Camping along the Merced River outside of Yosemite offers a great alternative to the crowded Valley campgrounds in early summer. Photo by Steve Ryan.
Gary from Baltimore writes in to ask:
I am planning to tent camp with my son in early June. Unfortunately we were unable to get a reservation for a spot within the park. We are flying in from Baltimore and will not be in Yosemite until the late afternoon. Any idea of the closest campground that would have tent camping? We plan to hike Half Dome the next morning and would like to start as early as possible. I’m hoping to not have to drive 40 minutes to get into the park and get on the trail. I see a KOA in Mariposa. Is that still approximately 40 minutes away?
That’s quite a conundrum, Gary. Do you have your permit to hike Half Dome already? Even though the NPS tries to have everything up and ready to go by Memorial Day weekend many of the seasonal campgrounds within the park are still under snow the first week or two of June. And, there is still the odd chance that the cables on Half Dome won’t be up yet. It all depends on the weather. This year we’re getting a lot of snow in March. It’s still snowing RIGHT NOW in some parts of the park! I say all this because in early June there’s a lot of “if’s” and I don’t want you to be disappointed if you get here and aren’t prepared/able to complete the hike.
Now, there are some campgrounds that are only 20-25 minutes outside the park. The Bureau of Land Management runs a set of rustic campgrounds set along the Merced River in Briceburg (along Highway 140). The camping is first-come, first-served but there are a lot of spots and most have great views of the river. Unfortunately everyone knows about them and they’re relatively cheap (only $10/night) compared to the campgrounds in Yosemite.
They have pit toilets, picnic tables, fire grills and garbage cans but there’s no water so you’ll need to bring your own or treat water from the river for drinking, washing, bathing, etc.
June is a great time to be there though. The area is INSANE with wildflowers. And you can hook up with a rafting company and raft the Merced River.
If you’re interested you can find out more information by visiting the BLM website.
If you should get there and it’s full, you can turn around and go back to the KOA as a last resort. It’s just up the grade on the way back to Mariposa (15-20 minutes).
Good luck! Have a great trip!