If there is one place in California that will take your breath away no mater how many times you visit, this national park is it with stunning natural sights that including El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls. One day in the park is completely doable, in fact when I visit I often drop in for just a day. The best piece of advice I would give is that it’s crucial to have a detailed plan of action to make the most of your 24 hours there and prioritize what you want to see depending on the season. Here’s what should be on your itinerary for one day in Yosemite National Park.
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One Day In Yosemite
Start your day in Yosemite bright and early, especially if you are staying right outside of the park, since it takes about an hour to get into the actual valley.
Begin your day at The Ahwahnee (formerly the Majestic Yosemite 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.
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.
Drive along Northside Drive, past Bridalveil Falls Viewpoint, and pull off into the provided parking lot. Here you’ll be rewarded with the classic Yosemite view that Ansel Adams made famous and includes El Capitan, Bridevail Fall, and Half Dome at dusk. 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 during sunset.
Additional Things For 2 Days In Yosemite
If you have an additional day, here’s some other activities that you can fill another day with.
- Bridalveil Falls -a short paved trail will take you to the base of this falls, which is often windswept and flows year-round. I have seen it during the spring, when it’s at its fullest from the melting snow, while during the rest of the year it’s much lighter. There is a parking lot available at the trailhead.
- Guided Bus Tours – one of the best ways to learn about the park and its history in a short period of time is through a ranger-guided bus tour staring at Yosemite Valley Lodge. There are several options, but the 2-hour Yosemite Valley Floor Tour is ideal, and covers highlights like El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View, and Half Dome.
- El Capitan Meadow – this scenic meadow is an ideal spot with a straight-on view of El Capitan, where you can watch rock climbers scramble up the sheer face of the cliff in real time. Make sure to bring your binoculars!
- Valley View – to get a picture-perfect river views of the valley, this is a must-stop spot with the Merced River below and El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls in the background.
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.
How To Get 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, especially during the wintertime.
The entrance fee into the park is $35 per vehicle and is valid for up to 7 days. If you plan on visiting other parks within California, like Joshua Tree, as well as other national parks around the country, the American the Beautiful Pass is another option. This pass is worth it if you’re planning to visit a handful of parks in a 12 month period, and is a reasonable choice at $80.
Getting Around Yosemite
Driving is your best bet to getting around the valley, even though during the summertime you will have to deal with traffic congestion. A good alternative is to drive into the valley, and then park at the visitor parking and take advantage of the Yosemite Valley Shuttle System, that make stops at the various locations around the valley, including visitor parking, Yosemite Village, Valley Visitor Center, The Ahwahnee, Curry Village, and Lower Yosemite Fall. There is a separate shuttle that goes directly to and from Glacier Point, when it’s open during the warmer months.
Check out the complete shuttle schedules and stops here.
If you want to get a bit more exercise, renting a bike at Curry Village is another option.
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. There’s limited lodging, but it ranges from budget-friendly to luxury.
This historical luxury hotel is the most popular choice if you want to go all out in Yosemite Valley. Besides the Ahwahnee Dining Room, there’s also a full spa, Ahwahnee Bar, and the Grand Lounge for resting after a long day. The shuttle stops by the hotel for easy access to sights.
Located walking distance from Yosemite Falls, this lodge is a favorite mid-range choice. There is a Starbucks on location for all your morning cafination needs, as well as excellent dining options like the Mountain Room for sit-down meals and Base Camp Eatery for quicker bites. There are also a limited number of family rooms available for larger groups.
Curry Village (formerly Half Dome Village)
For more rustic accommodations, these heated cabins with private baths options are worth checking out. Other options on-site include tent cabins, cabins that share a bathhouse, and standards motel rooms. The views are hard to beat, since Curry Village is located right under Half Dome and Glacier Point.
There are also campsites within the park, for more info check out details on the official park website.
What is your favorite way to spend one day in Yosemite?