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 best top natural sites to see for an ultimate two day itinerary in Yosemite. Perfect for when you are short on time and don’t want to miss the highlights.
This list of local, pro tips will also tell you everything you need to know from fees, and transportation, to the best lodgings, and what you need to know about the park itself.
California is a place I’ve travelled to many times over the years. There’s so much to see and do to add to your bucket list.
Plus ideas for what not to miss on a one or two day Yosemite itinerary. That families, couples and adventurers of all ages will love.
Ready for some wild California adventures? Let’s go!
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YOSEMITE 2 DAY ITINERARY
Here are some of the best things to do in Yosemite year round. For an epic Yosemite 2 day itinerary.
Check out our quick Yosemite itinerary at a glance, followed by where to stay, how to get to Yosemite, detailed one and 2 day Yosemite itineraries, tips & FAQs.
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ENTRANCE RESERVATIONS REQUIRED FOR FIREFALL
A reservation will be required to drive into Yosemite for the February weekends to manage the Horsetail Fall visits. Even for those not visiting Horsetail Fall. Visitors who first arrive Mondays through Thursdays won’t need a reservation.
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.
Flying into & renting a car in San Fransisco, will be the easiest. As there are many flights into and out of San Fransisco daily, and it’s the shortest drive of all the nearby major cities. Plus San Fransisco is a fun destination unto itself.
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.
Or if you aren’t too keen to drive take a day trip / tour instead.
Day Trip from San Fransisco
This super popular, and highly rated small group tour takes you through the orchards of the Central Valley to Yosemite Valley, stopping first for a stroll through a grove of giant sequoias. Find plenty of photo ops of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. (It has over 1,100 5-star reviews).
Day Trip from Lake Tahoe
Explore the scenic highlights of Yosemite National Park on this full-day, small-group guided trip from Lake Tahoe. Picnic beside Cascade Falls for lunch
Other ways to get to Yosemite:
- Bus, Train, Public Transport – There are some public transportation (YARTS) and bus and amtrak options, which you can find out more about on the NPS website here.
- From San Diego (6 hours & 313 mi / 504 km) – Take I-5 north (or I-405 north to I-5) to Highway 99 north to Highway 41 north (Fresno) into the south entrance of Yosemite National Park.
- From Las Vegas it’s 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
- 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.
- 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.
Winter Driving: If you are driving in winter from November to March, be aware there may be tire chain / cable requirements 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.
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.
- In Park – Historic Ahwahnee Hotel: The Ahwahnee Hotel Yosemite is an iconic building, and one we suggest you visit, even if you aren’t planning on staying here. 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. >>> Check Ahwahnee available dates.
- In Park – 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. 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.>>> Check Yosemite Valley Lodge available dates
- Yosemite Valley View Luxury Home — Get away from the crowds with this spacious, and more upscale Yosemite Valley View. Easily sleeps 6. Be inside the park and only 10 minutes from the valley floor (it’s the closest private rental to the Valley). >>>Check Luxury Home Available Dates
- Budget friendly – Homestead Cottages – 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. >>> Check Cottages available dates
- Glamping – Sierra Meadows Cabins — 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. 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. >>> Check Glamping Available dates
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.
- 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.
You may also like our Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary and Tips post. More California inspired family travel ideas.
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.
Two days will give you 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 this popular guided day / hiking tour (they handle everything for you).
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
- Hike Taft Point or Sentinel Dome
- 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 your car or the limited bus service (via the Glacier Point Tour in summer, reservations required) up Glacier Point Road.
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.
LOCAL TIP: Do not hike to or from Glacier Point expecting to take a bus back to your car unless you have a reservation. or car up to Glacier Point.
Day One Yosemite – Sunset
Hike options from Glacier point include the moderate 2.2 km trail to either Taft Point, popular at sunset for it’s otherworldly views. Or the Sentinel Dome Trail, a moderate, uphill hike to a 360 degree epic view of the park.
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 end of May / Early June to October. However it was closed for construction last year. They are planning to reopen it in Spring 2023, however expect 30-minute delays throughout 2023.
The shuttle does not stop at Glacier Point, but you can use the limited bus service (via the Glacier Point Tour). Only available in summer; reservations are required. Do not hike to or from Glacier Point expecting to take a bus back to your car unless you have a reservation.
If the road is closed, it’s only accessible by long, strenuous hiking trails ( Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails). Below are some alternatives if you want to avoid the delays.
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
- Lunch in Curry Village (The Pizza Deck) or Degnan’s Deli
- Bridalveil Falls (when open)
- Dinner ar the historic Awahnee Hotel Dining Room
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, 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 – Start along the 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.
Or choose the easy and wheelchair accesible Big Trees Loop Trail, which starts at the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
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 at Degnan’s Deli, or Curry Village for pizza at the Pizza Deck. 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: Bridalveil Falls area is under construction until Summer 2023. I’ve put together a few more ideas you could try if it’s still closed:
- 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).
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. Iconic, historic, and right in the middle of the park.
Day 2 – Sunset
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.
YOSEMITE TIPS & INFO
How many days do you need to visit Yosemite?
You will need at least a full one or two days to visit Yosemite to see the highlights of Yosemite National Park. However to see all the sights and do many of the hikes you would need a week or more.
Shuttle in the Park
Usually there is a free Yosemite Valley shuttle system which provides convenient access all around Yosemite Valley. To find out the most up to date info on the routes, check the check 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 Valleywide Shuttle: Services the whole valley, most accommodations in the area, shops and major view points. Runs every 12 to 22 min from 7am to 10pm. Takes about 90 minutes round trip.
- East Valley shuttle: This route runs only through Yosemite Village, Curry Village, Pines campgrounds, and trailheads in eastern Yosemite Valley. Runs seasonally every 8-12 min from 7am to 10pm. Takes about 50 minutes round trip.
- Mariposa Grove Shuttle: Typically runs April 1 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.
- Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle – Runs between the Tioga Pass and Olmsted Point (including Tenaya Lake) during the summer (typically mid-June through early September.
- Badger Pass Ski Area: Free seasonal service. Runs twice daily, 7 days a week between Yosemite Valley and Badger Pass whenever the ski facilities are open. Usually mid-December to March.
Best Time to Visit Yosemite
The best 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.
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 .
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.
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.
What’s the closest airport to Yosemite?
The closest airport to Yosemite is the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT). It’s located about 64 miles (103 km), or a 90 minute drive from the park’s entrance. Fresno-Yosemite Airport offers major air carrier service (9 airlines fly in and out of FAT) and an on-airport car rentals.
How many days do you need at Yosemite?
You will need at least 2 to 4 days in Yosemite to have enough time to see the highlights of Yosemite, hike a few trails, and see some hidden gems. There are over 750 miles of trails to explore, waterfalls to photograph, and places to camp. Plus epic views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.
Can you do Yosemite in one day?
You can see the highlights of Yosemite in one day. A day trip will give you enough time to focus on one area of the park. First timers should visit the Yosemite Valley, and Glacier Point for popular sites like Lower Yosemite Falls, Cook’s Meadow and the El Capitan meadow for iconic Yosemite photos.
What is the best month to visit Yosemite?
The best month to visit Yosemite is September / October. As the weather is milder than summer, lodging starts to get cheaper, and you avoid the worst of the crowds, and rain. The overall best time to visit Yosemite for good weather is May through September, with May, June, and September being best time to visit.
Should I be scared of bears in Yosemite?
No you shouldn’t be scared of bears in Yosemite, as no one has been killed or seriously injured by a black bear in Yosemite. However if you spot a bear, it’s always a good idea to be cautious and keep your distance for safety, and respect for the bear.
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.
Other related travel tips and destinations:
- How to save money for your next family vacation
- California Bucket List
- What not to miss – Bryce Canyon in a Day
- Tips for Zion National Park with Kids
- Best Walkie Talkies for Road Trippers
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