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!
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.
TIP: Buy an annual America the Beautiful Park Pass to save money on entrance fees to more than 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.
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.
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. However it is not running in 2021. To find out more about it’s routes and plans for resuming the shuttle, 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 nd 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:
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 and a great place to stay for exploring the area. Views of Yosemite Falls beckon. It’s also an easy mile and a half hike to the Firefall event in February.
The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is located in Yosemite Valley and offers visitors beautiful views of Yosemite Falls. This historic 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.
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.
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. They also have cabins to rent, as well 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 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 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.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN YOSEMITE
Yosemite is known for its year round outdoor adventures, epic views, and waterfalls. Here is a list of the top ten things to do in Yosemite if you are short on time, and don’t want to miss the quintessential experience:
- Visit or hike to Yosemite Falls / Lower Yosemite Falls
- Hike the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
- Picnic in El Capitan Meadow
- Sunset at Tunnel View
- Tour Yosemite Village & Curry Village (Previously Half Dome Village) (Ice skate in winter)
- View Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from Glacier Point
- Photograph Bridalveil Fall
- Meander along Mirror Lake Trail
- Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls & Nevada Falls
- Walk amongst Giant Sequioas in Mariposa Grove
Yosemite Falls are one of Yosemite National Park’s most famous attractions – this waterfall is the highest in North America at 2425ft . Yosemite Falls is at it’s peak in spring, and can be up to five times higher than normal. To get to Yosemite falls, you can hike Yosemite Falls Trail. The waterfall is often dry late July or August through October.
You can see the falls from both the Yosemite Falls Trail, and Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.
Yosemite Falls Trail
The Yosemite Falls Trail is a moderate to strenous hike that gives great views of the falls. There are two main destinations, along the trail. To start the trail, head to Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2) along the Valley Loop Trail:
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip
Time: 2-3 hours round trip
Begin at: Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2). Open year round, but conditions vary season to season.
Perfect for: People who don’t mind hiking up hill,
The Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock is a moderate 2-3 hours hike round trip. If you make it to the rock you will be well rewarded for your hard work with with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. Add another 0.5 mile to get to a gorgeous view of the Falls.
Top of Yosemite Falls
Distance: 7.2 miles (11.6 km) round trip
Time: 6-8 hours round trip
Begin at: Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2). Open year round, but very icy , slippery with lots of snow in winter.
Perfect for: adventurers, or people with a fair bit of fitness, or experienced hikers.
To hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, past the Columbia Rock is a strenous 6-8 hours round trip. It is steep and rocky, and you can see Yosemite Creek which feeds the falls. Use caution.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km) loop
Time: 30 minutes
Begin at: Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6 when it is running). Open year round
Perfect for: Families and kids, and anyone who wants an easy hike to see the falls, and doesn’t mind crowds (in busy season).
For an easy hike, take the Lower Falls Trail which is about a 30 minute 1 mile (1.6 km) loop to the base of the falls. This trail is open year round. Start at the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6). The flow peaks in spring and early summer and the trail will reward you with fantastic views of both Upper and Lower Falls, as well as Yosemite Creek.
From the Valley Visitor center, walk along the bicycle path to shuttle stop #6 and begin the trail
PRO TIP: For the best views of the Falls, walk the loop in a clockwise direction. It is a paved trail, and the eastern loop is wheelchair accessible if not covered in snow.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Distance: 11.5 mi (18.5 km) full loop or 7.2 mi (11.6 km) half loop
Difficulty: Moderate, mostly level trail, with some hilly areas and varied surfaces (paved, dirt, rocks, sand)
Time: 5-7 hours full loop, 2.5-3.5 hours half loop
Begin at: Lower Yosemite Fall (shuttle stop #6). Head west along the bicycle path until you see signs for the Valley Loop Trail. Open year round, but the south side of the valley can be snowy and icy in places in the winter.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail offers amazing views of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan Meadow. This is a great way to relax after Yosemite Falls. The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail takes you past roads, meadows, base of granite cliffs and along the Merced River. This trail is a great option if you want to slow down and take in all the Yosemite Valley scenery.
PRO TIP: Take a map with you as it can be difficult to find the route at times, and you will find it easier to navigate if you can pinpoint landmarks.
El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan is one of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks, located in the eastern part of Yosemite Valley and is accessible from Northside Road or from the Valley Loop Trail. The massive monolith has an elevation of 7569 ft high, making it a popular destination for rock climbers from all over the world.
The El Capitan meadow is Yosemite’s most popular picnic area, with stunning views of Lower and Middle Cathedral Rock, and the Cathedral Spires, in the background. The meadow is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, coyotes and more. For many visitors to Yosemite National Park this is their favourite place in Yosemite.
One of the most popular stops on Yosemite’s valley rim is Tunnel View located on Highway 41 (Wawona Road) at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel. This viewpoint offers amazing views of Yosemite Valley that are simply not to be missed. From here you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. This is the viewpoint that made Ansel Adams famous!
PRO TIP: While the view is amazing all year round, the best time to visit Tunnel View is early spring, when Bridalveil Falls is at it’s peak flow, and in winter when the granite domes are covered in snow and ice.
Yosemite Village & Curry Village (previously known as Half Dome Village)
Yosemite Village and Curry Village are the two main Yosemite National Park services areas, offering a variety of accommodation, food and service options.
Yosemite Village is located near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and has a grocery store, visitor center, post office, and more. The Yosemite village offers Yosemite accommodations ranging from camping to cabins and hotel rooms.
Curry Village is located below Half Dome & Glacier Point, and has shops, restaurants, lodgings, outdoor pool and mountaineering school.
Yosemite Village is Yosemite’s main tourist hub, with shops, restaurants and information centres. This village offers Yosemite visitors a great base for exploring the Yosemite Valley. Some of the not to miss highlights of Yosemite village include the Yosemite museum, Yosemite art gallery, and the history of Yosemite exhibit.
- The Yosemite museum is open daily and is a great place to learn more about Yosemite National Park. The museum offers an interactive experience for all visitors interested in learning more about Yosemite’s natural history. The hours of operation are daily, except on December 25th. Yosemite art gallery is located in Yosemite village and features a rotating collection of Yosemite National Park’s finest arts and crafts .
- History of Yosemite exhibit is a great place to learn more about the history of Yosemite National Park. The exhibit is open daily.
- The Yosemite Heritage centre (aka the visitors centre), offers educational programs & opportunities, a children’s corner and library. Open late May to September.
- Ansel Adams gallery is located in Yosemite Village and features Yosemite black and white photography by famous photographer Ansel Adams. These prints are available for sale to the public, with proceeds going back into Yosemite National Park. The hours of operation at this gallery are daily except December 25th, from 11:00 am to – 18:00 pm.
Curry Village ( Previously known as Half Dome Village)
Curry Village is an unincorporated community within Yosemite National Park , it serves as one of the primary visitor services complex in the park. If you are looking for a place to stay in Yosemite National Park, Curry Village is a great option. This village offers visitors comfortable lodging (hotel rooms, cabins & tent cabins) as well as dining options. The village is also close to Yosemite’s main tourist attractions and is located just east of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 4000 feet.
You can even ice skate there in winter and roast s’mores in their fire pits. Or rent a bike and tour around the bike path in the park in warmer weather.
Usually you can drive up to Glacier Point, on Glacier Point Road from late May to November. However the road will be closed to all traffic in 2022 for repairs. The only access to Glacier Point will be via the Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails, which are all rated strenuous hikes.
The road leading up to Yosemite’s best viewpoint can be steep and narrow in places, so use caution when driving up to Glacier Point. Yosemite’s Glacier Point is a perfect place for Yosemite hikers and Yosemite sightseers alike.
There are two moderate hikes from Glacier Point, that are well worth the effort, if you are able to do a bit of an incline.
- Taft Point is a popular 2.2 km moderate hike to do for sunset, with otherworldy views and the Fissures. The Fissures are vertical cracks in the edge of the granite cliff. Use caution as there are not guard rails in most of the area. Bring a headlamp, and make sure you know where the trail is as it will be hard to see once it gets dark on the way back.
- Sentinel Dome is a 1.1 mile, 30-40 minute moderate hike to 360 degree views of the park.
Four Mile Hike to Glacier Point
Distance: 4.8 mi (7.7 km) one way and 9.6 mi (15.5 km) round trip.
Time: 3-4 hours one-way, 6-8 hours round trip
Start: Four Mile Trailhead is along Southside Drive near the base of Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley
If you are looking for a Yosemite hiking challenge, then the Four Mile Hike to Glacier Point is the hike for you. This strenuous Yosemite hiking trail will take you to one of Yosemite’s most popular viewpoints and straight to amazing views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite hikers and photographers love to photograph Glacier Point.
PRO TIP: When the road to Glacier Point is open you can hike the trail one way and have someone drive you / pick you up at the other end, or return on the tour bus. It is recommended you take the bus up from the Valley to Glacier Point as you can buy a ticket in advance, and then hike down. If you do the hike in reverse, you won’t be able to book a ticket, so you will take the chance of having a full bus.
Distance: 0.5 mi (0.8 km) round trip
Time: 20 minutes
Start: Bridalveil Fall Parking Area. Parking is available at trailhead accessible by Wawona Road or Southside Drive
Bridalveil Fall is one of Yosemite’s most photographed waterfalls. This waterfall is easily accessible and a great place to start your Yosemite day.
The Bridalveil Fall trailhead is located just east of Yosemite Valley near the Yosemite Lodge at the falls. The hike to the top of this 620-foot waterfall is only 0.5 miles and is a great Yosemite family hike. The Bridalveil Fall waterfall is best visited in the spring when water levels are high, although the water tends to flow all year round.
NOTE: Bridalveil Fall Trail will be closed until Fall 2022 due to their rehabilitation project.
Mirror Lake Trail
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip to lake and back; 5 miles (8 km) loop around lake
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: 1 hour round trip to the lake (end of paved trail); 2-3 hours for full loop
Start: Mirror Lake Trailhead (shuttle stop #17). The trail is open year round.
The Mirror Lake Trail to the lake and back is another great easy option for families. Continue along the loop to enjoy Tenaya Creek and Canyon and scenice bridges along the way. There are exhibits along the trail that highlight cultural history of the area and the story of Mirror Lake’s lake-to-meadow succession. In late summer, don’t expect to see a lake as the water recedes and grass and sandy areas appear.
Mist Trail to Vernal Fall & Nevada Fall
Vernal Fall Footbridge
Distance: 1.6 mi (2.6 km) round trip
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Top of Vernal Fall
Distance: 2.4 mi (3.9 km) round trip (via Mist Trail)
Time: 3 hours
Top of Nevada Fall
Distance: 5.4 mi (8.7 km) round trip (via Mist Trail)
Elevation gain: 2000 ft (610 m)
Time: 5-6 hours
All start at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16).
The Yosemite hiking trail known as the Mist Trail is one of the most strenuous Yosemite Hiking trails. It will take most hikers between two to six hours to complete, depending on how far you go.
This Yosemite footpath will lead hikers over Vernal Fall Foot Bridge to Vernal Fall, which is a moderate 3 hour hike. The path continues on to Nevada Falls, but only experienced Yosemite hikers should go this far. From here you can get a spectacular view of Half Dome.
Mariposa Grove is one popular area, due to the majestic Giant Sequioas, some that are 2,000 years old and the fun family friendly trails.
Mariposa Grove’s Big Trees Loop Trail is an easy, family friendly and wheelchair accessible hiking trail located just south of the National Park. It is perfect for a Yosemite itinerary that includes kids. This family hike on newly renovated boardwalks will take you through some wonderful giant sequoia forests and past California historic markers. It is only 0.3 mile (0.5 km) and will take 30 to 45 minutes.
The highlight of Mariposa Grove for many people includes the Grizzly Giant, the world’s second largest tree. The Grizzly Giant Loop Trail is a moderate, 2 mile (3.2 km) hike that will take about 1.5 to 2 hours. Start at the Big Trees Loop and continue along the trail to see the iconic Bachelor, Three Graces, the Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Trees.
PRO TIP: This area can be quite crowded during peak season, so we recommend going early in the morning (before 8am) to get a parking spot, and avoid the crowds. Or visit during the shoulder seasons in spring and fall.
Hiking in Yosemite
There are many other great hikes in Yosemite Valley, but there are also some spectacular trails outside of Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park offers over 800 miles of hiking trails – these vary from easy to difficult so you can find the right hike for your group. You will definitely want to add at least one hike to your 2 day Yosemite itinerary if you are able.
Here are a few other hiking options we haven’t yet mentioned. For a full list and more info check the NPS website for all hiking trails
Yosemite’s Cook’s Meadow Loop is a great place to start on a family friendly hike. This hikers trail is flat with beautiful views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. This trail is rated easy and Yosemite hikers of all ages will be able to enjoy the 30 minute hike. This trail is also wheelchair accessible when not covered in snow.
The Panorama Trail also begins outside Yosemite Valley, but this lengthy, strenuous hike takes you from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley. The views from this Yosemite Hiking trail are spectacular and you will be able to see Illilouette Fall and panoramic views of eastern Yosemite Valley. It starts at Yosemite’s historic Glacier Point and leads hikers down to Yosemite Valley before joining the Mist or John Muir Trail, taking you past Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall. You can also stop halfway through this hike for an amazing view of Half Dome from the Panorama Cliff.
For another easy hike, try the Wawona Meadow Loop in Spring for an explosion of lower elevation wildflowers with names like shooting stars, primrose and seep-spring monkeyflower. This Loop starts at Wawona Hotel, crosses over the golf course to an unpaved fire road, that loops around the meadow. It’s close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequioas, so you could make a morning out that way.
The John Muir Trail is a 200 km trail through California’s high Sierra mountains located deep in Yosemite’s backcountry. It offers spectacular views of Yosemite, Half Dome and Mount Lyell. This Yosemite hiking trail is a strenuous but hikers who complete the full length hike will be rewarded with amazing Yosemite scenery.
You can access the John Muir Trail by starting at Yosemite’s at Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne Meadows) or start at Yosemite’s Happy Isles Trailhead, the more traditional starting point, to Whitney Portal Trailhead. It will take Yosemite hikers between 3-4 weeks to complete the full length of Yosemite’s John Muir Trail. A permit is required, however they have become more difficult to get. Wilderness permits are now by lottery 24 weeks in advance, then first come, first serve an availability up to seven days in advance.
If you are serious about doing the whole trail, or just want to read what it’s like, you will enjoy reading one of these books:
- Trudge, A Midlife Crisis on the John Muir Trail, by Lori-Oliver Tierney
- Almost Somewhere, by Suzanne Roberts
- Highs and Lows of the Jon Muir Trail, by Inga Aksamit
With so many Yosemite hiking trails to choose from, you’re sure to find the right hike for your group!
Fishing in Yosemite National Park
There are many opportunities for fishing in Yosemite, including the Merced River, Tuolumne River, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks these waters with trout every year. You will need a valid California Fishing License to fish in Yosemite . Fishing is permitted year round in the Merced River located throughout the Yosemite Valley . However, fishing regulations may change according to where you are fishing.
If you are looking for a great fishing spot to add to your Yosemite National Park itinerary, try Yosemite’s Tuolumne River below Shaughnessy Dam. This area is known for its excellent trout fishing and offers hikers beautiful views of Yosemite’s high country.
In the Fall, the lakes are your best option. Tenaya Lake and the Hetchy Hetchy reservoir, both reachable by car, are two great choices. Rangers tell visitors that the Inyo National Forest, is even better, and it is where the Forest Service actively stocks trout.
Make sure you check with Yosemite National Park staff for updates on fishing conditions and closures before heading out on your Yosemite fishing adventure.
With so many spots to choose from, you’re sure to find the right Yosemite fishing hole for you!
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.
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
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.
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.
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 1.1mile 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
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: Due to the pandemic the free shuttle isn’t running in 2021 to take visitors up to the trailhead of Mariposa Grove. This means if you visit 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 Mariposa Grove.
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.
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.
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.