Where Are Those Morgans

Yosemite Itinerary: Ultimate First Time Visitor Guide (1, 2 & 3 Day Itinerary)

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by Mark and Kristen Morgan

Published: July 29, 2020

Half Dome gigantic granite dome sliced in half in the Sierra Nevada mountains popular hike on a typical Yosemite National Park itinerary

Yosemite is a treasure trove of beauty and one of the crown jewels among the very best USA National Parks . This Yosemite itinerary will help you plan the most efficient way to spend your time in this spectacular corner of California. 

The spellbinding awe of Yosemite’s landscapes, smooth domed rock formations and unspeakably majestic valley have to be seen in person to be believed.

We will show you the best way to spend 1, 2 and 3 days at Yosemite to cover day trips, weekend breaks and those fortunate to have an extra day.

No matter how long you spend here, we know you will be swept off your feet – just like the great writers and photographers who immortalized Yosemite before you.

Why Visit Yosemite National Park?

Brid perched on edge of a rock overlooking Yosemite Valley

Yellowstone is arguably the King of US National Parks – being the first established and immensely popular – but every King needs a Queen and Yosemite National Park’s astonishing grandeur is regal enough for our vote .

The park has something for everyone, from family vacations and couples who love hiking , to expert rock climbers and pro photographers.

Beloved panoramas of sweeping valleys, waterfalls and famous granite monoliths steal the show at Yosemite. Photography enthusiasts will be blown away.

El Capitan and Half Dome are even more impressive than you imagine but simply driving through Yosemite valley is scenic enough to justify a visit.

Various stop-off points around the valley scenic loop road are perfect for the less able or young children.

Yosemite is the gift that keeps on giving. It also happens to be a hikers paradise with hundreds of epic miles of trails with awe-inspiring climaxes to spur you on.

In summary, you should visit Yosemite National Park in California because it is a natural wonder perfect for everyone!

Yosemite National Park Factfile

Address : PO Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 Website : nps.gov/yose Phone : (209) 372-0200 Park Hours : All day, every day Entrance Fee : US$ 35 Vehicle 7 Day Pass (or free with America the Beautiful Pass ) Campgrounds : Yes, spread across the park (see campgrounds) Accommodation : Notoriously challenging, some lodging in Yosemite Valley, more in surrounding areas Backcountry camping : Backcountry Use Permit Required Top Activities : Hiking, Camping, Rock Climbing, Stargazing, photography Annual Visitors : 4.5 million

How To Get To Yosemite National Park

mark kristen Yosemite sign south entrance one two and three day itineraries

Flying / Closest Airports to Yosemite

Smaller –  Fresno-Yosemite International, Merced and Modesto airports are all under 3 hours drive from the National Park.

Larger –  San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Reno-Tahoe airports are all under 5 hours drive. More flights and of course the only options for those traveling from further afield.

  • We always use and recommend searching for flights with  Skyscanner  for best prices, options and user experience.
  • If you plan to hire a car and drive to Yosemite, compare prices and options with Rental Cars for best value.

Related : Save money with our 15 expert tips on finding cheap flights

Driving Entrances to Yosemite

There are a total of 5 entrances to Yosemite National Park but we will focus on the 4 with access to Yosemite Valley.

Tioga Pass Entrance (East, only open May-October, crosses Sierra Nevada);  Big Oak Flat Entrance (Northwest);  Arch Rock Entrance (Southwest) and  South Entrance (South).

Hetch Hetchy is the 5th entrance to park boundaries but it is a secluded and does not lead to the main Yosemite attractions.

  • Los Angeles, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree and San Diego – enter via Fresno and South Entrance
  • San Jose – enter via Arch Rock entrance
  • San Francisco and Oakland – enter via either Arch Rock Entrance or Big Oak Flat Entrance
  • Sacramento (and North to Oregon/Washington) – enter via Big Oak Flat Entrance
  • Reno, Las Vegas, Death Valley (and East to all US) – enter via Tioga Pass Entrance (May-Oct)

Read about the best things to do in  San Francisco , Los Angeles and San Diego to help plan your California road trip.

Public Transport Options to Yosemite

Amtrak offer a train/bus combination from most major cities around California. Be aware there could be a number of transfers and it will take between 5-7 hours from San Francisco.

Alternatively, you can book a greyhound to Merced and hop on a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS).

This would pass though Mariposa, Midpines and El Portal (all places you might be forced to stay in Summer with lack of accommodation options) and enter via Arch Rock.

YARTS also runs services from Sonora (Big Oak Flat entrance), Mammoth Lakes (Tioga Pass entrance) and Fresno (South entrance). More information on YARTS .

Yosemite Valley Shuttle

Yosemite provides a free shuttle bus which loops around the valley regularly, saving on congestion and pollution.

Especially in Summer, you will need to arrive very early and if you are fortunate enough to find a parking space near Yosemite village, do not move your car until you are ready to leave!

Take the shuttle bus that you can hop on – hop off at each stop.

Need help planning your trip to Yosemite?

Our popular Yosemite travel guidebook helps you with planning every aspect of your visit, including what to see, the best hikes, where to eat and stay, itinerary ideas and map!

Where Are Those Morgans Yosemite travel guidebook

Best Time To Visit Yosemite National Park

Stunning fall foliage autumnal colors trees reflecting in Merced river Yosemite national park California

Close your eyes and point to an annual calendar … it doesn’t matter which date you choose, Yosemite is going to blow you away. Every season offers its own unique take on the park and you will have to compromise one thing for another.

Summer is renowned for being unbearably packed so we advise if possible to plan your Yosemite itinerary in Spring or Fall.

  • Spring – The best time to visit for waterfalls in full flow, spring bloom, fewer crowds than Summer, will need layers for hot/cold/hiking.
  • Summer – Slightly longer daylight hours, warmer weather, overcrowding problem, busy trails, traffic jams, book accommodation way in advance to stand a chance.
  • Fall – Gorgeous autumnal foliage colors, barely any water flowing, comfortable temperatures and crowd levels, layers required.
  • Winter – Unique time to visit Yosemite with Skiing, Ice Skating and Snowshoeing very popular. Expect fewer crowds, stunning winter wonderland scenery and cold weather.

We first visited Yosemite National Park in October at the heart of the Fall season and like many places in the US at this time of year, it was beautiful. However, we were (extremely!) disappointed the postcard perfect waterfalls were bone dry.

But hey, that’s the trade off. And you can see how pretty the autumnal foliage is in this Yosemite itinerary. Next time we will visit in Spring!

Best Things To Do In Yosemite National Park

The overwhelming majority of best things for you to do on your Yosemite itinerary are within Yosemite Valley itself. However, there are other amazing places to explore away from the valley that are far less crowded.

Here are some of the top highlights for you to consider in Yosemite:

Half Dome Hike

Close up zoomed in half dome looking amazing against a blue sky

Half Dome is Yosemite’s iconic granite dome at the far end of the valley appearing as though a meat cleaver sliced it precisely in half.

Standing proudly at just under 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and dominating most nearby viewpoints, Half Dome is one of the most sought after and amazing hikes in the world.

What was once considered inaccessible can now be accessed by multiple rock climbing routes and one hiking path. This hiking path is only open between Memorial Day and Columbus Day (May-Oct) and is not for the feint hearted.

Cables are inserted each May to aid hikers with the final stretch to Half Dome summit and it is steep. Extremely steep.

Many take this hike on and have to be assisted by park rangers each year because they underestimated either its difficulty or they were afraid of heights.

Half Dome Lottery Permit

In order to summit Half Dome, you will need a permit and they are not easy to acquire. To be in with a chance, you have to enter a lottery in March for the upcoming season. Only 300 hikers are permitted to summit Half Dome per day, consisting of 225 day hikers and 75 backpackers.

You can apply for up to 6 people and you can only apply once.

If you are successful, you will become the permit holder and everyone else in your party become alternates. This is important because the permit holder must be present on the day for any of the group to summit.

If you are unsuccessful, you can take your chances by applying for a permit in the daily lottery. You can apply 2 days before the date you want to hike Half Dome.

For example, you apply on Monday to hike on Wednesday. You find out the same day if you are successful. Read NPS guidelines for Half Dome to plan your hike.

Half Dome is one of the best hikes in the world but it isn’t easy. To reach the base of Half Dome, you can either take:

  • John Muir trail (longer but more gradual) at 16.4 miles roundtrip
  • Mist trail at 14 miles roundtrip (shorter but steeper)
  • Or a combination of both trails in a loop

Most people take between 10-12 hours total time for this round trip route to Half Dome summit.

Leave at sunrise and give yourself / your group a non negotiable turn around time. For example, if you haven’t summited by 2pm, turn around.

Check Yosemite sunrise times before your visit.

The Mist Trail / John Muir Trail Loop

Vernal Falls almost dry in October and half in shadow

Half Dome is the quintessential Yosemite hike but don’t sweat it if you can’t get a permit or you visit out of season. Yosemite has a ton of awesome alternatives and here’s something to remember:

You can’t see Half Dome from the top of Half Dome!!

Mist trail is Yosemite’s signature hike and therefore the most crowded trail in the park. You will pass two of Yosemite’s rock-star status waterfalls in Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls on this fantastic hike.

Views over Yosemite Valley and the back of Half Dome from Nevada Falls are worth the effort.

  • Trail Distance : 7 miles roundtrip / 8 miles roundtrip Mist up, John Muir down loop (add on 1.5 miles roundtrip if walking from Curry village and not taking park shuttle to trailhead)
  • Elevation Gain : 1,900 feet to Nevada Falls
  • Trail Time : 4-6 hours if loop completed
  • Trail Difficulty : Moderate / Strenuous

In peak season or weekends through Spring/Fall be sure to set off either very early or later in the afternoon to avoid the mid-morning rush.

Read our complete Yosemite Mist Trail hiking guide to learn more, featuring John Muir Loop, Vernal and Nevada Fall, maps and tips to help plan your hike.

Bridalveil Fall

Very lightly running Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite national park California

Bridalveil Fall will be the very first waterfall you see as you enter Yosemite Valley. It is the iconic waterfall to the right of famous valley images taken in Spring when the fall thunders.

During Summer and Fall Bridalveil Fall is wispy and a light spray trickles from 189 meters above a viewing area.

The trail is just 0.5 miles roundtrip close to a car park which makes it perfect for young children or those with less able family members.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls completely dry in fall itinerary California

The mighty Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world.

However, you will only see water here between November and July – as you can see in our photo above taken in October the falls were bone dry.

You can hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, an easy 1 mile flat round trip trail (where the photo above was taken) or hike a strenuous 6-8 hour / 7 mile roundtrip trail to Upper Yosemite Falls.

majestic El Capitan illuminated at sunset

“El Cap” is one of the most impressive and iconic monolithic features in all of Yosemite.

If you hadn’t heard of it a few years back, you certainly have now thanks to nail biting television productions bringing extreme rock climbing to a wider audience.

Watch The Dawn Wall and Free Solo before visiting El Capitan.

When you arrive at the base of El Cap after a short easy hike from a nearby car park, look up and you will really appreciate what these climbers achieved!

Aside from its notoriety, El Capitan is a mightily impressive granite feature in Yosemite. It is best viewed from El Capitan Meadow, Tunnel View and Valley View (more on these later).

Sunrise is the most beautiful time to photograph El Cap as the pink rays of first light illuminate its famous wall. 

For those with more time in Yosemite who want to say they’ve walked on the summit of El Cap, you can either climb it or hike a 13.5 strenuous round trip trail beginning close to Yosemite Falls.

Views are not as impressive as at the summit of Half Dome but hey, you’re standing on top of El Cap!

Tioga Pass Road

Kristen on Lembert Dome Tioga Pass road yosemite national park itinerary

Tioga Pass Road runs from Yosemite’s Northeast entrance (near Mammoth Lakes) to Big Oak Flat Road close to Yosemite Valley entrance.

Use this entrance if also visiting Lake Tahoe, Death Valley or the best natural northern California hot springs around Mammoth Lakes.

This road is also known as CA Highway 120 and is incredibly scenic with plenty of awesome stops along the way.

Although the majority of Yosemite’s highlights are in the valley, Tioga Pass Road – known as the High Sierra – is a fantastic place to begin/end a 3 day itinerary if you have the spare time.

Here are some recommended highlights:

  • Hike to Dog Lake and Lembert Dome Summit – 4 mile roundtrip with awesome views.
  • Cathedral Lakes hike – 7 mile roundtrip and one of the most popular in the area.
  • Olmsted Point – Fantastic viewpoint featuring huge cracked and smooth boulders.
  • Others to consider include Tenaya Lake, Gaylor Lakes and Mono Pass (but you can’t do them all!).

Note : Tioga Pass Road is only open May-October. You will not be able to cross the Sierra Nevada on this road between November and April.

Sequoia Tree Groves

Mark Kristen inside a fallen sequoia tree

Although not on the scale of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite has its own fair share of gigantic Sequoia Trees.

There are three main areas you can walk among Yosemite’s Sequoias:

1. Tuolumne Grove – Located at the joining of Tioga Pass Road and Big Oak Flat Road. A 2.5 mile roundtrip trail with a sharp descent to the grove (and sharp ascent back to the car park) is home to around 30 mature Sequoias.

One dead Sequoia has had a tunnel cut through its base so you can pass underneath and appreciate the circumference of these enormous trees.

2. Mariposa Grove – Located near South entrance. This is the largest and best Sequoia grove in Yosemite with over 500 mature giant Sequoias.

Hike the Big Trees Loop trail if short on time, otherwise, hike the 2 mile Grizzly Giant Loop trail. There are longer trails for those with more days.

3. Merced Grove – The smallest Sequioa grove is located further up Big Oak Flat Road on the way in or out of Yosemite. There are only 20 Giant Sequoias but it is by far the least crowded of the three groves.

You know they’re going to be massive, everything you see and read tells you that, but when you see one in person you will still be shocked!

Glacier Point

Half Dome almost covered by a huge shadow in late afternoon

Glacier Point boasts the best panorama in all of Yosemite, arguably on par with Half Dome. However, getting to Glacier Point is not the easiest or most enjoyable.

You have to drive 16 miles up Glacier Point road – a very congested, constantly winding and at times extremely narrow road. That being said, it is without question worth the drama!

Access to this road is 23 miles from South entrance and best driven either at the beginning or end of your Yosemite itinerary.

Magnificent 270 degree views over Half Dome, Yosemite Valley and the Merced River are unbelievable. Glacier Point and nearby Washburn Point are the best places in Yosemite to watch sunset.

There are a number of hikes at nearby trailheads: 

  • Sentinel Dome – 2.2 mile roundtrip, moderate and find Jeffrey Pine (one of the most photographed trees in the world).
  • Taft Point and the Fissures – 2.2 mile roundtrip, easy and stunning views without guardrails found at Glacier Point.
  • Four Mile Trail – You can hike to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley if you take this strenuous 9.6 mile roundtrip trail.
  • Panorama – This is an extension of Mist/John Muir trail which can be joined close to Nevada Falls and hiked to Glacier Point, but its 8.5 miles one way and strenuous.

One tip for photographers is to consider the time of your visit because huge valley covering shadows appear in the later afternoon. Astrophotography would be perfect at Glacier Point.

Yosemite Valley

Kristen doing a perfect handstand in Yosemite Valley meadow gorgeous fall colors

Do not entirely disregard Yosemite Valley in favor of hikes and domes. There are a number of fantastic photography spots around the Merced River, often with reflections of granite monoliths or beautiful autumnal foliage.

Yosemite’s one way loop means you can pull the car over as often as you like. It is perfect for families with older or younger members to enjoy the beauty of this National Park.

Some of the notable stops include Cathedral Beach, Sentinel Beach, Swinging Bridge, Sentinel Bridge, El Capitan Bridge and Valley View (the best one).

You can see the likes of El Capitan and the Three Brothers reflect perfectly on still water in Fall.

Yosemite is one of the top places to visit in the US and you will be blown away by the sheer beauty inside Yosemite Valley. Plan to spend a lot of time here.

Best Yosemite Photography Locations

Yosemite national park is a beautiful part of America, the perfect environment for landscape and nature lovers. Photography doesn’t get much easier than inside the valley, looking up at waterfalls and towering granite domes.

We truly enjoyed taking photographs around Yosemite and will definitely be back in future for many more.

If you would like to see all of our favorites from the park in more detail, read our complete guide to Yosemite Photography next.

Tunnel View

Tunnel view yosemite golden hour

Tunnel View is the quintessential Yosemite photograph made famous by Ansel Adams.

You will see the majestic flat face of El Capitan to the left, straight ahead at the end of the valley is Half Dome on a slight angle and Bridalveil Fall to the right.

Vistas don’t get any better than this wobbly-knees-moment anywhere in the world.

Spring is the best time to capture this iconic image at its most powerful. Bridalveil fall takes the photograph to another level and you won’t get it in Summer or Fall.

Winter is another excellent time to photograph Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View as it is shrouded in mist and a light sprinkling of snow.

There is no hiking involved, you simply park at one of the lots close to Wawona/Yosemite Tunnel just a few minutes drive from the Valley. Arrive at sunrise to avoid the crowd. Sunset will inevitably be busy, particularly in Summer.

Go to Tunnel View instead of driving to Glacier Point for stars, which would be amazing but a lot of effort.

T he Milky Way will appear over the tunnel and you can get a great night shot with the tunnel in your foreground.

Also, if you take a long exposure over Yosemite Valley with a wide angle lens, you will see white streaks on El Capitan – they are rock climbers making a night climb to El Cap’s summit. Pretty cool, right?!

Valley View

Valley view from behind reeds el cap illuminated

Depending on the type of photography you prefer, Valley View could beat Tunnel View when you consider how much more you can capture in the foreground.

With still water at sunrise, you can compose an image with a reflecting El Capitan glowing red. This place gets busy and there’s not a lot of room to park so plan accordingly, particularly around sunset.

Take a sturdy tripod and wade out into the river – if it is safe to do so – for enhanced composition. Maybe even walk out to a rock and get a photo of yourself in the foreground?!

Various Yosemite Valley / Merced River Rest Areas

perfect reflection in still Merced river water granite rock

As we mentioned earlier, these Valley floor stop offs aren’t to be missed!

You will see plenty of pro photographers at various points of the day wading through the shallow Merced river (in Fall) searching for the best river reflection shots of towering granite rocks.

Yosemite Valley Meadow

stunning sunset in Yosemite Valley meadow

Walk out into the meadows around Yosemite Valley using wooden boardwalks. You will be able to shoot different perspectives of the valley and all of the major features within it.

When we visited in Fall, the meadows had turned yellowy-brown and straw like. Barely anyone will be around and you can get creative with your images.

Yosemite Itinerary Broken Up Into Regions

Yosemite National Park map North Valley and South regions with 4 main entrances to the park arch rock big oak flat Tioga Pass and south

Phew! That’s a lot of information to digest. Yosemite is a big park and it helps to understand the layout.

Above is a map of Yosemite broken into 3 regions: North, Valley and South. You will find each of the 4 entrances labeled to give you an idea of the routes around Yosemite.

Note : This is separate to the Interactive Map at the end of this article on which you can zoom in / out and move around to orientate yourself with Yosemite, accommodation options and itinerary highlights.

How Many Days For The Perfect Yosemite Itinerary?

Kristen looking at liberty cap from Nevada Falls

Yosemite is an incredible place, if there’s ever been a true ‘bucket list’ destination, this is it. You could easily spend weeks here and not get bored. However, that is entirely unrealistic for the majority of visitors.

Personally, we believe three days is the perfect amount of time to spend at Yosemite, considering work/life/family commitments and what you can achieve here in 3 days.

However, 2 days will allow you to hit most of the major sights and even in one day you can still get through a big slice of Yosemite pie.

Let’s get stuck into the most efficient way to visit Yosemite for each of those timeframes and make the most of your trip.

Yosemite Itinerary Assumptions

Yosemite Valley meadows at sunset stunning

The following itineraries do not include hiking Half Dome. If you are hiking Half Dome it will take one full day but you can pick up the 2 or 3 day itineraries around the big hiking day.

One and Two Day itineraries should begin and end either at Big Flat Oak, Arch Rock or South entrances; a common loop route from San Francisco.

Three day itinerary should begin at East entrance and end at South entrance or vice versa for maximum efficiency, ideally as part of a wider US road trip .

An example route would be Las Vegas – Death Valley – Yosemite – San Francisco .

Yosemite Itinerary Map

We have created a 3 day Yosemite Itinerary map to show you how we would spend 3 days in the park.

Please note the map is based on our 3 day itinerary listed below. Our 1 and 2 day Yosemite itineraries do not feature in this map.

Click into the interactive map, zoom in / out, scroll around and click on any icon to see details of attractions on days 1 -3.  Follow the points each day from morning to evening for the most efficient way to see Yosemite.

We always find that spending just a few minutes working out where things are really helps when we arrive.

One Day In Yosemite Itinerary

Tunnel view in afternoon huge shadow cast over Yosemite Valley itinerary

Morning – Day 1

  • With just one day available, you will need to arrive early and expect to leave late.
  • Drive straight to Yosemite Valley and watch sunrise at Tunnel View .
  • Right next to Tunnel View you can park up at Bridalveil Falls trailhead and hike the short trail.
  • Drive around the one way loop and take the first left as if leaving the park. Stop at El Capitan meadow/bridge to see the impressive granite tower contrast against the shadowy foreground you are standing in.
  • Continue as though you are leaving the valley and stop at Valley View for the other spectacular viewpoint in the park for photography.
  • Do not leave the valley, instead drive round in a loop to join back up where you were not long ago. Frustrating to be retracing steps but necessary.
  • Drive past the turn you made to El Cap and stop at Cathedral Beach or Sentinel Beach to see reflections of trees and granite towers in the Merced River.
  • Continue to the Visitor Center parking lot and park up. Take the shuttle to Mist/John Muir trailhead.

Afternoon – Day 1

  • Hike to Vernal Falls and if you’re quicker you can make it up to Nevada Falls . Go down on whichever trail you didn’t go up on to complete the loop.
  • Drive to Lower Falls trailhead and walk the short loop to see the tallest waterfall in North America. You won’t have time to hike to Upper Falls.
  • On the way out of Yosemite Valley, stop at El Capitan and walk to its base so you can appreciate the sheer scale.
  • Drive through Wawona Tunnel and take Glacier Point Road all the way to the end in time for sunset over Half Dome.

2 Days In Yosemite Itinerary

front view of El Capitan at sunset

M orning – Day 1

  • Enter via Big Flat Oak entrance before stopping at Tuolumne Grove to see Giant Sequoias.
  • Drive down into Yosemite Valley, stopping first at Bridalveil Falls, then El Capitan Meadow and Valley View.
  • Loop around, stop at every turn off along the valley until you reach either your hotel, lodge or campground. From your hotel or campground, make your way to Mist Trail and hike up to Vernal Falls / Nevada Falls.

A fternoon – Day 1

  • Drive the loop, stopping at Cook’s Meadow Loop and Lower Yosemite Falls.
  • Walk to the base of El Capitan, stop once more at Valley View and head up to Tunnel View for amazing vistas.
  • Head back towards your hotel/campground but stop to watch sunset at either Stoneman Meadow near Curry Village or Sentinal Bridge close to the visitor center. You will have an excellent view of Half Dome at both.
  • If you want to stargaze or take astro shots, Summer is best and head to Sentinel Dome / Glacier Point (a long drive) Valley View, Tunnel View or Sentinel Bridge (closer).

M orning – Day 2

  • Grab an early start and hike to Upper Yosemite Falls or even further to El Capitan summit. In Spring definitely hike the Falls and only the quicker hikers should continue to El Capitan on the morning of day 2.
  • That will take up your entire morning!
  • Alternatively, spend the morning walking around the visitor center, Ansel Adams gallery (we bought an awesome astrophotography book here!) and more time in the meadows/valley floor for amazing photography.

A fternoon – Day 2

  • Drive through Wawona Tunnel (stopping again at Tunnel View – time of day impacts images) and onto Glacier Point Road. Stop at Taft Point / Sentinel Dome trailhead and choose one of them to hike. Both are great choices.
  • Continue to Glacier Point before the huge shadows of late afternoon arrive for the best photographs of Half Dome. It will be busy up here!
  • Leave via South entrance but stop at Mariposa Grove to hike the 2 mile Grizzly Giant loop among Giant Sequoia Trees.

Yosemite 3 Day Itinerary

back of half dome liberty cap and Nevada Falls from John Muir trail

  • Enter via South entrance, stop at Mariposa Grove and hike among Giant Sequoias including Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.
  • Head North and take Glacier Point Road all the way to the end. Enjoy sweeping views over Half Dome and the 3,000 feet drop to Yosemite Valley. The views are simply stunning.
  • Hike to either Sentinel Dome or Taft Point for more astounding views.
  • Drive all the way into Yosemite Valley, stopping at Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan Meadow/Bridge, Cathedral Beach and Sentinel Beach.
  • Check in to your hotel or campground before walking around the Visitor Center and Ansel Adams gallery.
  • Sunset at Sentinel Bridge or Stoneman Meadow with great views of Half Dome and stargaze at any of the places mentioned earlier.
  • Wake up early to hike up Mist trail before the crowds arrive. Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and the backside of Half Dome await you.
  • Return via the John Muir Trail to complete the loop.
  • Expect between 4-6 hours of total hiking time.

Afternoon – Day 2

  • Walk the Lower Yosemite Falls loop. We saw a mountain lion cub on the loop when we visited. Fortunately we avoided the mother!
  • A little further round the loop, hike to the base of El Capitan to see how frightening the prospect of free climbing it would be! More than likely there will be climbers on the wall. Take a telephoto lens or binoculars.
  • Spend the remainder of the afternoon around Yosmite Valley’s many meadows, special viewpoints and river reflection spots.

Morning – Day 3

  • If you’re a big hiker and don’t mind early starts – wake up and hike to Upper Yosemite Falls as early as possible. Alternatively, hike Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point.
  • Both are strenuous and will take a good few hours.
  • For those who prefer an easier morning / if you missed Mariposa Grove at the beginning of Day 1 – drive to Mariposa Grove at the start of Tioga Pass Road to walk among Giant Sequoias.

A fternoon – Day 3

  • Before lunch both of the above would converge around Mariposa Grove (hikers wouldn’t have time for the Sequoias). Begin the drive up Tioga Pass Road.
  • Stop at Olmsted Point for more awesome views including Half Dome and walk around Tuolumne Meadows.
  • Choose either Cathedral Lakes trail (7 mile popular roundtrip) or Dog Lake and Lembert Dome(4 mile roundtrip with excellent views from dome summit).
  • Leave via East entrance.

Note: This 3 day Yosemite itinerary can easily be done in reverse (East to South entrances)

Yosemite National Park Map of Key Locations and Accommodation

Spend a few minutes studying our interactive itinerary map of Yosemite National Park and its surrounding areas.

Click on the map, zoom in / out and move around to orientate yourself with the park.

  • Hotels and Campgrounds in and around the National Park – Purple Markers
  • Gas Stations (don’t run out!), Entrances, Visitor Center and Car Parks – Black Markers
  • Hiking Trails, Domes, Photography Locations, Major Points of Interest – Orange Markers

Learning the local geography is the best way to save time when you actually arrive into Yosemite.

Where To Stay For Your Yosemite Itinerary

tent in upper pines campground Yosemite national park in trees

Yosemite’s beauty is revered on a global scale but its popularity means finding somewhere to sleep can be a real problem, particularly in peak season.

We’ve written an extremely popular guide to the best places to stay in Yosemite National Park which we highly recommend as a very useful planning resource.

Campgrounds are notoriously difficult to book and often hotels close to the park charge exorbitant fees.

Whether you prefer camping or hotels, the earlier you know your Yosemite itinerary dates, the better. Be as organized as humanly possible – we’re talking months in advance here! 

Our example

We visited Yosemite in October and began to look for accommodation around 1 week before but barely anything was available.

We lucked out with a spot at Upper Pines campground on 1 of our 3 nights but no other spaces at any campground opened up for our other nights.

So, we spent a night in one of the top hotels in Mammoth Lakes the first night and began Day 1 very early entering from East entrance.

Night 2 we spent in a less than perfect yurt-like cabin (yes it was very cold!) between El Portal and Incline, and night 3 was in Upper Pines campground.

From experience, we can tell you how inconvenient driving in and out of the park is each day. But it will be far cheaper.

Another trade off!

Mariposa is a great place to base yourself to save money. We stayed at Best Western Plus  Mariposa on night 4 and enjoyed a pizza at Pizza Factory after a few days of camp food!

Book in advance if you don’t want to be traveling long distances or moving every night.

Yosemite Campgrounds

If you know your dates early and are certain you want to camp, book immediately. The same goes for backpackers and Half Dome hikers. The earlier the better in all circumstances at Yosemite!

Here are the 4 campgrounds in Yosemite Valley:

  • Upper Pines – Reservations required, available to book 5 months in advance, 238 sites, US$ 26 / night.
  • Lower Pines – Reservations required, available to book 5 months in advance, 60 sites, US$ 26 / night.
  • North Pines – Reservations required, available to book 5 months in advance, 81 sites, US$ 26 / night.
  • Camp 4 – Late May to early September campsites are only available through a daily lottery one day in advance ( information here ). September to May is first-come, first-served but fills early and is only US$ 6 / night.

There are more camping options North and South of Yosemite in Wawona and Tioga Pass road. Check NPS for all Yosemite campground information .

Camping Exclusive

Would you like to camp in Yosemite National Park but can’t find any campsite availability?

We have teamed up with The Dyrt to offer our readers the chance to take advantage of our exclusive  30 day free trial of The Dyrt PRO , which can help you get reservations at sold out campgrounds in Yosemite National Park by using a fantastic new feature called Dyrt Alerts.

You can create alerts to notify you of any cancelations at campgrounds in Yosemite, which is huge. When a space becomes available, you simply book it right away to snag a near impossible campsite in Yosemite.

You can try The Dyrt PRO for free, no strings attached!

Hotels Near Yosemite

Booking hotels in and around Yosemite takes a bit of perseverance and a lot of patience. Usually, we would say being flexible gives you the best chance of grabbing a good deal.

However, unless you book a long way in advance, you might not have a choice to be flexible.

Your first step should be to take a look at  hotels and lodges in Yosemite Valley for availability and prices. These hotels and lodges are booked through the National Park Service.

Availability and prices for your selected dates may not work for you. In that case you will need to find a hotel as close to the park as possible .

Your best bet is to find any hotels that have availability for your travel dates. Here’s a complete list of all hotels near Yosemite National Park .

  • Input your dates
  • Search by list or better yet by map
  • Find a hotel (or hotels) in the best regions of the park to suit your itinerary

Cabins / Lodges / Yurts Near Yosemite

A decent compromise between high prices in Yosemite Valley and long drives in/out from the likes of Mariposa is to stay in a yurt, lodge or tent.

There are plenty of these small lodge grounds in places like El Portal, Incline, Yosemite West, Wawona and Fish Camp.

More From Yosemite

  • Yosemite Mist Trail: Fun Hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls (John Muir Loop)
  • Where To Stay At Yosemite: Best Places, Hotels and Lodging Options
  • Yosemite In October: 10 Important Things To Know Before You Go
  • Yosemite Photography: Best Locations, Iconic Landmarks and Epic Vistas

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  • Alcatraz Tour Review: Is It Worth Your Valuable Time And Money?
  • One Day In Death Valley: Perfect Day Trip Itinerary From Las Vegas

Yosemite National Park Guidebook and Itinerary Ebook

We hope this helped you plan your Yosemite National Park itinerary!

Have you been to Yosemite? What was your favorite part?

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit to Yosemite in the comments below.

Happy Travels ,

Mark and Kristen

Was This Post Helpful? Pin It For Your Visit to Yosemite!

Incredible 3 day itinerary Yosemite national park California

Note : This article contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All Rights Reserved © Where Are Those Morgans, LLC. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, maps, graphics, etc.) in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.

Where Are Those Morgans has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications. Read more about us .

12 thoughts on “Yosemite Itinerary: Ultimate First Time Visitor Guide (1, 2 & 3 Day Itinerary)”

Hello Mark, I want to come from San francisco to yesemite for 2 days and then go to lake taho via tioga pass from October 17th to 18 ( at yosemite) and leave either on 19th or 20th to lake taho. I just need little help to let me know how to exit the park for tioga pass to Lake taho. I have seen your maps but i just needed littel help. YOU have done such a wonderful job of visiting yosemite in october…thank you Mark

Hi Anjana, we’re glad to hear you will be visiting Yosemite in October, the valley is beautiful and a little less crowded this time of year. You should be fine leaving Yosemite via Tioga Pass Road on October 20th (the earliest they have closed that road in the last 10 years is October 21 but it is usually November). You will exit Yosemite Valley on Big Oak Flat Road and take a right turn onto Tioga Road near Tuolumne Grove. That road will take you all the way out of the park to the northeast. Once you reach Lee Vining, take a left onto US-395 N heading for South Lake Tahoe. Have a great time!

Any chance you have a similar guide for Kings Canyon/Sequoia and Joshua Tree?

Hi Kyle, Unfortunately we do not, but we hope to have more Guidebooks published later this year. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with any questions 🙂

Great article!!

We are coming in from Monterey and staying 1 night in Mariposa… Which entrance and itinerary would be best suited to us please!

Thanks, Vish! If you are coming in from Monterey, the best entrance to use is Arch Rock entrance on El Portal Road. Assuming you have 2 days including travel both ways we would suggest spending the first day exploring all of Yosemite Valley after arriving, staying in Mariposa, heading back into Yosemite via Oakhurst and Fish Camp so you can do the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias and Glacier Point, before maybe hiking another trail in Yosemite Valley. We would then leave via El Portal Road to head back to Monterey. It is a lot to drive in just 2 days and staying in Mariposa means you have to drive back out and in again then next morning, but you will still be able to see the top sights easily, especially if you don’t take on any of the longer hikes. Let us know if you have any more questions and have a great trip!

Thank you so much!! This really helps to plan our 3 day trip to Yosemite! Great information and details!

Hi Shrenik, we’re very happy to help and hope you have a fantastic trip to Yosemite!

Enjoyed this so much! My granddaughter is a ranger at Wawona. Her mom and I are hoping to travel to Yosemite this summer. Thank you for all your travel tips!

Thank you Sylvia, Yosemite is a beautiful park – your granddaughter has a great job! We really hope you are able to make it this Summer and enjoy your trip!

An amazing national picture perfect park, almost everything you could wish to see in one place. Excellent pictures once again, keep it up.

Thanks Graham! Yosemite really is difficult to beat for landscapes and photography. Hope you get to use this Yosemite itinerary one day!

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8 best things to do in Yosemite National Park

Becca Blond

Mar 19, 2024 • 8 min read

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Yosemite is a wonderland of adventures – here are our favorites © R. Tyler Gross / Getty Images

Yosemite National Park is one of those dazzling, large-than-life destinations with a beauty that must be seen firsthand to truly appreciate it.

Renowned landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams introduced much of the public to this iconic park in the 1930s, when he began documenting its magic in black and white. Close to 100 years later, Yosemite remains an iconic photographic locale attracting close to five million visitors each year.

In California’s Sierra Mountains, Yosemite is the third-oldest national park in the US, established in 1890 and home to more than 700 miles of hiking trails, numerous waterfalls and captivating granite cliffs and buttresses with names like Half Dome and El Capitan. You’ll also find towering sequoia trees, diverse wildlife, sparkling turquoise and aquamarine lakes, scenic byways and a historic lodge that takes you back about a century in time.

Here are our top picks for the best things to do in Yosemite National Park.

Hikers climbing Yosemite's rocky Half Dome on a sunny day

1. Summit the iconic Half Dome

If you’ve seen photos or videos of Yosemite, you’ve seen the iconic granite rock that is Half Dome . Towering nearly 5000ft above the Yosemite Valley, it can be spotted from several locations around the park, including Tunnel View, Glacier Point and Mirror Lake, but none is more exhilarating than the view from the summit.

This is not a hike to undertake if you are not active or prepared. A 14- to 16-mile round trip with a 4800ft elevation gain, the trek to the summit is no walk in the park. It takes most hikers between 10 to 12 hours to hike up Half Dome and return. 

All that said, if you're looking for a challenge, this is a stupendous hike that offers stunning views of Vernal and Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap. From the shoulder and the summit of Half Dome, you’ll also have panoramic views across the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra Mountains.

You’ll want to start this hike before sunrise and, although the trail is marked, carry a good topographic map and compass. Unless you are a rock climber with equipment, you’ll also have to use a two-cable system to climb the last 400ft to the summit.

If the cables are too much (or you can’t get a permit) you can still climb as far as Sub Dome, which is where the cable section starts. The views from here are still really impressive, and the hike is intense.    

Planning tip: You can only summit Half Dome between Memorial Day and Indigenous Peoples Day, and you'll need a permit to hike past the Sub Dome area. Apply online in March for one of the 225 hiking permits offered each day of the season. The NPS issues them via a lottery system, and competition is stiff.

A hiker is balancing on a fallen tree over a tributary of Merced river in front of famous El Capitan rock climbing summit in scenic Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, California

2. Experience the magic of El Capitan

Yosemite’s other legendary slab of rock is El Capitan , which garnered a lot of attention after Alex Hannold’s free solo climb in June 2017. The subsequent Academy Award–winning Free Solo documentary told the story of Hannold becoming the first person to summit El Capitan using only his hands, no ropes.

Today, this nearly 3600ft sheer cliff remains a hotspot for climbers. On Yosemite Valley’s north side, it can be seen from numerous points of interest around the park, like the Tunnel View lookout and El Capitan Meadow. The latter is the best spot to photograph this massive rock (it is 1000ft taller than Half Dome’s face). You’ll find the meadow on the North Drive through the Yosemite Valley.  

Planning tip:  Bring a pair of binoculars so you can spot the climbers from a distance.

3. See the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View Lookout 

The Yosemite Valley is where many of the park’s top attractions are located, including Tunnel View lookout. The parking lot is located right off Hwy 41, just east of Wawona Tunnel as you enter the Yosemite Valley, and it offers spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley. You’ll be able to see El Capitan to your left, Bridalveil Falls to your right and Half Dome in the distance. In the foreground is a sea of green trees and more granite cliffs.  

Try to visit just before or at sunset, when the granite monoliths glow golden from the setting sun; the green of the trees is especially vibrant. Crowds can be serious, however, in summer. If you are visiting in winter, you might have the place nearly to yourself, and the granite walls look especially magical when blanketed in snow. Come in May to see Bridalveil Falls at peak flow.   

Car and mountain scenery on Tioga Pass road in Yosemite National Park

4. Drive Tioga Road

Running east-west across Yosemite, Tioga Rd is only open in the summer. Opening and closing dates vary based on when the road can be cleared in spring and when it first begins to snow in fall. Beginning at Tioga Pass, at the park’s east entrance, with an elevation just shy of 9945ft, Hwy 120 is a wonderfully scenic 46-mile drive , and traversing it to Crane Flat in the west is well worth the park fee alone.

The drive takes you past Tuolumne Meadows, wide-open subalpine terrain bisected by the curvaceous Tuolumne River. You’ll also pass wildflower-strewn fields, deep-green forests, granite domes and hiking trails that lead to clear-blue mountain lakes, into which craggy granite peaks are reflected in the right light.

5. Photograph Yosemite Falls in spring

One of Yosemite’s most memorable sites is Yosemite Falls , and what makes it so alluring is that it only exists for part of the year. Spring is the best time to see the falls – the water is at its mightiest and most photogenic between April and June, thanks to melting snow. By August, however, the waterfall is usually down to a trickle or completely dry. Late fall storms can bring more water to Yosemite Falls, and in winter you may see an ice cone at the base of the upper falls.

One of the tallest waterfalls in the world, Yosemite Falls is made up of three waterfalls. Upper Yosemite Fall drops 1430ft down a granite wall, then the middle cascades drop 675ft before Lower Yosemite Fall drops off another ledge for 350ft.

Planning tip: There are lots of spots to photograph Yosemite Falls in spring. If you want to walk, you can take a 1-mile loop trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. This is also the start of the Yosemite Falls hike, which is a strenuous day hike of close to 8 miles. But walking to the base of the falls is easy and still gives a great perspective.

Hiker standing on an overhanging rock and taking in the view at Glacier Point overlook during the evening.

6. Stroll to Glacier Point lookout

Open only from late May through October, Glacier Point Rd is one of the park’s most famous drives. It takes you to  Glacier Point , one of the most impressive views in the entire park, looking out over Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and the park’s high country.

The lookout itself, which is 3214ft above Curry Village, is accessed from the Glacier Point parking lot via a short, wheelchair-accessible paved trail. During the months when the road is open, you can also visit the lookout on the Glacier Point bus tour. 

Detour: After checking out the viewpoint, take the Four Mile Trail down to Yosemite Valley, some 3200ft below. A little less than 5 miles long (the name is confusing), the trail is steep with some good views and drops you out near Sentinel Rock. You can also hike it up to Glacier Point. Either way, check the bus schedule to see if you can catch a ride back the other direction.

7. Hike to Columbia Rock and beyond

Yosemite National Park is a hiker’s paradise , with more than 750 miles of trails to explore. One of the top moderate hikes in the park is up to Columbia Rock, from which you have 180-degree views of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome to the east and Cathedral Spires to the west.

The 3-mile roundtrip hike begins at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead and gains about 1000ft in elevation as it continues onto the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, making it a relatively demanding hike complete with switchbacks. The trip takes between two and three hours, depending on how fast you walk.

Columbia Rock is also part of the trail system that initially takes you to the top of Yosemite Falls, located another two-thirds of the way on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. You won’t be able to see the falls from the lookout, but continue for another half-mile and you’ll get great views of them. You can also continue to the top, which is a 7.6-mile round trip.

8. Bike to Mirror Lake

If you are looking for an easy, family-friendly bike ride that also offers awesome, just-in-front-of-you views of Half Dome, consider the Mirror Lake trail. The paved service road runs along the north side of the river and is part of Yosemite National Park’s 12 miles of paved bike paths.

Bike rentals are available at Curry Village. From here it is an easy .8-mile ride via Happy Isle Loop Rd to the Mirror Lake Trailhead. The path can also be walked, so keep an eye out for pedestrians. Note that to reach the upper section of the lake itself, which is known for its Half Dome reflections, you’ll need to walk the final, short portion of the trail.

This article was first published Feb 17, 2023 and updated Mar 19, 2024.

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Yosemite National Park Vacation Guide

plan a trip to yosemite national park

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

If you're planning a Yosemite vacation, these resources will help you plan your trip like a pro.

Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, on the east side of California. Almost due east of San Francisco , it's a four-hour drive from there and about six hours' drive from Los Angeles. All the ways to get there, from San Francisco, are summarized in this guide: how to get to Yosemite .

What to Expect at Yosemite

Yosemite's heart is a glacier-carved valley. Soaring granite monoliths, cliffs, and waterfalls surround you—and a river runs through the middle of it all. Mile for mile, it offers some of the most spectacular scenery you're likely to see anywhere. Elsewhere in the park, you'll find groves of giant sequoia trees, high mountain meadows, and panoramic views of the mountains and valleys.

Visitors go to Yosemite National Park for the natural beauty and outdoor recreation. You don't have to be a hyper-fit backpacker to enjoy it. There are plenty of things to see on short, easy hikes or even from the windows of your automobile. Families also enjoy taking the kids there.

How Long to Stay on Your Vacation

You can get a nice look around in just one day. To make the most of such a short visit, use this guide to one day in Yosemite . If you can stay for a weekend, try the Yosemite weekend getaway planner .

If you only plan to do a few hikes and drive around to see the sights, three days is enough to see most everything. If you'd like to linger, you'll have time to enjoy more ranger-led activities, attend evening programs, take tours, and hang around enjoying the scenery.

Key Locations in Yosemite National Park

The best way to get a sense of where things are located is to take a look at the Yosemite map . It shows all the lodging in the park, entrance stations, and major sights, but here's a summary:

  • Yosemite Valley : Sights to include are El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, and the visitor center. You'll find a variety of hotels here, plus a campground and tent cabins.
  • Glacier Point : A viewpoint just above the Valley, giving a different perspective on its sights—along with sweeping views across the surrounding mountains and a great view of Half Dome.
  • Wawona and the Mariposa Grove : Located here is the classic hotel Wawona Lodge , and the biggest and most easily accessible grove of giant sequoia trees is nearby.
  • Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road : Drive east through the park on CA Highway 120, which takes you through a high mountain meadow and the Tioga Pass. You'll get some excellent views along the way at Olmstead Point and Tenaya Lake.
  • Hetch Hetchy : Accessed by a separate entrance from the rest of the park, Hetch Hetchy's main feature is a lake, created as a water supply for the city of San Francisco.

How to Support Yosemite and Save Money

The non-profit group Yosemite Conservancy restores trails and lookouts and protects habitat and wildlife. Get a membership before you go, and you'll not only support their work, but you'll also get a bunch of discount coupons that will save you money on lodging, food, and activities. Visit their website to find out more.

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A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park 

By Emily Pennington

A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park

All products featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

As America’s first swath of public land set aside for protection, Yosemite National Park is often credited as the site that birthed the entire national park idea. Home to enormous ancient sequoia groves, glacially-carved granite domes, roaring waterfalls, and over 800 miles of developed trails, Yosemite is not only one of the best national parks in California —it's the kind of place that continually amazes, whether it’s your first time visiting or your fiftieth.

The park has dark spots on its history too, from the removal of the Ahwahneechee people , to the controversial damming of  Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide drinking water to the city of San Francisco in the 1920s. Though not always a perfect model, the park continues to be a living laboratory for conservation and stewardship to this day.

Also noteworthy: In 2023, Yosemite has elected to do away with its COVID-era  vehicle permit system , meaning that day-use visitors can enter and exit the park with ease (after paying the $35 entrance fee; valid for seven days). As such, it’s sure to be an excellent season to visit this legendary park, for locals and out-of-towners alike.

Keep scrolling for our favorite hikes, sights, and stays in Yosemite National Park.

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Snow covered scene in Yosemite National Park

Come winter, Yosemite's icons, like El Capitan, take on a whole new personality. 

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park

Like many of America’s iconic national parks, Yosemite is a land of vastly different elevations and, as a result, extremes in conditions across the park’s different zones.

The valley, home to jaw-dropping granite walls (like Half Dome and El Capitan) and sky-high waterfalls, sits at a sensible 4,000 feet. It gets hot in the summer (50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and sees minimal snowfall most winters. The “high country,” located off Tioga Road to the north, is a sprawling high-altitude expanse of snow-capped Sierra peaks, dense stands of conifers, and glittering alpine lakes. As such, these byways are  typically only open from late May through October, depending on the weather.

Spring is a phenomenal time to go chasing waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, while summer brings crowds down low and excellent hiking weather up high (stick a pin in Tuolumne Meadows for some of the prettiest hiking paths). In autumn, fall colors start to shift along the Merced River in the valley, waterfalls run dry, and cooler daytime temps can make for wonderful backpacking trips across the entirety of the park. Winter is Yosemite’s quiet season, though the  Curry Village ice rink and  Badger Pass Ski Area liven things up once the first snow arrives.

How to get there

There's no sugarcoating it. California is a big place, and the Sierras are a big, protected mountain range. For better or worse, the closest airport to Yosemite is the  Fresno Airport . That’s still roughly 90 minutes from the park boundary and 2 hours and 20 minutes from its fabled valley cliffs, so you’ll want to rent a car, put on your favorite playlist, and enjoy the drive. On the plus side, you’ll be able to easily access Yosemite’s best trailheads with ease.

A handful of flights touch down in the tiny  Merced Airport , which boasts year-round  YARTS public transportation into the park. Yosemite offers a  free park shuttle around its popular valley. Those taking public transit can also opt for a paid  hiker’s bus between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, if you'd like to hike the high country.

Things to do in Yosemite

Girl with Small Backpack Taking photo of Yosemite

Half Dome is one of Yosemite's most popular hikes, but there are also lesser-known backpacking trails perfect for escaping the crowds. 

Hiking and backpacking

Hands down, the best way to get out and see Yosemite is to go for a hike, and this park is home to some of the most spectacular trails in the country. If you’re looking for quick, family-friendly options, take in the powerful spray of California’s tallest waterfall on the one-mile, wheelchair accessible   Lower Yosemite Fall Trail , then head to the  Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and go for a romp along the .3-mile Big Trees Loop or the two-mile Grizzly Giant Loop.

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Yosemite is also a bastion of calf-burning all-day adventures for serious hikers. Along the road to Glacier Point, trekkers can soak up gobsmacking views of the valley on the five-mile  Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop . Or, head for the high country on a seven-mile (round trip) up to  Cathedral Lakes , two postcard-worthy sapphire tarns that sit beneath a toothy granite summit.

Want to escape the crowds? Planning an overnight backpacking trip is a surefire way to experience the pristine magic of Yosemite’s wilderness, and at 747,956 acres, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Reserve a  wilderness permit for your preferred trailhead, double-check your gear, and be sure to pack (or rent) a bear canister to store your food (it’s required by law). Need some inspiration? We recommend the stunning, 6.5-mile alpine journey to  Ten Lakes or the 4.5-mile romp to  Sunrise Lakes .

Get more tips on Yosemite hikes in our complete guide.  

Scenic drives

For travelers who don’t want to dirty their loafers on a national park visit, Yosemite is full of top-notch stretches of  scenic pavement . In summer, when Tioga Road is open, visitors can motor across the “range of light,” from Lee Vining all the way to El Portal, on the western edge of the park. Along the way, enjoy purple spider lupine and brilliant pink penstemon in  Tuolumne Meadows , stopping to admire the sweeping view of Half Dome and Clouds Rest from  Olmstead Point .

If you’re dead set on exploring  Yosemite Valley by car, go early in the morning to avoid traffic jams and enjoy the peaceful light as deer graze in  Cook’s Meadow . Be sure to stop at the incomparable waterfalls (Vernal, Yosemite, and Bridalveil are our top picks), then pull over at El Capitan and try to imagine Alex Honnold scaling the 3,000-foot-tall cliff face, sans-rope.

You could go way off the beaten path and avoid crowds altogether in Yosemite’s gorgeous  Hetch Hetchy area, which sits in the park’s northwestern corner and features that aforementioned massive reservoir, punctuated by cascading waterfalls.

The road leading to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park California USA with the Half Dome in the background

Cycle or drive through Yosemite National Park for miles and miles of views. 

Cycling the Valley Loop

Yosemite’s breathtaking valley is home to one of the best (and flattest)  multi-use bike paths in the national park system. BYO-bicycle or  rent one at Curry Village, Yosemite Village, or Yosemite Valley Lodge, then wheel onto more than 12-miles of designated bike trails, which wind past Half Dome, Happy Isles, Mirror Lake, Merced River, and Lower Yosemite Fall.

Guided tours

For travelers hoping to dig a little deeper or venture a little further, there are a wealth of expert-led guided tours in Yosemite, too. Those hoping to follow in Honnold’s footsteps (roped up, of course), should check out  Yosemite Valley Mountaineering School , which has been in business since 1969 and offers courses ranging from the beginner-focused “Welcome to the Rock” to big wall seminars for experienced granite aficionados. Nearby,  Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides also offers day- and weekend-long outings for budding climbers, plus day hikes and backpacking excursions.

If you’ve only got one day inside the park, book a  Grand Tour with Aramark, the park’s licensed concessionaire, for an all-day adventure (lunch included) that takes in the majestic rock domes of Yosemite Valley, the skyscraper-sized trees of Mariposa Grove, and panoramic views at Glacier Point. Just outside the valley,  Rush Creek Lodge offers a bevy of great day trips as well, ranging from sunset happy hours to view-filled snowshoe excursions.

Don’t want to overnight alone, or just prefer to hike in a group? REI offers a pretty fantastic  lodge-based hiking tour that explores the park’s most noteworthy nooks and crannies, from Budd Lake and to Glacier Point, to the Middle Earth-esque Mist Trail. However, the best stargazing (and most pristine solitude) can only be soaked up on an overnight backpacking trip, and  Wildland Trekking can throw down with the best of ‘em. Test your nerves and attempt to summit  Half Dome’s slick spine or do a deep-dive into Yosemite’s high country on the seven-day “ Wonders of Yosemite ” journey.

Rent an Airstream at AutoCamp Yosemite for connection to the outdoors—and the comforts of home.

Rent an Airstream at AutoCamp Yosemite for connection to the outdoors—and the comforts of home. 

Where to stay in and around Yosemite

Hoping to car camp under the stars? Sleep in a vintage Airstream? Or perhaps you’d prefer a top-notch lodge, complete with a delicious dinner menu? No matter your style, there’s sure to be something to suit even the choosiest traveler in your crew.

Yosemite is home to thirteen, yes,  thirteen   car-accessible campgrounds , all of which book up within minutes and are on a reservation system from April through October. Reserving a primo spot (especially in the coveted valley) can be a bit of a headache, as  some campgrounds become available five months in advance, some two months in advance, and others just two weeks out from a trip. Plan ahead, triple-check the park website, and book early, especially if your heart is set on pitching a tent under Half Dome–at the popular Upper, Lower, or North Pines campgrounds.

In winter, many campgrounds close, but a few (Camp 4, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow) switch over to a first-come, first-served system. Upper Pines, located in Yosemite Valley, has reservations available year-round for those who don’t mind the cold.

Read more about camping in Yosemite in our complete guide.  

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Hotels, glamping, and vacation rentals

As one of the most-visited sites in the NPS system (over 3.6 million visited in 2022), Yosemite has a wealth of posh accommodations just outside the park boundary.  Rush Creek Lodge & Spa , located a mere five minutes from the Big Oak Flat Entrance, is a haven for foodie families looking for a post-hike massage and epic cocktail menu (there’s even an on-site pool and zip line for the kiddos). Discerning travelers seeking white glove service and excellent fine dining should head south for  Château du Sureau , a European-style castle with a phenomenal restaurant ( The Elderberry House ), set on nine private acres in the mountain town of Oakhurst.

As far as historic park lodges go,  The Ahwahnee , in Yosemite Valley, is considered the crown jewel of the bunch. Built to complement the park’s soaring granite walls and verdant conifers, it first opened in 1927 and is known for its stately dining room and incomparable location.

Intrepid park-goers craving the comforts of home (think hot showers, luxe linens, and private patios) in a more adventurous setting might prefer a chic Airstream stay at  AutoCamp Yosemite . Or, of course, you could always splurge on a vacation house rental inside the park, like  this breezy craftsman in Yosemite West or this plush log cabin in Wawona .

Read more on the best places to stay in Yosemite National Park.  


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1-Week Yosemite, Kings Canyon, & Sequoia Itinerary

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

One of the most prolific photographers of all time, Ansel Adams, inspired many to fall in love with nature with his beautiful black and white images of Yosemite National Park. Millions of people visit Yosemite each year, but many don’t realize that just a few hours south is another slice of paradise that should be included in your itinerary. This 1 week itinerary will take you trough the Sierra Nevada Mountain range that gives Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks their spectacular views.

Yosemite National Park

Day 1: travel day.

The best combo of drive time and price was to fly in was the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport which is about 4 hour drive.  Closer airports are more costly and the additional layover time doesn’t save you much time. Plan on spending the first day of your trip traveling and getting settled in.

Day 2: Hike Mist Falls and John Muir Trail

Mist Falls? More like drenched falls, so come prepared to get wet! The Mist Falls trail is a moderate 1.5 mile out and back trail that ends at the base of Vernal Falls, if you are up for a challenge continue on the John Muir Trail to see the top Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. 


The base of Vernal Falls – Moderate

Top of Vernal Falls – Difficult

Nevada Falls Loop – Strenuous

Mist Falls Out And Back – 3 miles round trip

Vernal Falls Out and Back – 4 miles round trip

Nevada Falls Loop – 7.5 miles 

Please enjoy this short video featuring Mist Falls’ namesake attraction! This video was taken with a phone as my camera was packed safely in my  Osprey Daylite Plus  which kept my pride and joy bone dry.

Pro Tip:  Don’t know how to tell if your gear is 100% waterproof? Create a seal around the material and your mouth and blow. If you can feel the air on your hand on the other side, it’s not 100% waterproof .

Day 3: Bridal veil Falls and other Quick Hikes In Yosemite Valley

Each of these hikes are flat and a mile or less (except Mirror Lake which is a flat 3). I recommend utilizing Yosemite’s very efficient bus to drop you off near all the main points of interest, If you don’t manage to hit all of these overlooks, just add them the morning you leave for Kings Canyon. You won’t need all day at Kings Canyon, so that morning is a great buffer zone for fitting in the things you missed.

Photography Tip: To capture the soft, flowy waterfall look use a long shutter speed .

Swinging bridge view.

The swinging bridge at Yosemite National Park provides an excellent view of the rushing waterfalls and rocky cliffs below. Visitors can enjoy a peaceful stroll across the bridge, taking in the natural beauty of the park all around them.

Mirror Lake Trail

Mirror Lake Trail is a short, flat trail that leads to the namesake Mirror Lake. The trail passes through a forested area and offers great views views of the valley and the surrounding mountains, and the lake is a beautiful sight.

Bridal Veil Falls and creek

Bridal Veil Creek is one of the most beautiful features in Yosemite National Park. The creek cascades over a series of dramatic waterfalls, creating a lovely sight for visitors. The area is also popular for hiking, with trails leading to the best views of the falls.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is one of the most popular stops on the Yosemite Valley Tour. From here, visitors can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. The view from this vantage point is so popular that it has been used in many advertisements and postcards for the park.

Glacier Point

Perched high above Yosemite Valley on the south rim of the park, Glacier Point offers visitors a stunning view of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley. The drive to Glacier Point is spectacular, as visitors wind their way up the winding road that hugs the cliffs of Yosemite Valley.

Lower Yosemite Falls Vista Point

Lower Yosemite Falls Vista Point is a wonderful spot to take in the beauty of Lower Yosemite Falls. The viewpoint is located at the end of a short, wheelchair-accessible trail that provides lovely views of the waterfall and its surroundings.

Day 4: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Difficulty :

Hard – Very Steep Incline

  • Columbia Rock: 2 miles round trip
  • Base of upper falls: 4 miles round trip
  • Top of the Falls: 7 miles round trip

King’s Canyon National Park

Day 5: general grant tree and the king’s canyon scenic byway.

The drive through Sierra National Forest from Yosemite to Kings Canyon is about 2 hours and is equally as stunning as the parks themselves.  The byway begins at the General Grant Tree in Grant Grove and ends at the Copper Creek Trailhead; without stopping, the scenic byway takes about an hour each way. How long you stay at each of the 25+ lookout points is the real deciding factor in how long this highly underrated detour will take.

Roaring River Falls

Junction view lookout point, grizzly falls, sequoia national park, day 6: giant forest trail and moro rock hiking trails.

Start on the Giant Forest Trail and meander your way to various points of interest in the area – Bear Hill Trail, Hanging Rock, Moro Rock, Auto Log, and Tunnel Log. The trails in the area converge several times so it’s not critical to stay on the same path.

Moderate- There are steep inclines to access some of the view points, but there are also long periods of flat terrain.

This is a “choose your own adventure” kind of hike. It can range from 3-7 miles depending on how many points of interest you include.

Day 7: General Sherman Tree and Big Trees Trail

The famed giant sequoia, General Sherman, is the world’s largest tree by volume and it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of that until you see it yourself.

Photography Tip: Use a wide-angle lens to capture the giant sequoias.  

Difficulty:  Moderate – The way down is easy, it’s getting back up that’s the problem.

Length:   1 mile

Big Trees Trail is a leisurely stroll around a meadow with an abundance of wildlife . As someone that loves capturing photos of  wildlife , I could have stayed there all day!

Difficulty:  Easy – Completely flat

Length:  1 mile

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9 Responses

Good blog you have here.. It’s hard to find high-quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!|

Thank you, I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my blog!

Informative article, exactly what I needed.

Great blog! This is super informative & helpful. Is there a certain time of year you suggest for this trip?

I would recommend early summer, so May/June timeframe. The waterfalls are at their best when the snow is starting to melt and the roads higher in the mountains, such as Glacier Point, open around mid to late May. Hope you enjoy your trip!

I typically don’t ever leave comments or reviews, but WOW. I loved every single part of this. So informative and helped me finalize my itinerary. Thank you thank you thank you! I’ll be going this September!

I’m so glad you found this helpful!

Following this itinerary from Yosemite with one day in KC and one day (for me) in Sequoia, where would you recommend staying?

Personally I think Kings Canyon lets you see the most in the shortest time if you only have one day. Kings Canyon and Sequoia are grouped together as one national park, so they aren’t far from each other.

Kings Canyon scenic drive starts near the General Grant sequoia tree so you’ll still see the sequoias, plus many views along the drive.

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​​2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary: Spend a Magical Two Days at the Park

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Your all-inclusive itinerary for 2 days in Yosemite National Park, including where to go, where to stay, and where to eat. 

Have you been dreaming of a vacation to Yosemite National Park but don’t know where to start? 

Do you want to maximize your precious time with the least amount of effort spent planning, organizing, and researching? 

Well, you’re in luck! 

I created a 2-day itinerary for Yosemite National Park that takes out all the researching and leg work on your end and allows you to skip right to the good stuff. 

It includes all the best places to stay and eat, plus all the must-see natural wonders in Yosemite (and how to see them in a short amount of time). 

I’ll be honest, Yosemite National Park is both huge and very confusing, especially Yosemite Valley, which has a notoriously confusing traffic pattern. 

The road is two-way in some places, one way in others, and it seemingly switches from one to the other without warning. 

With this 2 days in Yosemite itinerary, you’ll skip the part where you wander around the Valley feeling frustrated.

All of the stops in this Yosemite itinerary are planned so that they naturally connect with the least amount of double-backing. 

So, go ahead and start planning your Yosemite weekend trip!

Use this Yosemite itinerary as is or as a base plan to help you plan your ideal vacation. Either way, I’m here to help you maximize your days in Yosemite National Park. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

How to Spend a Magical Weekend at the Park

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 

Table of Contents

Two Days in Yosemite Itinerary

Note: For the 2022 summer season Yosemite National Park has stated that Glacier Point Road will be completely closed for repairs. This means some Yosemite icons like Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and, of course, Glacier Point itself cannot be accessed. Not to worry though, there are still tons of breathtaking views and natural beauty to behold in this Yosemite itinerary.

Day 1 in Yosemite – Hikes, Waterfalls, and Panoramic Views

Dine in Style at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Dine in Style at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Start your 2 days in Yosemite with breakfast at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel . 

Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can enjoy a meal in their gorgeous wood-paneled dining room. 

The dining room has 30-foot windows, which oversee a beautifully manicured lawn and Ahwahnee Meadow. 

You can park right at the Ahwahnee Hotel, just follow signs for the hotel as you enter Yosemite Valley. 

Breakfast is served between 7-10 am, and there’s no dress code for breakfast (although there’s one for dinner). This is the breakfast buffet menu . 

They also have a Sunday brunch option that goes from 7 am-3 pm, and is a bit more expensive ($56) than the normal breakfast buffet, but it’s best described as “legendary.”

Pack a Picnic Lunch at the Village Store

Pack a Picnic Lunch at the Village Store

After you’re done at the Ahwahnee, stop at the Village Store to grab lunch materials and snacks (if you didn’t already). 

The store’s hours vary but are currently listed as 8 am-7 pm. This is where you can get all the necessities to fill you up (plus pre-packaged s’mores kits). 

Also, don’t forget water! Be sure to pack plenty of water for each person in your group as your next activity will be hiking a strenuous trail. 

Enjoy Nature on the Mist Trail

Mist Trail Hiking Guide

The Village Store is located between the Ahwahnee Hotel and your next destination: the Curry Village Parking Lot and the Mist Trail. 

There’s parking available for hikers at Curry Village, both along the road across from Curry Village and in the Orchard Lot. 

If parking is full here, you can try parking at Trailhead Parking, which is located east (towards Half Dome) of Curry Village. Look for signs or ask a ranger if you aren’t sure where to go. 

Once you’ve parked, it’s time to grab your hiking boots because for the afternoon you’ll be hiking one of Yosemite National Park’s most famous trails: the Mist Trail. 

From the parking area, you’ll need to walk about three-quarters of a mile to the Mist Trail Trailhead. There’s no closer parking to the trailhead unless you have a handicapped sticker. 

The Mist Trail takes visitors up the Merced River Canyon to destinations like Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, and the Vernal Falls footbridge, which are some of the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley.  

You can choose which destination you want to hike to. All of them offer great views of waterfalls, and all are rated strenuous. 

Mist Trail Hiking Guide

  • Vernal Falls Footbridge (1.6 miles round trip, 400 ft of elevation gain, 30 min [lower estimate] or 1-1.5 hours total [official estimate]).
  • Vernal Falls (2.4 miles round trip, 1000 ft of elevation gain, 45 min [lower estimate] or 3 hours round trip [official estimate]).
  • Nevada Falls (5.4 miles round trip, 2000 ft of elevation gain, 2 hours [lower estimate] or 5-6 hours round trip [official estimate]).

Note: the lower time estimates are based on a 20-minute mile, which is how fast I usually hike. The higher estimates are for those who need more time or plan to take a lot of pictures. These are in line with the official time estimates on the NPS website, but I find I often hike much faster than what’s estimated, which is why I put both. 

Here’s a little more info about each hiking destination: 

Vernal Falls Footbridge

Vernal Falls Footbridge

The Vernal Falls bridge is a good destination for those with small kids, as this will still be a challenging hike for them. 

The footbridge has the benefit of a bathroom located near it and gives a great view of Vernal Falls. 

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

A common destination for visitors is the top of Vernal Falls, where many people enjoy a picnic lunch. 

Be aware that hungry squirrels often hang out here hoping for food from visitors, but you should never feed any wildlife, not even the squirrels. 

It’s also common to see bears on the trail, so be prepared and know what to do . It’s never ok to get more than 50 yards (half a football field) to a black bear, even if you see other visitors doing it. 

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

If you’re feeling very ambitious, go for the top of Nevada Falls, which gives an incredible view of the river gorge below. 

Wait, why didn’t you include the Half Dome Hike?

Half Dome Hike

I know what you might be thinking: I want to hike Half Dome! 

Visitors can hike Half Dome if they have a permit , but be aware that these permits need to be obtained in advance (the lottery to snag one of these is in March each year). There are no permits given out the day of. 

Half Dome is also an extremely difficult hike, even before you start up the slick granite dome, and the hike takes most people all day (I’m talking 5 am to 5 pm). 

Because of this, I’m not including Half Dome as a hiking option here if you only have 2 days in Yosemite. 

I also want to note that you can’t see Half Dome from any of these hikes as you’re too close to the back of it to really see it. 

If you want to see the front of Half Dome, you can choose the Mirror Lake Hike instead. The good news is that you can walk to the Mirror Lake Trailhead from Curry Village as well, just follow the signs. 

Alternative Day 1 Afternoon Option: Take a Guided Hiking Excursion

If planning a hike is more than you want to navigate (or you don’t want to hike by yourself), there are plenty of amazing private and group tours available in Yosemite, like this Guided Hiking Excursion . 

Be Inspired at a Ranger Program

Be Inspired at a Ranger Program

Once you’re done with your hike, head over to the Yosemite Visitor Center to check out a Ranger Program . 

The Yosemite Visitor Center doesn’t have parking near it, so you must either park along the road, or at Day Use Parking or Yosemite Valley Lodge, and walk to the Visitor Center. 

The Day Use Parking area is located near the roundabout and is south of the Village Store. 

Yosemite National Park has some incredible interpretive rangers whose job it is to help visitors understand the nature around them. 

They hold entertaining and educational programs and I highly recommend catching one. 

The times of ranger programs change throughout the season, so be sure to check ahead and make sure there will be a program when you’re available. Ranger programs also vary in length.

Enjoy a Peaceful Meadow on the Cooks Meadow Loop

Enjoy a Peaceful Meadow on the Cooks Meadow Loop

Chances are, if you parked along the road or at Yosemite Valley Lodge, you walked right by Cooks Meadow on your way to the Visitor Center. 

On your way back to your car, take a detour on one of two wooden boardwalks that cross the meadow. 

These boardwalks are great spots for photography and have educational signage along the way. 

From Cooks Meadow, you can get views of the famous Yosemite Falls, and if cross the bridge over the Merced river, you can go check out the historic Yosemite Chapel . 

This stop can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes. 

Watch Rock Climbers on El Capitan

Watch Rock Climbers on El Capitan

Yosemite National Park is famous in the climbing community for its incredibly challenging granite walls and El Capitan is perhaps the most well-known climbing wall of all. 

El Capitan is sometimes hard for first-time visitors to recognize because it doesn’t have a recognizable shape the way Half Dome does. 

As you’re leaving Yosemite Valley, follow the signs for Highway 41 towards Fresno . Just after the first intersection (called El Capitan Cross), there is a long row of parking on the left side of the road. 

The meadow next to the road is El Capitan Meadow , and El Capitan is across the street from the meadow. 

Grab a parking spot and wander into the meadow with your binoculars to see climbers make their way up the famous cliff. 

At night, you can see the lights of climbers who are spending the night on the wall. 

Once you’re done admiring the massive granite wall (and the crazy people climbing it!) you can continue on the one-way road towards Highway 41/Fresno to get to Tunnel View. 

Admire the Vista at Tunnel View

Admire the Vista at Tunnel View

Around or just before sunset, end the first of your 2 days in Yosemite National Park at one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the country: Tunnel View . 

Tunnel View got its name because it’s the first glimpse you get of Yosemite Valley after exiting a long tunnel. The effect of popping out of the tunnel and seeing the valley is quite extraordinary.

From Tunnel View, you’ll see almost the entire Yosemite Valley. 

Mighty El Capitan, the famous climbing destination, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome will be bathed in glowing orange light (on clear evenings) and is a great place for sunset photography. 

Tunnel View is located along Highway 41 towards Fresno, about 20 minutes from Yosemite Valley. Even if you came into the park from this highway, it’s worth going back at sunset.

Dinner in Curry Village

Dinner in Curry Village

For dinner, head back to Curry Village and grab a pizza at the Pizza Deck . 

The Pizza Deck has varying hours in the summer, so check here for the most updated schedule. The menu at the Pizza Deck is located here .

If you’re still in a wandering mood after dinner you can meander across the street to the wooden boardwalk in the meadow and enjoy the remaining sunlight on Half Dome. 

Day 2 in Yosemite – Big Trees Day

Breakfast and Coffee at Degnan’s Deli

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On the second day of your Yosemite trip itinerary, start early and grab a quick breakfast and coffee at Degnan’s Deli , located in Yosemite Village. You can park at Day Use Parking to walk to Degnan’s. 

While you’re at Degnan’s, you should also grab some sandwiches to go since the middle of the day will be spent in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. 

Learn about Yosemite History

Learn about Yosemite History

After you’re filled up and caffeinated, you can meander over to the Ansel Adams Gallery (open 10 am-3 pm) or the Indian Village of Ahwahnee . Both are located in Yosemite Village. 

The Ansel Adams Gallery showcases the work of famous photographer Ansel Adams and even has some of his original prints. You can buy artwork from local artists and snag some postcards. 

The Indian Village of Ahwahnee is located behind the visitor center and gives education about the Ahwahneechee Indians, who were among the first to call Yosemite home. 

Each of these stops can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as an hour each depending on your interests. 

Cool off at the base of Yosemite Falls

Cool off at the base of Yosemite Falls

From Yosemite Village, drive to the Yosemite Valley Lodge to park. Across the street is the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail , which is a paved trail that’s only a half-mile long. 

Since it’s completely paved, the Lower Yosemite Falls trail is one of the very few trails where dogs are allowed in Yosemite National Park. 

The walk around the paved loop takes anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour and will deposit you at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. 

In the spring when the water is high, you can enjoy feeling the mist on the footbridge over the stream. 

Walk Among Giants at the Mariposa Grove

Walk Among Giants at the Mariposa Grove

Anyone visiting Yosemite for the first time should try to make time to see one of the giant sequoia groves in the park. 

There are several groves of giant sequoia trees to visit in the park, and the Mariposa Grove is the biggest and most famous. 

This excursion should take approximately six hours end to end, without too much traffic. 

The Mariposa Grove is located next to the South Entrance (Hwy 41/Wawona Rd) to the park and is about 45 minutes away from Yosemite Valley. 

To see the giant sequoias you must park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (next to the park’s entrance). From there, you’ll walk the two-mile road to Mariposa Grove. 

The road has 500 feet of elevation gain, so it isn’t too strenuous, but plan for about 40 minutes to an hour each way.

To get closer to the sequoia trees, and to see the famous Grizzy Giant, you’ll need to do the 5.5-mile round trip hike as well. 

If your giant sequoia adventure takes longer than you thought it would, you can stop in for snacks at the store next to the Wawona Gas Station . 

Alternative to the Giant Sequoia Trees

Alternative to the Giant Sequoia Trees

Admittedly, the logistics of getting to the Mariposa Grove are a bit complex. 

If you’re dying to see some giant sequoia trees but don’t want to figure out the trip yourself, you can pay for a private tour in a Jeep in Sierra National Forest (out of Oakhurst). 

This will not be a tour inside Yosemite, but it involves less walking if that’s a problem for you. 

Return for Dinner and an El Capitini at the Ahwahnee Bar

Return for Dinner and an El Capitini at the Ahwahnee Bar

At the end of your 2 days in Yosemite itinerary, I recommend going back to where you started: The Ahwahnee . 

Enjoy dinner set to live piano music and grab a drink at the Ahwahnee Bar afterward. The El Capitini is the local twist on a martini. 

Dinner is served from 5:30-8:30 pm and the menu can be found here . 

Take a Stroll Around Ahwahnee Meadow

Take a Stroll Around Ahwahnee Meadow

If there’s still light out after dinner, you can walk around the meadow next to the Ahwahnee Hotel, which is called the Ahwahnee Meadow. 

Ahwahnee Meadow is lined by charming employee housing called Ahwahnee Row, and the meadow itself is often a good place to spot deer munching on grasses. 

Ahwahnee Meadow gives a spectacular view of Half Dome, just keep in mind that it’s prohibited to walk through the meadow so stick to walking around it. 

Traffic in Yosemite National Park

Traffic in Yosemite National Park

It’s very important if you’re planning 2 days in Yosemite that you prepare for horrendous traffic , especially if you’re visiting in the summer or during a holiday weekend. And especially if you’re traveling from a popular route like from San Francisco . 

To get into Yosemite Valley for the morning of your first day, you should plan to be at the park entrance no later than 7:30 am. 

Most park entrances are 30 mins to one hour from Yosemite Valley. And it’s not uncommon for visitors to spend two hours waiting in the entrance station line before they can even enter the park.

This should not be a problem if you arrive before 8 am, so rise and shine!

The same issue presents itself on busy weekends as visitors are trying to leave the Valley. 

Congestion and traffic patterns in the valley can back up and people end up waiting an hour or more to get out. 

Cell Service in Yosemite National Park

Cell Service in Yosemite National Park

Don’t plan to have much cell service in Yosemite once you arrive. 

You may be able to access WIFI at Degnan’s Deli or the hotels, but otherwise plan to have paper maps or downloaded maps on your phone. 

I also recommend having a hiking app downloaded on your phone before you arrive. This will save you some headache, I promise. 

Note: cell service is actually quite good in Yosemite National Park in the winter, but the massive numbers of people in the valley in summer is what jams the cell towers. 

Is Two Days Enough for Yosemite?

Is Two Days Enough for Yosemite?

How many days do you need in Yosemite?

When most people think of visiting Yosemite in California , they envision Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and El Capitan. 

These are what I call the “best of Yosemite” sights and it’s possible to see the best of Yosemite National Park in two days.

That said, I strongly suggest you do some planning before you leave so you can maximize your time. 

It’s also a good idea to have some backup plans in mind if, for example, your favorite trail ends up being closed for trail repair.  

Also, keep in mind that Yosemite is HUGE (about the size of Rhode Island), so to explore the entire park would take much longer than two days. 

Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

No matter what time of year you visit, my top recommendation is to avoid the weekend in Yosemite if you can. I would especially avoid holiday weekends. 

Weekends are noticeably busier, which means less parking available (a notorious problem in Yosemite Valley), longer lines for food and services, and more crowded trails. 

Other than that, the time of year you should visit depends on what you want to do. 

Some trails are closed in winter due to the danger of ice, but the park is quieter. Plus, Yosemite in the snow or during Christmastime is quite magical. If you visit in February, you also might be able to catch the Yosemite Firefall .

Summer is the best time for wildlife viewing, but you may end up driving around the valley for a few hours looking for parking (believe me, it happens). 

Where to Stay in Yosemite

Staying inside of yosemite national park.

Staying Inside of Yosemite National Park

If you’re dead-set on staying in Yosemite itself, there are a few options.

The Pines Campgrounds are comprised of North Pines, Upper Pines, and Lower Pines. I know, the names could have been a little more creative. 

These are some of the most popular campgrounds in the park because they’re situated in the heart of Yosemite Valley. They’re within walking distance of Curry Village, which has a restaurant, bar, and gear rentals and sales. 

If camping isn’t your thing, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel offers the poshest lodging in the Valley, and Yosemite Valley Lodge offers standard hotel rooms at a more economical price.

Both of these hotels are also located within walking distance to the most popular trailheads (like the Mist Trail) and amenities in Yosemite Valley. 

Yosemite Valley Lodge is also right across the street from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.  

Just keep in mind that all of these options book up fast , so many visitors end up staying outside the park or booking well in advance. 

Staying Outside of Yosemite National Park

Staying Outside of Yosemite National Park

The closest towns outside Yosemite National Park are Oakhurst (South Entrance: Hwy 41), Mariposa and El Portal (Arch Rock Entrance: Hwy 120), Groveland (Big Oak Flat Entrance: Hwy 140), and Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes (Tioga Pass Entrance). 

Oakhurst (and technically the small village of Fish Camp) are about an hour from the closest park entrance, the South Entrance. 

Oakhurst has a wide array of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from, along with three grocery stores. Sierra Sky Ranch in Oakhurst has some of the best ratings. 

In Mariposa, check out the 5th Street Inn , which offers a quaint and cozy atmosphere an hour from Yosemite Valley. 

In Groveland, the Yosemite Rose Bed and Breakfast is a must for a quiet, private stay and is an hour and 10 minutes from Yosemite Valley. 

If you’re coming from the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (only possible in summer), check out the Lake View Lodge . In the summer it takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the Valley from Lee Vining.

How to Get Around Yosemite

How to Get Around Yosemite

No matter what you plan for your itinerary for Yosemite, factor in the driving time or the time to take a shuttle. 

Yosemite National Park is huge, and the most convenient way to get around for most people is by car. 

When planning your travel time to and from the park, always put “Yosemite Valley” in as the destination and not just “Yosemite.” Otherwise, you’ll get an inaccurate travel time. 

Even though most people prefer to drive, finding parking can be a nightmare in the summer during peak hours, so you may end up saving time by taking the YARTS bus . 

Before 2020, Yosemite offered shuttle buses around the valley, but those have been on pause indefinitely. 

It’s unclear whether the shuttles will be operating again for the upcoming summer season. 

However, you can check here before you plan your trip to see if the free shuttle will be available when you visit. 

What to Pack for Yosemite

What to Pack for Yosemite

General Packing List

  • Change of nicer clothes for dinner at the Ahwahnee
  • Daypack with hydration bladder
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Map of Yosemite (you can get a free one at the entrance)
  • Bathing suit (if swimming in the river)
  • Good walking shoes
  • Hiking shoes (if you plan to do more strenuous hikes)
  • Rain jacket or waterproof poncho (if you’re visiting during the rainy season)
  • Warm gloves (if visiting in winter/early spring or in Tuolumne)
  • Outdoor watch (like a Garmin watch ) or handheld GPS (if you want to hike in the backcountry)
  • First-aid kit
  • Quick-drying microfiber towel
  • A durable phone case
  • National Park Passport
  • America the Beautiful Pass
  • Travel insurance

Camping Packing List

  • Tent – read our guides for the best 4-person tents , 6-person tents , 8-person tents , 12-person tents , large camping tents , 3-room tents , instant tents , pop-up tents , inflatable tents , canvas tents , waterproof tents , insulated tents , winter tents , tents with a stove jack , and cabin tents .
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Inflatable camping pillow
  • Earplugs and eye mask (if you’re a light sleeper)
  • Bear-proof cooler (Even these cannot be left out. Read more about food storage in Yosemite here )  
  • Layers of clothing for the night – read our guide to the best hiking clothes for women (that can work for camping too)
  • Camp food + camping pots and utensils
  • Water (if not available at your campground)
  • Solar charger or portable battery-powered charger
  • Personal toiletries and medications
  • Tent air conditioner and camping cot (if you like a more luxe camping setup)
  • Screen tent (to keep the bugs out)
  • Hammock with a mosquito net
  • Camp chairs
  • Biodegradable soap


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Mimi McFadden Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden initially started The Atlas Heart in 2013 to write about her adventures abroad. But since 2019, The Atlas Heart has become a love letter to the Golden State. Mimi enjoys sharing her first-hand knowledge and expertise with the places she knows so well and making the most comprehensive travel guides possible. When she’s not hiking and exploring new places in California, she loves to travel abroad, read in her cozy chaise lounge, play basketball, and connect with friends and family over board games. Over her 28 years in California, she has lived in Santa Cruz (18 years), San Diego (5 years), and the San Francisco Bay Area (5 years), where she currently resides.

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.

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AARP's Guide to Yosemite National Park

Giant sequoias, huge waterfalls, el capitan call to naturalists and artists.

by Bill Fink, AARP , Updated August 18, 2021

Valley view in Yosemite National Park

Allard Schager/Getty Images

En español | In eastern California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of glacier-carved hills and valleys, rivers and lakes and soaring granite cliffs. Home to some of the most impressive and iconic natural landmarks on Earth, the park teems with superlatives: Yosemite Falls, at 2,425 feet, one of the world's tallest; El Capitan's sheer 3,000-foot walls topping one of the world's largest monoliths; and Mariposa Grove, hosting the world's most massive forms of life, 3,000-year-old sequoias stretching 200 feet upward from 25-foot-thick trunks.

Given its beauty, the park has inspired famous naturalists, photographers and athletes. Naturalist John Muir wrote extensively about his travels in Yosemite, campaigning for it to become a national park , as it did with his help in 1890. “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life,” he wrote. Ansel Adams shot some of his most famous photos in the park, writing that “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” His old photo studio is now a gallery and store in the park. More recently, the mind-boggling El Capitan rock-climbing exploits of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold inspired the popular documentaries The Dawn Wall and Free Solo .

But you don't have to be an extreme athlete or legendary artist to appreciate the best of Yosemite. Viewpoints of the famous sights are plentiful and easily accessible. Ranger-led tours and education programs enable you to dig deeper into the park's fascinating natural world, and you can experience its myriad activities — from hiking and biking to golfing and skiing — in your own way.

With 4.5 million visitors annually, the park is certainly no secret, with the Yosemite Valley tourist loop getting quite crowded in summer. But with 95 percent of the park designated as undeveloped wilderness, you can easily get off the beaten track and enjoy plenty of nature for yourself, particularly in the off-season.

map closeup of california showing approximate location of yosemite national park

Location: Eastern California

Acreage: 759,000 acres

Highest peaks: Mount Lyell, at 13,114 feet

Lowest point: Merced River, at 2,105 feet

Miles of trails : 800 miles (20 miles paved)

Main attractions: El Capitan, Half Dome, Mariposa redwoods, Yosemite Falls

Cost: $35 per carload, good for seven consecutive days (annual Seniors Pass $20)

Best way to see it: Walking to scenic viewpoints from shuttle buses

When to go to avoid the crowds : Winter and early spring

Plan Your Trip

Yosemite is about a 200-mile drive east from San Francisco and 300 miles northeast from Los Angeles. Some visitors arrive via airports at Sacramento (175 miles southeast) and Reno (150 miles south).

Access Yosemite from four entrances. The northwest Big Oak Flat Entrance on CA-120 (via Groveland), the western Arch Rock Entrance on CA-140 (via Mariposa), the South Entrance on Route 41 (via Oakhurst and Fish Camp) and the eastern Tioga Entrance on CA-120 via Lee Vining (closed from approximately mid-November through late May). Entry fee is $35 per vehicle (annual Seniors Pass, $20).

Most visitors focus on central Yosemite Valley , which has most of the lodging and facilities, as well as scenic roadside viewpoints of iconic landmarks, including El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Because of this, it can get crowded during the summer high season, with excessive traffic, limited parking and lodging, and packed paths and viewpoints. Consider visiting in the off-seasons to avoid crowds and to get a different perspective of the park. Spring in Yosemite brings the largest waterfall volume and river flows, while fall boasts vibrant, colorful foliage in the valley, and winter provides a wonderland of silent, snow-covered meadows and mountain peaks. “The best time to visit the park, in my opinion, is mid-September through October. There are still long days, good weather, great leaf-peeping and none of the summer crowds,” says Scott Gediman, Yosemite public affairs officer and 24-year park resident.

A free shuttle bus system within the park travels three routes: the main road loop within Yosemite Valley; between the South Visitor Center and the Mariposa Grove of sequoias; and a link between the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in the park's northern section.

Avoid traffic and parking hassles and save money by taking a bus to the park with YARTS. Four YARTS routes access the four entrances with regularly scheduled service from several gateway cities and hotels. Round-trip tickets range from $9 to $34 (with about a 50 percent discount for passengers 62-plus) depending on distance, and include entry to the park.

Cellphone and GPS coverage in the park is limited, so bring a paper map (available at all entrances) to help avoid getting lost without signal. Wi-Fi is available for guests at Yosemite hotels, as well as to the public at Degnan's Kitchen cafeteria in the Valley, and the park's two Mariposa County Library branches.

Yosemite has four diverse seasons of weather, and all four can happen in one day, given changing mountain conditions, so dress in layers. Summer temperatures can top 100 degrees at lower elevations in the valley and around Hetch Hetchy reservoir; winter brings lows in the 20s, sometimes with deep snow and road closures.

Where to Stay and Eat

You have plenty of lodging choices in and around the park, but reserve far in advance of the summer season, when accommodations fill quickly.

The Ahwahnee , the park's iconic property, delivers cozy luxury and awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Falls and the surrounding valley — at a hefty price, with its 97 rooms and 24 cottages renting from $600 a night ($495 in the off-season). For your money, you get a slew of amenities, including a window-lined, chandelier-topped grand dining hall serving classic prime rib dinners and its Great Lounge, with soft couches, a roaring fire and a classical pianist — a fine spot for cognac-sipping after a day outdoors. Its food and wine events in fall and winter are “particularly popular with the older demographic,” says Lisa Cesaro, its regional marketing director.

Take your pick of accommodations at Curry Village , a lodging hub at Half Dome Village with 403 canvas tent cabins (shared bath facilities), 61 cabins and 18 motel rooms. Purchase groceries and essentials at its market and dine at nearby restaurants, including Meadow Grill (breakfast burritos, burgers, rice bowls and salads) and Pizza Patio.

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge , in Yosemite's central highlands, provides a base camp for hikers during summer with canvas-tented cabins and a tented dining hall serving hearty family-style meals.

Families and groups often favor the sprawling Yosemite Valley Lodge, a 245-room complex near the base of Yosemite Falls, for its affordable prices and larger-sized family and bunk rooms. Feast on steak and seafood and great views of the falls in its Mountain Room, while a food court serves up cafeteria-style cheap eats and a Starbucks.

About five miles beyond Yosemite's South Gate, “go back in time” says Cesaro, at the 104-room Wawona Hotel (built in 1856), a Victorian-style property with reasonable prices and popular summer weekend barbecues. (Note: closed for upgrades until summer 2021.)

For self-catering and extended stays, Scenic Wonders books more than 100 vacation rentals in and just outside the park — everything from rustic cabins and basic condo units to five-bedroom luxury homes.

Yosemite is a mecca for campers with 1,400 individual campsites at 15 campgrounds in large, sparsely wooded encampments in the valley and more remote high-country creek and lakeside retreats. But don't procrastinate: Campgrounds typically get booked solid for the summer — reserve at recreation.gov five months in advance — while limited first-come, first-served campgrounds typically fill by noon. The park permits RVs at nine campgrounds, none with hookups. Fees are $18-26 per night at campgrounds with tap water and restrooms, $6-12 at more basic areas. Backcountry camping requires wilderness permits ($5 per reservation plus $5 per person), with reservations taken 24 weeks in advance online, awarded through lottery during peak periods.

Note: Be very aware when camping; always store food securely to avoid encounters with Yosemite's voracious natives.

In addition to the dining at Yosemite lodging mentioned above, you can stop at Degnan's Kitchen in Yosemite Village for cafeteria food and snacks, with the BBQ-and-beer Loft above it. Stock up on picnic and camping supplies at the Village Store or at Wawona Store in the south and Tuolumne Meadows Store to the north.

Tourists near Half Dome

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Things to Do

Sightseeing: Every visitor must see “Yosemite's Greatest Hits,” as Gediman calls them, the iconic landmarks of wood, water and stone that define the park. From easily accessible roadside viewpoints and short, flat (and mostly wheelchair-accessible) paved paths in Yosemite Valley, gaze at the towering city-sized boulder that is Half Dome, nervously watch the climbers hanging from El Capitan's 3,000-foot-tall sheer cliffs and admire the cool, cascading waters of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall. In the park's southern edge, take a shuttle bus to walk a smooth boardwalk among 500 giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove. The ultimate roadside Valley viewpoint? The Tunnel View parking lot by Route 41 north of Wawona. Overlooking the falls, Half Dome and El Capitan, it's a perspective impressive enough to bring out the inner Ansel Adams from even the most jaded city dwellers.

Go sightseeing beyond the Valley and you'll discover more spectacular scenery. In northern Yosemite, see the shimmering waters of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and walk atop its towering dam. The Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite's central highlands boasts fields of wildflowers and the high-alpine Tenaya Lake, with white-sand beaches fronting its frigid blue waters. In the Crane Flat area in the park's western edge, escape the crowds for the lesser-visited Merced and Tuolumne sequoia groves and forest paths. Note: The popular road to Glacier Point sightseeing spots is closed through 2021 for repairs.

Hiking and other active pursuits: With 800 miles of trails, the park offers nearly infinite hiking opportunities . Whether you're backcountry camping in the harsh high alpine or taking a half-hour stroll through flat meadows, it's worth the effort to branch off from the paved paths of Yosemite Valley, but know your limits and be aware of changing weather conditions. Day hikes in Yosemite Valley and Tulomne Meadows are moderately difficult but rewarding ways to escape the crowds.

In Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail begins near Curry Village, ascending 400 feet over about a mile to the Vernal Fall Footbridge. The uphill climb can be a workout at the 4,000-foot elevation, but the wide, paved path is accessible to anyone of reasonable fitness. You'll be rewarded for the effort with prime views of the roaring Merced River and Vernal Fall at the bridge, where restrooms and water are available. The motivated can continue another steep three-quarters of a mile to the top of the falls, then onward six miles to Half Dome.

In Tuolumne Meadows, hike the easy 1.5-mile flat gravel Soda Springs/Parsons Lodge trail to enjoy flowering alpine meadows — traverse a bridge over the Tuolumne River and watch bubbling water emerging from an underground spring. Artists and naturalists present summer seminars at the stone Parsons Memorial Lodge at the trail's end.

Aside from hiking, biking the 12 miles of flat paved trails around Yosemite Valley is probably the best way to access the most scenic viewpoints and facilities at your own pace. Kiosks by Yosemite Valley Lodge and Curry Village rent bikes (including ADA hand-crank and tandem ones) from March to November, weather permitting. From Wawona Stables, hop on a horse or mule for a two-hour guided tour. Take a rare opportunity to play golf within a national park at the nine-hole Wawona Golf Course (open from May to October) near the Wawona Hotel, or play tennis on the property's courts. At the Badger Pass Ski Area in winter, go cross-country and downhill skiing and snowshoeing. Guides also lead backcountry ski tours.

Learning: From the visitors centers, learn about geology, history and wildlife on regular free Yosemite Ranger Walk & Talks in hourlong tours (some wheelchair-accessible). For those with limited mobility, two- to eight-hour guided bus tours from Yosemite Lodge are a good way to get a park overview with easy access to the main sites. Or pick up a new skill in a painting or photography class — there's no better setting to do it in! Offered by the Yosemite Conservancy and the Ansel Adams Gallery, “these workshops have been really popular with the over-50 crowd,” says Gediman. For families, the Yosemite Junior Ranger and Wee Wild Ones programs get the kids and grandkids excited about nature.

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Gateway Towns

Fifteen miles from Yosemite's South Entrance, in Oakhurst , you'll find mountain curio gift shops and a strip of chain motels, plus boating and fishing in nearby Bass Lake. Spoil yourself at the ultraluxurious Chateau du Sureau, with villas and suites fit for French royalty on a mountain estate southwest of town. Splurge on dinner at its Elderberry House Restaurant — think caviar service and duck breast and beef Wellington entrees. Back in town, grab simple pub grub and beers at the South Gate Brewing Company.

Just three miles from Yosemite's South Gate, the expansive Tenaya Lodge is another choice lodging in the area, with new cabins, villas and a hotel with multiple pools and restaurants set amidst a pine forest. A guest perk: customized open-top bus tours of Yosemite.

Between Oakhurst and the South Gate, go back in time and learn about the logging and mining past of the Sierra Nevada mountains on a Sugar Pine Railroad tour. Board an old steam train and chug along a restored railroad used by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company to haul timber more than a 100 years ago.

In Mariposa, 32 miles from Yosemite's southwest Arch Rock Entrance, you'll find inexpensive lodging, a shop-lined main street, a nice regional history museum and nearby outdoor recreation, including easy shaded hikes and river play. Dine on house-smoked ribs at Woodys Indoor Outdoor Grub in a fun setting with outdoor games and live music. For fine dining, try the rack of lamb or stuffed chicken specialties at Charles Street Dinner House. You'll feel like you're in an old western at the Mariposa Hotel Inn (established 1901) with its six quaint, frilly rooms filled with historical photos, Native American artifacts and classic “Victorian Western” décor.

Just north of Mariposa, AutoCamp recently introduced a hip new luxury experience — “glamping” in 102 custom Airstream trailers, tents and cabins, all with firepits and patios spread in a forested area centered around an upscale clubhouse with pool.

Twenty-four winding miles from the northwest Big Oak Flat entrance takes you the old Gold Rush town of Groveland . Walking tours of its colorful Main Street (with street performers in summer) reveal its Wild West past, with stories about its old jailhouse, historic saloons, miners’ quarters and the shops and brothels that served them. Behind their historic exteriors, the Groveland Hotel (built in 1849) and Hotel Charlotte (built 1921) provide a modern Yosemite-themed lodging experience with reclaimed wood furniture and rustic décor, and amenities such as free Wi-Fi and even a Tesla charging station. Before leaving town for a hike, fuel up with filling burritos at the authentic, family-run Cochina Michoacana.

Just a couple miles from the Oak Flat gate, at the sister properties of the new Rush Creek Lodge (with hotel, villas, pool and spa) and the classic Evergreen Lodge (with historic cabins and a lodge dating to 1921), pick your style of stay at scenic woodland retreats. The Evergreen Lodge dining room makes you feel like a mountain pioneer with regionally sourced entrees such as elk meatloaf and rainbow trout. For a fun, communal dining scene, check out Rush Creek's poolside themed buffets, such as Taco Night.

Near the eastern Tioga entrance, overlooking salty Mono Lake, the small town of Lee Vining is mostly considered a spot to fuel up and buy snacks before entering the park. (Note: this entrance closes during winter). In August and September, birdwatchers flock to the lake to see huge migrations of some of the 325 species of birds spotted here.

If you're driving from Los Angeles on I-5 and CA-41, take a side trip to the adjacent Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks for scenery rivaling that of Yosemite. Marvel at Sequoia's granite hulk of Moro Rock and the world's largest tree (by volume), the 275-foot-tall General Sherman, and drive the scenic byway into the spectacular Kings Canyon for its panoramic views. On eastern Highway 395, spend time in the Mammoth Lakes area, with its full-service mountain resort town, natural hot springs, scenic hiking in summer and world-class skiing in winter. Take a spooky side trip northeast of Yosemite to the ghost town of Bodie, where the abandoned remains of its 19th-century clapboard town structures haunt the open prairie.

North and west of the park, California Gold Country covers the Sierra Nevada foothills, dotted with boomtowns created during the 1849 Gold Rush. Explore along Highway 49 to visit gold panning stations, museums and preserved main streets of towns such as Angels Camp, Murphys and Sutter Creek (where gold was first discovered). The area is also an emerging wine growing region, with vineyards (as well as fruit orchards) and tasting rooms that welcome visitors, including Butterfly Creek Winery and Murphys near Mariposa.

item 1 of Gallery image - Visitors look at the Grizzly Giant tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park


The Grizzly Giant tree in Yosemite's Mariposa Grove is 3,000 years old.

item 2 of Gallery image - Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park

PHOTO BY: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

The Mist Trail will lead you to the roaring Merced River and Vernal Fall.

item 3 of Gallery image - Curry Village in Yosemite National Park, California.

PHOTO BY: Mason Vranish/Alamy Stock Photo

Village is a lodging hub, offering canvas tent cabins, more traditional cabins and motel rooms.

item 4 of Gallery image - Gran Capitan

PHOTO BY: Artur Debat/Getty Images

El Capitan, with its 3,000-foot-tall sheer cliffs, is famous as the ultimate challenge for rock climbers — featured with nail-biting drama in the documentaries  The Dawn Wall  and  Free Solo .

item 5 of Gallery image - A winter picture of the famous AhWahnee Hotel in Yosemite

PHOTO BY: hairballusa/Getty Images

The Ahwahnee, the park's iconic lodge, delivers cozy luxury and awe-inspiring views.

item 6 of Gallery image - American Black Bear in Yosemite National Park California

PHOTO BY: Paul Brough/Alamy Stock Photo

Yosemite is home to an estimated 300 to 500 black bears (but no grizzly bears).

item 7 of Gallery image - tourists at Glacier Point Four Mile Trail

PHOTO BY: JON SAVAGE/Alamy Stock Photo

You can view the iconic city-sized boulder known as Half Dome from Glacier Point.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 4, 2020. It's been updated to reflect recent COVID-19 developments.

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Yosemite Vacation Planner

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Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park

Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park

With insider tips from real park rangers

Originally the home of the Ahwahneechee people, Yosemite National Park was declared as federally preserved land in 1864, and became a national park in 1890. Since its establishment, millions of visitors have made the trek to witness the grandeur of the granite peaks and walls, enormous flowing waterfalls, lush green meadows, and a variety of wildlife, including curious black bears, bobcats, deer, coyotes, foxes, and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Visitors come to climb El Capitan , camp in Tuolumne Meadows , explore Yosemite Village , hike to Yosemite Falls , stay at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel , and photograph the majestic flora and fauna that make this one of the most beloved U.S. national parks.

Written for you by park rangers

Written for you by park rangers

Who knows a national park best? Yep, the rangers who live and breathe its fresh, clean air every day. That’s who we turned to for help in creating this guide. Roadtrippers has partnered with the Association of National Park Rangers and convinced its rangers to spill their secrets for your benefit.

  • Getting to Yosemite National Park
  • Timing your visit to Yosemite
  • Knowing your way around Yosemite
  • Things to do in Yosemite
  • Hiking in Yosemite
  • Staying in and around Yosemite
  • Places to eat in and around Yosemite
  • How many days to spend in Yosemite

Your Yosemite National Park map

Here’s a map of all the highlights in this guide. Use it to plan your trip to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Getting to and around Yosemite National Park

Getting to Yosemite by air: Yosemite National Park is located in Central California. If you plan to fly, the most convenient airports to access the more popular west side of the park are the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and the Sacramento International Airport. Many visitors also fly into Los Angeles , San Francisco , and Oakland, which are convenient if you’re planning to see other parts of California during your trip. For direct access to the east side of the park, flying into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada is the best option.

Getting to Yosemite by car: Most people visit the park by driving personal vehicles. The park entrance fee is $35 per car and is valid for 7 days. There are  five  entrances into Yosemite National Park. Four of them are located on the western side of the park. The fifth, the Tioga Pass Entrance, is on the more remote eastern side. Where you’re coming from and where you want to go within the park will determine which route and entrance to take.

From Sacramento: Take Highway 99 south to Highway 120 east. When you get to Evergreen Road, head north to the Hetch Hetchy Entrance. Or, continue on Highway 120 east until it turns into Big Oak Flat Road going south, which will take you to the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Either way is approximately 175 miles from Sacramento to Yosemite Valley, and will take around 3 .5 hours.

From the San Francisco Bay Area: Take Interstate 580 east to Interstate 205 east to H ighway 140 east to the Arch Rock Entrance. The drive to Yosemite Valley is approximately 215 miles, and will take around 4 hours.

From Fresno: Take California 41 north to the South Entrance. The drive to Yosemite Valley is approximately 90 miles and will take around 2 .5 hours.

From Los Angeles: Take Interstate 5 to California 99 north to California 41 north, which will lead you to the South Entrance. The drive to Yosemite Valley is around 310 miles and will take around 5.5 hours.

From Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Mammoth: Located on the east side of the park, the Tioga Pass Entrance is only open May through October, due to winter weather conditions. This is the easiest access to Tuolumne Meadows , which is an idyllic place for camping, rock climbing, and fishing. From Reno, take United States 395 south to California 120 west to get to the Tioga Pass Entrance. Tioga Road leads to the popular Tuolumne Meadows Campground. This route is approximately 161 miles, which should take less than 3 hours. From Mammoth, take California 395 north to get to Tuolumne Meadows in less than an hour.

Ranger Tip

Gas is available at Crane Flat, El Portal, and Wawona; there are no gas stations in Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows. Electric vehicle charging stations are located at El Portal, Tuolumne Meadows, and in the valley, as well as in the park’s gateway communities.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Getting to Yosemite by bus: While there are multiple ways to get to Yosemite, including many tour companies that serve people visiting from Los Angeles, Fresno, and San Francisco, the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System , or YARTS, also provides convenient year-round public bus service to the park from hotels and other stops in Merced, Sonora, Mariposa, and Oakhurst, California. You can also take Greyhound to Merced and transfer to YARTS.

Getting to Yosemite by train: If you prefer to travel by train, you can take the Amtrak  San Joaquin train, which connects to the Amtrak Thruway Bus (run by YARTS) in Merced to get to Yosemite Valley.

Getting around the park by shuttle: When visiting or staying in the park, sometimes it’s easiest to park your car and explore the area via the free Yosemite Valley shuttle system, which provides convenient access around Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Hospitality also offers guided bus tours throughout the park.

The National Park Service warns that GPS directions   to or within Yosemite aren’t always accurate—follow posted road signs instead.

When’s the best time to visit Yosemite National Park?

Whether you visit Yosemite National Park in the winter, summer, spring, or fall, keep in mind that it gets cold in the park at night. No matter when you visit, bring a warm coat and prepare for lows to routinely dip to 30 degrees in May and September and 40 degrees from June to August. If you visit any other time of year, plan for even colder weather, especially overnight.

The most popular time of year to visit is from June to August. The weather is generally the most temperate, but it’s also one of the busiest times of year. You’ll need to be patient with traffic, crowded trails, and waiting in line for food or souvenirs.

From December through February, Yosemite is a winter wonderland. The summer crowds have dissipated, the ground is covered in a pristine white blanket of snow, and you can explore the park on cross-country skis or with snowshoes. But keep in mind that a large number of roads will be closed due to snow. The road over Tioga Pass often closes in October and does not reopen until May or June. Because of this, plan to approach the park from the west during the colder months, unless you have definite information that the Tioga Pass Entrance is open. You can learn about current conditions on the park’s website .

Shoulder seasons

Visiting Yosemite National Park in early September can help you avoid the busiest times of the year, still enjoy nice weather, and see the leaves turn colors. Springtime is typically when the waterfalls are flowing the most and wildflowers are in bloom, so it’s a great time for hiking.

Weather can be hard to predict in Yosemite. Pack layers—wool for wicking, a hat to keep you warm or keep the sun off, and a windbreaker. Be sure to bring sunscreen even in winter, since the sun reflects off the snow. Be eco-friendly and pack a reusable water bottle that can be filled at designated filling stations throughout Yosemite Valley.

Knowing your way around at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles, ranging from mountains to valleys and meadows to granite peaks. Knowing how to navigate the park by car or shuttle will help you maximize your time while visiting.

Visitor centers 

A good place to start your trip is at the Valley Visitor Center , which is located in Yosemite Valley. It is the only visitor center that is open year-round. At the center, you’ll find maps, brochures, souvenirs, books, postcards, and natural history displays. National Park Service rangers are available to answer questions. You can also watch a 23-minute film called The Spirit of Yosemite in the West Auditorium Theater. Th e center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week.

If you have kids, the visitor center is also where to pick up Junior Ranger books to earn a Junior Ranger badge. This is an interactive activity that will keep kids engaged and informed while touring the park.

Several centers are open during the summer and are staffed by NPS rangers to help with wilderness permits and more. The Big Oak Flat Information Station , located on Big Oak Flat Road, carries books, maps, and wilderness permits. The Wawona Visitor Center is located in Hill’s Studio in Wawona. Here you’ll find the work of artist Thomas Hill, a bookstore, wilderness permits, and an information desk. During the winter months, self-registration wilderness permits for Wawona trailheads are available on the porch.  The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center features exhibits on the area’s history, flora and fauna, and geology. There’s also a ranger-staffed information desk and bookstore. At the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, visitors can get wilderness permits, maps, bear canisters, and guidebooks; find information on pre-trip planning and minimum-impact camping; and learn about the Yosemite Wilderness. 

Yosemite National Park is a huge park with a lot to offer visitors. One of the best ways to visit Yosemite is to break up your visit into sections. There are four main sections of the park: 

Yosemite Valley: Most park visitors spend the majority of their visit in Yosemite Valley . Many of the park’s most famous natural and cultural features are located within this 7-mile-long and 1-mile-wide valley, along with most of the park’s visitor facilities, such as dining options, restrooms, and museums.

The Wawona Road Corridor to Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: Highway 41 is the north-south road within the park and is the most direct way to drive from Fresno International Airport to Yosemite Valley. Within the park, Highway 41 becomes Wawona Road. There are many features to see and things to do along Wawona Road, including the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (with a free shuttle to the lower grove), the historical town of Wawona , and spectacular views from Glacier Point Road—a seasonal road that is closed during the winter months, typically from December to April, due to snow. The entire Glacier Point Road was closed in 2022, and 30-minute delays are possible through the fall of 2023.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

The Big Oak Flat Road and Hetch Hetchy: The Big Oak Flat Road is located in the northwest section of the park and is a continuation of Highway 120 inside Yosemite National Park. This is the most direct way to get to Yosemite Valley from locations near San Francisco, Sacramento, Napa Valley, and Sonora, California. Here you’ll find one of the smallest and least-visited giant sequoia groves inside Yosemite, the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, located 6 miles west of Crane Flat. Another must-see destination found in the northwest section of Yosemite is the popular hiking area of Hetch Hetchy. It is home to the O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir , which serves as a water source for the City of San Francisco. 

Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows: 

No trip to Yosemite is complete without taking time to explore the High Sierra region of the park. The peaks and meadows in this area are most conveniently accessed via Tioga Road, or Highway 120 east to Lee Vining. This 47-mile scenic drive connects Crane Flat to Highway 395 on the east side of the park. Many spectacular destinations and trailheads are located along Tioga Road , including Tuolumne Meadows , Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake , and many trailheads for hiking in the area. Tioga Road is a seasonal road, due to its high elevation and snow accumulation. The road closes each fall after the first major snowstorm of the season and reopens when weather and road conditions allow each spring. 

Getting around the park by car: Yosemite is open all year round. Keep in mind that from November through May, snow may cause some areas of the park to be inaccessible by car. This includes Highway 120 that goes through the park. Be sure to carry chains, as they may be required if the roads are snowy or icy . In the summer, fires in the park can change road conditions in a moment’s notice and the time to drive around Yosemite can be substantial. As with any national park, make sure you check the National Park Service page for the most up to date alerts about park conditions.

Parking is available at Yosemite Village, Curry Village, and near Yosemite Falls. If you find a parking spot, plan to leave your car there—you may not be able to find another one.

Visitor Center POIs

Yosemite Museum and Visitor Center

Yosemite Museum and Visitor Center

Big Oak Flat Information Center

Big Oak Flat Information Center

Wawona Hotel and Thomas Hill Studio

Wawona Hotel and Thomas Hill Studio

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Things to do at yosemite national park.

Scenic drives

All the roads in Yosemite National Park are scenic, but the most famous route is the 46-mile drive along Tioga Road from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass. The road is typically open from late May or early June through sometime in November. For the most iconic and awe-inspiring view of Yosemite, take the South Entrance through the 4,233-foot Wawona Tunnel to see unforgettable Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. Pull off at the Tunnel View scenic overlook, which is a historic site.

Ranger programs

One way to learn about Yosemite is by attending a ranger-led interpretive program. Yosemite Hospitality offers nature and history programs , the Ansel Adams Gallery offers photography walks , and the Yosemite Conservancy offers guided outdoor adventures and theater and art programs . Check the program listing on the park’s website, in the Park Guide, or on the park’s calendar for specific program offerings.

There are numerous types of events that take place in Yosemite National Park throughout the year, such as campfire and evening programs, cultural and craft demonstrations, children’s programs, festivals, exhibitions and shows, lectures, performances, and more. Plan ahead and see what’s taking place during your visit by checking the park’s online calendar .

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Yosemite Village: Yosemite Valley is a must to check out during your visit—there is so much to see and do. Here you will find the Valley Visitor Center, The Ansel Adams Gallery , The Ahwahnee Hotel , Yosemite Falls , El Capitan, and spectacular views of Half Dome . It is typically busy, especially during the summer months, so be prepared for traffic and crowds.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: To see the largest grove of giant sequoia trees inside Yosemite, visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias , with more than 500 mature trees located within the Upper and Lower Grove. Enter the park from the South Entrance and on the right you’ll find the parking area. Park your vehicle and walk to the arrival area for the free 2-mile shuttle ride that will take you to the entrance of the Lower Grove. The trail from the Mariposa Grove toward Wawona may still be closed due to the Washburn Fire. When it’s open, you can walk along the newly constructed boardwalk and continue up the trail to some of the famous giants of the forest, including the Bachelor and Three Graces, and the Grizzly Giant. Continue your hike up into the Upper Grove to visit Galen Clark’s cabin and take in the view from the top of Wawona point. 

Wawona: Stop at the Wawona Pioneer History Center and take a step back in time. Walk through historic buildings, take in horse-drawn wagons, and walk across the Wawona Covered Bridge . The Pioneer History Center tells the story of the early history of Galen Clark and other early settlers in Yosemite. During the summer season, take a ride in a stagecoach with a park ranger and learn what life was like in Wawona during the 1800s.

Glacier Point Road: Glacier Point Road is worth the drive to see the most magnificent views in Yosemite National Park. Glacier Point towers over Yosemite Valley, with spectacular vistas looking down on Half Dome, the Valley floor, Nevada Falls , and more. Glacier Point Road is a seasonal road that is closed during the winter months, typically from December to April, due to snow. 

Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows: If you are planning a trip to Yosemite in the summer or early fall, it’s recommended to spend at least a day exploring the sights and trails located along Tioga Road. Many turnouts offer broad and beautiful vistas. Tioga Road leads to the stunning Tuolumne Meadows . At 8,600 feet, it’s one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada, with views of the Tuolumne River and surrounding peaks. It’s a wonderful spot for camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, and photography. Points of interest in this area include Siesta Lake, Yosemite Creek Picnic Area, Olmsted Point , Tenaya Lake , Lembert Dome , and Soda Springs .

Swimming: The Merced River offers one of the best places to cool off with views of El Capitan and Half Dome. Bring your own tube and float the 3-mile section of the Merced River through Yosemite. You may also rent a raft at Yosemite Valley Lodge , Curry Village , Yosemite Village, or The Ahwahnee Hotel. Another great swimming spot is Tenaya Lake , as it offers a large sandy beach option with a small parking area.

Winter sports

When there’s enough snow, Badger Pass Ski Area opens. Here you can affordably enjoy downhill snowboarding and skiing, snowshoeing, and Nordic skiing. Gear rentals and lessons are available, as well as Ranger-guided snowshoe walks. Please check the park’s program list for details. Bring your own snowshoes to get away from the crowds and off the beaten track. One of the most magical experiences at the park is ice skating outdoors at the Curry Village Ice Rink . The rink is open from mid-November to mid-March, conditions permitting. Visitors can also speed down the snow tubing hill operated by Yosemite Hospitality, which offers inner tubes rentals. For some fun in the snow, bring your sled to the snow play area at Crane Flat.

Bundle up and go ice skating after dark. The stars and the view of Half Dome lit at night are spectacular.

Where to hike at Yosemite National Park

Hiking is one of the best ways to experience Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Wilderness has  more than 750 miles  of trails that range in elevation, distance, ecological zones, and solitude. There are trails to fit every fitness and skill level. You might want to try different trails depending on the time of year you visit. In spring, plan to hike to waterfalls to watch winter’s run-off melt away. In summer, hike into the backcountry to see stunning vistas and wildlife. In fall, stop and spend time looking at the trees as their leaves make the forest a fire of color. Choose a trail that best suits your ability and interests.

Yosemite Valley: Most of the easier trails in the park are located in Yosemite Valley. Once you leave the valley floor, changes in elevation will become much more pronounced. 

Lower Yosemite Falls : This paved trail is 1 mile in length with 50 feet of elevation. The eastern portion is wheelchair accessible. 

Bridalveil Fall Trail : This short half-mile round-trip hike takes you to one of the first waterfalls you’ll see in Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall . With only 80 feet of elevation gain, it’s a great option for the whole family. 

Moderate hikes

Wapama Falls Trail : There are many hiking trails in the Hetch Hetchy area, along with spectacular views of waterfalls, wildlife, and springtime wildflowers. One of the most popular hikes in this area is the hike to Wapama Falls . This 5-mile round-trip hike follows the stunning shoreline of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and includes spectacular views of Tueeulala Fall and Wapama Falls. This trail can be wet and hazardous in the peak spring months when the water rushing across the bridge at the base of Wapama Fall is very cold and swiftly moving. It’s strongly advised not to attempt to cross the bridge at the base of the falls under these conditions. 

Dog Lake and Lembert Dome: Located in the Tuolumne Meadows area, this 4-mile round-trip hike has an elevation gain of 850 feet. At the top of Lembert Dome there’s a spectacular view of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding peaks.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Strenuous hikes

The Mist Trail: This hike offers close-up views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. The hike to the top of Nevada Fall, past Vernal Fall, is 5.6 miles round trip with about 2,000 feet in elevation gain. The trailhead can be found at Happy Isles shuttle stop number 16.

Merced Grove: One of the hidden gems found along the Big Oak Flat Road is the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias . There are more than 20 mature sequoias located in this grove. Parking is extremely limited for this trail and the hike to see these magnificent trees is rated as a strenuous hike by the National Park Service (especially in winter). The sequoias in the Merced Grove are only visible after hiking 1.5 miles from the trailhead, with a 500-foot drop in elevation. The hike back out from the grove back to the trailhead is steep. Make sure you carry plenty of water and bring snacks. There are no water sources along this trail. 

Upper Yosemite Falls: Hike the Yosemite Falls Trail to reach the top of the 2,425-foot waterfall, the tallest in North America. The historic trail was built between 1873 and 1877 and is one of the oldest trails in Yosemite. This 7.2-mile round-trip trail is strenuous with 2,700 feet of elevation gain. 

Valley Loop Trail : While this is a longer trail at 11.5 miles round-trip, it remains fairly level for the duration of the journey. You’ll be able to see the sheer granite cliffs that rise from the valley floor along this trail.  

Half Dome: One of the most well-known trails in the National Park System is also one of its most difficult. A permit is required to hike the iconic Half Dome , which will take you up the steep ascent to the peak. With nearly 15 miles, and gaining 5,000 feet in elevation along the way, the average hiker is going to need at least 12 hours. Anyone with a fear of heights or who is unsure of their footing should avoid this trail, which involves ascending a cable section to the peak. Note that summer storms can arrive without notice so it’s important to remain mindful of the weather.

Pet-friendly hikes  

Wawona Meadow Loop: The best pet-approved trail in the park is the 3.5-mile Wawona Meadow Loop . Leashes are always required in Yosemite

A wilderness permit is not required for day hikes (unless  hiking to Half Dome ) or for staying in lodging facilities and front country campgrounds. Free wilderness permits are required year round for backpacking or any other overnight stays in the Yosemite Wilderness.

Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall

Wapama Falls at Hetch Hetchy

Wapama Falls at Hetch Hetchy

Dog Lake and Lembert Dome

Dog Lake and Lembert Dome

Vernal Fall (Mist Trail)

Vernal Fall (Mist Trail)

Merced Grove

Merced Grove

Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Half Dome

Wawona Meadow Loop Trail

Where to stay in and around yosemite national park.

There are many lodging and camping options available in Yosemite Valley. From the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Valley Lodge , Camp Curry , and Housekeeping Camp to the Upper Pines , Lower Pines , and North Pines campgrounds, there is something for everyone. Note that reservations fill quickly for overnight accommodations inside Yosemite Valley, so plan ahead. 

Lodges and Hotels within Yosemite

Whether you want to stay in a rustic tent cabin at the High Sierra Camps or prefer a more comfortable room at the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Hospitality offers a wide range of accommodations. Reservations fill up quickly, so book well in advance, especially for holiday and weekend stays.

The Ahwahnee Hotel: This is the only luxury lodge in the park and is a National Historic Landmark, conveniently located in Yosemite Valley. If you’re a fan of NPS-style “parkitecture,” you must stop here. The Ahwahnee features a gift shop, sweet shop, lounge, and heated outdoor pool. The elegant Ahwahnee Dining Room, with massive floor-to-ceiling windows, is a picturesque place to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Note that the lodge will be temporarily closed from January 2 to March 2, 2023.

Yosemite Valley Lodge: The Yosemite Valley Lodge is a more budget-friendly accommodation and a great option for large groups and families. There is a stunning view of Yosemite Falls from the pool. Multiple dining options are available.

Curry Village: To be more in touch with the outdoors, Curry Village is a wonderful option and offers a variety of accommodation types ranging from heated and unheated canvas tents to wood cabins . There is also a basic motel, the Stoneman Cottage, that offers private baths, daily housekeeping, and heating, but no telephones or televisions. 

Housekeeping Camp: If you want rustic accommodations, but don’t want to pack and put up a tent, Housekeeping Camp is one of the most affordable non-camping options available within Yosemite. These riverside, open-air camps are built with three concrete walls with a canvas roof and curtains for privacy. Each has a bu nk bed and a double bed, but bedding is not provided. Blanket, sheet, and pillow packs are available to rent on a nightly basis, or guests can bring their own bedding. Since these are very basic accommodations, there are no televisions or phones. Book early as the sites go quickly.

The Wawona Hotel: This historic estate-style hotel was established in 1856 and is near the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. It offers rooms with private or shared baths; a dining room serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a swimming pool; riding stables; and a 9-hole golf course. 

plan a trip to yosemite national park

Campgrounds in the park

If you plan on camping in Yosemite during the summer, you’ll likely need to secure a reservation months in advance. There are 13 campgrounds divided into three sections of the park. Campgrounds within Yosemite Valley include Upper Pines , Lower Pines , North Pines , and Camp 4. Campgrounds located south of Yosemite Valley include Wawona Campground and Bridalveil Creek Campground . Campgrounds located north of Yosemite Valley include Hodgdon Meadow Campground , Crane Flat Campground , Tamarack Flat Campground , White Wolf Campground , Yosemite Creek Campground , Porcupine Flat Campground , and Tuolumne Meadows Campground (which is currently closed through 2023). Keep in mind that amenities and facilities vary depending on the campsite, including toilets, showers, dump stations, food storage, parking, pets, and campfires. Group, RV, and horse campsites are available.

Campgrounds outside of the park

Camping options are more limited outside of the park. There are some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds along Highway 140 and Forest Service campgrounds in the Stanislaus National Forest near Groveland and the Sierra National Forest near Oakhurst. 

Winter ski huts

If you’re an expert skier, you can stay in the Ostrander or Glacier Point ski huts. The Ostrander Hut is a two-story stone structure on Ostrander Lake at 8,500 feet of elevation. It sleeps 25 people and features very basic overnight accommodations and cooking facilities, and is a 10-mile ski trip from the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area . The Glacier Point Ski Hut is in Yosemite High Country with views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. The rustic accommodation sleeps 20 people and includes bunk beds, bathrooms, wood stove, and sofas. It’s a 10.5-mile cross-country ski trip from Badger Pass Ski Area. Reservations are required.

Insider ranger tip:  Reservations are  not   required to visit Yosemite National Park. However, it is strongly recommend that you  make a reservation  if you plan to stay overnight in Yosemite.

The Ahwahnee Hotel - Historic Landmark

The Ahwahnee Hotel - Historic Landmark

Yosemite Valley Lodge

Yosemite Valley Lodge

Camp Curry

Housekeeping Camp

Upper Pines Campground

Upper Pines Campground

Lower Pines Campground

Lower Pines Campground

North Pines Campground

North Pines Campground

Yosemite West High Sierra

Yosemite West High Sierra

Wawona Campground

Wawona Campground

Bridalveil Creek Campground

Bridalveil Creek Campground

Hodgdon Meadow Campground

Hodgdon Meadow Campground

Crane Flat Campground

Crane Flat Campground

Tamarack Flat Campground

Tamarack Flat Campground

White Wolf Campground

White Wolf Campground

Yosemite Creek Campground

Yosemite Creek Campground

Porcupine Flat Campground

Porcupine Flat Campground

Tuolumne Meadows Campground

Tuolumne Meadows Campground

Glacier Point

Glacier Point

Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area

Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area

Where to eat in and around yosemite national park.

Food and dining options in Yosemite Valley include casual meals such as groceries at the Village Store , pizza at Curry Village Pizza Patio and Bar, food court options at Base Camp Eatery , or breakfast at Degnan’s Kitchen . 

Fine dining experiences can be had at the Wawona Hotel Dining Room . Snuggle by the fire, take in the views from the veranda, relax in an Adirondack chair on the lawn or enjoy an elegant meal in the dining room. Ahwahnee Dining Room , with its 34-foot-high vaulted ceilings, is another impressive spot. Expect to pay a premium price for dining inside the park.

Eating outside the park can be a challenge with many places in the surrounding area closing seasonally. The closest options outside the park are almost an hour away. 

Try the Chipotle Cheddar Ciabatta at Kevin and Randi’s Old Fashioned Meat Market in Groveland along Highway 120.

Yosemite Village Store

Yosemite Village Store

Base Camp Eatery

Base Camp Eatery

Degnan's Kitchen

Degnan's Kitchen

Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Wawona Hotel Dining Room

The Ahwahnee Dining Room

The Ahwahnee Dining Room

How many days should you plan to spend in yosemite national park.

There’s no denying it, spending only one day in Yosemite is rough. It’s just far enough away from many major population areas that countless people drive in for the day, arriving around 10 to 11 a.m., only to see traffic in Yosemite Valley, before wanting food when the dining areas are swamped, and before you know it, it’s time to go home. This isn’t fun for anyone and that’s not what the park rangers want.

If you truly only have a single day, your best bet is to pick one region of the park and spend your time there. This will reduce the amount of time spent in the car. Most people who are visiting for the first time will want to head to Yosemite Valley, but keep in mind that it will be the most crowded. Other parts of the park also offer vast beauty and an array of ways to explore the park. Depending on the time of year, a 1-day visit in the summer can include activities such as hiking, picnicking, taking a scenic drive, going for a swim, wildlife viewing, and more. During the winter months, you can enjoy things like skiing, hiking, ice skating, snowshoeing, and photography.

If possible, staying at least one night is recommended, so you have time to truly explore the park and all that it has to offer. If you’re staying for more than a few days, break it up and spend time not only in the western side of the park, but also in the more remote eastern side.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

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plan a trip to yosemite national park

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Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park: What to Know

Many visitors don’t make it as far as Glacier Point while visiting the legendary Yosemite National Park.

Yes, it is a little out of the way, and yes it is a bit of a drive to get there, but trust us, when you are taking in the sweeping views of the valley below, you won’t regret a thing.

This area can also be a bit confusing, so here’s everything you need to know about Glacier Point in Yosemite!

Wait, What Exactly is Glacier Point?

Glacier Point is a super cool spot in Yosemite National Park that gives you a front-row seat to some of the best views.

Imagine standing on top of a giant rock ledge about 3,200 feet above the valley floor. From there, you can see famous landmarks like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the High Sierra mountains.

It’s like you’re on top of the world, looking out over a vast wilderness that’s just bursting with nature’s finest work!

Sold on visiting? Here’s what you need to know!


Wait! You’ll need to pay a fee before entering Yosemite National Park.

You can purchase for $35 per vehicle once you get here (good for seven consecutive days) or consider grabbing an America the Beautiful Pass if you’re visiting more national parks this year.

Where is Glacier Point and How to Get There

Glacier Point is about an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley, located high above the valley floor but still in the majestic Yosemite National Park.

If you are coming from the valley, start heading out via Northside Drive, cross the bridge to the southside, and continue driving Wawona Road until you turn left to Glacier Point at the Chinquapin intersection.

Once you turn into Glacier Point Road, you still have a fair few miles to go until you actually reach Glacier Point, but don’t worry, there are lots of stops along the way, and the drive itself is beautiful.

Parking and Shuttles:

In peak season, the parking lot fills up fast, so if there are no spaces at Glacier Point, you can drive to Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area and catch the free shuttle .

If you don’t have a car, another alternative is to take the tour bus . Many people choose to get the bus one way and then hike up or down from the point or valley.

Yosemite National Park Reservations

Do you need a reservation before heading into Yosemite National Park? Possibly! There are numerous peak season times, and this park gets BUSY.

They implemented a reservations system in the last few years, so you’ll need to check here whether you’ll need one.

It’s a $2 fee to make this reservation.

Glacier Point Road Seasons

Your chances of reaching Glacier Point depend very much on the season.

Unfortunately, there are no set opening and closing dates, so you are entirely at the mercy of the elements.

As a general rule, all road access ends around November and will reopen in spring or early summer, around late May, or whenever the road can be cleared of snow and ice. Check here for current conditions.

It is still possible if you really want to reach the viewpoint during the winter months, although you must be prepared to cross-country ski for around 10.5 miles!

It is not just the time of year you have to think about when planning a visit, but also the time of day. Of course, if you plan on doing multiple hikes, it is worth coming early, but both sunrise and sunset are breathtaking.

It is worth trying to make it to Glacier Point Road, as it is one of the best things to do in Yosemite. Trust us!

Best Things to Do Along Glacier Point Road

Aside from great views along Glacier Point Road, there are some awesome things to do here! Don’t forget your hiking boots, camera, and sense of adventure.

Sentinel Dome Trail

Distance: 2.2 miles

Type of Trail: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 459 feet

A few incredible hikes make the drive up to Glacier Point well worth the effort, and Sentinal Dome is one of them.

Start this hike at the trailhead for both Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, and seconds after you part with the small parking lot, take the right fork.

The trail takes you through the trees and rocky terrain, and it won’t be long until you can spot the craggy slopes of Sentinal Dome in front of you. That’s right, you are going up there!

The 360-degree view is incredible. To one side of you is the majestic Half Dome, then there is Yosemite Falls, then El Capitan, then the seemingly endless Yosemite backcountry.

Taft Point Trail

Distance: 2.3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 354 feet

Reached via the same trailhead as Sentinal Dome, this is the other must-do short hike along Glacier Point Road.

The rocky trail ends at Taft Point, which is a rather scary but incredible overlook located on the edge of the granite cliff overlooking the valley below.

With limited handrails, this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

Surprisingly, the incredible views aren’t the only crazy sight at Taft Point. The area is also known for its deep fissures that cut deep through the granite, around a mile in the air.

Combo Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

If you can’t choose between the two epics hikes above, why not do them both via a loop trail?

These South Rim highlights are close enough to each other that you can easily fit them into one hike, starting and finishing at the same trailhead!

This is one of our favorite hikes in California as a whole, it’s truly epic especially for the relative easiness of the trail.

Read more: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop Hike

Glacier Point

This is it, the main attraction, Glacier Point Overlook! As you get out of the car and make the short walk to the overlook, you’ll quickly see why we have been saying it is all worth it!

Standing tall and proud right in front of you is Half Dome, one of the most incredible geological wonders in the world. Nearby is Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America at 2,425ft.

If that wasn’t enough, the views here of Nevada and Vernal Falls are also pretty impressive.

If you are interested in the geology of the area, pay a visit to the Geology Hut, and if you want to stretch your legs a little (a lot) more, consider one of the hikes from Glacier Point, such as the 4-mile trail down to the valley floor, or the Panoramic Trail which heads towards Vernal Falls.

READ MORE: Things To Do in Yosemite : 26 Can’t-Miss Spots!

Washburn Point View

One of the first overlooks you will come along Glacier Point Road is Washburn Point, which can be found just before the road twists and turns towards Glacier Point. Think of it as a little teaser of what is to come!

This incredible viewpoint sits at around 7500 feet, so you’ll be greeted with incredible sweeping views of the valley below you as soon as you get out of the car.

Commanding the scene is the mighty Half Dome, but it is also one of the best places to see Nevada and Vernal Falls, especially in the early summer when the falls have the strongest flow.

With easy parking, it is well worth stopping to stretch your legs and admire the vastness that is Yosemite Valley.

Star Gazing at Glacier Point

Glacier Point is by far the best stargazing spot in Yosemite, mostly because your views of the vast expanse of sky won’t be blocked by the towering valley walls, and it gets dark, very dark.

The park itself is miles from the nearest city, meaning some of the lowest light pollution in the state. As you look skyward, you won’t believe how many stars stretch out above you.

If you are interested in the stars, there are often astronomy walks or talks in the summer months, and August is known for its meteor shower.

TIP: Rather than get here in the dark, why not arrive just before sunset so you get the magic of the light changing on the rocks before darkness officially falls?

The Famous Glacier Point Road Turn

OK, so you’ve probably seen photos of a famous “turn in the road” shot with Half Dome looming behind. It’s a pretty famous and, yes, an epic photo!

You might be wondering how you can get this shot, so let me tell you—it’s a bit of a tricky spot. You can see this famous spot right here . But as you can also see, it’s literally just in the middle of the road. Not exactly safe.

After parking at Glacier Point, you can take a short trail over here to wander and get this great view, but if you want the shot with your car in it will require at least two people (one shooting, one driving) and for you to come EARLY!

This is a high traffic spot and you’ll also have to give up your parking spot which could be a nightmare. It’s a beautiful location, but getting “that shot” might be a bit tricky, so play it safe and don’t be a bad tourist while you do it!

Quick Frequently Asked Questions About Yosemite’s Glacier Point Road

Yes. It’s closed in winter. As is the Tioga Pass.

You can once the road is reopened after winter. It’s often busy, and there can be traffic. Arrive early.

1000% yes. We love this area of Yosemite! Don’t miss out.

It’s barely a hike, more like a half-mile stroll (round trip) from the parking lot.

You can check here for the most up-to-date info on when the road will open and close.

Yep, I’m sure. It’s about a one-hour drive despite looking so close on the map. Hiking between The Valley and Glacier Point is about 4-5 arduous miles one way. You hike this trail or this one.

You can do everything I mentioned above in one day!

Tips for Driving Glacier Point Road

  • Although on a map, it might not look that far, be aware that Glacier Point is a long drive away from the valley floor . The drive is likely to take about an hour and is very twisty, so take those travel sickness tablets if you need them!
  • Glacier Point Road itself is huge ! Even when you reach the start of the road, you still have another 17 miles to drive before you reach Glacier Point. Don’t worry, there is plenty to see and do along the way.
  • Due to the nature of the small roads, you can’t bring any big RVs up to Glacier Point. If you are staying in an RV, make use of the shuttle service.
  • Glacier Point Road is seasonal , as heavy snow and ice usually make driving too dangerous. The road generally closes at some point in November and opens at some point in late spring or early summer. If in doubt, check the road status before you start your journey.
  • There’s nothing out here! Bring whatever you could possibly need (food, water, etc), and make sure your gas tank is full.
  • There’s no cell service out here. Get whatever info you need before heading down here and download maps.

Final Thoughts on Glacier Point

This area of Yosemite is truly spectacular. It’s removed from the main area, The Valley, but it does still get tons of traffic!

While it’s a bit out of the way, there’s no way you should ixnay this spot off your visit. If you have the time, it’s an absolute must and truly worth the extra effort.

The views at Glacier Point alone are some of the best in the park, but there’s also some great hikes down this way. Luckily, you’ll only really need one day to see everything down Glacier Point Road, so you’ll only need to drive down here once.

Check out our other guides to Yosemite:

  • Things To Do in Yosemite : 26 Can’t-Miss Spots!
  • Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop Hike
  • Vernal Falls Hike —3 Ways to Hike Up!
  • Where to Stay in Yosemite : BEST Areas, Camping and Lodging
  • Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park : 8 BEST!
  • Glacier Point Road : What to Know

We hope this helped you plan your visit to Glacier Point in Yosemite!

The post Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park: What to Know appeared first on California is for Adventure .

Many visitors don’t make it as far as Glacier Point while visiting the legendary Yosemite National Park. Yes, it is a little...

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Peak hour reservation for Hetch Hetchy? - Yosemite National Park Forum

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Peak hour reservation for Hetch Hetchy?

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' class=

We plan to hike the Rancheria Falls this weekend. But forgot to make the peak hour reservation. Can some one confirm that the reservation is not required for Hetch Hetchy Entrance? I checked the NPS website, and can not find anything.

3 replies to this topic

' class=

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/reservations.htm "You can visit the Hetch Hetchy area of the park when it is open (sunrise to sunset) without a reservation. However, long delays are possible once parking fills." You can sign up to get updates on traffic conditions by texting ynptraffic to 333111. Last Saturday, i got a text that thise parking lot was filled around 11 am.

plan a trip to yosemite national park

the area is outside the park boundary.

Plan for lunch or dinner at Evergreen Lodge or groveland perhaps

Glad to know I can go without a reservation. Thanks! Yes, I will grab some sandwich before the hike.

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Yosemite National Park Hotels and Places to Stay

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Yosemite vs Yellowstone - NEW

Yosemite vs Yellowstone: Which national park is the best?

From the best for camping to the one hikers love, there are some key differences when it comes to the famous national parks

Erika Mailman

Two of the country’s most well-known national parks both start with the same high-value Scrabble letter, Y. That means they sometimes get confused, so we’re here to sort things out, and even do a little comparing between the two of them. Although both parks were established in the late 1800s and have vast square footage filled with incredible natural beauty and wildlife, some key differences appeal to different groups of people. If you’re a photographer, for instance, you’ll feel more of a pull towards Yosemite , where Ansel Adams created so many of his epic images (and where you can visit the Ansel Adams Gallery). In contrast, if you are a scientist, you may be more drawn to Yellowstone  because of the interesting science behind the geothermal wonders. Whichever park you visit (and our best recommendation is to visit both, multiple times), you’ll find the awe of nature, which makes your time there unforgettable, and you’ll be figuring out when you can make the next journey out there.

An email you’ll actually love

Yosemite vs Yellowstone

Which park has the most famous natural feature?

Which park has the most famous natural feature?

At Yosemite, the once-a-year Firefall draws visitors from all over to see the sun touching Horsetail Fall, a waterfall on the massive face of El Capitan, making it look like it’s on fire. At Yellowstone, Old Faithful geyser erupts on average every 92 minutes (sometimes as quickly as every 35 minutes and sometimes as long as 120 minutes). Once it’s underway, you have somewhere from one to five minutes to enjoy the water as it reaches a height of 90 to 184 feet. Since Yellowstone’s famous feature is something you can see year-round, we’ll give this point to it.

Winner: Yellowstone

Which park is the oldest?

Which park is the oldest?

Yellowstone has the honor of being the nation’s first national park, declared on March 1, 1872. It took nearly two decades for the next two parks to be named: Sequoia National Park on September 25, 1890, and then a scant five days later, Yosemite National Park on October 1 of that same year.

Winner:  Yellowstone

Which park is the best to visit year-round?

Which park is the best to visit year-round?

Yosemite’s beautiful any time of year, with plenty for snow enthusiasts to do. There’s even a ski area, Badger Pass, which is one of only three serviced ski areas in an American national park. You can snowboard or ski alpine or Nordic there. At Yellowstone, you can only ski Nordic (cross-country). Yellowstone has two outdoor skating rinks (one near Old Faithful Snow Lodge and one near Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel), while Yosemite only has one (at Curry Village)—but it's right at the base of the beautiful rock monolith Half Dome. Be aware that in Yosemite, some roads are closed in winter… but Yellowstone is really only open for “oversnow” travel in winter by snowmobile or snowcoach.

Winner: Yosemite

Which park is the easiest to get to?

Which park is the easiest to get to?

While smaller airports can be found in Yosemite’s vicinity , the closest good-sized ones are Oakland and Sacramento, each 3.5 hours drive away. And the drive into Yosemite can be, let’s say, pulse-gripping! There’s even an area our family calls Nag’s Peak, thanks to someone in the car (me) begging for people to go slower. Note: Yosemite has five entry gates, and people coming from the San Francisco Bay Area usually go through the Big Oak Flat entrance. The closest airport to Yellowstone is Bozeman International, just a 1.5-hour drive away. As with Yosemite, there are smaller, closer airports, and Yellowstone has five entrances.

Which park has the best wildlife?

Which park has the best wildlife?

Both parks have an incredible diversity of wildlife—and much of it is visible! At Yosemite Valley, you’re practically guaranteed to see a bear, while at Yellowstone, traffic jams form when bison cross the road. We’re especially enamored of the wolf restoration efforts at Yellowstone, which brought wolves into the park from Canada in the 1990s to help re-establish them after their decimation. There was also that time two years ago when a wolverine was spotted in Yellowstone, one of only seven documented to be living in the park and adjoining forests. Finally, since the National Park Service says that Yellowstone holds the “largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states,” we’re going to give this one to them!

Which park is best for hikers?

Which park is best for hikers?

It kind of depends on how intensely you hike! If you’re up for one of the most exciting yet relatively doable hikes of your life, Yosemite’s Half Dome cables is the brag-worthy hike of a lifetime as you summit across a dramatic rockface with tumble-to-your-death possibilities. And if you’re even more into the climbing life, El Capitan is where Free Solo was filmed, and you can often stand on the valley floor at twilight and see the lights of climbers on the rockface. Yosemite’s got 750 miles of rewarding hikes , ranging from a flat, paved surface through the valley to beautiful backcountry treks. At Yellowstone, 900 miles of trails reward hikers—especially hardy ones who don’t mind fording the occasional creek or raging ice-runoff river. We recommend the easy 0.7 Old Faithful Geyser Loop Trail, which winds you through a lot of geothermal pools on a sturdy boardwalk.

Winner:  Yosemite

Which park is best for camping?

Which park is best for camping?

Yellowstone has 12 campgrounds, all reservable sites except for Mammoth Campground, first-come, first-served from October 15 through April 1. Yosemite has 13 campgrounds, all of which can be reserved during the summer months. During winter, some of its campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Believe it or not, you may need to plan a year or so in advance to get the campground reservation. You’ll need to take serious measures at both parks to avoid bears finding your food (or cosmetics) attractive.

Which park is best for cool hotels?

Which park is best for cool hotels?

Each park has a beautiful example of “Parkitecture,” the recognizable rustic lodge look that is so attractively designed to blend into nature rather than upstaging it. At Yosemite, The Ahwahnee is a four-star hotel that’s still on my bucket list (we roam its public areas whenever we visit; watch for elements that inspired Stanley Kubrick, like the blood-red elevators), while at Yellowstone, you’ll be dazzled by the Old Faithful Inn. Right by the geyser, this two-star hotel has a jaw-dropping lobby supported by 75 foot lodgepole pines and an enormous rhyolite fireplace. It’s one of the biggest log-style structures in the world; our family enjoyed the one-hour walking tour. You’ll also be impressed by the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a National Register building in the Colonial Revival style.

Answer: Yellowstone

Which park has the best waterfalls?

Which park has the best waterfalls?

There are plenty of waterfalls throughout Yellowstone, including some you can see from the car. The most famous is the Lower Yellowstone River Falls, which drops 308 feet. Similarly, Yosemite offers many splendid waterfalls, rewarding both hikers and car drivers. Yosemite Falls is the most famous one—and the tallest waterfall in North America —plunging an incredible 2,425 feet at its seasonal height in May.

Which park best honors its Native American heritage?

Which park best honors its Native American heritage?

Tough question since both park’s establishments were at the cost of Native American bloodshed. At Yosemite, land was seized from the Miwok people through violence and murder. Today, you can visit the recreation Indian Village of the Ahwahnee, built in the 1920s and underway before the last authentic village was removed in the 1960s. The good news is that the 1992 roundhouse is in use by local tribes for ceremonies. At Yellowstone, a multitude of tribes lived within the 3,472 square miles, and battles between U.S. soldiers and Native Americans ensued. In 2022, Yellowstone renamed one of its mountains First Peoples Mountain; its previous name honored an army officer who led the Marias Massacre against Native Americans in 1870. Yellowstone also created a new Tribal Heritage Center in 2022 to honor the 27 tribal nations who lived on lands now known as Yellowstone for over 11,000 years and to better acknowledge the land theft that created the park.

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Is Great Smoky Mountains National Park great for hiking? It's among the top 10 national parks

plan a trip to yosemite national park

With Memorial Day just around the corner, many Americans are gearing up to start planning their summer travel soon, and for many, visiting a national park is on their bucket list. It's no secret that Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be on the top of the visitor list; the Smokies welcomed 13.3 million visitors in 2023 , its second-highest year on record.

But a disheartening number of those visitors barely get out of their vehicles, crawling along the Cades Cove loop and possibly venturing slightly off road to see a waterfall or two. That's a shame, because Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a number of amazing trails to explore, making it possible to find solitude even on the busiest days.

Shoe manufacturer KURU Footwear recently analyzed all 63 national park s using metrics that looked at the high number of trails, miles of trails and crowd density, ranking Great Smoky Mountains National Park No. 2, just behind Yosemite.

How did Great Smoky Mountains stack up on the hiking metrics?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually ranked No. 1 in the number of trails: 348, far outdistancing runner-up Yosemite's 278 trails. Yosemite has more miles of trails, however: 4,729 miles versus 4,354 mile in the Smokies.

KURU's analysis also used an average trail rating from AllTrails that put Yosemite No. 1 on the top 10 list, with the Smokies falling to No. 6.

If you head out to hit the trails at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be warned. One of the most popular trails in the park, Laurel Falls, is set to close through mid-2025. Check the park website for details on trail closures . And don't forget to get a parking tag !

Which national parks made the top 10?

  • Yosemite National Park (CA)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC/TN)
  • Yellowstone National Park (WY)
  • Olympic National Park (WA)
  • Shenandoah National Park (VA)
  • Glacier National Park (MT)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (CO)
  • Sequoia National Park (CA)
  • Grand Canyon National Park (AZ)
  • Kings Canyon National Park (CA)

Why is the AllTrails count of trails and miles higher than the official number from Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

KURU Footwear used AllTrails data to issue its rankings, explaining they used it to find all of the available trails in each of the 63 national parks.

But AllTrails data does not match the official number of trails listed by the parks themselves. As several alert readers pointed out, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 150 official trails stretching less than 900 miles. Similarly, Yosemite has just 800 miles of trails, according to the National Park Service.

Why does AllTrails list much higher numbers of "curated trails?" The trails on their maps come from submissions that are evaluated by moderators, not just official park trails, and curated trails are ones that are verified routes.

Liz Kellar is a Tennessee Connect reporter. Email  [email protected] .  

Support strong local journalism by subscribing at  knoxnews.com/subscribe .

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Last updated: May 23, 2024

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Contact info, mailing address:.

1000 US Hwy 36 Estes Park, CO 80517

970 586-1206 The Information Office is open year-round: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. daily in summer; 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mondays - Fridays and 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Saturdays - Sundays in winter. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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    Plan your trip to Yosemite National Park with this guide, covering the best time to visit, where to stay, how to get there and around, and what to do in each season. Find sample itineraries for one to four days, plus tips on reservations, hiking, and attractions.

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    The Yosemite Guide contains information about trip planning, activities, scheduled events, and hours of operations for different facilities and services. You will receive a copy of the Yosemite Guide when you enter the park. All scheduled programs are listed in our calendar. We have some additional information about special programs, such as ...

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    Learn how to plan your trip to Yosemite, one of the most spectacular parks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Find out what to expect, where to stay, what to do, and how to save money with this comprehensive guide.

  7. Plan a Trip to Yosemite

    With 1,169 square miles to explore, there's always more to see in Yosemite National Park - that's why planning a trip to Yosemite can be tough. Find out what landmarks you can't miss on your trip, whether to visit the park in summer or winter, and more. Plan a trip to Yosemite with our travel guide.

  8. Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

    Yosemite. Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows ...

  9. Yosemite First Timers Itinerary

    Plan your trip to Yosemite Today. Yosemite National Park is one of America's most revered wilderness sanctuaries. From the soaring symphony of Yosemite Valley to the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove, awesome scenic overlooks, and waterfalls everywhere, the sheer beauty of the Park can be as staggering as its size: 1,200 square miles of ...

  10. A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park

    Like many of America's iconic national parks, Yosemite is a land of vastly different elevations and, as a result, extremes in conditions across the park's different zones. The valley, home to ...

  11. 1-Week Yosemite, Kings Canyon, & Sequoia Itinerary

    Plan on spending the first day of your trip traveling and getting settled in. Day 2: Hike Mist Falls and John Muir Trail. Mist Falls? More like drenched falls, so come prepared to get wet! ... The swinging bridge at Yosemite National Park provides an excellent view of the rushing waterfalls and rocky cliffs below. Visitors can enjoy a peaceful ...

  12. 2 Days In Yosemite Itinerary: Spend A Magical Two Days At The Park

    Note: For the 2022 summer season Yosemite National Park has stated that Glacier Point Road will be completely closed for repairs. This means some Yosemite icons like Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and, of course, Glacier Point itself cannot be accessed. ... When planning your travel time to and from the park, always put "Yosemite Valley" in as ...

  13. 3 Day Yosemite Itinerary

    Yosemite Itinerary Day 3: Glacier Point, Taft Point, and Sentinel Dome. After spending your first two days of your Yosemite itinerary exploring Yosemite Valley, it's time to see Yosemite from up above. No 3 day Yosemite itinerary would be complete without a trip up to Glacier Point for an incredible view of many of Yosemite's iconic sights ...

  14. Guide to Planning a Trip to Yosemite National Park

    Plan Your Trip. Yosemite is about a 200-mile drive east from San Francisco and 300 miles northeast from Los Angeles. Some visitors arrive via airports at Sacramento (175 miles southeast) and Reno (150 miles south). ... Take a rare opportunity to play golf within a national park at the nine-hole Wawona Golf Course (open from May to October) near ...

  15. The Ultimate Yosemite Trip Planning Guide

    YOSEMITE AT-A-GLANCE. Location: California. What It's Famous For: Towering granite peaks and massive waterfalls. Highest Elevation You Can Reach by Road: 9,945 feet above sea level (Tioga Pass) Established: October 1, 1890 — this is national park #3. Size: 760,000 acres. Crowd Levels: High, with around 3.3 million visitors each year ...

  16. Yosemite Trip Planning

    Yosemite Trip Planning. Yosemite Trip Planning is a selection of videos created to help you plan your trip, have a safe time while visiting the park, and tips for how to help protect plants, animals, and other park resources. Learn more about different hikes in Yosemite Valley, what your options are if you plan to visit the park in winter, or ...

  17. Yosemite Vacation Planner

    vacation planner. Our vacation planner guide is full of great tips and ideas of things to do in Yosemite and Mariposa County. Start planning your Yosemite vacation today by clicking below to download the digital version of the planner. For more helpful info to plan your trip to Yosemite Mariposa County, signup for our newsletter.

  18. The Best One Day Trip to Yosemite National Park

    Brunch at The Ahwahnee is one of the best meals in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley Lodge is the more affordable of the two lodges and is close to many activities in Yosemite Valley. To stay in either of the Yosemite Valley lodges, plan to book a year in advance when reservations are released.

  19. Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park

    Originally the home of the Ahwahneechee people, Yosemite National Park was declared as federally preserved land in 1864, and became a national park in 1890. Since its establishment, millions of visitors have made the trek to witness the grandeur of the granite peaks and walls, enormous flowing waterfalls, lush green meadows, and a variety of wildlife, including curious black bears, bobcats ...

  20. Know Before You Go: Visiting Yosemite National Park

    Find the right entrance and pay the admission fee. Yosemite comprises more than 1,000 square miles (2,590 square kilometers) of wilderness—getting from one side of the park to the other isn't exactly a walk in the park. Choosing the right entrance can make or break your visit: You can enter via the Hetch Hetchy, Big Oak, and Arch Rock ...

  21. Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park: What to Know

    Glacier Point is a super cool spot in Yosemite National Park that gives you a front-row seat to some of the best views. Imagine standing on top of a giant rock ledge about 3,200 feet above the ...

  22. Peak hour reservation for Hetch Hetchy?

    Answer 1 of 3: We plan to hike the Rancheria Falls this weekend. But forgot to make the peak hour reservation. Can some one confirm that the reservation is not required for Hetch Hetchy Entrance? I checked the NPS website, and can not find anything.

  23. Yosemite vs Yellowstone: Which National Park Is Best?

    Yellowstone has the honor of being the nation's first national park, declared on March 1, 1872. It took nearly two decades for the next two parks to be named: Sequoia National Park on September ...

  24. Basic Information

    2024 Reservation Requirements. A reservation will be required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park on some days from April 13 through October 27, 2024, for those driving into the park between 5 am and 4 pm as follows: April 13 through June 30: A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and on holidays (May 27 and June 19).

  25. See how Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranks for best hiking

    KURU's analysis also used an average trail rating from AllTrails that put Yosemite No. 1 on the top 10 list, with the Smokies falling to No. 6. If you head out to hit the trails at Great Smoky ...

  26. Backpacking

    Backpacking. Almost 95% of Yosemite is designated Wilderness, offering endless opportunities for adventure, solitude, and connection. In order to protect these wild places and provide an outstanding hiking experience, wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips. Resources on this page will help you start planning your trip, find ...

  27. Trip Planning

    Make a plan for your next trip! Download the NPS Trip Planning Guide! Fill out a Trip Plan and share it with your trusted contacts before heading out on your next adventure. Accidents Happen. Be Prepared with an Outdoor Emergency Plan. Accidents can happen when recreating in Rocky Mountain National Park, even to the most experienced adventurers.