One of California’s iconic sights, this national park features stunning natural highlights that including El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, not to mention the thousands of towering sequoia trees. Although it’s never ideal, if you have only one day to spend in the park it’s important to have a plan of action to make the most of your 24 hours there. Here’s what should be on your itinerary for one day in Yosemite National Park.
Best Time To Go To Yosemite
The best time to visit is in May or September when there are less crowds and the weather isn’t too hot. The difference between these two times is that during May the waterfalls will be at their peak as the snow melts, but in September there isn’t as much water after a dry summer, but the scenery is still stunning sans water. Summertime has the advantage of all the trails being open, but the crowds will be at an all time high (read: guaranteed traffic jams) and temperatures can reach 90s and above in the valley with little relief.
Best Routes To Yosemite
There are five park entrances into Yosemite Valley. If you are driving from Tahoe, you will most likely enter from the east side of the park through the Tioga Pass entrance on Highway 120 through the town of Lee Vining. The other four are on the west side and include the Hetch Hetchy entrance which leads to a quieter more remote area of the park and is the farthest north; the Big Oak Flat and Arch Rock entrances are the closest from the Bay Area; and the South entrance is the most practical if you’re coming from Southern California. The best (and most scenic way) into the park is on CA Highway 140, where you’ll go through the town of Mariposa, through the Arch Rock entrance. Make sure to always double check road closures the day before, since things can change quickly.
On your way into the park turn onto CA Highway 41, and follow the sign that is marked Bridalvail Fall. Right before you reach the Wawona Tunnel, pull off into the parking lot and you’ll be rewarded with the classic Yosemite view that Ansel Adams made famous and includes El Capitan, Bridevail Fall, and Half Dome. The view differs with the seasons, including thundering waterfalls during the spring and snow-capped mountains during the wintertime. Make sure to arrive early, since there’s limited parking.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Start your day out at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) for breakfast in Yosemite Valley’s iconic hotel dining room that boasts soaring 34-foot ceilings and cathedral windows. Make sure to make reservations ahead of time, especially if you’re visiting on Sunday for their legendary brunch. For something a bit more casual, head to Degnan’s Kitchen, where there’s counter service available to pick-up breakfast sandwiches, and also regular sandwiches you can stash for an on-the-go lunch. There are not much dinning options in the valley, but these two spots are reliable choices.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
To get the lay of the land, head to this informative spot that is open year-round. There is a ranger-staffed information desk, a showing of the film Spirit of Yosemite, a bookstore, and various exhibits on the park’s history, geology, and flora/fauna. In the Yosemite Village where the visitor center is located, there is also a post office (perfect for sending postcards from), the Yosemite Museum, and Ansel Adams Gallery. If you have kids in tow, the Junior Ranger packets are worth checking out, where kids can learn about the park and earn badges as well. It is also a good idea to park your car in the day-use lot at the Village, and then take the shuttles to various sights, especially during peak season in the summer.
Glacier Point and Taft Point
From the Valley, take a short drive to this scenic lookout where you can see Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There are also great hiking trails nearby, including the trail to Taft Point (2.2 miles round trip), that is west of Glacier Point and provides equally excellent views. One of the highlights of Taft Point (besides the views) is the giant fissures that split the rocks in half, some around 100 feet. Both trails are only open during the summertime, and it’s easier to take the shuttle from the valley then take your own car due to limited parking at the trailhead.
For an easier hike, head out to the highest waterfall in the park for close-up views of the falls. In late spring it’s at its peak and trickles out in July (it starts to flow around November when the winter storms replenish it). The entire hike is 8-miles long, but you can hike a 1-mile loop trail and still get spectacular views of the falls, including walking near the base of the Lower Yosemite Fall. The falls is made up of three different sections: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. You can see the falls from afar in a lot of different areas of the park as well, including Yosemite Village.
Where To Stay in Yosemite
If you have limited time in Yosemite, it’s highly recommended you stay inside the valley, since it takes about an hour or more to get from the entrance to the valley if you stay outside. For luxury digs, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel in the valley is a popular choice. If you prefer more rustic accommodations, the Half Dome Village is worth checking out for their heated tent cabins. There are also campsites within the park, for more info check out details on the official park website.