We stayed the night at one of the Hetch Hetchy reservable sites (first come, first served) before our trek through the backcountry of Yosemite. The sites were just a quick walk in from the parking lot and featured picnic tables, bear boxes, bathrooms and established fire rings. A permit is required to stay in the area as well as a $6 per person fee and you're able to check-in with your reservation right at the Hetch Hetchy entrance. The sites are well maintained and do feature scenic vistas, though it appears that the best views offered by Hetch Hetchy are found farther in the backcountry and we wish we had the time to really explore the area. The campground served as an easy spot to hike in, set up and prepare for a long trek ahead, although, if you're not pressed for time or resting up for a big hike, I'd recommend continuing on past the established sites into the more scenic backcountry. One major advantage of Hetch Hetchy is that you'll avoid the major crowds in Yosemite Valley which can't be beat in my book.
When visiting Yosemite, the camping and lodging options can be overwhelming: from free nearby National Forest land to $500/night hotels, Yosemite provides a little something for everyone. When we visited for six days, we stayed at a variety of places: National Forest land, reservable developed campground in the Valley, Camp Four in the Valley, and backpacking in Hetch Hetchy.
From all of those experiences, we do have a favorite: Hetch Hetchy. From our entire year of visiting all 59 national parks, this campsite is one of the best. We visited in late March, so much of the backpacking was inaccessible, but hiking and camping in Hetch Hetchy was an amazing alternative and a way to get away from the crowded Valley.
A few things to note: first, you’ll need a permit, so start your trip at the visitor center. When backpacking in Hetch Hetchy, there are regulations you’ll need to follow, in how close you camp to the trail, how to store your food, and how far into the actual trail you’ll need to hike before finding a place to camp. Sometimes these regulations change for the well being of the environment, so always talk to a ranger first.
This specific site was incredible: we had to climb down off the trail just a bit, but we were totally alone and had this flat spot to ourselves to have a nice dinner and enjoy the views. We woke up to watch the sunrise and began our hike back and saw literally hundreds of red salamanders making their way across the trail back to the rocks. It was unreal.
The rest of our time in Yosemite was spent in the Valley: hiking the Mist Trail, Upper Yosemite Falls, and wherever else we could, watching the frazil ice, kayaking the Merced River, and trying to escape the crowds.
You can read much more about our five days in the park on our blog: Switchback Kids (Yosemite)
The Hetch Hetchy dam hike didn't originally appeal to me, but we learned a ton about the water supply and explored tunnels as well. The area was easy to access and my young (5/6) children were able to easily hike.