Excited for spring? So are we. Enjoy 40% off select Outdoor Project gear with our Spring Fever Sale.

3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park

04.20.17

Explore
3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
00

Shares

Advertisement
  • Shoulder season sunrises offer some solitude at Glacier Point.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Glacier Point, one of Yosemite's most popular vistas.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Looking down into Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • The promintory of Taft Point juts out into space 3,500 feet above the valley floor.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Taft Point.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Views toward Half Dome, Cloud's Rest, Mount Watkins, and Tenaya Canyon from Sentinel Dome.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Looking down on Yosemite Valley from the Sentinel Dome on the Taft Point Loop Trail.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Nevada Falls along the Giant Staircase Loop during spring runoff.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • The glacial domes of Half Dome (8,836 ft), Mount Broderick (6,706 ft) and Liberty Cap (7,076 ft) as seen from the JMT section of the Giant Staircase Loop.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • 317-foot Vernal Falls comes into view less than a mile up the Mist Trail.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Top of Vernal Falls. - 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • A vertical view of Half Dome from the Mirror Lake Loop Trail.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Looking up Tenaya Canyon from the Mirror Lake Trail.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • The Ahwahnee Hotel is one of the grandest examples of the National Park Service rustic architecture.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Yosemite Falls during spring runoff.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • The path to Lower Yosemite Falls is paved and ADA accessible.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Bicycling below El Capitan along Northside Drive.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Riding through Cook Meadow with Half Dome above.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Olmsted Point: View northeast to Tenaya Lake and Mount Conness (12,590 ft).- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Tenaya Lake.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Beach on Tenaya Lake's east end.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Dawn vista over Tuolumne Meadows. Fairview Dome (9,728 ft) is the tall granite dome in the center of the photo.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Upper Tuolomne River in Tuolumne Meadows.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Tuolomne Meadows. Unicorn Peak (10,823 ft), left, and Cathedral Peak (10,912 ft), right, rise above.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Some of the park's top scenic trails begin in Tuolomne Meadows, including the Cathedral Lakes Trail.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Upper Cathedral Lake with Tresidder Peak (10,605 ft) rising above.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Lupine filled wildflower meadow with Cathedral Peak behind.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Cathedral Peak reflecting on Upper Cathedral Lake.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • View of Lembert Dome from a nearby slab along the Lembert Dome Loop.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
  • Looking southeast toward Mount Lyell and the Lyell Glacier from Lembert Dome.- 3-Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park
Article
Team

One could easily spend a lifetime exploring Yosemite National Park. Like it's towering glacial-carved granite monoliths and vertigo-inducing chasms, Yosemite's wonders run broad and deep. The park's central Sierra expanse covers elevations ranging from 4,000 to over 13,000 feet and is home to some of the world's most iconic natural landmarks. One of the best places on the earth to see remnants of past ice ages at work, Yosemite offers a front-row seat to understanding how the mountains in the area were formed. 

But for those seeing Yosemite for the first time, or simply have finite time to explore the area, what are some of the must-see highlights for a shorter itinerary? We're glad you asked as we certainly have some recommendations. Not surprisingly, there are many!

Yosemite covers a large swathe of the central Sierra Nevada mountains, stretching west to east across the range from the lower montane foothills to the lofty Sierra Crest. Geographically, the park can be thought of as having six main areas: Yosemite Valley, Hetch-Hetchy, South Rim, North Rim, Tuolumne Meadows, and the park's expansive backcountry. For this shorter itinerary we're honing in on the more accessible areas such as Yosemite Valley, the South Rim and Tuolumne Meadows. Fortunately, these areas also happen to hold some of the park's grandest sights.  

Given the accessibility of these areas and Yosemite's global appeal, it is important to plan for, or around, crowds. Summer is Yosemite's busiest time of year, and it's no secret that easily accessible areas can feel crowded during this time. For this reason, consider scheduling your trip to Yosemite during a shoulder season, during fall or mid- to late spring to avoid peak crowds and experience a quieter Yosemite (mid-week is even better). High elevation park roads tend to remain open through much of fall and generally open back up by late spring. Finding available campsites in the park during the summer can be difficult unless you plan in advance with online reservations or by stopping at one of the campground reservation offices at park entrances or in Yosemite Valley upon arrival. 

Below is a suggested 3-day itinerary. These are action-packed days, so plan to pick and choose depending on your energy level or impromptu inklings to explore a particular place longer. Drive times between each area typically range from one to two hours, so plan accordingly. Most visitors enter Yosemite from the west or south entrances, which aligns with the orientation of the below itinerary, but it can be done in reverse order if you will be entering Yosemite National Park over Tioga Pass from the Sierra's east side.

Day 1 - Exploring the South Rim

Half Dome at Sunrise from Glacier Point. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

Try and stay in the park the night before, either at WawonaCrane Flat, or Bridalveil Creek Campground to get a jumpstart on the day and get close to the South Rim. Bridalveil Creek Campground is the only camping available on the South Rim proper, so that's your best bet. We highly recommend trying to catch the sunrise at Yosemite's favorite vista at Glacier Point. You will not regret missing out on that extra hour of sleep once you see Half Dome lit up by the early morning rays.

After exploring Glacier Point, continue back on Glacier Point Road to the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point parking area. Shorter, there-and-back hikes can be done to both Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, or a longer 4-mile loop connects the two. All offer impressive views of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding landmarks. Return to Wawona Road and head downhill to Tunnel View en route to Yosemite Valley. Tunnel View is another impressive viewpoint and a photographer's dream with eastward views framed by the granite walls of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome. If crowds are thick at Tunnel View, consider heading up the Pohono Trail for a mile or so to access a nearly identical view of the Valley.

Wrap up the day by heading down to Yosemite Valley. Stop by the historic Ahwahnee Hotel for a drink and take in the one of the grandest examples of the Park Service's rustic architecture style. Head on over to your campsite at Upper Pines or Lower Pines Campground or join in the collective bustle and fun of camp sharing at Camp 4.

Day 2 - Taking in Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

For this portion of the trip we recommend bringing your bike along as the valley floor is a great place to use it! Start the morning off with a ride through the eastern portion of the valley exploring Cook Meadow, the Yosemite Falls area, and the beaches and bridges crossing the Merced River. Biking is an incredible way to experience the towering monoliths surrounding the valley and avoid dealing with the hassle of car parking. Bike paths lead through much of the eastern portion the valley, and roads link to other highlights such as El Capitan Meadow. 

Depending on your energy level, choose between hiking up to the falls of the Merced River Canyon via the full Giant Staircase Loop or take a shorter there-and-back excursion to the lower of the two falls, Vernal Falls. If you're ready for more activity or looking for an easier hike, a nice and flat option loops around Mirror Lake, a seasonal lake fed by Tenaya Creek that lies at the base of Half Dome in the quieter easternmost portion of the valley.

If you didn't make it to Lower Yosemite Falls on your bike ride earlier in the day (bikes aren't permitted on the path leading to the base of the falls), consider making a final stop here to appreciate the the tallest waterfall in the United States before heading up to Yosemite's high country by way of Tioga Pass Road.

If you can make it before dark, stop at Olmsted Point along the way to enjoy impressive views of Half Dome and the granite peaks and domes surrounding Tenaya Lake before continuing onto Tuolumne Meadows Campground. Alternatively, you can sleep at Porcupine Flat Campground (note: potable water is not available here, which also tends to make it less crowded) near Olmsted Point.

A valley shuttle provides free transit around Yosemite Valley and stops within walking distance of nearly all major landmarks and trailheads. If you don't have a bike, leave your car parked for the day at one of the lots and use the shuttle to access locations. During summer the shuttle also provides access to Glacier Point.

Day 3 - Touring Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows view from Lembert Dome. Photo by Aron Bosworth

Since you headed up the night before to ensure a full day to explore the Tuolumne Meadows area, you'll be waking up in a prime location to hit the trail. A not-to-be-missed 8-mile there-and-back hike heads up the Cathedral Lakes Trail to Lower and and Upper Cathedral Lakes. A great place for a swim, the scenic lakes below Cathedral Peak are highlights along the early section of the John Muir Trail.

If the Cathedral Lakes Trail is a bit more than what you're after, consider a nice flat walk around Tuolumne Meadows itself, the largest subalpine valley in the Sierra. Trails under a mile in length explore the meadow and meander along the Upper Tuolumne River. Head out to the center of the meadow to Soda Springs, where you'll enjoy postcard like views of the surrounding Cathedral Range and Tuolumne's many shapely domes. The Lembert Dome Loop, located across the Tioga Pass Road from Tuolumne Meadows Campground, is a significantly shorter hike to the Cathedral Lakes Trail that gets you up to some of the most impressive views in Tuolumne Meadows.

Whenever you're ready for some rest and relaxation during your Tuolumne tour, consider heading a few miles west back to Tenaya Lake. The striking granite scenery and ideal swimming access make this one of the best lakes in Yosemite to spend a few hours on a warm day. Note that a shuttle offers free transit service throughout the Tuolumne Meadows area during summer, including to Tenaya Lake. 

Advertisement
Published By

Published by

Team
309 Adventures Explored
301 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info