sierramel wrote:You CAN use the backpackers campgrounds without a permit. Just set up your camp AFTER the ranger personel close up shop (at the campground entrance nearest the Ahwahnee) at 6PM. And have yourself out of there before the rangers come back on duty at 8AM.
They don't check out the backpackers (Valley) campground until around 9AM after they make a run-through the car camp ground.
Backpackers up in Tuolomune is easier. If you have a car, park it at Lembert Dome, walk across the road from there over to the Tuolumne Meadows store and walk up behind it and through the car campground, up the hill, and to the backpackers campground near the trail to Elizabeth Lake.
Set up after 6PM. Take down your stuff before 9AM.
I stayed in TM backpacker last Monday. They came around well before 9 - before 8 am, actually, I was finishing breakfast and packing - and got a real good look at each camper on the way through... The times I've stayed in the valley, the ranger comes by a few times. Once well after 6 pm, more like 7 - I remember because it was post-dinner and we were settling in with some Half Dome ale.
TM is less particular in that they don't check permits, just that you paid and spent one night. One of the campground rangers told me that if someone rides in on a bus, without wilderness permit, staying in the bper camp is no big deal. Also, people will move into occupied campsites in any of the bper campgrounds without asking, and you may come back from that burger and soda to find three more tents within ten feet of yours.