Yosemite National Park, situated in Mariposa County in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, is one of the country’s most visited national parks and a top highlight of any California National Park Road Trip. The park is renowned for its massive granite rock formations, waterfalls, meadows, and groves of giant sequoia trees. In this Yosemite Itinerary, you’ll discover the best things to do in one, two, or three days.
There are unlimited outdoor adventures to pursue in Yosemite, especially when it comes to climbing and hiking. With 95% of the park designated as backcountry wilderness, there are also plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and spot some wildlife!
- 1 Yosemite National Park Overview
- 2 How to Use This Yosemite Itinerary
- 3 Yosemite Itinerary – Day One
- 4 Yosemite Itinerary – Day Two
- 5 Yosemite Itinerary – Day Three
- 6 Author Bio:
Yosemite National Park Overview
Admission to Yosemite is $35.00, which allows access to the park and most of its attractions for a week. There are separate fees for camping and lodging, and it’s important to note that some longer backcountry hikes require individual permits that can be very competitive.
Yosemite Village is where you’ll find a wild assortment of restaurants, hotels, and shops. Those planning to overnight have no shortage of unique places to choose from! Whether you prefer to fall asleep in a tent, secluded cabin, or the luxury of a rustic lodge, this Yosemite Lodging Guide has you covered!
How to Use This Yosemite Itinerary
While it’s possible to see many of the park’s highlights in one day, two days are better, and three days is best. This Yosemite Itinerary builds on itself. If you only have one day, stick with the itinerary included in Day One. If you have another day to spare, tack on Day Two. If you have three days available, complete the entire itinerary.
Yosemite Itinerary – Day One
Experience Tunnel View
Not too far from the park’s southern entrance on State Route 41, you’ll find one of the most iconic viewpoints in Yosemite National Park. Tunnel View, located at the eastern end of Wawona Tunnel, is a scenic overlook. It’s the perfect place to start your adventure in the park because there’s no hiking involved.
Just get out of your car and walk to the spectacular vista featuring views of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley. Enjoy the views without the effort because you’ll need to be well-rested for the day. Hint: There’s some hiking involved!
Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls
Morning is one of the best times to hike in Yosemite because this is when the temperatures are coolest. The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls is the perfect hike to tackle if you only have one day in Yosemite because it’s just long enough that you’ll be off the trail in time for lunch.
The 3-mile hike is one of the most popular ones in the park, and though it’s pretty short, it’s also fairly difficult. Along the trail, you’ll enjoy incredible views. You can take a 600-step stairway to the top to better view the 317-foot cascade at Vernal Falls. The path keeps going for another 1.2 miles to the 594-foot Nevada Falls if you want to keep hiking.
For a more leisurely hike, Lower Yosemite Fall is a relaxed one-mile loop trail that leads to the lowest part of the tallest waterfall on the continent. At 320 feet, it’s hard to imagine that so little effort is required to reach such an incredible sight!
There are exhibits along the way to learn about the nature and history of the area.
Enjoy Lunch at The Ahwahnee or the Pizza Deck in Curry Village
After a morning of hiking and exploring some of Yosemite’s top sights, it’s time for lunch. The dining room at the historic and picturesque Ahwahnee Lodge is one of the best places in the area to grab a bite to eat.
This lovely dining room features 30-foot ceilings and huge windows, so you get uninterrupted views of the surrounding scenery. You’ll find many delicious options on the menu, including the signature Ahwahnee burger.
Suppose you’re in the mood for a lighter lunch with a more casual feel. In that case, the Pizza Deck in Curry Village is a laid-back place where you can enjoy Pizza, salad, and beverages on an outdoor terrace.
Watch Rock Climbers from El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan is a grand achievement in the climbing world, but looking at that steep 3,600-foot rock face, you wouldn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to attempt it! However, many attempt this challenging climb every year.
You can watch rock climbers in action from El Capitan Meadow below. The climbers are best viewed with binoculars as they are so small against the rock wall that they can barely be seen with the naked eye. Look closely and you might even spot a deer or two in the meadow.
Yosemite Itinerary – Day Two
Watch the Sunset from Sentinel Dome
Suppose you decide to stay in Yosemite National Park for a second day. That means you won’t need to head home on the first evening, so you can find a nice spot to enjoy one of the spectacular sunsets that the park is known for.
One of the best places for sunset is Sentinel Dome, and there are two ways to get there. First, if you still have energy left and feel up for more hiking, start at least an hour before sunset and take the easy 2.2-mile trail to the granite dome for its incredible views.
If you prefer a shorter and even easier hike to Sentinel Dome, there’s another trailhead less than a mile from the main one. This service road joins the main trail at the base, but it cuts off a significant portion of the journey.
The best part about watching the sunset from here is the lack of crowds that other popular sunset locations get.
Hike the Cooks Meadow Loop
After all the hiking you did yesterday, on your second morning in Yosemite National Park, enjoy a leisurely walk along the one-mile Cooks Meadow Loop. Short and easy doesn’t mean you won’t get to enjoy panoramic views.
As you make your way along this trail, you’ll see views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, Sentinel Rock, and Glacier Point. Also, stop and take in Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge.
Grab a Quick Lunch at Degnan’s Kitchen
Degnan’s Kitchen is a fantastic place to get a quick lunch before heading on another adventure. You’ll find an assortment of deli sandwiches, salads, pizzas, baked goods, and coffee to get you out of that afternoon slump!
El Capitan Meadow is also a perfect place to relax with a picnic if you prefer to enjoy your lunch outside.
Visit the Spectacular Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the United States. As the name implies, they look like a flowing bridal veil. At 620 feet high, it’s quite a spectacular sight! The best thing about the falls is there’s not much effort involved to get there.
The easy hike is only a half-mile paved trail.
Enjoy the Sunset at Tunnel View
You already experienced Tunnel View in the morning. Now here’s your chance to see it at the end of the day. Tunnel View is one of the best spots in the park to watch the setting sun. Sunset is the time when you’ll get your best photos too!
Yosemite Itinerary – Day Three
Option 1: Test Your Limits with a Hike up Half Dome or one of the Park’s Other Iconic Trails
So you decided to stay in Yosemite National Park for the third day? Great! This is your chance to tackle one of the park’s longer and more demanding hikes. Half Dome is the most iconic of them all!
Half Dome is a feat to start early in the morning because, at 17 miles, it takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete.
No lie, Half Dome is strenuous but very rewarding. First, you’ll gain almost 5,000 feet of elevation while enjoying views of waterfalls and the Yosemite Valley below. Then, you’ll reach the most challenging part of the hike, known as the Cables.
The cables are a steep climb up rockface that requires reasonable fitness, a healthy relationship with heights, and a firm grip. You’ll need to use the handholds to climb this 400-foot leg of the journey before reaching the top.
Relax on the flat summit with a bird’s eye view of Yosemite. The only downfall to this hike is that a permit is required to access the cable portion, and permits are highly competitive.
However, if you’re unable to snag one in the lottery, other alternatives are just as challenging as rewarding!
Upper Yosemite Falls is just under half the distance of Half Dome at 7.6 miles, but it’s a grueling route that’ll take about five hours to complete.
You’ll hike from the base of Yosemite Valley to the rim, and enjoy stunning views of Half Dome before reaching the tallest waterfall in North America.
Option 2: Head to Tuolumne Meadows
For a less strenuous option, Tuolumne Meadows is another beautiful area of Yosemite, and it’s home to a few great hikes. The Lembert Dome Trail is a 2.8-mile moderately difficult trail to an 800-foot granite dome.
At the top, you’ll enjoy views of Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Range.
Another great hike in this area is Lyell Canyon via the John Muir Trail. The trail is eight miles, and along the way, you’ll pass through the scenic canyon and regions along the Tuolumne River.
Be aware that there are creek crossings at Rafferty Creek and Ireland Creek, but that adds some excitement to the adventure! At the eight-mile mark, you’ll see views of the Kuna Creek flowing down the side of the canyon wall.
On your way back to Yosemite Valley, enjoy a laid-back lunch at one of the park’s largest and most beautiful lakes – Tenaya Lake. If you want to do more hiking, you can take a 2.5-mile trail around the lake.
Otherwise, park on the west side of the lake and walk a short distance where you’ll find a great place to have a picnic. Take in the fantastic mountain scenery while you enjoy your well-deserved lunch.
Finally, if you’re feeling courageous and want to cool off, Tenaya Lake is one of the best places in Yosemite to enjoy a dip.
Jenna is the founder of Up and Away Magazine, where she curates road trip itineraries and lodging guides to America’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. Up and Away Magazine aims to inspire others to opt outside in a way that is practical, accessible, and suitable for all budgets. In her spare time, Jenna enjoys hiking, climbing, and backpacking.