Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is California’s oldest National Park. Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome are just some of the attractions that people come to see when they visit this gem. We’ve put together our list of the top ten things to do in Yosemite year round, and our top natural sites to see for an ultimate one or two day itinerary in Yosemite. Perfect for when you are short on time and don’t want to miss the highlights.
We’ve put together our list of pro tips for everything you need to know from fees, and transportation, to the best lodgings, and what you need to know about the park itself. Plus ideas for what not to miss on a one or two day Yosemite itinerary.
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Yosemite National Park Overview
Yosemite has a rich cultural history, including the Miwok and Paiute tribes. Yosemite Valley was inhabited for over four thousand years before the first white settlers arrived in 1849. The park is home to some incredible wildlife, including bears, deer, mountain lions, foxes and raccoons. Yosemite has over 3200 plant species and 450 animal species.
Yosemite is at an elevation of over 2400m (7874 feet) at its highest peak Half Dome, which sits just on the border of Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park was established on October 01, 1890 and is now home to almost three million visitors per year. It’s easy to see why once you enter the park and take in the stunning views all around.
This National Park offers many opportunities for outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, camping and more. Yosemite has an abundance of waterfalls – some are hidden gems found deep in the forest.
It is a great vacation destination, as it is open year round and offers something for everyone from one day in Yosemite, to a 2 day Yosemite itinerary or week long adventures. Plus it is an easy drive from San Fransisco.
Yosemite offers visitors the chance to hike stunning trails, enjoy it’s beautiful scenery and wildlife, or take in Yosemite’s unique history. With so many things to do Yosemite is truly an amazing place for your next family holiday!
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Fees & Passes
You will need to pay an entrance fee to enter the park which is good for seven days
- Car, truck, van, Rv with 15 or less passengers: $30
- Motorcycle: $30
- Foot, Bicycle or by Horse: $20
- Annual Yosemite Pass: $70
- America the Beautiful Yearly Pass (all parks): $80
Seniors, persons with disabilities, veterans and 4th graders can get passes for free.
ENTRANCE RESERVATIONS REQUIRED FOR 2022
A reservation will be required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park May 20–September 30, 2022, for the peak hours from 6 am–4 pm. This is due to infrastructure repair. If you have a campground reservation inside the park, a peak-hours reservation is not required.
PRO TIP: Save money on entrance fees by buying an annual America the Beautiful Park Pass. You can use it at over 2000 National Parks and Federal Rec sites in the USA.
The pass covers entrance fees for driver and passengers, which is especially useful if you are planning on a long road trip or visiting more than one park in a year.
How to Get to Yosemite
Yosemite is accessible by an easy drive from San Fransisco, San Diego or a little further afield from Las Vegas.
Winter Driving: If you are driving in winter from November to March, be aware there may be tire chain / cable requirments in affect. This is federal regulation inside the park and state law outside the park. You will need to buy your own, even if you are renting a car, as most don’t provide them for you.
PRO TIP: If you are driving, fill up your tank before you get to the park, as gas inside the park is expensive. For gas stations inside the park their are two, one near the south entrance at Wawona, and one at Crane Flat where Big Oak Flat Road meets Tioga Road.
From San Fransisco
To visit Yosemite from San Francisco the easiest and most direct route is through the Big Oak Flat Entrance or to the southeast at Arch Road Entrance. Its 195 miles / 314 km and takes 4-5 hours.
- For Big Oak Flat Entrance, take I-580 east to I-205 east to Highway 120 east via Manteca, California
- For the Arch Road Entrance take I-580 east to I-205 east to Highway 140 east into the park.
If you are looking to avoid driving, you can always grab a transfer or day tour from San Fransisco:
- Transfer from San Fransisco to Yosemite (flexible return dates)
- Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip (small group)
- Yosemite National Park and a Giant Sequoia Walk
From San Diego or LA
The closest entrance is the south entrance along Highway 41. Take I-5 north (or I-405 north to I-5) to Highway 99 north to Highway 41 north (Fresno) into Yosemite National Park. It will take you about 6 hours to drive the 313 mi / 504 km.
From Las Vegas, Reno, Death Valley
The eastern entrance via Highway 120 and the Tioga Pass is only open late May / June to October.
- Las Vegas is about an 8 hour drive, 400 mi / 642 km. Take US-95 North to Tonopah, then US-95/US-6 west to Highway 120. Go west on Highway 120 into Yosemite National Park
- Reno & Lake Tahoe 218 mi / 351 km (Reno), about a 5 hour drive. Take US 395 south to Lee Vining; take Highway 120 west into Yosemite National Park.
- From Death Valley it will take you about 5 hours, 270 mi / 435 km. Take Highway 190 west to US 395. Take US 395 north to Lee Vining; take Highway 120 east into Yosemite National Park.
Don’t want to drive, take a transfer or day trip:
- From Lake Tahoe: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Tour
Bus, Train, Public Transportation
There are some public transportation (YARTS) and bus and amtrak options, which you can find out more about on the NPS website here, as things are changing regularly due to COVID.
Shuttle in the Park
Usually there is a free Yosemite Valley shuttle system which provides convenient access all around Yosemite Valley. To find out more about it’s routes check on the NPS website.
When the shuttle is running, it is a great way to get around the park. Parking can be an major issue and headache with sooooo many visitors come each year, espcially during the main summer season. Here are some of the main options when the shuttle is open.
- Yosemite Valley Shuttle: Services the area around eastern valley, most accommodations in the area, shops and major view points.
- El Capitan Shuttle: Seasonal, operates mid June to October. Stops at El Capitan, Four Mile trailhead, and the Valley Visitor Center.
- Mariposa Grove Shuttle: Typically runs mid March to mid-November, and is the main way to get to the grove. Runs from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (near South Entrance) to Mariposa Grove.
- Badger Pass Ski Area: Free seasonal service. Runs twice daily between Yosemite Valley and Badger Pass whenever the ski facilities are open, usually mid-December to March
Best Time to Visit Yosemite
Yosemite National Park is a year round destination and can be visited in any season. Yosemite’s high altitude means the park is open to snow, and you can enjoy winter fun in Yosemite Valley .
The most popular time of year to visit Yosemite National Park is from May through September when temperatures are warmest. Yosemite is busiest during the summer months, so if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, plan your Yosemite visit in the spring or fall when temperatures are milder.
PRO TIP: As millions of people visit the park between April and October, if you want to avoid the crowds and car congestion / delays, arrive before 9am or after 5pm. The popular southern entrance can have hours long waits to get into the park at its busiest.
TOP PLACES TO STAY YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
There are many places to stay near Yosemite National Park, but these are some of our favorites that are located within the Park itself, or close to the entrances:
The Ahwahnee Hotel Yosemite
The Ahwahnee Hotel Yosemite is an iconic building, and one we suggest you visit, even if you aren’t planning on staying here. This hotel is the perfect place to stay because of its prime location within Yosemite Valley. It has some of Yosemite’s best hiking trails on its doorstep and it is an easy walk to Yosemite Lodge Dining Room. It’s also magical at Christmas time, for a winter wonderland escape.
Yosemite Valley Lodge
Open year round, the Yosemite Valley Lodge in the park, is considered one of the best choices for families and groups of travelers for exploring the area. Beautiful views of Yosemite Falls beckon. It’s also an easy mile and a half hike to the Firefall event in February.
The historic Yosemite Lodge has been welcoming guests since 1927 and offers rooms, suits and cabins. Guests love their location as it’s within walking distance to many sights, it’s great food options, the free bike rentals, the pool, and clean rooms.
Yosemite Valley Cottages & Homes
Yosemite Valley View
If you are looking to get away from the crowds, than the spacious, and more upscale Yosemite Valley View is a great choice.
- Enjoy the stunning views of El Capitan and Half Dome with your morning coffee on the deck.
- It has 3 bedrooms and easily sleeps 6.
- You will be inside the park and only 10 minutes from the valley floor.
- Perfect place to avoid the crowds, and soak in some views, with easy park access.
Guests love the location in the park (it’s the closest private rental to the Valley), the beautiful, clean and comfortable well stocked home, and the gorgeous views. Plus these family friendly accomodations are stocked up on movies, games and a BBQ.
Homestead Cottages – Budget Friendly
Or enjoy the peace, and relaxation of these cozy, affordable Homestead Cottages. It’s located on 160 acres of woodland and is just minutes from the southern entrance of Yosemite Park.
Curry Village Tent Cabins
If you are looking for something more rustic and unique, try Curry Village Tent Cabins. Think camping, but heated and with a bed.
- They are Yosemite National Park’s only campground that offers tent cabins.
- You can also rent cabins, and enjoy amenities such as showers, restrooms, a restaurant and coffee shop, and seasonal pool open May to September.
- Guests love the prime location in the park, the cozy heated tents and of course the awe inspiring views right outside your tent.
- Plus Curry Village has one of the best places to go ice skating in the winter.
Sierra Meadows Cabins – Glamping
For a fun and unique place to stay, try out glamping in the Sierra Meadows Micro Cabins.
- Cute one room cabins, nestled amongst the trees, and meadows, just outside the South entrance to Yosemite National Park.
- The Awanhee golf course is across the street with many walking trails.
- Bikes are free for guests to use, and there is a pool in summer.
- They also have larger 1 or 2 bedroom cabins if you are traveling with family.
PRO GLAMPING TIP: Book #23-28 as they are more private in the back corner, and face the woods.
Camping in Yosemite National Park
There are thirteen campgrounds in Yosemite National Park. Reservations for all of the park’s campgrounds are made through Yosemite National Park Service. They go fast, so make sure you know when reservations open up and be prepared to head online and book immediately.
There are a lot of changes and rehabilitation projects happening so make sure to check far in advance on the NPS website for campground info as to what’s open, what’s not and when and how to book.
Yosemite Valley offers four campgrounds – Upper Pines, Lower Pine, North Pines and Camp Four. All of these campgrounds allow reservations (except for Camp Four) and can be reserved up to six months in advance.
- Upper Pines: Is open Year Round. Offers RV & tent camping.
- Lower Pines: Open April to October with RV and tent camping.
- North Pines: Open April to October They are piloting a lottery system for reservations at this campground for arrival dates from July 21 through September 14, 2022 for early access to reservations.
- Camp Four: Open year round, tent camping only and pets not allowed.Approximately mid-May through mid-October, campsites will be available only by daily lottery, one day in advance.
Hogdon Meadow is located north of Yosemite National Park, along the Big Oak Flat Road at the Big Oak Flat Entrance, but still offers a great Yosemite camping experience. This campground offers tent and RV camping, and can be reserved April to October.
Tuolumne Meadows is located at the east end of Yosemite Valley and is usually open from late May through early September. However it is under renovations and is not expected to reopen until 2024/25.
Looking for horse campsites? Yup it’s a thing. Horse campsites are available during summer at Wawona, Bridalveil Creek, and Tuolumne Meadows Campgrounds. Reservations are available only by calling 209-375-9535. However Bridalveil and Tuolumne will be closed for 2022.
What to Pack for Your Yosemite Vacation
The weather can be unpredictable in Yosemite National Park, so it’s best to pack layers of clothing that can be easily adjusted depending on the weather conditions.
Be sure to pack hiking boots, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses as well as adequate supplies of water and food.
In winter you will want to pack snow gear including boots, a coat, hat and gloves. And of course you will want to bring your camera any time of year to capture the stunning scenery.
PRO TIP: Bring a swimsuit in summer months. You can check out the pool in Curry Village, or even better, take a dip in the Merced River. There’s a swimming area near the Housekeeping Camp along with picnic tables and bbq grills or the easy to access Tenaya Lake.
How many days do you need to visit Yosemite?
If you’re short on time and want to see the highlights of Yosemite National Park, we recommend at least a full one or two day Yosemite itinerary. However to see all the sights and do many of the hikes you would need a week or more.
YOSEMITE TWO DAY ITINERARY
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Yosemite, that it will be hard to fit in all the highlights in one or two days. It will give a chance to experience the beauty of the natural world, and may even entice you to come back for longer next time.
One great way to see the park if you have such a short time is to take a tour. There are great options from San Fransisco and surrounding areas for day trips, if you prefer someone take care of all the details for you:
- San Fransisco to Yosemite and Giant Sequoia Hike Day Trip (Full Day)
- Small group tour from San Fransisco to Yosemite
Otherwise, we hope these itineraries give you a good place to start. Then check out all the details afterwards in the top ten things to do.
👉 Also check out our Top 10 things to do in Yosemite for all the tips & details you’ll need to plan your activities listed here.
One Day in Yosemite
If you only have one day in Yosemite, you are not going to want to miss visiting Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Valley is the most popular destination in Yosemite National Park, and includes El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite Village (including Half Dome Village), and Yosemite Falls. This itinerary is perfect for most of the year. If you are looking for more wintery activities you can check out some of our winter suggestions here.
Day One Itinerary
One Day Yosemite Itinerary will include:
- Visitor Centre
- Tunnel View,
- Lower Yosemite Falls
- Lunch at Yosemite Valley Lodge Dining Room or Degnan’s Deli
- Glacier Point
- Sunset at Taft Point or El Capitan Meadow
Day One Yosemite – Sunrise & Morning Activities
When you first enter Yosemite National Park, stop at the visitor center and get oriented to the park. Pick up maps and information on current conditions.
Then start your day by driving to Yosemite Valley and stopping at Tunnel View. If you only have one day in Yosemite, try to get to Tunnel View for sunrise, it is magical, and not to be missed. This view of Yosemite National Park was made famous by photographer Ansel Adams and it shows why he is considered one of the best Yosemite photographers.
This viewpoint gives you an amazing view of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome. After taking in the views at Tunnel View, continue on to Yosemite Village and park in the parking lot near Yosemite Lodge.
From Yosemite Lodge, walk to Lower Yosemite Falls and enjoy one of nature’s most powerful waterfalls. Yosemite Falls is a great place to spend your morning, and is one of Yosemite’s most popular easy hikes. It’s about a one mile loop that will only take about 30 minutes if you don’t stop along the way.
Day One Yosemite – Lunch & Afternoon Activities
After Yosemite Falls, walk back to Yosemite Village and have lunch at the Yosemite Valley Lodge Dining Room or Degnan’s Deli. If the weather is nice, grab some food to go, and head to El Capitan Meadow for a picnic.
In the afternoon, head over to Curry Village and take the shuttle ride (when it’s running) or car up to Glacier Point. If you are driving, stop at Washburn Point for a clear view of Half Dome. From Glacier Point, you can see lovely views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and more.
Day One Yosemite – Sunset
Hike options from Glacier point include the moderate 2.2 km trail to Taft Point, popular at sunset for it’s otherworldly views. Or the Sentinel Dome Trail, a 1.1 mile moderate hike, uphill to a 360 degree epic view of the park.
After Glacier Point, if you aren’t hiking Taft Point for sunset, take the shuttle or your car back down to Yosemite Village and head towards Yosemite Falls or El Capitan Meadows for sunset.
Sunset is a great time to photograph El Capitan Meadow or Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley. From Yosemite Falls you will get an amazing view of Yosemite’s granite cliffs with the evening light creating moving shadows. El Capitan appears to stand guard over the Yosemite Valley from this vantage point.
NOTE: The Glacier Point Road is open usually June to October, however will be closed to the public in 2022 due to construction. This means Glacier Point will only be accessible by long, strenuous hiking trails in 2022 ( Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails). Bridalveil Falls will also unfortunately be closed until Fall 2022.
Alternate Moderate to Strenous One Day Itinerary Ideas: If Glacier Point is closed, try hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall in the morning, and then head to the Lower Yosemite Falls in the afternoon. Mist Trail is best hiked in the morning in the summer months as it is cooler on the exposed trail. The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall is a fairly strenous 3 hour return hike, well worth it for the views. Enjoy sunset at El Capitan Meadows, or Yosemite Falls.
Alternate Easy One Day Itinerary Ideas: When Glacier Point and Bridalveil Falls are closed try Mariposa Grove and the family friendly Big Trees Loop Trail, after visiting Tunnel View. Go really early in the morning, to grab a parking spot and beat the crowds. Then hike the Lower Yosemite Falls in the afternoon, and El Capitan Meadows for sunset.
2 Days in Yosemite
If you have two days in Yosemite, then use our suggestions for Day One and continue on with our day two Yosemite itinerary. You can make it a Yosemite weekend trip, or stay during the week in the less busy season to have a quieter experience.
Day Two Itinerary
Day Two Yosemite Itinerary will include:
- Sunrise at Glacier Point or Swinging Bridge
- Mariposa Grove
- Bridalveil Falls
Day 2 Yosemite Itinerary – Sunrise & Morning Activities
To start your second day of your Yosemite itinerary head to Glacier Point or Swinging Bridge for sunrise. Sunrise at Swinging Bridge is not as popular, but has equally as impressive views of Yosemite Falls. The sun peaks through the Valley creating an orange glow across the cliffs around Yosemite Falls, and lights up the dew in the morning. It is also a good place to take a stroll around the Valley meadows.
After sunrise at the Swinging Bridge head to Mariposa Grove for a bucket list worthy visit of giant sequoias. The grove is about an hour drive from the valley, and just inside the South Gate entrance outside of Oakhurst and Bass Lake. Two of the trees in this park are amongst the largest in the world, making this a very special place to visit.
Take the lower grove loop trail (Grizzly Giant Loop Trail starting at Mariposa Grove Trail at the Big Trees Loop) to hit all the highlights in the grove Fallen Monarch, Bachelor, Three Graces, Grizzly Giant and the Tunnel Tree. Plan for about two hours.
Note: The free shuttle normally runs April to November, to take visitors up to the trailhead of Mariposa Grove. The road is only available by car to persons with a disability placard April through November when the road is accessible.
During winter (December 1 through March 30) it doesn’t usually run. When the shuttle isn’t available, you will need to park in the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza parking lot and either hike up the road, or the Washburn Trail. Both are 2 miles, around an hour one way.
For more info check out the NPS site for up to date info on shuttle schedules & access to Mariposa Grove.
Day 2 Yosemite Itinerary – Lunch & Afternoon Activities
Then head back to Yosemite Valley for lunch and then a visit to Bridalveil Falls. This waterfall is one of Yosemite’s most photographed waterfalls and it is easy to see why. The view from the parking lot is great, but for a better view, walk up the paved path to the base of Yosemite’s most powerful waterfall. The path takes only about ten minutes to walk up.
Alternate to Bridalveil Falls: As Bridalveil Falls will be closed until Fall 2022, I’ve put together a few more ideas you could try:
- Head to Yosemite Village and check out the Museum and Ansel Adams Gallery.
- Rent bikes at Curry Village, Yosemite Village, or Yosemite Valley Lodge, or use the Yosemite bike share program and take a ride along the 12 miles of bike paths in the park. More info on bike share program here.
- Or if you have more energy, take an easy hike along the Mirror Lake Trail (1 hour return) or the easy Meadow Lake Loop Trail (30 minute loop).
If Yosemite National Park had a sunset to rival Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View would be it. Take in the view from here while you can enjoy Yosemite’s granite domes bathed in the setting sun. This is one of Yosemite’s most famous views but few people take advantage of this great spot during their visit to Yosemite National Park.
Day 2 – Dinner
Then head out for a fancy dinner at the historic Awahnee Hotel and Dining Room if it’s in your budget, or a fancy drink if not. The food is delicious, and service exceptional. Be sure to make reservations. The Awahnee Hotel is also a popular place to stay in the park.
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Conclusion: Yosemite Itinerary, Two Days in Yosemite
The ideal destination for a weekend is Yosemite National Park. Depending on your interests, you may spend one or two days or more. Our Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary is perfect for families, couples or solo adventures who want to combine hikes, with stunning views and perfect photo opportunities for memories that will last a lifetime.
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- Anything else? Check out our Family Travel Resources & Tips page
Other related travel tips and destinations:
- How to save money for your next family vacation
- What not to miss – Bryce Canyon in a Day
- Tips for Zion National Park with Kids
- Best Walkie Talkies for Road Trippers
Ultimate 2 Day Yosemite Itinerary & Guide: Best Things to do in Yosemite
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