Holy cow! Yosemite Valley is CROWDED. Believe everything you hear. I still recommend staying somewhere in the Valley just for the experience of it all at least once, but if you are interested in using any of the facilities, be prepared for crowds.
RV or Tent camping is the main thing here, sites are organized and packed close with a bathroom facility at the top of the loop. No showers (located at Half Dome village for $5). Close walk to the Mist Trail, The John Muir Trail, and the valley public transit system. I do not recommend driving in the Valley during the day unless you’re headed somewhere out of the valley.
Be prepared for your neighbors to have a lot of gear, with a lot going on. The City In The Woods is an apt description of the Valley floor peak season. In the end, if you’re willing to travel even just a mile beyond where the pavement ends, relative solitude can still be yours.
If you want to stay in a yurt, cabin, or other enclosed structure, look at one of the other campsites in the valley.
King’s Canyon is equally amazing, but much less crowded, than Yosemite Valley. We visited on the Sun/Mon after July 4th, and although this campground was almost full, the others in the canyon were completely empty the entire time. Leaving us the run of the park when it came to visiting sites and hiking.
Although everyone should visit the Yosemite Valley at least once, Kings Canyon would be my multi-day choice a second time around for sure. Crystal clear waters, scenic hiking and stunning waterfalls.
Campsites are typical national park style, with minimal ground cover and no firewood to collect. It should go without saying that this is an active bear area, and all rules apply.
Services are very limited after dark throughout the Sierra Nevada park systems, and the remote location makes modern amenities hard to come by. Bring anything you think you may need.
Basic bathrooms, no showers. Small store/rangers office and maybe a small eatery open in peak season throughout the day.
Large campground on top of the Glen directly outside the town of Watkins Glen.
The gorge itself is one of the most impressive natural features on the East Coast, and is a short walk from the campground.
You can also walk down into town from either the Visitors Center or the campground, making dining and a few bars accessible.
The Seneca lake area has dozens of waterfalls, natural gorges and hundreds of wineries, breweries and distilleries in the area.
Something for everyone
Medium sized campground that has smaller, tight sites. Located directly off the main access road to Sequoia National Park, making it very loud and popular. RV’s and big campers with lights and generators. Fine if your passing through or can’t find other accommodations, but I wouldn’t spend significant time there. There is a swimming hole with ancient petroglyphs and acorn grinding holes right across the street.
Typical National Park style campground, although sites are tightly packed together even for a big campground.
Wet pine forest surrounds the area, so scavenging for fire wood can be hard to come by.
For experienced hikers, many longer day hike loops are available directly from the campground.
A small state park surrounding a large pond. The campground is located on the backside of the park, with its own entrance, so follow directions carefully. Because of this, it’s slightly removed from the beach and other service areas of the park, but is connected by multi use trails. Great for biking, as the recently finished Mike Castle trail along the C&D Canal is right across the street.
A small lake-side campground in Inyo National Forest, just outside Yosemite National Park’s Eastern entrance. First come, first served with so few sites (9-11) that you would think you’re staying at the lake alone! Overlooks Tioga Lake and Mt. Dana, at an elevation of 9,800 ft., so be acclimated. Only drawback is it’s close proximity to the road, but we barely noticed.