Yay! You’re planning a trip to Yosemite!
Home to incredible granite formations, powerful waterfalls, giant Sequoia groves, and some of the world’s most breathtaking views, Yosemite National Park is truly one of America’s greatest national parks.
However, with 747,956 acres to explore, you won’t have enough time to see it all. You may even only have one day! That’s why we’ve put together a one-day itinerary so you can have the best, action-packed day in Yosemite National Park.
The most scenic way to get there is through CA Hwy 41, where the road meanders through the mountains and brings you to the first must-stop: Tunnel View. After driving through the long, dark Wawona Tunnel, the road spits you out to a parking lot with jaw-dropping panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. From here you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome all in one vista. This is the perfect place for pictures!
The next place to stop is Bridalveil Fall. This easy trail is a 0.4 mile out and back stroll. Once you reach Bridalveil, you can strain your neck to see the water plunging 620 feet over the valley down below. If you visit in spring or early summer when the water is at its peak, expect to get wet!
At the heart of the Valley is Yosemite Village. While I’m sure you would rather spend your time experiencing Yosemite outside than reading about it inside, Yosemite Valley’s Visitor Center and Museum is a great place to buy souvenirs, stamp your national park passport, and learn more about the history and geology of Yosemite. In the heat of summer, the 30-minute film playing behind the visitor center is an essential stop to not only learn more about the park but also stay cool while doing it. The Ansel Adams Gallery is also an excellent spot to find unique gifts for your loved ones or yourself.
If you have time, stop by the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel. Entertaining guests from Barack Obama to Walt Disney to Queen Elizabeth, this hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1988 and haa a lot to look at as you walk through the grand lounge. You can order up a bavarian pretzel and cocktail from the bar during the day or make a reservation to the massive Harry Potter-like dining hall for dinner. Wand optional.
If your budget and time allow, I would highly recommend taking a guided tour of Yosemite Valley. Not only will you get to see all of the incredible views that the Valley has to offer, but you get to learn more about the Valley’s history, geology, flora, fauna, and more! With over 1,200 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor, Lasting Adventures offers a Yosemite guided tour that caters to families and hikers of all skill levels, especially to those who are first-timers to the park and/or those who want an easier-to-moderate walking tour of the famed Yosemite Valley.
If you decide to take yourself on a Valley tour, renting bicycles at Curry Village or using the Valley Shuttle Bus are excellent ways to get around the valley floor. PRO TIP: Yosemite has a free bike share program, where you can download the Yosemite Bike Share app, unlock a bike, and pedal around the Valley! However, there are only 50 bikes, and they are usually available between June and October.
If traveling by foot is more your style, three easy hikes in the Valley are Lower Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Meadow & Cook’s Meadow Loop, and Mirror Lake. Lower Yosemite Fall is part of North America’s tallest waterfall with the final 320-foot drop. The hike is an easy 1-mile loop and is across the road from the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Sentinel Meadow & Cook’s Meadow Loop is a flat, easy 2.25 miles round trip trail that takes you on boardwalks through a pair of meadows with multiple views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Lastly, Mirror Lake is a beautiful hike to a seasonal lake that is perfect for splashing around with Half Dome towering about 5000 feet above. It is an easy to moderate hike that is 2 miles round trip to the lake and back, or 5 miles if you take the whole loop around.
The best way to end the day is to drive up to Glacier Point to watch the sunset. The Glacier Point Road is open to cars approximately late May through October or November (although closed entirely in 2022), depending on conditions. The road will take you to a sensational panoramic viewpoint that overlooks the entire Yosemite Valley and beyond. Off of Glacier Point Road is the Taft Point Trail, an easy-to-moderate 2.3-mile out-and-back trail with the most incredible views (and a great place for the coolest photo op ever). If you get the chance to hike Taft Point by sunset, even better!
While Yosemite National Park has so much more to offer, this itinerary will give you some of the most iconic and breathtaking views that you can experience in just one day–or even in an entire lifetime.