SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After being closed for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Yosemite National Park is ready to reopen as soon as June 10 or 11, but the plan hinges on state health officials granting approval for campsites and hotels to reopen in the surrounding communities to handle many of the overnight visitors.
A June 1 letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials from the leaders of Mariposa, Mono, Tuolumne and Madera counties urges approval, and says that under a plan developed by park officials, Yosemite is prepared to reopen "on or about June 11."
The park, an international tourist destination renowned for its massive water falls, granite rock walls and Sierra forests, closed March 20. The first major step to welcoming back visitors begins Friday, when parks officials will allow people with overnight wilderness backpacking permits and permits to climb Half Dome, to enter the park.
"We have been doing our best to incrementally increase access to the park," said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. "Employees are coming back to work. Everybody is excited. Of course, our paramount concern is the safety of our visitors and employees, but we have everything from physical signs to enhanced cleaning. We are taking as many precautions as possible to prepare for it."
Hotels, restaurants and other facilities in Yosemite will not be open Friday when the first few visitors with wilderness permits and Half Dome permits arrive.
"There will be no commercial services," Gediman said. "We are asking anybody with one of these permits to bring all of their food, their beverages, their supplies, and a full tank of gas."
Meanwhile, another iconic Sierra Nevada destination, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, is scheduled to open Thursday, although campgrounds and the visitor center there will be closed.
Gediman said Yosemite workers began putting up the cables on Half Dome Tuesday. The cables allow hikers to more safely scale the sheer granite slope to the top of the famed monolith, a strenuous hike that can take 12 hours or more round-trip from the Yosemite Valley floor. Information about obtaining permits for overnight backpacking in Yosemite's wilderness back country, or for day-hiking Half Dome are available at the parks's website.
Anyone arriving at the park without a wilderness permit or Half Dome permit in the next few days will not be allowed to enter, Gediman said.
He did not offer specifics about when the wider park will open. Parks officials have drawn up a plan and shared it with local county supervisors and business leaders that will require all day-use visitors to obtain reservations online first, with the number of visitors limited to 50% of the park's usual capacity to help social distancing to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.