Two friends sent me a postcard that summarized their recent Yosemite weekend. From their Yosemite Valley Lodge balcony after hiking up Nevada Falls, my friends wrote: “Watching the crowds fight for a parking space and clog up the roads. There are so many people here. We spend our non-hiking time figuring out how to avoid all the people. Worst crowding we’ve ever seen.”
Overcrowding in Yosemite is problem that’s grown worse with each passing year, and has generated abundant unflattering publicity for the park. The Fresno Bee, “Yosemite So Crowded, You Can’t Stop,” Modesto Bee, “Are We Suffocating Yosemite?,” the Wall Street Journal, “Yosemite Slammed, Record Crowds Make America’s National Parks Hard to Bear.“
Park officials issued this advisory: “If you’re visiting Yosemite in the summer of 2017, particularly Yosemite Valley, expect extremely high visitor concentrations, resulting in extended traffic delays, extremely limited parking, busy trails, and no lodging or campground availability. Expect delays of an hour or more at entrance stations and two to three hours in Yosemite Valley. If you are planning to visit Yosemite, plan ahead and arrive early. Leave your car parked once you find a parking space then use shuttles to get around, or take advantage of Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS).” Only 6,500 parking spaces are available for the average 8,200 summer guests.
But no matter how cautionary the warnings, too many people from near and far, and encouraged by online images that show the national parks at their most magnificent but without accompanying images of traffic backed up for miles, want to come to Yosemite. In 2016, 5.2 million visitors came to Yosemite, the majority from California but with about 10 percent from international locations.
Since 1976, more than 2.5 million people have moved to the Bay Area, and driven population in the nine-county region to almost 7.7 million, the nation’s sixth largest urban area. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Plan Bay Area 2040 report, the Bay Area will add another 2.4 million residents over the next two decades, very bad news for prospective Yosemite visitors.
In recent years, the national park service has increased fees, but without an effect on slowing the visitors. Too many people and too many cars have changed what was once joyous Yosemite experience into an urban-like nightmare to be avoided.