InNational Parks, Yosemite

Yosemite 1 Day Itinerary: How to Spend One Perfect Day in Yosemite National Park

A visit to Yosemite National Park in California belongs on any traveler’s bucket list. At over 1,180 square miles, over 750 miles of hiking trails, and 25 waterfalls, Yosemite is massive. You could spend a lifetime (and then some) exploring this Park. But what if you only have one short day? Can you even “do” Yosemite in one day? The answer is absolutely yes – but if you only have a one day to spend in Yosemite, you’re going to need a perfectly planned Yosemite 1 Day Itinerary.

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Visit Yosemite enough times and you’ll hear the following story from one of the park staff: One day, a visitor approached long-time ranger Carl Sharsmith for some advice. The visitor asked Ranger Carl, “If you only had one day to see Yosemite, what would you do?” Carl replied, “If I only had one day in Yosemite, I’d go sit by the Merced River and cry.”

No offense to Ranger Carl, but that advice is bulls&%t. Any amount of time in Yosemite is time well spent! In fact, it’s totally possible to enjoy the “best of” Yosemite in one day. But you MUST have a good plan!

Over the past 33 years I’ve been lucky enough to visit Yosemite at least 20 times (including some very epic 1 day trips). I’ve learned the ins-and-outs of this incredible place. I’ve put together the ultimate Yosemite itinerary guides to help you plan the perfect trip, including what to see, what to skip, and how to navigate the new 2022 reservation systems.

Why Visit Yosemite National Park?

“Yosemite Park is a place of rest… None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.” – John Muir

Yosemite is home to soaring granite domes and monoliths so iconic they’re found on logos (like North Face), in movies (Free Solo) and yes, even the “National Park” emoji 🏞.

The Park is also home to North America’s tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls, massive Giant Sequoias, and over 1,000 square miles of unparalleled high Sierra backcountry.  Hikers can enjoy over 750 miles of trails, ranging from easy, wheel-chair accessible paths to rugged backcountry routes. Visitors also enjoy horseback and bike riding, scenic drives, and river rafting. Yosemite’s granite cliffs are some of the most famous, and infamous, rock climbing routes in the world.

Quite simply, Yosemite is spectacular, and while its remote mountain location makes planning the perfect Yosemite 1 day itinerary a little tricky, it is absolutely worth the effort.

Yosemite Park Notes

Where: Eastern Central California

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle or $20 per person if entering by foot, bike, or horse. All Fees are in ADDITION to Peak-Hours Reservations.

Kid Friendly: Yes. (No seriously, I’ve been going here since I was 6 mo. old!)

Dog Friendly: Moderately. Dogs are permitted on fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths, in campgrounds, and on Wawona Meadow Loop trail. Some lodging allows pets, and a seasonal kennel is available for day-use in Yosemite Village.

PEAK-HOURS RESERVATIONS: In 2022, Yosemite introduced a new day-use reservation system that requires reservations to enter the park from May 2022 through September 30, 2022.

GLACIER POINT ROAD CLOSURE: Glacier Point Road will be closed for all of 2022 and construction will continue through 2023. See below for more information. 

Glacier Point Road 2022 and 2023 Construction in Yosemite National Park

Glacier Point Road will be closed for construction for all 2022. There is no vehicle access to Glacier Point Road, including Glacier Point, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome. Glacier Point Road to Badger Pass Ski area will be open for the 2022-2023 ski season, usually starting in mid-December.

This 1 Day Yosemite Itinerary includes alternate suggestions for the Glacier Point Road 2022 closure. If you are traveling in 2023, Glacier Point Road is scheduled to OPEN after the snow is cleared, usually in mid-May. Expect delays up to 30 minutes while driving Glacier Point Road in 2023 as construction continues.*

Update: Due to historic levels of snow in Yosemite, Glacier Point Road will not open until July, 2023. Expect 30 minute delays once the Road reopens. Click here for Tioga and Glacier Point Road plowing updates.

If you have the stamina and are determined to visit Glacier Point, I highly recommend hiking the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. This strenuous, 9.6 mile hike is an all-day excursion, and an opportunity to see Glacier Point without the crowds.

Yosemite National Park History

The spectacular peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains were formed only 10 million years ago, making them the youngest mountain range in the US. (By comparison, the Rockies took shape 70 million years ago, and the Appalachians a staggering 1.2 BILLION years ago). 1 Million years ago, massive glaciers carved their way through the granite mountains, and Yosemite Valley was born.

Yosemite is also considered the birthplace of the modern conservation movement. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, the first federal legislation specifically setting aside public lands for preservation and public enjoyment. Later, naturalist and famed author John Muir convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890. 

Long before settler arrived in the Valley, Yosemite was home to the Ahwahneechee people, who’s name means “dwellers” in their indigenous Ahwahnee language. By 1850, the Ahwahneechee population had drastically declined, largely due to disease, starvation, and conflict with non-indigenous settlers from the California Gold Rush.

In 1850, the state of California formed a militia to exterminate and drive out indigenous peoples from contested land. By the mid 1850’s, the Ahwahneechee people, led by Chief Tenaya, were largely driven from the Valley.

A small number of indigenous people continued to live in Yosemite, despite ongoing violence, and oppression. In 1969, the last indigenous people were evicted by the National Park Service, and their village burned as part of a fire-fighting exercise.

The word Yosemite is not Ahwahnee, but a Miwok term for the Ahwahneechee people, “yohhe’meti.” Today, many Yosemite landmarks pay tribute to the original indigenous owners of this land, including Tenaya Lake and the grand Ahwahnee Hotel.

When to Visit Yosemite National Park

Deciding when to visit is the single most important part of planning your Yosemite itinerary. Park conditions change dramatically by season here. If you are trying to visit Yosemite in a day, I suggest visiting during late-spring through late-fall, when most of the Park’s trails and sights are open and easily accessible.

Summer (June – September)

Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Yosemite National Park. If you are able to reserve a coveted hotel, campground, or peak-hours reservation to enter the park, expect hot days in the valley and crowds, lots of crowds.

All major roads in the park are open, including iconic Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. In early summer, waterfalls are flowing, but nearly dry up by late summer. Temps average in the 90s and 80s during the day, down to the 50s at night. The Valley sees virtually no rainfall during summer, and long summer days mean maximum time to explore.

Some areas of Yosemite, like Cathedral Lakes, are accessible only in late-spring through late-fall.

Fall (October – November)

If its your first time visiting Yosemite, I highly recommend visiting during the fall. Visitor numbers drop after Labor Day as schools go back into session. Most high sierra areas like Glacier Point and Tioga Road remain open until the first major snowfall, usually mid-November, but sometimes much later.

As a kid, my family frequently visited Yosemite for Thanksgiving, enjoying the relative quiet of the Park in the shoulder season. The ultra-bougie Ahwahnee Hotel and casually-elegant Wawona Hotel both put on wonderful Thanksgiving Dinners, and the family friendly Yosemite Lodge is a great option year-round.

Winter (December – March)

Winter in Yosemite is a unique experience, but not one that I recommend for a first visit to the Park. Many of the Park’s attractions like Glacier Point Road close for the season, and dining and lodging options are limited. But in exchange, you get to experience an unbelievable winter wonderland, and snow play options aplenty, including Badger Pass Ski Area.

Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? The Yosemite Itinerary Guide has your perfect 1, 2, or 3 day Yosemite trip completely planned for you! With over 20 pages of detailed hiking guides, printable daily itineraries, lodging and dining suggestions and more, you can spend less time planning and more time making epic memories! Check it out, here.

Getting to Yosemite National Park

Always check the Yosemite NPS website before traveling to the Park for updated road, traffic, and reservation information.

Planning a Trip to Yosemite National Park? Check out this complete Yosemite transportation guide here.

An important thing to remember is Yosemite is huge – about 748,000 acres, or about the size of the state of Rhode Island!

There are multiple entrances to the Park, some of which close Winter to late-Spring. Yosemite Valley is the heart of the National Park, and most visitors will spend some, or all, or their time there. Unless otherwise noted, all distances and times are to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

The closest airports to Yosemite National Park are Fresno-Yosemite International Airport and Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Many visitors however will opt to travel to larger (and therefore cheaper) airports a little further away.

The closest major airports near Yosemite are San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento International Airports.

Regardless of what airport you fly into, you will absolutely want to rent a car for your visit to Yosemite. Driving a car means you’ll have way more flexibility in your Yosemite itinerary, and will save you substantial time.

Most visitors will drive to Yosemite, and having a vehicle while visiting the Park is highly recommended. The closest major cities to Yosemite National Park are Merced, California (2 Hours), Fresno, California (2.5 Hours), and Sacramento, California (3.5 Hours).

The cities of San Francisco and San Jose, California are approximately 4.5 hours drive from Yosemite Valley. Los Angeles is approximately 7 hours from Yosemite. The most scenic entrance into Yosemite is via Highway 120 (Tioga Road) as it winds through the high Sierras of Tuolumne Meadows into Yosemite Valley.

If driving isn’t an option, public transportation is available to the Park from major cities, and shuttle buses run within the Park to most destinations on this itinerary.  Details for public transportation to the Park and shuttle buses within the park are outlined further on.

Tips for Driving to Yosemite

Most visitors drive to Yosemite in their own car or a rental vehicle. Apart from traffic and winter conditions, driving to Yosemite is a relatively straightforward and beautiful experience.

As drivers ascend from the foothills into the high Sierra mountains, expect winding mountain roads and steep drop offs. The roads are well maintained in and near the Park. Make sure to follow all traffic signs and posted speed limits.

Do NOT rely on cell service for driving directions to Yosemite. Cell service is unreliable and nonexistent in most areas of the park. Always print or write out your Yosemite itinerary or download it to your phone before leaving.

When planning your drive to Yosemite, double check that your directions are taking you to your specific destination within the Park. Yosemite is massive, with multiple entrance stations, and typing in just “Yosemite” to your GPS or map app will NOT get you where you want to go!

When visiting during peak months of late Spring to early Fall,  expect long wait times at entrance stations, and full parking lots at popular destinations. The key to a stress-free (or at least less-stress) Yosemite itinerary is to exercise patience and kindness, especially during peak hours.

Want to learn more about planning an epic National Parks trip? Grab my free Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide, including 70+ pages of National Park packing checklists, planning tips, and everything you need to know to start planning a trip to all 63 National Parks!

Public Transportation to Yosemite

Unlike many National Parks, public transportation IS AVAILABLE to Yosemite Valley. Daily bus service is provided by Yosemite Area Rapid Transit (YARTS) year-round.

YARTS operates 4 routes to Yosemite Valley and gateway communities and hotels, departing from Merced (including the Merced Regional Airport, Geyhound, and Amtrak Station), Fresno (including Fresno-Yosemite Airport and Amtrak/Greyhound Station), Mammoth Lakes / Highway 395, and Senora.

Reservations are strongly recommended for YARTS buses.  However, visitors arriving via YARTS do NOT need an additional peak-hours or day-use reservation to enter the park.

Only the Merced / Highway 140 Route operates year-round, and services are reduced during winter and holidays.   Learn more about the YARTS bus and make reservations, here.   

Getting Around Yosemite

Parking in Yosemite Valley

Getting around Yosemite Valley is easy thanks to the excellent Shuttle system. Once you arrive in Yosemite National Park, park your vehicle at your hotel or campground if you are staying overnight.

Guests of the hotels and campgrounds will be provided with a dashboard pass to park at these locations. Makes sure to display your parking pass at all times! If you do not have a pass, do not park at these locations.

If you are staying outside the Valley, after your 1 day in Yosemite, park in one of the designated day-use parking lots. For this 1 day in Yosemite itinerary, I strongly suggest parking in the Yosemite Village day use lot, if at all possible.

Parking Lots fill to capacity early during late Spring to early Fall, especially on weekends and holidays. Plan to arrive well before 9AM for day-use parking lots.

Bear Safety and Your Vehicle in Yosemite National Park: Yosemite is home to hundreds of black bears. While most visitors never see a bear, it is important (and legally required) to take proper precautions, especially when it comes to food storage.

During the Day, store your food out of sight inside your vehicle, with the windows rolled up. At night, DO NOT leave any food or scented items in your vehicle. Bring them into your hotel or use a bear-proof food storage locker. Lockers are available at every campsite, Curry Village, and Housekeeping.

Remember, “food” means any scented items, including lotions, sunscreen, trash, and empty coolers.

Violating these rules can get you a hefty fine, your vehicle impounded, or your car totally destroyed by a curious bear. Bears who routinely break into vehicles or begin associating humans with tasty food have to be euthanized. By safely storing your food, you are protecting yourself AND the lives of these beautiful animals.

Yosemite Valley Shuttle

Once you’ve parked your car and secured your food, it’s time to hop on the Shuttle and start exploring!

Yosemite Valley Shuttle – Current as of 2022

Two shuttle lines run in Yosemite Valley: the East Valley Shuttle; and the Valleywide Shuttle. Shuttles are free to use, run between 7am and 10pm, and arrive every 8 to 22 minutes.

Most major sights and trailheads within Yosemite Valley are serviced directly by a shuttle stop, and the rest are just a short 10 or 15 minute walk away.

*Yosemite Itinerary Tip: Yosemite is testing several changes to traffic patters within the Valley. The goal of these changes is to reduce traffic congestion. During this time, some shuttle stops may have different numbers or slightly different locations than the official route, above. Always check the NPS website and talk with a Ranger or Park employee for updated information.

How to Visit Glacier Point

Glacier Point Road will be closed for construction for all 2022 and half of 2023. There is no vehicle access to Glacier Point Road, including Glacier Point, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome. Glacier Point Road to Badger Pass Ski area will be open for the 2022-2023 ski season, usually starting in mid-December.

Glacier Point is quite simply one of the most stunning views in Yosemite, and a must on any Yosemite itinerary (weather permitting). Parking is available 1 hour from Yosemite Valley via Glacier Point Road.

There is no free shuttle between Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point. However, the Glacier Point guided bus tour is a 4 hour guided tour from the Valley Floor, up 3,200 feet to stunning Glacier Point. * NOT RUNNING IN 2022 * Purchase a round trip ticket for $57, or a one-way ticket for $28 and hike down to the Valley via the Four Mile Trail (STRENUOUS), or vice-versa.

If you plan on driving to Yosemite in Winter (November through March), get familiar with the Park’s chain requirements. I can tell you from experience, take the chain requirements seriously. You will NOT be permitted to enter the Park if you are not in compliance, and you risk serious injury (or worse) if you are unprepared.

Seasonal Road Closures in Yosemite

Check out the historic road and trail opening dates to get an idea of when roads typically close and open for the winter season. While these dates give a good approximation, it is impossible to know when exactly the high Sierra roads in Yosemite will open and close every year. Late spring snow storms are extremely common in this area.

The following is a rough approximation of winter road closures in Yosemite:

Tioga Road: closes by mid-November and reopens by early June.

Glacier Point Road: ** Closed for repairs until 2023** closes by mid-November and reopens by mid-May.

Mariposa Grove: closes by late November and reopens in May.

Spring (April – May)

Spring is when waterfalls like Vernal Falls, pictured, are at their peak

Spring in Yosemite is a special time, and my personal favorite season to visit Yosemite! There are far fewer crowds and most trails and sights in Yosemite Valley are open, some with “winter route” modifications.

As the weather warms, Yosemite’s famous waterfalls become roaring cascades. Tioga Road and Glacier Point are usually open by mid-May, depending on late-Spring snow conditions. Temps range from the 50’s to 70’s during the day, while night’s stay cold in the 30s or 40s.

In March, April, and May, be prepared for snow conditions, including road closures, chain requirements, and blizzards. In fact, March and April are routinely the snowiest months of the year!

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Unlike many National Parks, Yosemite has dozens of in-Park lodges, hotels, and 13 popular campgrounds, many open all year. If you plan on spending the night in Yosemite, either before or after your 1 day in Yosemite itinerary, I strongly recommend staying inside Yosemite Valley.

For real guys, this part is so important I’m going to say it again – stay in Yosemite Valley if you only have 1 night in Yosemite.

Why? Yosemite is huge. But most places you’ll be visiting – Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, the Mist Trail, El Capitan, Cooks Meadow – are within a small area called Yosemite Valley. With traffic, it can take hours, literally, to drive from lodging outside the Park to the Valley. And don’t even get me started on parking (check out tips for parking in “Getting Around Yosemite”).

When you stay in the Valley, you can park your car, hop on the shuttle (full deets in “Getting Around Yosemite” below) and, most importantly, visitors who stay inside the park don’t need a separate peak-hours reservation to enter the park!

The grand Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite

Hotels and Lodges Inside Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Lodge: Family-friendly, plenty of food and drink options, swimming pool, recreation rentals, and centrally located to Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Village, and Shuttle Stops. My go-to, and it never lets me down.

Curry Village: “Glamping” style tent-cabins, if you want the camping experience, without having to bring the tent. Curry Village also offers several motel-style cabins that are an incredible value (and reasonably comfortable, I can vouch!). Multiple dining options, bike rentals, winter ski-rink, summer swimming pool, located walking distance to the Happy Isles / Mist Trail / John Muir Trailheads

Housekeeping Camp: Curry Village, with less amenities. More “camping” than “glamping” – but perfect for families and visitors looking for the fully Yosemite experience!

The Ahwahanee Hotel: Widely considered the crown jewel of the National Parks system. Presidents have stayed here. The Queen has stayed here. You will need to sell your firstborn for a room. Not a Rockefeller? 100% come for a dinner reservation at the historic dining room (check the dress code), or grab a post-hike drink at their casual bar (my favorite!).

Campgrounds Inside Yosemite Valley

The following campgrounds are located inside Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines (Open All Year); Lower Pines (April-October); North Pines (April-October); Camp 4 (Open All Year).

All campgrounds are reservation only while the “peak-hours” permit system is in effect in 2022. Book your campground reservations as soon as possible. Yosemite campground reservations often sell out within seconds (yes, you read that right) of going online. Reservations are all managed through Recreation.gov. Campground reservations become available 5 months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7AM Pacific Time. Camp 4 offers one day in advance reservations by lottery, available on Recreation.Gov.

Planning a camping trip as part of your Yosemite itinerary? Don’t forget any of the essentials with the Ultimate Tent Camping Setup Guide with printable camping checklist!

Having trouble booking hotel or campground reservations? Check out my Tips for Planning an Epic National Parks Trip – including how to book reservations in popular parks, like Yosemite.

Hotels, Lodges, and Campgrounds Outside Yosemite Valley (But Inside Yosemite National Park)

The following lodges, hotels, and rentals are located outside Yosemite Valley (but still inside Yosemite National Park): Wawona Hotel, High Sierra Camps, Redwoods in Yosemite, Yosemite West Rentals, White Wolf Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, and Glacier Point Ski Hut.

The following campgrounds are located outside Yosemite Valley (but still inside Yosemite National Park): Tamarack Flat Campground (Seasonal, Tioga Road Corridor); White Wolf Campground (Seasonal, Tioga Road Corridor); Yosemite Creek Campground (Seasonal, Tioga Road Corridor); Wawona Campground (Open All Year); Bridalveil Creek (Seasonal, closed 2022); Hodgdon Meadow (Open All Year, North Yosemite); Crane Flat (closed 2022, North Yosemite); Porcupine Flat (closed 2022); and Tuolumne Meadows (Seasonal, Closed Until 2024 -2025).

Learn more about Campgrounds and Campground reservations in Yosemite National Park, here.

Backcountry camping is also available to wilderness permit holders only. Learn more about these competitive wilderness permits, here.

Yosemite 1 Day Itinerary Assumptions

This Yosemite National Park 1 day itinerary assumes that you have 1 FULL day to spend inside the park. 1 full day means that you arrive by 7 am and depart after sunset. If possible, try and reserve a lodging for the night before or night after your 1 day in Yosemite.

If you have less time, consider picking a few activities that don’t involve too much driving – for example spending a few hours inside Yosemite Valley, or on the Glacier Point corridor.

Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow

This 1 day Yosemite itinerary also assume that you are visiting in late spring through fall, (May through November) when all major roads and attractions in Yosemite, including Glacier Point, Tioga Road, and Mariposa Grove are likely to be open.

Yosemite is a wild landscape, and closures from wildfire, flooding, winter storms and construction are frequent. Make sure to check current park conditions and adjust your 1 day Yosemite Itinerary accordingly.

This 1 day Yosemite itinerary also assumes that you are entering and exiting the Park through the most commonly used entrances – the South Entrance (near Wawona/Fish Camp/ Highway 41), Big Oak Flat / West Entrance (Highway 120), or El Portal / Arch Rock / Central Entrance (towards Mariposa and Highway 140).

Tioga Road Entrance is located the furthest from Yosemite Valley and is not open during late-Fall through May or June. If you are entering or exiting via Tioga Road, Add 1-2 Hours to your travel time . If you are entering or exiting through Tioga Road / Highway 120 towards Lee Vining consider adding a few stops or short hikes near Tuolumne Meadows. Read a full Tioga Road / Tuolumne Meadows itinerary on my 3 Day Yosemite Itinerary, here.

Finally, this itinerary includes multiple hikes ranging from easy to strenuous. Make sure to adequately research all hikes ahead of time to make sure they are appropriate for your skill level.

Don’t forget to check out “More Things to Do in Yosemite” – including options for non-hikers – below to customize your Yosemite 1 Day Itinerary for your own trip

Yosemite 1 Day Itinerary

Spending 1 day in Yosemite means making the most of your short time! This Yosemite 1 Day itinerary explores the Park’s “must-see” highlights without cramming in so much that you don’t actually get to enjoy your visit. Make sure to get as early a start as possible. Plan to arrive at the Park entrance by 7am – and remember that it takes 30 to 45 minutes to reach Yosemite Valley once you’ve entered the Park.

Arrive Early at Yosemite National Park Entrance: Make sure to get as early a start as possible. Plan to arrive at the Park entrance by 7am – and remember that it takes 30 to 45 minutes to reach Yosemite Valley once you’ve entered the Park.

Wawona Tunnel View – If Entering via South / Wawona Entrance : If you are entering via the South/ Wawona / Highway 41 Entrance, continue on Wawona Road for approximately 45 minutes as you crest over the Wawona pass and descend into the Valley. After driving through the long Wawona Tunnel (carved from solid granite bedrock in the 1930’s) you’ll be awestruck by views of Yosemite Valley in front of you. Park in the large lot and and battle tour buses of tourists for arguably the most iconic photo spot in any National Park!

If you are planning your 1 day in Yosemite during the 2022 Glacier Point Road closure, I strongly advise skipping the Tunnel now and heading straight into the Valley and following the rest of this itinerary. You’ll return to the tunnel for Sunset at the end of your day instead!

For visitors entering from all other entrances – don’t worry, you’ll come back for this view later! Continue from the entrance plaza and drive towards Yosemite Valley.

Bridalveil Falls : (CLOSED 2023) Bridalveil Falls cascades 620 feet into Yosemite Valley, and is often the first waterfall visitors encounter when entering the Park. Stop and park and walk the short 1/4 mile trail to the viewing platform. Enjoy the view – but don’t stay too long – you’ve got lots more to see!

The Bridalveil trail and parking area is closed until Fall 2022 for construction of a new boardwalk, parking area, and trailhead facilities. If you are visiting during construction, skip this stop.

Park at Yosemite Village Visitor Parking : Park in the very large day-use parking area, conveniently located near Yosemite Village, Yosemite Falls, the Shuttle, and the Visitor Center.

Yosemite Village, Visitor Center, and Breakfast : If you skipped breakfast this morning, head into Yosemite Village, the commercial and social hub of the Park, and grab a breakfast sandwich at Degnan’s Deli. You can also visit the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, collect your National Park Passport Stamp , quickly hit the gift shop, and talk to the Park Rangers.

Shuttle to Happy Isles / Mist Trail : From Yosemite Village, walk to Shuttle Stops #1 (located on the east side of the day-use Parking Lot) or Shuttle Stop #2 (in front of the Village Store in Yosemite Village). Board the East Valley Shuttle to stop #16, Happy Isles.

If you are grabbing breakfast at Degnan’s or visiting the Visitor Center, you can also board the Valleywide Shuttle at Stops #4 (Degnan’s) or #5 (Visitor Center), which will take you to Happy Isles, but will take a little longer.

Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail in in Spring
Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal or Nevada Falls (5 Hours) : If there is one hike I absolutely insist you must do while visiting Yosemite, it is the “Mist Trail” to Vernal and Nevada Falls. This trail might just be my favorite day-hike of all time, and while it is strenuous, the reward is worth the effort!

In fact, I love this trail SO much, I wrote a whole other post about it – check it out here – covering absolutely everything you need to know about this signature bucket-list hike! Depending on your fitness level, and how much time you have, this trail has an option for everyone. Expect breathtaking views and soaring granite cliffs. Climb more than 600 stone steps carved into the side of two spectacular waterfalls: Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Depending on your fitness level, and how much time you have, there are several routes along the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls:

Vernal Footbridge: 1.6 Miles round trip / 1 Hour / Moderate / Elevation gain 400’

Vernal Falls Via Mist Trail: 2.4 Miles round trip / 3 Hours / Hard / Elevation gain 1,000’

Vernal Falls via Mist Trail and Clark Point via John Muir Trail: 4.2 Miles round trip / 4 Hours / Hard / Elevation gain 1550’

Vernal and Nevada Falls Via Mist Trail and Clark Point via John Muir Trail: 6.7 Miles round trip / 5-6 Hours / Strenuous / Elevation gain 1900′

Trail directions on All Trails. Check current conditions on NPS website, here.

Beginner hikers and families with younger kids may want to consider hiking only to Vernal Falls or the Footbridge.

Hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls is a serious adventure. Make sure you are prepared with the proper day hiking essentials, including sturdy waterproof hiking shoes, and rain gear. Don’t forget to pack a lunch to eat on the trail!

Return to Yosemite Village Via Shuttle : Your legs are probably shaking thanks to the many, many stone stairs of the Mist Trail! Enjoy sitting on the shuttle ride back to Yosemite Village. Since you’ve probably worked up an appetite, grab quick snack or lunch in Yosemite Village at Degnan’s Deli (sandwiches, pizza, and other to-go options), The Loft at Degnan’s (pizza, BBQ and other casual lunch and dinner), or the Village Grill (summers only).

Yosemite Falls : Once you are refreshed, it’s time for an easy walk to Yosemite Falls. Walk west of the Yosemite Valley Visitor’s Center and follow signs for Yosemite Falls and the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. A fully paved and wheelchair-accessible path winds to the base of the falls.

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

Difficulty: Easy / Wheelchair Accessible

1.2 Miles / Loop / 50 Feet Gain / 1 Hour

At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. While the falls are year-round, they are little more than a trickle during late summer. During the spring snowmelt an astounding 2,400 gallons PER SECOND flow over the top.

Trail directions on All Trails. NPS website information.

Yosemite Falls

Drive to Glacier Point : While your 1 Day in Yosemite itinerary is almost over, you still have a few more epic stops. Return to your car and head west, out of the Valley on Northside Drive. On the way, stop at El Capitan Meadow. Here, you can admire “El Cap.” the 3,000′ tall granite monolith that dominates the West-end of the Valley. If you look carefully, you may be able to spot climbers high up on the wall.

Follow Northside Drive until the junction with Southside Drive and El Portal Road. Follow signs for Wawona / Fresno / Highway 41 and continue onto Wawona Road.

If you skipped the Tunnel View on the way into the Valley this morning, don’t forget to stop here now and enjoy the view!

After approximately 16 miles, turn left, following signs for Glacier Point Road. Follow Glacier Point road as it winds and ascends into the high sierras. Drive carefully and obey all traffic signs – this road is winding with very steep drop offs and few railings. The total drive to Glacier Point takes 1.5 Hours from Yosemite Valley.

Sunset at Glacier Point : With breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding Sierra high country, its no wonder that Glacier Point is one of the most photographed spots in the entire Park. While sunset here is crowded, there’s simply nothing better than watching the light glow off the granite cliffs and peaks. What a way to end a truly epic 1 day itinerary in Yosemite National Park!

Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Restrooms, and a small gift shop are available at Glacier Point. If you are staying in the Park tonight, return to your hotel or campground and grab some dinner (and a well-earned dessert).

Dinner is available at The Loft at Degnan’s, the cafeteria-style Basecamp Eatery at the Yosemite Lodge, the Mountain Room at the Yosemite Lodge, and the Curry Village Pavilion and Pizza Deck at Curry Village.

If you are able to splurge, consider making reservations for the grand Ahwahnee Dining Room (dress code) – one of the best dining experiences in any National Park! Learn more about dining options in Yosemite, here.

Take this itinerary to-go! The Yosemite Itinerary Guide has your perfect 1, 2, or 3 day Yosemite trip completely planned for you! With over 20 pages of detailed hiking guides, printable daily itineraries, lodging and dining suggestions and more, you can spend less time planning and more time making epic memories! Check it out, here.

More Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

If you have more time to spend in Yosemite, check out my 3 day Yosemite Itinerary guide for more suggestions on how to plan an extended Yosemite itinerary.

Visit Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Located near the Southern entrance to Yosemite, near Wawona, the Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 Giant Sequoias. Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 Giant Sequoia trees. These impossibly huge trees are the largest trees in the world, and found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The Mariposa Grove is home to several “famous” trees, including the Grizzly Giant, the oldest tree in the grove at over 2,000 years old. The Grove recently underwent a massive restoration project from 2015 to 2018.

Grizzly Giant tree in Mariposa Grove

Parking is available at the Grove Welcome Plaza, approximately 1 hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley and right next to the Park’s South / Wawona entrance. A free Shuttle will take you from the Welcome Plaza to the Grove.

Park at the newly renovated Welcome Plaza and grab the free Shuttle to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The Shuttle operates seasonally, April through November, depending on conditions. Shuttles arrive every 10 to 15 minutes starting at 8AM and ending between 3:30 and 7PM (check website for specific operating times).

When the shuttle is not operating, the Grove is accessible via a 2 mile (one way) hike on a paved road.

Hike the 2 mile Grizzly Giant Loop Trail for a short introduction to these magnificent, and endangered, giants.

Grizzly Giant Loop Trail

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

2 Miles / 350′ Gain / 1.5 Hours

Trail Directions on All Trails. Check current conditions on NPS website, here.

Visit Tuolumne Meadows

Get a taste of the Yosemite backcountry in Tuolumne Meadows. Tuolumne is a stunning alpine meadow surrounded by miles of excellent hiking along Tioga Road. Because it is located 1.5 hours from Yosemite Valley, you probably won’t be able to visit Tuolumne Meadows on a 1 Day Yosemite itinerary.

However, if you are entering or leaving through Tioga Road / Highway 120 towards Lee Vining, I strongly suggest making a few stops along this incredible scenic drive.

Tuolumne Meadows from Tioga Road

Most visitors take a private vehicle to Tuolumne Meadows. The drive takes approximately 1.5 hours from Yosemite Valley via Tioga Road. Remember, Tioga Road is open seasonally from approximately late May through October/November, depending on winter conditions.

Read more about planning a visit to Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road on “Day 3” of my 3 Day Yosemite Itinerary guide, here.

More Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Half Dome (Valley) : If you read this itinerary and wondered, “Hey, what about Half Dome? It’s only the most famous hike in the park!” – don’t worry – I didn’t forget! Because the Half Dome hike is a 10 to 12 hour hike and requires a special permit that is extremely competitive to get, I didn’t include it in the itinerary, here. But, if you are lucky enough to win the Half Dome permit lottery you’ll have one hell of an epic 1 day in Yosemite!

Half Dome via John Muir Trail

Strenuous / 15 Miles / 5,000′ Elevation Gain / 10 to 12 Hours

Permit Required

NPS Website InformationTrail Directions on All Trails.

Half Dome Permit Lottery

Hiking to the top of Half Dome via the Cables requires an advanced permit. The Half Dome preseason Lottery issues most permits to visitors looking to experience this bucket list hike.

Preseason Lottery applications must be submitted March 1 to March 31, 2022. Preseason Lottery winners are announced April 11.

The Half Dome Daily lottery is open on a rolling daily basis, and hikers should apply 2 days in advance of their desired hike date.

Learn more about the Half Dome Permit Lottery and apply here.

Mirror Lake (Valley) : (pets allowed on first paved mile) Easy / 2 Miles to Lake, 5 Miles Loops / 300′ Elevation Gain / 1 – 3 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS website information.

Valley Loop Trail (Valley) : Easy to Moderate / Loop / 1 to 11 miles

Start at the Valley Visitor Center for this flat loop circling Yosemite Valley. Complete the entire loop, or a 7.2 mile half loop by crossing the river at El Capitan Meadow and returning to Yosemite Village. The trail is easily accessible to several shuttle stops if you want to cut your hike short. NPS Website Information.

Upper Yosemite Falls (Valley) : Strenuous / 7.6 Miles / Out and Back / 3,600′ Elevation Gain / 6 Hours (2 Miles Out and Back and 1,000′ Gain to Columbia Rock). Trail directions on AllTrailsNPS Website Information.

Cloud’s Rest (Tuolumne Meadows): Strenuous / 12 Miles / Out and back / 3,000′ Gain / 7-9 Hours Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website Information. Read a breakdown of the Cloud’s Rest hike from one of my favorite bloggers, SheDreamsofAlpine, here.

Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge (Tuolumne Meadows) : Easy / 1.6 Miles / 50′ Elevation Gain / 30 Minutes. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website information.

Sunset Lakes (Tuolumne Meadows) : Hard / 6.7 Miles / Out and Back / 1615′ Elevation Gain / 4 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS website information.

Tenaya Lake (Tuolumne Meadows) : Easy / 3.4 Miles / Out and Back / 200′ Elevation Gain / 1.5 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website information.

Wawona Meadow Loop (Wawona and Mariposa) (dog friendly!) : Easy / 3.5 Miles / Loop / 250′ Gain / 1.5 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website information.

Chilnualna Falls (Wawona and Mariposa): Hard / 7.7 Miles / Out and Back / 2,200′ Elevation Gain / 4.5 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website information.

Mariposa Grove Trail to Wawona Point (Wawona and Mariposa) : Moderate / 6.5 Miles / Loop / 1,200′ Elevation Gain / 4 Hours. Trail directions on All TrailsNPS Website information.

Non-Hiking Activities in Yosemite National Park

Looking for more things to do in Yosemite that don’t involve lacing up your hiking boots? Check out these activities:

Adrenaline junkies can get a taste of the best rock climbing in the world with the Yosemite Mountaineering school, offering rock climbing classes for beginners to advanced big wall techniques.

See the park from a four-legged vantage point with a horseback or mule ride. 2 Hour and All Day rides are available from the Wawona stables.

Yosemite Valley has 12 miles of designated bike paths. Bring your own bike or rent one from multiple locations within the Valley.

Rent a river raft or innertube and float down the Merced River. A shuttle can be arranged to pick you up and return you back to Curry Village. Rental season depends on snowmelt and weather conditions.

Looking for more ideas? Check out information on Ranger Programs, art classes, photography classes, guided tours, golfing, and way more, here.

Winter Activities in Yosemite National Park

Whether you’re a seasoned skier or its your first time on the slopes, the Badger Pass Ski Area at the beginning of Glacier Point Road has something for you! Badger Point has miles of downhill skiing, ski lessons, snow tubing, snowshoe rentals, guided snowshoe and cross country ski tours.

Can you imagine ice skating in one of the most beautiful spots on earth? The Curry Village Ice Skating Rink is open seasonally December through February.


Many of the Park’s trails remain open throughout winter in Yosemite. If you plan on hiking in winter, make sure you are prepared with appropriate clothing and safety gear. Learn more about winter hiking basics, here.

The Four Mile Trail, Mist Trail, Half Dome Cables, and portions of the John Muir Trail to Vernal Falls often close during winter due to unsafe conditions, as well as all trails along the Tioga Road / Tuolumne Meadows corridor. Learn more about seasonal trail closures, including historic closing and opening dates, here.

Want to learn more about planning an epic National Parks trip? Grab my free Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide, including 70+ pages of National Park packing checklists, planning tips, and everything you need to know to start planning a trip to all 63 National Parks!

Plan More Epic National Park Trips

Ready to start planning another epic National Park vacation? Check out these National Park guides:

Big Bend: Epic Big Bend Itinerary Guide

Cuyahoga Valley: 17 Best Things to Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Great Smoky MountainsThe Ultimate Great Smoky Mountains Itinerary in 2 Days

Joshua Tree: The Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

New River Gorge: The Best Hikes in New River Gorge National Park

Yosemite: Epic Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary – How to Spend 2 Perfect Days in Yosemite

Zion: Epic Zion National Park Itinerary Guide

National Parks: Get the Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide (for free!) sent to your inbox, full of important planning information, printable packing lists, and the best things to do in all 63 National Parks.