Ensuring world class experiences, a welcoming environment for all visitors, and protection of nationally significant resources is Yosemite National Park’s primary and daily focus. Due to an increase in day-use visitation and changing use patterns, providing for and managing visitor use has been an increasingly complex issue that impacts both park resources and the visitor experience.
The purpose of this plan is to evaluate how different management strategies, including reservation systems, could help meet long-term resource and visitor experience goals. This will be accomplished by engaging in a transparent civic and stakeholder engagement process to discuss and identify key issues and opportunities.
The park also plans to build on lessons learned during the reservation systems from 2020-2022, while considering a range of strategies to address crowding and congestion and improve the visitor experience and resource conditions within the park. We piloted reservation systems for the last three summers. In 2020 and 2021, the park piloted a reservation system due to the pandemic. In 2022, the park implemented a “peak hours” reservation system due to extensive construction that was going on throughout the park. Data gathered during this three-year period will help inform park management on a range of alternatives to provide for the highest quality visitor access in the future.
This plan is needed to address a wide range of issues associated with persistently high visitation. These issues include but are not limited to:
Planning Process and Timeline
The initial public comment period for the Visitor Access Management Plan was December 9, 2022–February 3, 2023. This was the first phase of a three-phase process during this planning effort. The anticipated schedule for project milestones and additional opportunities for public review and input are as follows:
Phase 1 (Tentative Dates: October 2022–July 2023):
Phase 2 (Tentative Dates: Summer 2023–May 2024):
Phase 3 (Tentative Dates: May 2024–December 2024):
Engaging with the public is an important part of this planning process and is essential when exploring management alternatives.
This past winter we invited you to join us in envisioning the future of accessing Yosemite National Park. Your feedback was instrumental in helping the planning team develop the preliminary strategies presented below. These strategies aim to provide safe and efficient park access and high-quality experiences to visitors while ensuring protection of park resources and values. During summer 2023 we invited you to provide comments and thoughts on the draft preliminary strategies. During each comment period we held a virtual public meeting and recordings of each can be found below.
Your input will help refine these preliminary options for further analysis. We are seeking your responses to the following questions:
Meeting Recordings (Videos)
Potential Strategies to Manage Visitor Access
The visitor access management planning team has been developing potential strategies for management based on public and stakeholder input and feedback from all levels of the National Park Service. These strategies are designed to help protect Yosemite’s fundamental resources and values and improve visitor access and opportunities.
For each of these strategies, we are currently evaluating:
No single solution will meet all project goals and resolve all issues. We are evaluating strategies individually and in combination to identify the best ways to meet overarching goals. We are seeking your feedback on the management options described below as a part of our evaluation.
Implement Reservation Systems
Issue/Opportunity: There is an opportunity to improve the safety and flow of traffic at entrance stations, along roadways, and in parking areas. Some individuals and stakeholders have encouraged the National Park Service to consider reservations and other timed-entry systems to better manage vehicle distribution and flow. Welldesigned reservation systems have improved the quality of visitor experiences, distributed use across time and space, and served as a useful trip-planning tool for visitors on public lands and recreational resources where this strategy has been implemented.
Enhance Trip Planning
Issue/Opportunity: Trip planning and travel forecasting tools help improve visitor experiences by giving visitors information when and where they need it to make informed choices about visiting the park.
Upgrade and Modernize Entrance Stations
Issue/Opportunity: Congestion at entrance stations impact park visitors, staff, and residents in surrounding areas including El Portal, Wawona, Yosemite West, and Foresta. Congestion (wait times and lines) at entrance stations results in visitor frustration, stress on park staff, and incidences of human waste at pull-offs.
Expand Bicycle and Pedestrian Options
Issue/Opportunity: Current options for travel that does not depend on private vehicles in the park are limited and could be improved to increase safety. There is an opportunity to expand access to travel that does not depend on private vehicle access in the park in order to promote carbon-free transportation, encourage active transportation (such as bicycling and walking), and reduce vehicular congestion.
Improve Transit and Shuttle Opportunities
Issue/Opportunity: While the current shuttle system helps transport visitors to their desired destinations in the valley, it does not adequately meet visitation demand when the park operates without a reservation system. When shuttles are full, visitors drive their own vehicles around the park to avoid long waits, which further contributes to congestion on roadways and in parking lots. Any potential changes to shuttle systems in the park would involve a robust feasibility assessment due to significant operating costs.
Issue/Opportunity: High visitation strains existing infrastructure and facilities. There is opportunity to update and modernize existing infrastructure and evaluate the need for new infrastructure to better meet the changing needs of the park.
Summer 2023 Newsletter [1.9 MB PDF]
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this plan needed?
The park has seen increasing impacts to natural and cultural resources, diminished quality of visitor experiences, increased visitor and staff safety concerns, and a heavy strain on the park’s facilities and ability to perform daily operations. The National Park Service (NPS) believes that managed access and related strategies are needed in high-demand areas where other strategies have not been sufficient to ensure high-quality experiences, visitor safety, and resource protection.
How will the plan be developed?
This process will leverage the park’s extensive planning, including previously identified capacities for many areas of the park and related infrastructure updates (e.g. intersection realignments, meadow protection curbing, parking additions, and circulation improvements). This process will consider key issues related to visitor experiences, natural and cultural resource protection, and vehicular crowding and congestion. The planning process will provide recommendations for supporting high-quality public access to the park while providing positive visitor experiences and protection of natural and cultural resources into the future.
When will public input occur?
The first round of public input occurred from December 9, 2022 to February 3, 2023. This first series gathered public and community feedback about strategies for managing visitor access in order to inform this process. The second of multiple opportunities over the planning process for the public and stakeholders to share input on how Yosemite should, if at all, manage access in the future will begin on July 6, 2023. The second round of public involvement will solicit ideas on draft management concepts that were developed following the December public involvement. We are committed to a transparent civic and stakeholder engagement process. When it comes to visitor use management decisions at NPS, we know that engagement is about mobilizing people to do the hard work of making change—together. Yosemite is committed to engaging with all stakeholders—including gateway communities, partners, members of the public, and state, local, and tribal governments —to identify solutions, and to conduct compliance and planning processes.
What is managed access?
Managed access is a suite of tools that help pace the timing and volume of visitation into areas to optimize access, ensure quality experiences, and protect resources. Examples of managed access include reservation systems, timed and ticketed entry, campground reservations, and more. Some examples of managed access strategies that have been in place for many years include wilderness and Half Dome permits. Managed access and related strategies are not a standalone solution. This plan will carefully evaluate many different tools and techniques that would be most effective to help Yosemite improve how visitors get to and experience the park’s significant resources and features.
Why are peak hours reservations for day use not in place for Summer 2023?
After three consecutive years of summer day-use reservation programs, the park announced in Fall 2022 that it does not plan to implement a temporary day-use reservation system in summer 2023. In 2022 there were notable changes to both parking and roadway flows were being built and implemented. By allowing for an unconstrained level of visitation to access the park it allows the NPS to observe and test the efficacy of those changes and document if/what issues still persist after the implementation of these parking lot and roadway configuration changes. No decisions have been made about potential reservation pilots for 2024.
Last updated: October 30, 2023