It can be tempting to lose your better senses when visiting a place as picturesque as Yosemite National Park. But – be forewarned. There are real dangers if you come unprepared or are careless.
Here are the top ten things to keep in mind when visiting Yosemite to keep you and your belongings safe and ensure a pleasant stay!
- Don’t rely on GPS or cell service. GPS mapping technology and the Google application on mobile phones may not work once you enter the park as cell service is spotty. If you plan on driving, print out driving directions and maps just in case. Note: Driving time from the major Bay Area cities of Oakland is 3.5 hours; San Francisco is 4 hours; San Jose is 4 hours; and Fresno is 2 hours. Driving time from Los Angeles is 6 hours. Note: From Fresno, you can also hire a driver through .
- Snow chains are mandatory to have in your vehicle. During the months of October-April, the National Park Service requires that all vehicles carry snow chains “when winter conditions are present.” This includes 4-wheel drives and SUVs. If you can’t find snow chains or cables locally, stop in Fresno on the way to Yosemite where almost every shop and gas station has them for purchase or rent. (Note: during my visit, I thought it was ridiculous to get them when the weather driving up was nearly 70 degrees, but on the day I left, sure enough it was snowing! I still didn’t need the cables, but I was glad I had them in case.)
- Check road conditions. To check on the latest road conditions, closures, or snow chain restrictions, call 209-372-0200 (press 1 twice during recorded message). It’s a good idea to call prior to departure in case cell service gets spotty.
- If you need help with snow chains… At almost all snow chain checkpoints in the park, there will be professional and National Park Service-approved chain installers present who, for a fee of about $30, will install your tire chains for you (NOTE: the installers do NOT sell tire chains). They usually charge about $25 to remove them.
- Drive safely. When driving on snow or ice, common sense prevails. Give yourself an extra half hour of driving time so that you’re not rushed. If you need to brake going downhill, pump the brakes softly. NEVER slam on your brakes, as they will lock on the snow or ice and lead you into a spin or a direction not desired. That goes for 4-wheel drive vehicles too; 4-wheel drive can easily become 4-wheel “slide” if you’re not careful. Also, do not exceed 25 miles per hour inside Yosemite during winter conditions, regardless of what posted speed limits may indicate. And above all, be calm and enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland surrounding you. If you drive safely and take your time, you will reach your destination as planned.
- Bear-proof your car and/or campsite. Do not leave any food or scented items in your car, dispose of food trash in bear-proof receptacles only, and if camping, store your food appropriately by securing it high in the trees as far as possible from your campsite (better option). Bear sightings are a very real daily occurrence throughout Yosemite. As one guide told me, “there’s no such thing as hibernation here. They’re always around.” So heed all caution. It’s not a joke.
- Mind the wildlife. Wildlife is everywhere from deer to coyote. They may look cute, but they can move fast. Don’t attempt to them – better to be safe than sorry.
- Drink water.No matter the temps, don’t forget to hydrate! Even in winter, you can get dehydrated easily, especially when trekking through snow or skiing. Keep in mind that none of the natural water running in Yosemite is potable without serious filtration devices. Microorganisms like giardia are present in water that looks clear and fresh. Don’t drink it. Do yourself a favor and bring bottled water and plenty of it!
- Wear sunblock.Of course you need it when venturing out on sunny summer or spring days, but even in winter sunblock is a must! It may feel cold on the slopes, but the sun reflecting off the white snow is powerful and you’ll be heading home with “raccoon eyes” from your goggle or sunglasses tan!
- Keep a first aid kit with you. It can never hurt to be prepared. A small first aid kit with items you can use in a small emergency is good to have on hand and in your car while venturing out into the wilderness. A good basic kit includes water, some sustenance like trail mix, bandages, disinfectant or rubbing alcohol, an eye wash, bug repellent and/or sting treatment, ace bandage, an antibiotic ointment like Polysporin, and an Ace bandage.
About the Author: Lindsay Taub is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience as a writer/editor/photographer covering travel, lifestyle, culture, arts, food, health, and all facets that make life a journey. Follow her on .
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