Yosemite National Park is one of the most well-known national parks in the United States. Located in California, this region was a favorite place of John Muir, who has been referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.” And there is a reason that John Muir worked so hard to preserve Yosemite for many generations to come.
High granite cliffs sprinkled with dramatic tall waterfalls. Large ancient groves of giant sequoia trees. Hundreds of miles of trails through a large wilderness. Yosemite National Park’s mountainous scenery includes all of these features in its nearly 1,200 square miles of park area.
An average of over 4 million people visit Yosemite every year, so as the park website puts it “pack your patience.” If you are hoping to find a parking spot for an RV anywhere in Yosemite Valley, make sure you are up early and plan on arriving before 9am (or after 5pm).
Dog-Friendly Activities at Yosemite National Park
On the scale of the national parks system, Yosemite National Park is actually pretty dog friendly. Sure, dogs can’t hike most of the trails, but they are allowed in campgrounds, in developed areas, and on most fully paved paths. While in many national parks, this doesn’t offer your dog much space to explore, in Yosemite, this opens up a large portion of Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Valley contains almost 12 miles of bike paths, most of which are fully paved. And therefore, open to leashed pets. We were able to spend a couple hours walking on these paths. It was fairly crowded, but the views were wonderful.
If you wish to leave the crowds behind, try the Wawona Meadows Loop. This is an unpaved trail open to dogs. And although the scenery doesn’t compare to Yosemite Valley, you are still hiking through a lovely wooded path in the Sierra Nevadas.
We hiked most of the Wawona Meadows Loop, but due to a bear sighting on the trail ahead of us, we elected to back track with the dogs rather than risking them startling the wildlife.
Yosemite National Park also mentions the following dog-friendly areas:
- Wawona: Wawona Meadow Loop, Chowchilla Mountain Road, and Four Mile and Eleven Mile fire roads (but not the Four Mile Trail in Yosemite Valley).
- Hodgdon Meadow: Carlon Road from the trailhead to Hodgdon Meadow and on the Old Big Oak Flat Road from Hodgdon Meadow to Tuolumne Grove parking lot.
And if you really want to hike some of the more famous trails at Yosemite, Yosemite Hospitality operates a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley. This kennel is open during the busy season (late May through early September). Find out more about this kennel and Yosemite’s Pet Policies at the official nps.gov website.
Camping at Yosemite National Park
There are 13 campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, in addition to numerous backcountry campsites. Some take reservations, while others are first come, first served. Some can accommodate RVs, while others are there for car camping only. Many are open seasonally, but three (Wawona, Upper Pines, and Hogden Meadow) are open year round.
Be aware that campsites in Yosemite National Park can fill up quick. We recommend making a reservation months in advance, especially if you have a specific area you would like to camp. Like Yosemite Valley for instance.
We entered Yosemite National Park from the southwest side and were very lucky to be able to reserve the last RV compatible site for the night at Wawona Campground.
Wawona Campground was the perfect spot for our first night in Yosemite. It is located along South Fork Merced River, and the resulting scenery makes a walk along the roads of the campground a great way to exercise the dogs. But additionally, this campground is close to one of the few dog-friendly unpaved trails in Yosemite – Wawona Meadow Loop.
On our second night, we camped at Crane Flats campground. This was another nice campground and we enjoyed our stay. But we missed the river on our evening campground walk.
Activities in the Surrounding Areas
There are so many dog-friendly places to visit in the area around Yosemite National Park. If you have already purchased a National Parks Pass, we highly recommend visiting Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in addition to Sequoia National Forest.
We accessed Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks from the western side of the Sierra Nevadas. And while there is plenty to explore on the western side of the Sierras, we really enjoyed also exploring the region to the east of Yosemite National Park. So here are some highlights from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas.
June Lake is billed as “The Eastern Sierra’s Original Resort Community”. And I think the June Lake Loop Chamber of Commerce describes this area best.
“Along the southernmost rim of the Mono Basin, California State Route 158 loops away from U.S. Highway 395 for 16 miles, then returns. It follows a horseshoe shaped canyon containing four lakes, surrounded by a dramatic mountainous backdrop. Within this canyon, among the lakes and streams, exists a modest yet full-serviced community, available to vacationers in all four seasons of the year.”
After we left Yosemite National Park, we went in search of a nearby campground. One of the campgrounds on our list was Silver Lake Campground on the June Lake Loop. The campground was beautiful with level sites nestled in the mountains. We could even see two waterfalls from our campsite. They were small and a distance away, but it was beautiful to be able to see them nonetheless.
And walk-able distance from our campsite was the trailhead for Rush Creek Trail. A pretty mountain trail, we meandered a mile or so up the trail for our morning walk with the dogs. We didn’t know much about the trail, but it was a pretty hike. We saw a few mule deer that were a little too interested in us (mule deer can be pretty protective of their young), but otherwise had the trail to ourselves.
Later on, after returning from this hike and securing good internet, I researched the Rush Creek Trail a little further. It turns out that this trail connects to several others in the Inyo National Forest and gives access to the John Muir Trail.
Mono Lake and Panum Crater
Just a few miles away from June Lake, is a lake of a different type. With a salinity of 2.5x that of the ocean, Mono Lake offers a buoyant swimming experience and is also the location of many tufa formations.
Don’t know what a tufa is? That’s okay. This Minnesota girl had never heard of them before either. Tufa is rock formation (essentially limestone) that forms in a variety of patterns at Mono Lake. When underwater springs, rich in calcium, mix with water rich in carbonates, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate or limestone. Tufa towers grow underwater, but after water was diverted from Mono Lake (beginning in 1941) lake levels dropped. Today, the tufa towers can easily be seen above the surface of Mono Lake.
And to top off the experience, the trails among Mono Lake’s tufas are dog friendly.
After you stroll through the tufa and take a swim in Mono Lake, dry off and head to Panum Crater. Panum Crater is part of a chain of young volcanoes (and in this case, by young, scientists mean between 600 to 40,000 years old). You can hike up along the rim of this volcano and into the plug dome. The trail offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, as well as Mono Lake and the tufa.
The hike at Panum Crater took us about 2.5 hours, but we also hiked the 1.5 mile road in (as it was a little too rough to comfortably access in our Class C Camper). We hiked the rim trail first and then hiked into the plug. Overall the hike was a great experience. The glass-like rock in the plug was mesmerizing and hiking the rim of a volcano was a new experience for all of us.
We really enjoyed this stop along our road trip. If you are visiting California, don’t hesitate to check out this region. Mono Lake and Panum Crater are highlights of this area of California. In the fact the region is known as the Mono Basin.
Lake Tahoe was our final stop on the eastern side of the California Sierra Nevada mountain range.
We obtained a great campsite at Fallen Leaf Campground (USFS). This campground provides access to Fallen Leaf Lake and a few short trails in this area. It is also across the highway from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center.
From the visitor center, you can walk out to Tallac point and along the shore of Lake Tahoe. As an added bonus, there is a historic site nearby that is open to leashed dogs. The Pope and Baldwin Estates sit along the shores of Lake Tahoe and offer a glimpse into the past.
There are many additional hiking trails in the area. We had planned on hiking the Cascade Falls trail, however the trailhead was very congested at 11am on a Friday. This meant that there was nowhere to park an RV. So we appreciated the beautiful views we could enjoy from the road, and skipped this trail. If you want to hike trails in this area, we recommend arriving early in a smaller vehicle.
Yosemite is a beautiful national park with lots of amazing natural scenery. It is moderately dog-friendly and worth visiting with your pup. However, most trails are closed to dogs and the main areas are very crowded.
We honestly preferred Kings Canyon to Yosemite, mostly due to the congestion of Yosemite Valley. Our favorite things about national parks are experiencing nature and leaving the crowds behind. Yosemite Valley was full of tourists and it was the first time we had experienced a “rush hour traffic” feel in a national park.
That being said, I am sure that if you were traveling without dogs and could hike the longer trails, you would leave most of the crowds behind. So depending on your goals for the trip, this may be a park to visit without your pets.
Once you leave the national park behind, there are countless dog-friendly activities in this region of California. So spend a day in Yosemite with your pup, and then head to the national forests or Mono Basin and hit the trails.
Have you and your pup visited Yosemite National Park together? What are your thoughts and favorite experiences?