Yosemite Wilderness Protocol
Rule Number One; (and this is an immutable fact of life; read this carefully and understand it!)
You may not go into the backcountry without a wilderness permit. Period. If you are caught without one, you will be summarily ejected from the forest immediately. Plus, you will be fined $75. It matters not the time of day, how far deep you are in, nadda.  The ranger will wait while you pack your stuff, and will escort you out of your immediate area, and you will be told to report to the ranger station in the valley. He or she will radio ahead that you are coming out, and you will be expected to report to the ranger station to confirm your ejection and note your citation.  If you do not show, it is a FEDERAL contempt violation which boosts the fine to about $250.  If you have no identification on you such as driver's license, they will have someone come up and get you and escort you down the hill. And he or she will not smile.  They govern the number of people who can enter the wilderness on a per-trailhead basis.  For instance, say you want to leave on your trip from Happy Isles trailhead, or the Vernal Falls trail.  (This is the most popular debarkation point in Yosemite, by the way...)  You will get a permit that notes where you entered the wilderness, and the date, your destination and expected date out.  When the ranger asks for this permit, have it readily accessible.  It's just like a traffic stop on the highway.

WORK-AROUND: Now, having said all that, here's how to tweak the system to get around those trailhead quotas; Peruse your map, and find a parallel trail that will get you to the same place, but by a different wilderness entry point.  What we have done frequently is upon finding that Happy Isles is booked, we ask for a trail head out of Glacier Point Road (Mono Meadow) and then head over to Little Yosemite and we're good to go.  Getting to the same place, just not on the same trail.  Now, don't ask for a trail head entry point in Tuolumne Meadows and go in at Wawona, that won't work.  Rangers are not stupid, and if you do that, even though you have a wilderness permit, it's not for a valid trailhead based on where you actually are, and they will throw you out of the woods. 

Just so you know, and just in case you're thinking of bucking the system, I have been awakened by the ranger from a sound sleep checking permits.  He was on a horse, and as I stuck my head groggily out of my tent, he and his horse were looking down on me from on high, and it scared the s*** out of me.  Granted, it was about 8:30am, and I was sleeping in, but I couldn't find my permit at first, and he was getting impatient.  I ALWAYS that's ALWAYS get "carded" when I backpack. 

(Funny story: We were at Little Yosemite and this new, cocky belligerent arrogant female ranger came over pushing her weight around asking for wilderness permits from everybody, and I started making fun of her by imitating a stern Nazi Gestapo agent asking "You vill present your payyy-pers Plise"  "Pee-pers, plise" and everyone roared with laughter.  One guy couldn't find his permit; his hiking partner had it, and that guy was off somewhere not in camp.  She was getting real bitchy, so I started "YOU HAVE NO PAY-PERS! Vee...have...vays...of...dealing...with violators! YOU...VILL....PRODUCE...YOUR... PAY-PERS... OR FACE THE CON-SE-QUENCES.... YES?"  Our crowd was just in tears laughing, as this gal had to complete her inspections, and she was getting PISSED, but we did not let up.  She looked at me with that look...  and if looks could kill, I'd be dead...  Some rangers just get power-mad.  So we give it right back to them.  Screw 'em)

Rule Two: No Fires Above 9,600 feet.  
They will bust you good for that, too.  Watch your topo map and pay attention to what elevation you are camping at for the night.  They are hard-core about this.

Rule Three: Do NOT cut any wood. 
That includes fallen trees.  You may collect wood that is readily available only by picking it up loose.  They'll bust you for cutting any wood.  Big time.  Note about the valley floor: DO NOT pick up loose wood ANYWHERE on the valley floor.  You must collect it outside the valley.  The valley is defined as that area below the gate near Bridalveil Falls parking lot. You will drive by and drool at all the fallen oak that is just lying in piles; you can't touch it.  Don't even think about it.  WORK-AROUND: Go to Foresta and collect all the dry, loose wood you can burn.  Drive into the area and proceed all the way past the barns, and keep going back until you cross a small bridge, go up the hill and start looking after you pass the green house on the left and where the road turns dirt. There is tons of firewood up there and it's close to the valley floor.  An afternoon of foraging will fill your pickup.  Be careful; the road is a BAD road, so don't take a really nice car back there.  Trucks and beater-cars only.  There will be lots of dust...  Also, you can go to areas between Bridalveil and Wawona and pick up loose wood where you find it.  But just remember: Do NOT pick it up off the valley floor.

Rule Four: Use the bear canisters.
The rumor is that hanging food does not work anymore.  I would challenge that assumption.  If you are camping at a developed campsite this is probably true.  But if you are bushwhacking a campsite (creating a new site) then you will more than likely do OK with hanging your food, IF you do it properly. 

Winter Wilderness

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays in the wilderness. Those leaving from Badger Pass must register at the Badger Pass Ranger Station. Wilderness self-registration permit stations for other areas are located at the Big Oak Flat visitor contact station, Hills Studio in Wawona, the Ski Hut in Tuolumne Meadows, and from 9:00 to 5:00 at the Valley Visitor Center. Anyone entering the wilderness in winter should leave a detailed itinerary with a trusted friend or relative including information indicating at which point a search should be initiated.

Most wilderness users will find the best day and overnight trail options leaving from the Badger Pass area. There are more than 50 miles of marked trails and the Glacier Point Road beyond Badger pass is groomed. For Ostrander Ski Hut information and reservations call 209-372-0740. The Yosemite Cross Country Center operates overnight guided ski trips to Glacier Point, for information about this trip and equipment rentals call 209-372-8444. All overnight users are required to register for overnight parking at the Badger Ranger Station.

Marked Ski trails are also available at Crane Flat and at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia. Check at the Valley Visitor Center for information and maps of these three nordic ski areas.

All winter Wilderness travelers should be prepared for sudden storms. Snow, hail, and freezing rain can occur through out the park. Creeks and rivers can rise suddenly, trails can become obliterated by snow. Hazards such as slippery and icy conditions, difficult creek crossings, rock and ice fall, and challenging route finding are all possible. Check the weather before you come and plan for the possibility of wet and cold conditions. Be aware of the risks of hypothermia.

Tuolumne Meadows is a popular destination for skilled wilderness skiers. Avalanche potential is high with December snows overlaying the old snow from early November. Any new snow increases the avalanche danger. It is strongly recommend that anyone skiing in the high Sierra this winter dig a snow pit to determine snow stability. Avalanche conditions are likely to persist through out the winter and can vary greatly from place to place. If you are not familiar with assessing avalanche conditions it is highly recommended that you ski on the marked trails at Badger pass, Crane Flat and the Mariposa Grove. For updated Tuolumne information call 372-0450 between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm.

Those entering Yosemite from the east side can obtain self registration wilderness permits at the Tuolumne Ski Hut.

Bear Resistant Food Canisters are recommended in all parts of the Yosemite Wilderness and are required in the Rancheria falls area near Hetch Hetchy. Bear resistant food canisters can be rented at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, the Valley Sport Shop, the Curry Village Mountain Shop, the Wawona and Crane Flat Stores and at the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station. Bear canister rentals and road hours call 209-379-1922.

The Yosemite Wilderness is here for you to enjoy and help protect-plan ahead, leave no trace, stay safe, and have fun.