With Memorial Day Weekend just two days away, the Mountain Area tourism industry is preparing for the summer season and most seem to have a positive outlook of what the season will bring.
"All indications are that we are going to have a fantastic summer season," said Dan Cunning, chief executive officer of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau. "Hotels are reporting a larger number of reservations than last year. Yosemite is reporting a 25% increase in visitation from this time last year."
Max Stauffer, owner of Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and president of the visitors bureau, said he's looking forward to a busy season thanks to the efforts of the bureau and the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.
Generally, the visitation to Yosemite comes from people in California -- 80% of the visits here are from people within the state," Stauffer said. "The commute to Yosemite and this area is an inexpensive way to spend their tourism dollars."
Stauffer said the Mountain Area has a lot to offer, besides Yosemite.
"There's just a lot to do in the area, including Fresno Flats, the Golden Chain Theatre, shops in Oakhurst, sight-seeing and outdoor recreation -- fishing, boating, hiking, mountain biking," he said.
Even with gas prices more than $4 a gallon, Cunning says he doesn't think that it will be a major factor in tourism to the area.
"I think it's going to be a very good year," said Kevin Miller of Miller's Landing Resort at Bass Lake. "The weather has just been holding out so that really helps us. Gas prices are another question entirely and hope it doesn't affect it but phone calls are pointing to a good season.
Miller said last Memorial Day weekend's bad weather washed out tourism but this year is looking good.
Jim Langly, manager for California Land Management that operate the 500 camp sites at Bass Lake said they were able to get an earlier start on reservations this year.
"The weather's been a huge factor," he said. "We're filling up now. We're looking for a better year than last year. We'll see if that holds."
He said weekends are filling up fast beginning this weekend and popular camp sites are running full most of the summer.
Tenaya Lodge manager Tom McCann said they have been hiring since March and are still hiring for the summer season. During winter, they have about 200 employees but in the summer months their employment jumps to 425.
"Last season we had many record months and are hoping to duplicate that," McCann said. "Our bookings are looking stronger so we're looking for an epic summer."
McCann said the winter months were rather disappointing because of the lack of snow but he is looking forward to a strong summer.
Jerry Rankin, manager of the Comfort Inn in Oakhurst, said it should be another good summer at the hotel.
"All the indications are for a very healthy summer and we're particularly getting a lot of travelers from other countries traveling on their own," Rankin said. They fly to this country and rent a car and drive to Yosemite."
Rankin did say that bus tour activity seems to be slowing down.
"It may not seem like it to the general public trying to shop at Raley's or Vons, but it is off somewhat from last year," he said. "Overall we're still in good shape and some of those lost tours are being replaced by tourists booking unusually late."
Rankin said winter was a little rough this year with bookings low but this May's bookings are up from last year.
"This whole summer should be good ... selling every room every night generally and always on weekends," he said. "On weekends, this town could use 10 more hotels. For some reason this May is busier. Maybe it's the weather. Yosemite isn't going anywhere and people from around the world want to see it."
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park's 13 valley floor campgrounds are reservation only and are already full for the season. Campers wishing to stay on the valley floor must reserve a space five months in advance. However, cancellations are possible so hopeful campers should not be discouraged according to Kari Cobb, public affairs officer for the park. There are first come, first serve campgrounds, but they are outside of the valley floor.
Every year, the park hires about 600 seasonal employees for the busy summer season. Those employees include everything from maintenance workers to back country rangers. Cobb said during the spring of 2011, the park experienced very high visitation due to the waterfalls after a 200% more than normal snowpack and that the waterfalls were gushing all year long.
"This year, however, we received a little less than 50% of snowpack so the waterfalls aren't going to last as long, especially Yosemite Falls," Cobb said. Depending on how hot it is, Cobb said Yosemite Falls could dry up as early as late June instead of July or August -- when it normally dries up. Cobb said Yosemite usually sees its highest number of visitors June through August and although they don't know what to expect this year, numbers might not be as high as last year when visitation exceeded four million.
Even though water levels aren't as high as last year, water safety is important. She said the water in the park is still very cold and swift moving and that people should be aware of that and its potential danger.
Highway 120 East (Tioga Road), leading to Yosemite's high country, has already opened. The road usually isn't open until mid to late June.
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, General Store, and Grill are opening tomorrow (May 25) for the season.
"The National Park Service and Delaware North Companies worked closely to achieve an early opening date for High Sierra accommodations and services," said Dan Jensen, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite president. "We are thankful for the effort from the National Park Service and are thrilled to offer access to services in Tuolumne Meadows so early this year. These early openings provide additional opportunities for people to enjoy Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite and the beauty of the High Sierra."
The Half Dome cables that allow hikers to climb to the summit of Half Dome will be ready for use Friday, weather permitting, according to Cobb. Visitors are required to have a permit to ascend the Half Dome cables. The majority of the permits were distributed through a lottery system that ended in March, but approximately 50 permits per day are available through a two day in advance lottery. Visitors without a permit that wish to hike the cables may enter the lottery two days in advance of their planned day hike by visiting www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Details: www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm.
Cobb said one upcoming summer highlight that many people don't know about is full moon, ranger led tram tours that are held four nights prior to the full moon and then the night of the full moon itself. Tours are two hours long. Information on tours can be found out nps.gov/yose