Visiting Yosemite During the Pandemic


I consider myself incredibly lucky for having ever visited Yosemite, let alone getting to visit twice within this very strange year, 2020.

We originally had a campsite reservation for May, but of course the pandemic happened, and the park closed. Luckily, Alex went ahead and made new arrangements to visit later. Reservations are now required for all visits to Yosemite, so you’ll either need to snag a campsite, reserve a day pass, get a wilderness or half dome permit, or join a tour group. We visited once with a day pass in July, and once with a campsite reservation in August. Both trips were incredibly special experiences. So few people, so many wildlife sightings, and such epic settings all around.

Our July visit was hot. It was in the high 90s in the valley, and even with the reservation system, there were still a fair amount of people at the most popular attractions.

Yosemite Falls Trail. This was our first hike, and we immediately saw a bear on the trail. It was fine, we maintained our distance and were able to walk by, but there have been a lot more bear sightings this year, given the reduction in people at the park

In the afternoon, we drove up to the higher altitudes for a view from Glacier Point. I would recommend this for when it’s just too hot in the valley.

And we made the lovely hike to Taft Point…

… which you might recognize as a popular spot for photos.

The next morning we explored Mariposa Grove, which is on the South side of the park. I probably wouldn’t do this if you only had one or two days for your visit, considering shuttle buses are not in operation, so that adds a couple miles’ hike to get from the parking lot to the actual redwood groves. But we enjoyed the visit to see these big trees.

Half dome, from the tunnel view.

And a lovely afternoon view from the river. There’s pretty good wifi in the valley, if you even need to take a work call from here.

We then had campsite reservations for the end of August. These are notoriously competitive and since most of the campsites are now closed, with only Upper Pines remaining, it’s perhaps even more difficult to snag these spots in 2020. So, good luck! Plan in advance! And be prepared in case something goes awry and you’re unable to camp after all. We spent the weeks leading up to this trip debating whether or not to go, since the lightning fires that broke out across California were causing a lot of smoke and poor air conditions. But with the air hovering in the yellow to orange range, we decided to go after all, and I’m really glad we did.

Favorite activity: biking around Yosemite Valley. This time it was especially empty, so it felt like it was just us and the deer amidst the giant granite mountains. Really extraordinary. 

I spy tiny deer in the meadow.

Half Dome, with smoke in the air.

Camp meals.

Happy to be car camping instead of backpacking this time.

I was very glad to bike around the valley and just find a random picnic spot with no other people in sight. We also wore our swimsuits and jumped into the river as we pleased. I highly recommend both activities: biking and swimming in the valley. So delightful.

We were surprised they still allowed campfires, but they did between 5-10pm, so we had a fire one (and only one) night. Otherwise, we were glad to have borrowed a camp stove and relied on that all week, especially when we next went to Tahoe where fires were banned.

Early on the last morning we ventured out on the Mist Trail, but decided not to do the full hike. 

Just enough to peep the tiny Vernal Falls. Apparently this time of year, all the water is very low. Yosemite Falls was nonexistent! So maybe this is more of a spring-summer activitiy.

And that was it! We were off to Tahoe for the rest of the week. So we drove through the northern elevations of Yosemite on our way out, and we encountered these wild granite landscapes.

And high Sierra lakes: picnic at Tenaya Lake.

So beautiful, but you can see the layer of smoke across the distance. We even got detoured into Nevada when our route to Tahoe was cut off by nearby fires. And of course, new fires broke out even closer to Yosemite shortly after our visit, so the park has newly been shut down and is now reopening again.

We had the best time exploring Yosemite in these unusual times. It was especially strange and wonderful to be in a park so empty of other people. Of course safety is paramount, but if you can snag a reservation and safely get yourself here, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She compulsively documents and blogs all of her daily adventures, even in quarantine. Follow her on instagram and view more of her professional work at