If you’re looking for a unique and picturesque nature destination, Yosemite National Park is it. Here you’ll find thundering waterfalls, peaceful hiking trails, giant sequoia trees, huge boulders, and breathtaking peaks (just to name a few highlights).
With so many things to do in Yosemite, this national park makes for an excellent weekend getaway as well. Even so, if you only have one day at your disposal, don’t worry, as day trips are doable too.
Whether you’re visiting for one, two, or three days, we recommend following a Yosemite itinerary to ensure you don’t miss out on the top sights. In this Yosemite travel guide, we’ll detail everything to do on a day trip and a weekend vacation.
But first: I gotta point out that I have a whole slew of California trip planning guides that include Yosemite and beyond!
One Day in Yosemite
If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite but only have one day, focus on exploring the attractions in Yosemite Valley, the most popular part of the park. The area has incredible viewpoints, scenic trails, and the famous Yosemite Falls. While lots of hikes are recommended today, there are also options to drive!
Begin your Yosemite day trip itinerary with a short stop at one of the best vistas, Tunnel View. From here, you’ll enjoy an excellent perspective of all the top Yosemite attractions and peaks like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinel Dome.
Upon exiting Wawona Tunnel from the south or west entrances, you’ll find Tunnel View. If possible, I recommend arriving just after sunrise to see the pastel shades of the morning sky. Plus, visiting in the morning means you can enjoy breakfast with a view so remember to pick something up on the way to the park.
While here, an excellent way to warm up your legs for a day of hiking is with the gentle 2-mile (3.2km) Artist Point trail that starts from Tunnel Point.
From Tunnel View, continue east for 7 miles until you arrive at the majestic Yosemite Falls. As one of the most famous sights, I recommend arriving early as the parking lot gets busy from mid-morning onwards.
Arriving early also gives you plenty of time to tackle the challenging Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This 7.5-mile (12.2 km) will take you all morning and part of the afternoon, but it’s totally worth it and is one of the most rewarding hikes in Yosemite.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed morning or are new to hiking, you can opt for the gentle Lower Yosemite Falls trail instead. This flat route is a short 1 mile (1.9 km) loop that will bring you close to the lower falls in around 30 minutes.
When your stomach starts rumbling, head back towards Tunnel View, stopping off at the Cathedral Beach picnic area. Here you can tuck into your packed lunch and spend an hour or two exploring this beautiful nature spot.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you can refresh with a swim in the river and relax at the beach area. But, if it’s too chilly for that, you can wander through the woods looking for wildlife. Ducks, squirrels, and deer are all common sightings here.
The last stop on your Yosemite day trip is the mesmerizing Glacier Point, one of the best sunset spots in the national park. Although Glacier Point is located in Yosemite Valley, it takes a while to reach it. You can either hike up to the viewpoint or drive up the steep, winding road.
As Glacier Points sits 7,214 feet, 3,200 meters above sea level, the Four Mile Trail is one of the most demanding hikes in Yosemite. But, if you’re up for the challenge, begin your 4.8-mile (7.7 km) trek from the base of Sentinel Rock. It will take 3 to 4 hours to reach the viewpoint, so ensure you have enough time to get up there before it gets dark.
An easier way to enjoy Glacier Point is to drive up there. However, the road is very steep and has sharp turns, so go slow. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the viewpoint driving from Yosemite Valley.
Once you arrive, if you have some time before sunset, I recommend the 1 mile (1.6 km) hiking loop around the peak. It only takes 20 minutes and gives you 360-degree views of the entire park.
Two Days in Yosemite
A two-day Yosemite National Park itinerary lets you see the Yosemite Valley hot spots you didn’t have time for yesterday. You’ll also have time to go a little further afield to some of the quieter spots.
The first stop today is the iconic Mirror Lake, famed for its mirror-like water that reflects the surrounding trees and mountains. Take the short 2-mile (3.2 km) walking trail from North Pines Campground to reach the lake.
Once you arrive at this serene spot, you can sit by the water and admire the natural beauty. Or, extend your walk by continuing along the trail that loops around the lake. Either way, plan to spend a couple of hours in this beautiful area.
Mist Trail, Vernal Falls & Nevada Falls
After an early lunch in Curry Village, continue your 2-day itinerary on foot by joining the Mist Trail at the end of Upper Pines Campground. On this 7.2 mile (11.6 km) trek, you’ll walk alongside the tranquil Merced River, passing the small Vernal Falls before arriving at the taller Nevada Falls.
The hike is moderately challenging and takes between 3 to 5 hours out and back. However, you can walk just to Vernal Falls and then turn around if you prefer.
Bridalveil Creek & Fall
From one waterfall to another, finish day two with a quick stop at Bridalveil Creek and Falls upon leaving Yosemite Valley. You’ll find the parking lot on the left just before Tunnel view and Wawona Tunnel.
You’ll be pleased to hear that there’s no long trail to reach this waterfall. However, as the 620 ft (189 m) attraction is the most powerful waterfall in the park, be prepared to get wet. The thundering falls spray a continuous mist of water, which is a refreshing surprise in the summer, at least.
Once here, you can splash around in the water during the hot season. Or, if you’re in Yosemite during the shoulder seasons, you can still enjoy the incredible view of the gushing water and the tranquil ambiance at the creek.
Three Days in Yosemite
If you’re lucky enough to be in Yosemite for a long weekend, you’ll get to explore lesser-known parts of the park where daytrippers don’t visit. What’s more, if you experienced crowds at the attractions from days one and two, you’ll get to enjoy the peaceful environment today. But I mean it is Yosemite so some tourists will always be around!
Kick off the last day of your Yosemite trip in the south of the park at Mariposa Grove, a tranquil area full of giant sequoia trees. The 2-mile (3.5 km) Grizzly Giant Loop Trail provides an easy way to explore the area.
The flat route loops through the central part of the grove and takes you to famous attractions like the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant tree. Other ancient beauties you’ll find include the California Tunnel Tree, The Bachelor, and Three Graces.
Tuolumne Meadows & Lembert Dome
Stretching your legs in Mariposa Grove will prepare you well for the 2-hour drive to the northeast of the park. Break up the journey by stopping for lunch along the way but be sure to arrive by early afternoon to enjoy a few hours in this part of Yosemite.
Your first stop is the elevated Tuolumne Meadows, sitting 8,600 feet (2621m) above sea level. A lovely river runs through the meadows, which is perfect for cooling off on a hot day. Or, for the adrenaline junkies, hike up Lembert Dome. After the 914 feet (279m) climb, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the meadows below.
Finally, I recommend squeezing a short hike around Gaylor lakes into your trip. Gaylor Lakes is a short 10-minute drive from Tuolumne. Exploring this tranquil spot is one of the best Yosemite activities in this part of the park.
The 3-mile (5 km) Gaylor Lakes trail is moderately gentle and will take you no longer than two hours to complete. After taking you around the lakeside, the trail heads up the peak. The course remains steep for a while, but once you reach the top, you experience marvelous views of the lakes below and the surrounding mountains. A truly blissful way to conclude your Yosemite National Park trip.
Where to Stay in Yosemite
If you’re looking for where to stay near Yosemite overnight, you’ll be pleased to hear that several towns are within driving distance to the national park. Oakhurst is a large town just south of Yosemite’s south entrance and is one of the best places to stay in Yosemite for families and first-time visitors.
Oakhurst is just a 30-minute drive to the park’s southern attractions such as Mariposa Grove, and as a large town, there are plenty of amenities here. You’ll find a great selection of restaurants and bars, shopping malls, and cozy inns.
Luxury: Hounds Tooth Inn is for you if you’re looking for a stylish and luxurious place to stay during your trip to Yosemite. The contemporary suites boast lavish amenities like jacuzzis, fireplaces, and modern coffee machines.
Mid-Range: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is a modern yet affordable inn with an outdoor pool and an excellent breakfast buffet. Rooms sleep up to 4 people and are pet-friendly, too.
Budget: Yosemite Southgate Hotel & Suites is a fantastic choice for those looking to keep costs low. The suites here are modern and stylish yet low-cost. Plus, there’s even a pool and hot tub on-site.