You’ve probably heard of Yosemite, known for its majestic rushing waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and granite cliffs more massive than one could imagine.
California is so lucky to be the home of this iconic National Park. On average, about four to five million people visit Yosemite each year, and most of them spend the majority of their time in Yosemite Valley.
It’s a no-brainer why this is. Yosemite holds many natural wonders such as Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan. Here, you can take a hike among ancient sequoia trees, ride bikes with incredible rock formations as your backdrop, soak in the Merced River, and even catch glimpses of baby bear cubs.
I’ve been to Yosemite a whopping seven times now (and I keep going back), so I know you’re going to have a wonderful time here! No matter what season it is, Yosemite makes for a great weekend destination. If you have only one day to spend in the park, make the stops mentioned in this post your priority!
Whether you’re a first-timer or a frequent visitor looking for new ideas on things to see at Yosemite National Park, this Yosemite National Park day trip itinerary is for you.
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Table of Contents
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK: IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!
- When To Go: Summer is the most popular, but also the most crowded. Visit during fall and spring to see a quieter and more dramatic side of Yosemite (spring for the gushing waterfalls and fall for the colorful foliage)!
- Where To Stay: Outside the park, one of my favorite lodges is Sierra Sky Ranch in Oakhurst. Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite is another top choice of ours, just minutes from the Big Oak Flat entrance.
- Nearest Airport: The nearest international airport is San Francisco International Airport (SFO), ~190 miles from the park’s western entrance. This is likely the airport you’ll fly into. The nearest regional airport is the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), ~65 miles from the park’s southern entrance. But chances are, flights in/out of FAT will be expensive.
- How to Get Around: You can get around Yosemite on public transit, but we recommend having your own car (in the winter, don’t forget to bring chains). We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal!
- Must-Do’s: Walk a portion of the Mist Trail to see Vernal Falls, hike around the perimeter of Yosemite Valley, snap pics of Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, and catch the sunset at Glacier Point.
- Before You Go: Grab your America The Beautiful National Parks Pass and pack that baby away into your suitcase or car — don’t forget it! If you decide you don’t want to bother driving yourself around the park, this full-day small-group tour is a great option for seeing Yosemite’s top highlights! IT conveniently departs from the towns of Fresno or Oakhurst.
Looking for more Yosemite area travel tips and guides? Save or bookmark these other posts for later:
- 15+ Fun Things To Do In Gold Country, CA Near Yosemite
- 13 Best Things To Do Between San Francisco And Yosemite NP
- 58 Free Things To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area, California
- 7 Lively California Gold Rush Towns You Must Visit
National Park Pro Tip! Yosemite National Park costs $35 for a 7-day pass. Instead of paying the $35 for just 7 days, we highly recommend the America The Beautiful National Parks Pass. If you plan on visiting a few other national parks within a year’s time, get this $80 pass. As long as you visit 2 additional national parks or monuments within 365 days, the pass will more than pay for itself and save you so much money on park admission fees.
IS ONE DAY AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK ENOUGH TIME?
The short answer is no, one day is NOT enough to fully experience Yosemite National Park, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Ideally, 2-4 days would be best to see all the cool and unmissable sights that the park has to offer.
To give you a quick taste of what the park has to offer, here are a few of the must-see sights for first-time visitors:
- Yosemite Valley: This is the heart of the park, and features some of the most iconic sights, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. Take a stroll or bike ride along the valley floor, or hike up to Glacier Point for a stunning panoramic view of the valley. This by itself can take you one full day!
- Mariposa Grove: This grove of giant sequoias is home to some of the largest trees in the world, including the famous Grizzly Giant. Take a hike through the grove and marvel at the sheer size and beauty of these ancient trees.
- Tuolumne Meadows: This high-elevation meadow is a beautiful and peaceful area of the park, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and a variety of hiking trails.
- Glacier Point: This overlook offers one of the most breathtaking views of the park, with panoramic vistas of the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra.
- Mist Trail: This popular hiking trail takes you up close to the park’s most famous waterfall, Vernal Fall, with mist spraying in your face as you climb the steep steps.
- Tunnel View: Easily one of the best viewpoints of the entire park! Easily!
However, I get it. You might be short on time this time around and have only one day to see Yosemite. This post will still help you find which top Yosemite attractions/areas to prioritize based on what you want to see.
But promise me this — you’ll return in the future to explore the rest of the park!
BEST TIME TO VISIT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite is a gem all year round. Honestly! Each season brings some new kind of beauty to be experienced.
Having said that, I get that not everyone wants to freeze their butt off in snow if that’s not their thing! The best time to visit Yosemite National Park depends on what you want to see and do in the park. Here are some considerations for each season:
- Spring (March to early June): This is a great time to see the park’s waterfalls at their fullest, as the snowmelt feeds them. Because the weather can be unpredictable during these months, with occasional rain and snow, there tend to be fewer crowds than in the summer. Fewer crowds = slightly cheaper accommodation too.
- Summer (June to August): This is the peak season for the park, with warm and sunny weather, long days, and a variety of ranger-led activities and events happening all throughout the park. While the weather is ideal for hiking and swimming, the crowds can be overwhelming, and advance reservations for lodging and camping are essential.
- Fall (September to November): This is a great time to visit the park, with mild weather, fewer crowds, and beautiful fall colors. The park’s waterfalls slow down and are a bit less impressive, but the fall foliage and wildlife viewing opportunities make up for it!
- Winter (December to February): This is a quiet and peaceful time to visit the park, with snow covering the landscape and a variety of winter sports and activities available. Snowshoeing is a must during the winter season! And while some roads and facilities are closed due to snow, the park’s beauty in the winter is unparalleled.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK DONE-FOR-YOU GUIDED TOURS
BEST THINGS TO DO ON A YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK DAY TRIP
Below are some of my favorite Yosemite National Park things to do.
While you won’t be able to do every single one of them in just a day, I recommend you read through them all and pick out the stops that you want to include in your Yosemite National Park day trip itinerary!
SCENIC DRIVE TO GLACIER POINT
Glacier Point is one of Yosemite’s best “bang for your buck” viewpoints. Why? Because you can actually drive up with easy access, no hiking or trekking required!
Glacier Point offers stunning views of Half Dome’s granite cliffs, which rise almost a mile above the valley floor. Here you’ll also catch a bird’s eye view of the rest of Yosemite Valley. On hot days, head to the concessions building and grab a cold drink, a bar of ice cream, or a cooling popsicle!
The best time of the day to visit is at sunrise or sunset when Half Dome and its neighboring domes turn pink from the sky. We particularly love it during sunset!
The overlook offers a panoramic view of the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra, and the sunset colors can be absolutely stunning. During the summer months, the sunset can be viewed from the overlook itself, but during the winter months, the road to the overlook may be closed due to snow, and you may have to hike to the overlook to watch the sunset.
It’s important to note that Glacier Point can be crowded during sunset, so if you want a good spot to sit and enjoy a picnic, arrive early to secure a good viewing spot! You should also be prepared with warm clothing and flashlights, as it can get cold and dark after the sun sets.
During the winter, this is a great spot to head to for some snowshoeing.
Local Tip: There’s a fairly large parking lot here and a few bathrooms available. Take a short walk from Glacier Point on the Panorama Trail for less crowded, equally amazing views.
Important Note: The road to Glacier Point is only open from May to late September/October, depending on weather conditions.
Yosemite Falls is a must-see on your Yosemite National Park day trip. I mean, it’s North America’s tallest waterfall, how could you miss it?
Yosemite Falls is actually comprised of three separate waterfalls–Upper, Lower, and Middle Yosemite Falls—which combine together to make up the 2,425-foot fall.
It’s most amazing in the springtime when you can actually hear its powerful flow thundering across the valley. In the summer, it becomes a lighter trickle. In the winter, see if you can spot the frozen snow cone forming at the base of the fall!
Getting to the base of the lower falls is easy and can be done with an easy stroll. If you want to get even more up close and personal, there is a more challenging trail you can take that takes you to the top of the falls.
If you have time during your Yosemite day trip, I’d highly recommend taking the time to do this hike! If you’re up for a longer day hike, getting to the top of Yosemite Falls is a 7.2 mile roundtrip hike. You can learn more about your hike options here.
From April to June, consider bringing a waterproof jacket or rain gear, as the powerful spray of the falls will soak you if you get close enough. Don’t be discouraged, this is actually the best time to see it (when the melting snow creates the strongest flow).
VERNAL FALL AND NEVADA FALL
On your Yosemite day trip, reserve a few hours to take a hike up the iconic Mist Trail and catch a glimpse at this unmissable waterfall known as Vernal Fall. In my opinion, Vernal Fall is the best waterfall to see in the entire park.
Do note that this is no easy walk in the park. The first mile is a relatively steep paved road, so take your time heading up and be sure to have sturdy hiking shoes.
As you approach the fall, the trail, which then transforms into a bumpy stone path, can be very slippery from all the spraying mist. They don’t call it the Mist Trail for nothin’!
It’s best to bring walking sticks for this hike, as the stone steps become quite large and can take a toll on your knees coming down.
If you’re still up for more hiking, just a bit further past Vernal Fall is Nevada Fall. To get to the top of Nevada Fall and back down, it’s approximately 7 miles round trip.
Once you get to the top of Nevada Falls, you’ll be on a massively flat rock, where you can enjoy a wonderful packed picnic and soak in some sun with the sounds of the gushing waterfall in the background.
SEE THE ANSEL ADAMS GALLERY
The Ansel Adams Gallery is a quick and easy stop worth making during your one day in Yosemite National Park. The gallery is located in Yosemite Valley, near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and is dedicated to the work of Ansel Adams, one of the most famous and influential photographers of the 20th century.
But first, for those of you who are confused, who is Ansel Adams? Ansel Adams was a famous American photographer and environmentalist who is best known for his iconic black-and-white photographs of the American West, including Yosemite National Park. Adams developed an early passion for photography and began visiting Yosemite National Park in the 1920s, and his experiences in the park had a profound influence on his life and work.
He was a pioneer of the “zone system,” a photographic technique that allowed him to capture a wide range of tones and textures in his images. His photographs of Yosemite helped to popularize the park and raise awareness of the need to preserve its natural beauty!
The Ansel Adams Gallery features a variety of Adams’ iconic black-and-white photographs of Yosemite and other natural landscapes, as well as the work of other photographers and artists. If you like what you see, you can pick up some prints to bring home as a souvenir!
DRIVE TO TUNNEL VIEW
The vista from Tunnel View is one of Yosemite’s most iconic views, made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. It really is a postcard-perfect view! You can capture the beauty of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall all in one.
If you’re up for a hike here, take the Pohono Trail uphill for an even grander view (and some solitude). Tunnel View is a truly spectacular sight to see, but make sure to get there early before the tour buses arrive to really soak up the beauty without distractions.
Bridalveil Fall is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the park and is just a short hike away from the main road (0.5 miles).
Pets are not allowed, and strollers/wheelchairs are not recommended due to the elevation gain. It has quite the mist spray in the spring and you may get a bit wet at the end of the trail.
Fun Fact: The Ahwahneechee Native American tribe believed that inhaling the mist would improve your chances of getting married. So inhale away!
ADMIRE THE VIEWS OF EL CAPITAN
Towering 3,593 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, El Cap is a glorious sight to see and is the mecca for rock climbers around the world.
From nearly anywhere in Yosemite Valley, you’ll be able to get a good view at some point, but some notable spots to hang out with epic views of El Capitan are at El Capitan Meadow or El Capitan Picnic Area.
If you squint hard enough, you can actually see the rock climbers making their way up! At some point during your Yosemite National Park day trip, slow down and spend a few moments admiring the views of El Capitan.
DINE AT THE AHWAHNEE HOTEL
This stunning 1920s hotel was built by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood to help attract wealthy and influential individuals to visit and support Yosemite.
Even if you’re not staying at this premier hotel, it’s still worth a visit. With its striking granite facade, log-beamed ceilings, massive fireplaces, and rich Native American artwork dotting the common areas, this hotel is a must-see.
Park visitors are usually free to hang out and relax in the common areas. The Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room is equally as spectacular. They serve an amazing breakfast buffet, not to be missed if you’re in the park early and want to load up on fuel.
Note: The chefs have created a touchless buffet dining experience for both breakfast and dinner service. Reservations are recommended!
Local Tip: This is also a great place to recharge, use the restrooms, get some quick wifi, or even read a book.
SEE MIRROR LAKE
Mirror Lake is a beautiful and peaceful spot in Yosemite National Park that offers stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and a variety of hiking trails. The lake is located in Yosemite Valley, near the base of Half Dome, and is accessible via a short and easy hike from the shuttle stop.
Mirror Lake is a great spot to visit if you only have one day in Yosemite because it offers a unique and picturesque view of the park’s iconic landmarks. The reflections of Half Dome and other mountains in the lake are absolutely stunning, especially during the early morning or late afternoon when the light is soft and the crowds are smaller.
The lake is also a great spot for a picnic or a relaxing break from the more strenuous hikes in the park. In addition to the lake itself, Mirror Lake offers a variety of hiking trails that range from easy to moderate.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR WILDLIFE
Not only will you get the chance to see deer, eagles, chipmunks, bighorn sheep, red foxes, bats, and coyotes, you may even see black bears! Yosemite is home to over 500 black bears, many of which actually roam around the park while we humans are out exploring as well.
They’re most active in late spring to autumn, so there’s a good chance you’ll have a bear sighting!
NOTE: If you come into close encounters with one, be sure to make a lot of loud noises. Whatever you do, do NOT approach the baby cubs (or mama bear will come to hunt you down). Always drive slowly on the roads, store food properly, and observe them from a safe distance.
👉 What are the best roadside views at Yosemite NP? I recommend you not miss Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Valley View, and Olmstead Point (Olmstead Point only if you’ve made it to the high-altitude Tioga Road)!
AND IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME… OTHER THINGS TO DO IN YOSEMITE
RIDE A BIKE THROUGH YOSEMITE VALLEY
If you’re not a fan of walking or hiking, how about biking around Yosemite Valley? This is a great way to see a lot more of the park faster, get some fresh air, and enjoy a fun non-hiking activity outdoors!
In Yosemite Valley, bike rentals are available during the warmer months of the year. There are several places to rent bikes in Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and Half Dome Village. You can rent a variety of bikes, including cruisers, mountain bikes, and electric bikes.
There are more than 12 miles of paved, flat trails that make up the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail, and the loop usually takes an average of 2 hours to complete. You can also ride on the roads in the valley, but be aware that some roads may be closed to bikes during peak season.
Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a map of the park!
DO THE HALF DOME HIKE
The Half Dome hike is a beast of a challenge but a worthwhile experience for many hardcore hikers.
This hike ranges from 14-18 miles, depending on where you start your hike, and is not for the faint of heart. It is one of the most taxing day hikes of Yosemite and you should be in good physical shape before attempting it.
Because it’s a bucket list item for many hikers, there’s an overwhelming amount of competition for the permits required to climb the cables to reach the top of Half Dome.
Nevertheless, the views at the top are amazing, as are the many views you’ll be rewarded with along the way. I’ve done it twice— read up on the Half Dome hike here.
While you won’t be able to fit this one in your Yosemite day trip, it is worthwhile to note in case you wanted to look into doing this hike in the future! (The pain is so worth the adventure and the memories made while hiking it!)
Important Note: You will need permits to fully hike Half Dome from start to finish. Read this post to learn more about the Half Dome permit process.
Located in the southern portion of Yosemite, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite and is home to over 500 mature giant sequoias.
Mariposa Grove is worth seeing because it is home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, the giant sequoias. These trees are some of the most impressive natural wonders on the planet, and Mariposa Grove is one of the best places to see them up close!
Here, you can soak in the massiveness of the giant Sequoias and even take a few day hikes among them, ranging from 0.3 miles to 7 miles. They even have a tree that you can drive your car through!
Though closed to cars during winter, Mariposa Grove Road is open to hikers, snowshoers, and skiers.
Local Tip: In the busy season, head to Upper Grove to get away from the crowds.
Tuolomne Meadows is located on Tioga Road, which is a fairly long but scenic drive away from Yosemite Valley (on the eastern side of the park).
If you’re looking for some true peace and quiet during your Yosemite day trip, Tuolumne Meadows is the place to go. Because it is further away from Yosemite Valley, there are a lot fewer visitors, meaning you’ll pretty much have the whole place to yourself!
This beautiful meadow has easy, flat trails running along the Tuolumne River, giving you great views of the Cathedral Range, Lembert Dome, and Mount Dana.
If more rugged trails to summits are more your thing, there’s plenty of that at Tuolumne Meadows too. You can hike two miles up to Lembert Dome to get a glimpse of the meadow from above.
This subalpine meadow is something you cannot miss, so if you have a day or two extra to explore outside of Yosemite Valley, make your way here and camp overnight.
Local Tip: Make sure you time your trip well—Tuolumne Meadows is only accessible from June to October. Try to visit in July and August, when wildflowers are in full bloom here. And if you’re looking to get away from the summer crowds, this is the place to go as it is located farther away from the valley.
RIVER RAFTING ON THE MERCED RIVER
Shake up your routine with an adrenaline-pumping day on the river! Or, opt for a calmer ride, where you float gently down the lazy Merced River.
There are two main locations for river rafting – in Yosemite Valley where the ride is smoother, and outside the park on the Merced River where the runs can be Level 2 to 4 depending on the water conditions.
For a smoother, more family-friendly ride, you can rent equipment at Curry Village. After your lazy river float, there is a shuttle bus you can take that takes you back to the start so you don’t have to find your own way back. This is a seasonal activity in spring and early summer only.
SEE WAPAMA FALLS
Head to the Hetch Hetchy area to catch this 1,400-foot waterfall cascading over enormous boulders into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The hike to Wapama Falls is 2.5 miles one way.
You can hike all the way to the footbridge crossing the falls. Go in the late spring to see the falls at their most impressive, but be careful of high water on the bridge. You may even want to bring a rain poncho!
From the trailhead on Tioga Road, you’re only 1.3 miles from tipping a toe in the beautiful May Lake! This one is a great trail for kids and seniors.
If you are up for even more of an adventure, you can continue on to the top of 10,850-foot Mt. Hoffman for a 5.4-mile round-trip hike.
HIKE TO NORTH DOME
If you weren’t able to snag Half Dome permits (or you simply don’t want to put in all of the work that Half Dome requires), you can still bag a peak! North Dome is a moderate 5-mile round-trip hike to the top of the dome sitting at over 7,500 feet tall.
From the summit perch, you be able to see it all — Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Yosemite Valley.
FOUR MILE TRAIL
The Four Mile Trail is a spectacular hiking trail that begins in the valley and leads you to Glacier Point, sitting at 3,200 feet in the air. This full-day hike offering hikers an unforgettable journey through some of the park’s most breathtaking scenery.
One of the highlights of the hike is the unforgettable view of Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall. As hikers continue their ascent, they’ll be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of the iconic Half Dome, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall, which cascade down the granite cliffs in awe-inspiring beauty.
At the end of the trail, hikers will find themselves at Glacier Point, a famous viewpoint with breathtaking vistas of the Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and the entire valley floor.
Despite its name, the trail is actually 4.8 miles one-way, totaling 9.6 miles round trip.
LEAVE NO TRACE: TIPS FOR VISITORS
- PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE. Check the weather, make reservations when you can, and bring lots of water, snacks, and layers.
- LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND. While tempting, leave any natural keepsakes you find in the forest, where they belong.
- TREAD LIGHTLY. Stay on trails to help concentrate foot traffic and limit your impact on plants in the park.
- RESPECT WILDLIFE. Give animals their distance, no matter how cute they are up close! Remember, you’re in their home.
- DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY. Pack it in, pack it out. That includes fruit peels and toilet paper! Bring a bag to carry your trash.
- BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS. Be mindful of how you’re impacting other people’s experiences. Avoid playing loud music. Let’s make the outdoors special for everyone.
WHERE TO STAY AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Part of the process of planning a trip to Yosemite National Park is deciding where to stay in/near Yosemite National Park depending on which entrance you’re coming from.
If you’re planning on staying within the park, I hope you’re reading this post about 6-12 months before you intend to go to Yosemite because figuring out lodging within the park can be a challenge! If you don’t mind staying outside of the park, things are a bit simpler.
Have no fear, I’m here to help you understand your best options on where to stay at or near Yosemite National Park.
CAMPING AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Camping and tent cabin rentals are affordable and ultra-convenient lodging options.
However, campsites within Yosemite National Park are extremely popular and almost always sell out as soon as they’re available for booking. This is understandable, you’re paying under $50 a night to be smack dab in the middle of the park’s breathtaking beauty!
There are 13 campgrounds inside the park with varying availability. Some campsites require reservations year-round, while others are first-come-first-served. If you’re looking to make camping reservations, make sure you’re looking at least 6 months in advance!
I recommend the following Yosemite Valley campgrounds:
- Upper Pines Campground: Upper Pines Campground is a larger campground, boasting 240 campsites. It may very well be the most popular campground in Yosemite Valley due to where it’s situated, surrounded by iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome. If you’re looking for something lively, this is the campground for you. (Might not be the best for visitors looking for peace and quiet.) Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- Lower Pines Campground: Lower Pines is equally as popular as Upper Pines Campground. This campground is smaller with 60 spots and has a more relaxed vibe. Showers are available here. Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- North Pines Campground: This campground is situated perfectly with the Merced River on one side and Tenaya Creek on the other. There are 80 sites and showers are available. Requires a reservation ahead of time.
- Camp 4: Super popular campsite among the rock climbing crowd. The campground is open year-round, with 35 sites. The sites are in the perfect location to walk/bike anywhere in the valley, and fantastic climbing is within a stone’s throw from this campground. There are usually people in line even before 4am. The ranger usually shows up early to check people in.
If you’re interested in trying for a first-come-first-serve site, be sure to get there as early as possible– they can fill up by 8:30am. Since Yosemite is extra popular on the weekends, your best bet would be to get there Thursday for the best chances at snagging a spot.
LODGING INSIDE YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Curry Village: Most Affordable Option
Curry Village is the largest affordable lodging facility in Yosemite Valley, offering many lodging options including motel rooms, wood-sided cabins, and canvas tent cabins. This lodge is one of the most popular options inside Yosemite due to its convenient location. It’s also the most convenient area to stay if you’re looking to hike Half Dome in the early morning.
Within the village, they also have a cafeteria and snack bar with surprisingly good pizza. Due to its popularity, Curry Village sells out quickly so be sure to make your reservations about 1 year in advance to ensure you snag a spot.
Other lodging options inside the park can be quite expensive. They also get booked up quickly.
The Ahwahnee: Most Luxurious Option
Known for its stunning interior design and architecture, The Ahwahnee was designed to reflect its natural surroundings, featuring Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. One reason why it’s super cool to stay at? The hotel is a National Historic Landmark!
Inside the Ahwahnee sits The Ahwahnee Dining Room, which is a culinary delight. It is open year-round, serving very well-made breakfast and dinner. With ceilings over 30 feet high and massive windows that take in the surrounding views, the dining room evokes a feeling of grandness and opulence.
If you can get reservations at this hotel, then enjoy the splurge and the luxury of waking up inside the park. They book up a year in advance.
LODGING OUTSIDE OF YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Affordable lodging outside the park can be few and far between. Many of the hotels within minutes from the park entrances can cost an arm and a leg.
Venture a bit further out and you’ll open up a world of affordable lodging! It really depends on when you’re booking— if you’re looking at lodging options last minute, you might have more limited options. That’s why booking as early as possible is the rule of thumb when it comes to visiting Yosemite!
Outside the park, one of my favorite lodges is Sierra Sky Lodge in Oakhurst. Though it is further away from the park entrance, I find that this historic ranch is one of the nicer hotels in the area!
The rooms are impeccably decorated with ranch-inspired decor and the hardwood used throughout the property really warms up the lodge’s atmosphere. There are such cozy common areas here and the rooms are offered at super affordable prices. Check them out here!
Looking for something else? Search for prices and availability for Yosemite accommodation here on Booking.com (they guarantee the best prices for any type of property and no booking fees).
CAN YOU USE THE SAME PARK ENTRANCE FEE FOR MULTIPLE NATIONAL PARKS?
The short answer is no. If you plan on paying $35 for the 7-day pass at one National Park and expecting free entrance to another National Park, think again.
For example: You can’t pay to get into Yosemite National Park, and then use your 7-day entrance pass to get into nearby Sequoia National Park or Kings Canyon National Park.
Each national park sets its own entrance fee. If you’re visiting two National Parks, the total one-time admission to both these parks will cost $70. I would not recommend paying the one-time entrance fees at all.
Instead, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which costs $80 and will get you into any of the 2,000+ National Parks, National Monuments, or National Forests for an entire year.
As long as you visit 2 additional national parks, the pass will more than pay for itself and save you so much money on park admission fees. You can buy a pass online at REI or in-person at the entrance gates of any National Park.
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR YOUR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK DAY TRIP
- Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Always check the NPS website to determine if there are any extreme weather conditions, road closures, reservation requirements, etc.
- Cellular service is spotty, and you will probably not have service at some point during your trip. With that said, there are a few ways you can prepare so that you’re still able to find your way around the park: (1) Grab a map at the entrance of the park or from the visitor’s center. It’s moderately easy to navigate around the valley by just identifying landmarks you drive by on your physical map. (2) Download Google Maps offline so you can use your phone to navigate even without a connection.
- If you’re looking to stay in a hotel or lodge in the park, make reservations one year in advance. Yes, you read that right— one year! Yosemite is a super popular park and hotel rooms sell out quickly. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, there are lots of options nearby the park entrances as well.
- There are 13 different campgrounds at Yosemite. If you’re looking to camp, you’ll also need to plan far in advance. Competition for campground reservations are high too. If you’re looking at campgrounds for a weekend trip in 2-3 months, chances are you are already too late.
- Because Yosemite is located in the mountains, there are frequent road closures during the winter that may not open back up until May. Make sure you check the official NPS website for the latest on road closures, current conditions, and opening dates.
- Special Natural Phenomenon Events: The Moonbow (a rainbow that appears at night – April through June). The Firefall (the waning light of winter days hits at just the right angle to create a streak of orange on the fall, resembling a lava flow – late February).
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | Yosemite National Park costs $35 for a 7-day pass. However, the national parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more NPS parks or sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here. [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE!]
Water Bottle | No matter what you decide to do in Yosemite, every trip into the park warrants that you bring water. If you plan on being in the park for an entire day, you should plan on bringing a few liters of water per person. This is especially true in the summer when temperatures rise to the 90’s and even the 100’s. For shorter hikes, packing a lightweight 1L water bottle such as the Nalgene water bottle will suffice. On hotter days, consider bringing an insulated Hydro Flask packed with ice and water so that your water stays cold all day. For longer hikes, I recommend a 3-liter hydration reservoir.
Daypack | Bring a daypack to carry your camera/phone, snacks, water, and other gear while exploring the park. For a more traditional style daypack with more room, the Osprey Daylite is sturdy, comfortable, and has never let me down on long day hikes. For shorter hikes on hotter days, I like bringing my Camelbak Rogue 2.5L since the shape of the backpack minimizes sweaty back issues and doubles as a water reservoir.
Snacks | Carrying snacks with you is a must for replenishing your energy while day hiking or in case you’re not close to a lodge restaurant or a cafeteria.
- If you plan on bringing fruits/vegetables, pick harder options such as apples, pears, cucumbers, and carrots since these do better in heat and backpacks compared to more delicate produce.
- Go for energy bars that don’t contain chocolate to avoid the melted chocolate messes. Stinger Waffles are loved by outdoor enthusiasts and are delicious and easy to eat. Shot Bloks Energy Chews are also a great source of quick energy and super easy to pop in your mouth on those shorter breaks. Other snacks to consider include dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix.
- Lunchables: super easy to pack and always a great option regardless of how old you are.
Cooler | If you don’t enjoy warm beverages/snacks, you’ll want to bring a heavy-duty portable cooler with you. Cracking open a cold drink is such a luxury after a walk or hike out in the blazing sun!
Sunscreen | Even though there are plenty of trees in Yosemite, there are many areas or parts of hikes that are exposed and shadeless. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. Make sure you have a face sunscreen or a hat as well. Protect yourself!
Hat | A wide-brimmed sun hat can double as sun protection to your face and neck. Here are a few stylish yet effective options for men and women. For added protection, I’d recommend a sun hat with a neck cape.
Sunglasses | Similar to sunscreen, you should bring a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
Hiking Boots | Hiking boots are the way to go with Yosemite hikes. Instead of simply wearing sneakers, consider hiking boots. They not only provide better protection for stepping on all of the rocks at Yosemite, but you’ll find yourself slipping a lot less on waterfall mist, dirt, and loose gravel. Trust me, it’s easier to hop around and walk on rocks with the extra traction provided by hiking boots as opposed to running shoes. Lowa Renegades are my go-to pair for life, I highly recommend them to everyone.
Sandals | Birkenstocks make for the best sandals for the car ride home. It’ll be great to have these in the car after a long day of exploring.
First Aid Kit | A compact first aid kit is essential for any national park trip. You can pack it with you in your daypack and it won’t take up too much space. It’s better to be prepared in case you have any mishaps on your adventures. This one is as compact as it gets and is super easy to carry.
Portable Battery Charger | You’ll be in and out of the car all day, but mostly out of the car. If you’re using your phone to take photos or navigate around the park, be sure to bring a compact portable charger with you. This foldable portable solar charger is another option. It’s such a powerhouse of a tool to have with you.
Flashlight | Pack a flashlight or headlamp in case you decide to embark on a sunrise or sunset hike. Check out my favorite tried and trusted all-weather flashlight.
And that about wraps up this post. Which stops are you going to add to your Yosemite National Park day trip itinerary?