(If you somehow ended up here in hopes that you’d find some information on cell phone reception in Yosemite, please skip down to the end. The middle part is a rant, but it’s going to make me feel better.)
PS. I wrote this a while ago and somehow never posted. If the weather doesn’t seem to match up, that’s why.
The first Yosemite cell phone story
A few days ago, on my way home from work, after dark, I passed a white van stopped in the middle of the oncoming lane of traffic, just after a sharp corner. As I passed, I noticed that some of the passengers had climbed out of the van, and that the reverse lights were on.
Two days before that we were stopped by the rangers as they tried to clear 50 cars that lost control due to snowy conditions on that very road, and my first thought was that these people had gotten into an accident and might be in trouble. So, I pulled over into the nearby pull-out, opened the door and called out to them. “Hey, are you guys OK?” They told me that, yes, they were fine, and that they were just looking for a connection.
To my credit, I did not then ask them straight out if they were out of their minds. I very politely suggested that they might get better reception further down the road, past the tunnel, and that they might pull out of traffic before someone came around that corner and crashed into them from behind. For example, they could use the very convenient pullout that I was in, right on the other side of the road.
The second Yosemite cell phone story
Also, a few days before that, I drove down into my neighborhood, came around a very icy corner, only to find another guy parked in the road, in his car, talking on his cell phone. There seems to be precisely one spot in Yosemite West where ATT and Verizon customers can get a strong enough signal to have a conversation. Unfortunately, the outside edge of a turn just past the corner where people can’t really see you, on an icy section of the road is just not the place to park your car. (And while I’m at it – neither is the middle of the road at the bottom of a steep icy hill. That’s another story, but we’ll save it.)
Searching for reception
We all love our cell phones, and driving around until you get a signal seems like an obvious solution, but seriously people, risking life and limb by doing dangerous things in traffic just isn’t worth it. If you’re lucky you will see something in Yosemite that will make you want to stop your car right where you are – whether that’s amazing scenery, wildlife, gorgeous spring wildflowers, or an extra bar on your phone. Do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and take stock of your surroundings. Is there someone already behind you, who may NOT think that Mountain Pride Penstemons or mule deer are worth stopping for? (Sometimes they are, sometimes not.) Can you see far enough back that if someone is approaching you’ll be able to accelerate to not inconvenience them? Is the road icy? Is there a spot where you can pull completely out of traffic so that you can stop and stare to your heart’s content? Sometimes you’re going to have to continue on to a place where you can get off the road and then get out of your car and return to the spot of interest on foot.
Finding a cell signal
Cell phone reception is improving, but is still spotty in the mountains. Here are some of the best bets for getting a connection that I know of.
Coming into the Park:
Cell phone reception starts to get shaky after Oakdale on Hwy 120 and after Oakhurst on Hwy 41. I think you can usually get good reception in Mariposa on 140 but I don’t travel that way very often. If I’m trying to coordinate with people by cell, I usually try to call from outside the park and then estimate the time it will take until I arrive at my destination.
In Yosemite Valley:
The ATT and Verizon signal in the Valley is strongest near the Visitors Center/Village Store area and decreases the further you get from there. For example, I have 5 bars (ATT) in the Village area, and can have a reliable conversation if I’m outdoors at Curry Village, but if I’m indoors my phone may or may not ring. Most climbers can make calls from the face of El Capitan, but the true (hiker’s) summit isn’t reliable.
There are payphones available in most of the likely spots, including at Curry Village, and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls near the front desks. There’s a booth at Camp 4, and some phones next to the Village Store, at the Glacier Point Gift shop etc. If you aren’t sure you’ll get reception, bring change (there are also calling cards available for purchase in the stores).
I’m told that even ATT doesn’t work that well in Wawona. Verizon customers can get service, but other people might have to use a pay phone. There is one at the Wawona Store next to the gas station.
Apparently they installed a new cell tower in Tuolumne a few years ago, which means that we are getting better reception now than we used to in the high country. No promises. There are payphones by the Tuolumne Store.
In Yosemite West:
There are two payphones in the neighborhood. One is located at the first intersection next to the mailboxes. The other is supposed to be somewhere up by Yosemite West Condos, but I haven’t seen it. The cell reception is pretty limited, but as you head down into the neighborhood, you’ll go by a guard rail on the right with a great view of Forresta. Usually you can get a signal there. If it is dark or slippery, I would recommend taking the left option at the Y, and parking a short distance up that road and then walking back. If you step over the guard rail, there is a cleared out spot that should keep you out of traffic.
Send Text – When reception gets spotty, it’s easier to send a whole text than have a partial conversation.
Disclaimer – Reception depends on many factors including service provider, phone and weather conditions. Cell phones are not as reliable in the mountains as elsewhere. Plan accordingly. Also, I haven’t done an exhaustive survey of cell phone reception, or pay phone locations. If you have other experiences or information, please don’t hesitate to share.