CG, as a family event, is probably what you want to do.

The Beta is: Drive in very early a.m. and get in line (at the ranger booth just north of the store) for a campsite (1st come 1st served). The closer to the front of the line you are, the better chance of getting a better choice of where you want to camp.

Trad climber
Apr 12, 2018 - 03:08pm PT
Yep, get in line early. You do this at the little stone house immediately west of the campground entrance. If you absolutely need to get a site, get there before 5am. Bring a chair and a sleeping bag cause you might as well go back to sleep for about 3 hours while you wait and it is always cold in the morning in TM.

The next closest option in Yosemite is Porcupine Flat campground to the west. It is much smaller and quieter but the rangers are still dicks.

There is good camping on Forest Service land off 395 to the east but the TM campground is where you want to be. If you want quiet, look for sites in the E, F and G loops.

Apr 12, 2018 - 03:16pm PT
get in line early, folks start to line up at 6am
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Apr 12, 2018 - 03:16pm PT
As to your question about whether they'll open it earlier, that sounds ambitious for the park service. If you want to get there before the scheduled opening date, plan on staying elsewhere.

Also, as others said, if you don't have reservations, you can show up that morning. However, the last time I did it (couple of summers ago) I showed up at 5 a.m. and was maybe fifth or sixth in line (left the kids sleeping in the car). People clearly crash there early or overnight to save their spot. Bring a lounge chair and a sleeping bag. Even with that early showing, the party just behind us got the last spot. Even with the campground supposedly "full", about a third of the spots were unoccupied. People reserve far in advance and don't show or don't cancel.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
moving thru
Apr 12, 2018 - 03:17pm PT
What are the ages of "the family". Are you planning to do anything besides rock climbing?

Gym climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 12, 2018 - 04:12pm PT
We are 2 toddler, my wife, and 3 60 year-olds. Plus some friends. They will mostly hike and I will mostly climb. This is why I would really like to stay central.

So if the campground opens earlier than 7/15 how do those sites get taken? The online reservation page shows all pre-7/15 sites as unavailable right now. Do they all become walk in? Or does, one random day, the newly available sites become available online?
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Apr 12, 2018 - 04:26pm PT
I would check the website every morning once plowing of 120 commences in earnest.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Apr 12, 2018 - 04:46pm PT
Another note, my experience with some of the forest service campgrounds is that they can be full even during midweek. There are alot of folks with large RVs or campers that look like they're pretty well established and probably there for a good number of days. It looked more like an encampment than a campground. I saw very few of the tent campers there for a night or two. Ellery Lake, just east of the pass, is another terrific campground with stunning views but in many years of trying I've never been able to find a site there. Also, I don't know if your budget permits, but the Tuolumne Lodge is a great, if not cheap, stay. We have a couple nights reserved there with the family. Its even good for a family style dinner if you don't stay there. Plus the beer in their lobby (the front part of the dining tent) are only a buck or so. You pay 4 or 5 once you walk through the doors into the dining area.

Apr 12, 2018 - 05:23pm PT
I go to the BLM land on 120 south of Mono Lake. I like privacy, and its always possible to find a place where you can't see or hear others.

Mountain climber
Marooned, 855 miles from Tuolumne Meadows
Apr 12, 2018 - 07:34pm PT
In eights years of traditional family camping at TM since 2009 (and way before), I've managed to always have, at least, arrival day booked in advance. That way, you needn't stress out about some line-up at 5am with uncertainty and the family stuck in the car while you wait in some line of people in lawn chairs. I've never had to do it, and everything has always worked out just fine.

1. Be somewhat flexible on arrival date. Arrival date on a Tuesday is the best day of the week. Morning after a huge rainstorm is best for site selection.

2. Check availability at recreation.gov regularly, and more often nearing your hopeful dates. People's plans change and sites open - trust me. I got this year's 5-night reservation on March 16th right at 7am PST. Keep on it. Last year, a week before arrival.

3. Take any reservation open during the period you want to be there, even for just one night. Grab anything acceptable.

4. Once you've got a reservation for "arrival," keep checking for earlier and later dates in you time frame. Reserve whatever you can and start filling in the blank dates of when you want to stay.

5. The policy on "extending" your stay seems pretty fluid. But, if say you have a Tuesday and Thursday reservation, the kind campground rangers will likely deem you an extension for whatever you want.

With at least the 1st night reserved, your vacation to TM will be a lot more stress free. I know a lot of folks advise to camp outside the park the night before; I've never had to do it and rolled in every year whenever we got there holding that 1st night reservation. The earlier you arrive in the day, the better the campsite. Enjoy!

Headed back to camp from the TM store.  Ca. 1962.  Popsicles were a di...
Headed back to camp from the TM store. Ca. 1962. Popsicles were a dime and a pack of Fizzies for Soda Springs was $0.25

Credit: Runner Family Archives

Sportbikeville & Yucca brevifolia
Apr 12, 2018 - 08:31pm PT
Forget about ReserveAmerica BS.
Land at the TMCG office around midnight and park right there. Get up around 4am and sleep in your lawnchair next to the front door. You may not be 1st in line but you'll be top 5.

This technique has got me a site at least a dozen times. Any time of year.

Apr 13, 2018 - 05:32am PT
Risk has got it, but reserve on the 15th, not the 16th.

Junction and other FS campgrounds are optimal, but having a reservation the first night does take the load off. Plus, I like Toulumne Meadows campground. I mean how bad can it be? It's in Tuolumne!

Be logged in to your account before you made the reservation.

Trad climber
Apr 13, 2018 - 09:26am PT
About 2 years ago the park service changed their policy and you can't just walk in and extend your stay any longer. You will still need to be in that line early in the morning to extend.

Also, if you don't get a site they create a waiting list that they assign sites from later in the day once they see what sites are open. I have gotten a site this way more than once too.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Apr 13, 2018 - 09:42am PT
As mentioned above, you can also take advantage of Porcupine Flats campground, west of TM (about 15 to 20 minutes) on CA 120 (in the park). It is first come first served, though with limited services (pit toilets, no water).

I've never had a problem with rangers there (never encountered a ranger there!).

You can often snag a campsite most week days for a nominal fee, once you do it is yours until you leave.

This can serve as a base-camp while you attempt to get into the TM campground.

This campsite has the advantage of being across the road from the spectacular hiking trails that lead to the north rim of Yosemite Valley, roughly 4 miles of easy trail. It is possibly the least physically demanding way to get to the top of Yosemite Falls (with Yosemite Point Buttress along the way). It requires no driving to get to...

...and getting into TM for climbing is not an issue by car.


Gym climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 16, 2018 - 09:58am PT
Thanks for all of the information but someone here must know the answer to the question of:

Right now all pre-7/15 campsites are "unavailable" on the reservations webpage. If the campground opens before 7/15 when do those campsites become available to reserve online?

Sportbikeville & Yucca brevifolia
Apr 16, 2018 - 10:46am PT
Reserve America is a mess.
The campsites you're asking about may never "be available" due to this.
A number of campsites are not used in RA's database and are open to walk ins.
To get these sites refer to my earlier post.
Or.. you can continue trying to work with RA.
good luck.
John M

Apr 16, 2018 - 12:11pm PT
Right now all pre-7/15 campsites are "unavailable" on the reservations webpage. If the campground opens before 7/15 when do those campsites become available to reserve online?

I don't believe that there is any way to know. There are too many variables.

How hard was the winter.
Is everything in the campground working. Sewer, water, phone, electricity.
Can they get enough employees up there earlier then their scheduled return date.

If you are trying to keep from having to check the reservation site daily, then I don't know what to tell you. Its highly unlikely that they will announce very early. They often don't even announce the road opening util the day before. Especially if its early in the season.

They seem to hate taking reservations and then having to cancel them if there is a problem.
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