One Day in Yosemite National Park: Everything You Need to Know

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There’s few places in the United States that inspire such awe as Yosemite National Park. With its granite monoliths, giant sequoias, and towering waterfalls, the park offers some of the most epic landscapes on the planet. 

But with over 1,100 square miles of wilderness to explore, it can be hard to know what to do if you have a short time in the park. We’ve visited the park several times and have crafted this guide detailing exactly how to spend one day in Yosemite National Park, from how to get around to the exact itinerary that you should follow.

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View of the Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Valley View in Yosemite National Park
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How to get to Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the best things to do in Northern California and is tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountains, right along the eastern border of the state. 

Given the park is ENORMOUS, your route here will obviously depend upon where you’re heading in the park. However, most visitors (including you if you follow this guide!) will start their time in the Yosemite Valley. 

Here are the closest big cities to the Yosemite Valley:

  • From Sacramento, it’s a three and a half hour drive southeast to the park. 
  • From San Francisco, it’s a three hour and 45 minute drive east to the park. 
  • From Los Angeles, it’s a five and a half hour drive north to the park.
  • From Las Vegas, it’s a six hour and 20 minute drive west to the park, when the Tioga Pass entrance is open (which is usually open no later than July and closes in late October for snowy conditions). 
People walking along the bike path in front of Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

While you can theoretically take public transit from any of these locations to reach Yosemite, it would involve lots of transfers and take a long time (for example, over nine hours from Los Angeles). Accordingly, I’d strongly recommend driving or renting a car to get to and around Yosemite. 

Getting into Yosemite National Park

It costs $35 per private vehicle to enter Yosemite National Park for a week-long pass—or free if you have an America the Beautiful pass, which costs $80 for a one year unlimited pass to all of the U.S. National Parks and 2,000 other federally managed lands. Reservations for Yosemite National Park

Woman holding an America the Beautiful Pass at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington

As of 2024, most visitors need a reservation to enter Yosemite during its busy hours:

April 13 through June 30: 

A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays andSundays as well as on May 27th (Memorial Day) and June 19th (Juneteenth).

July 1 through August 16: 

A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm every day.

August 17 through October 27: 

A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on September 2nd (Labor Day) and October 14th (Indigenous People’s Day).

Car driving down Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park

You do not need a reservation for Yosemite if you arrive before 5 am or after 4 pm, even on days when a reservation is required; if you’re staying within the park’s own lodges or campgrounds; or if you have a backpacking or Half Dome permit. You can learn more about these requirements and snag a reservation for yourself at the National Park Service’s website

How to get around Yosemite National Park

You have a couple of options for getting around Yosemite. 

Driving in Yosemite National Park

The easiest option that provides you the most flexibility is, of course, driving yourself around Yosemite.

SUV on a road in front of Mount Shasta

However, driving in Yosemite comes with a few significant challenges—even with the reservation system, traffic is absolutely terrible in the Yosemite Valley by midday during the busy season (pretty much from May through October) and there are WAY more cars than available parking spots. 

Accordingly, unless you want to spend your one day in Yosemite mindlessly circling a parking lot in search of a spot for hours and hours, I’d strongly recommend getting there early to snag a parking spot and exploring the Valley by foot or by rental bike (more on that below) for most of the day. 

During my husband Justin’s and my last visit to the park, we arrived at 7:30 AM on a weekday in June and snagged one of the last parking spots at Yosemite Village. So if you’re visiting on a weekend or even on a weekday during the busier months of July and August, I’d recommend getting there even earlier than we did! 

Man walking along a pathway with a granite monolith in the background in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park
Tip: Because the park sits in a bowl of granite mountains, cell service is pretty spotty (and sometimes, non-existent) in the park, so I’d recommend downloading offline maps on Google Maps and trail maps on AllTrails+ before you head here.

Bike Rentals in Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite Valley is generally small enough that you can walk or bike between most of the attractions. 

There’s bike rentals at Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, or Yosemite Village, for either $30 for a half-day or $40 for a full-day. Helmets are included for free in rentals and most trailheads conveniently have bike racks near them. 

Bike parked in front of an alpine lake and mountain in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

However, locks are not available at these facilities. While unlikely, theft of unlocked bike rentals does happen, so you might want to consider picking up an inexpensive cable lock to deter someone from walking away with your bike. 

Shuttle Buses in Yosemite National Park

There’s a series of free shuttles that will help you get around the Yosemite Valley and even parts of the rest of the park, so you don’t have to worry about re-parking your vehicle once you find a spot. 

Valleywide shuttle

The Valleywide shuttle (sometimes called the “green shuttle”) services 19 stops that are spread across the entire Yosemite Valley, stretching from El Capitan towards the west and Mirror Lake to the east. The one-way shuttle takes about an hour and a half to complete its loop around the Valley.

Yosemite Shuttle driving in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

East Valley shuttle

The East Valley shuttle (sometimes called the “purple shuttle”) services 9 stops towards the eastern portion of the Valley. It’s also a one-way loop that takes about 50 minutes to complete.

During certain parts of the year, there’s also paid shuttles that will take you from the Yosemite Valley to other parts of the park, like Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows. 

It’s great that these options exist, but, with just one day in Yosemite and the length of time it takes to use the shuttle, I’d personally recommend just walking around the Valley, unless you have mobility challenges.

Tours of Yosemite National Park

If you truly don’t want to worry about navigating around the park yourself or would prefer to go with a guide, there’s several tour operators that will pick you up from outside of Yosemite and take you to the park’s highlights, like:

  • Yosemite Highlights Tour: This nine-hour small group tour will take you to the highlights of Yosemite, like Glacier Point, Vernal Falls, and Mariposa Grove. The guides with this company are incredibly knowledgeable about the park’s history and geology and keep you engaged with interesting stories throughout the tour.
  • Semi-Private Yosemite Tour: With a maximum of just 8 travelers, this tour is an awesome way to get acquainted with the park, with knowledgeable and helpful guides that offer you plenty of time to explore on your own. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy lunch at the swanky Ahwahnee Hotel, an upscale historic lodge in the park.
  • Yosemite Valley Private Hiking Tour: If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, go on this private hiking tour, which hits some of the park’s best trails, like the Mist Trail or Mirror Lake. And one of the coolest things about this tour is that all profits support a youth summer camp program in the park! Note, though, that this option does not include transportation from outside the park.
Couple smiling in front of the California Tunnel Tree in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park

When to Visit Yosemite National Park

Figuring out the right time to visit Yosemite can be a bit tricky. 

The park is open year round, but receives 75% of its 3.5 million annual visitors during its peak months, from May through October. 

The best time to see Yosemite’s waterfalls flowing at their maximum capacity is May and June, when runoff from snowmelt is at its highest. However, some of Yosemite’s higher elevation hikes or even roads, like the iconic Glacier Point, may still be closed during this period, due to ice or snow. We last visited Yosemite in the middle of June and unfortunately, Glacier Point Road hadn’t opened for the year yet (to be fair, the road opened unseasonably late). 

Couple walking in Cook's Meadow in front of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park

Alternatively, if you’re trying to avoid the summertime crowds and are prioritizing experiencing Yosemite’s higher elevation trails, September and early October can be awesome months to explore the park. However, its iconic waterfalls can completely dry up by this time of the year. 

Really, there’s no perfect time to visit Yosemite. I’d just suggest avoiding visiting in July and August, when the park sees upwards of 700,000 visitors per month. Beyond just the crazy crowds, the Valley can also see temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit and is often impacted by wildfire smoke during these months. Definitely not the best time to experience this magical place!

Wildfire smoke in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

Additionally, winter is cold and snowy in the park, rendering lots of the hiking trails and roads inaccessible and the waterfalls non-existent.

That being said, if you’re looking to experience a winter wonderland, Yosemite is one of the best places to visit in California in the winter, given the park looks spectacularly beautiful covered in snow. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the park largely to yourself! 

One Day in Yosemite National Park Itinerary

With all the logistics out of the way, let’s get into it—exactly how to spend one day in Yosemite National Park! 

As mentioned above, I’d suggest getting to the park bright and early (no later than 6:00 am during the summer and 7:30 am in the fall), and parking in the Yosemite Village lot, which is centrally located and within walking distance to all of the suggested spots on this Yosemite itinerary. 

Mirror Lake Trail

  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail map

From your parking spot, start the 30 minute walk along a flat and paved walkway to the Mirror Lake trailhead. 

The Mirror Lake Trail is what Yosemite dreams are made of—the path winds around a beautiful stretch of water that, on still mornings, perfectly reflects the granite monoliths that tower above it. Its path loops through a dense pine tree forest, offering varying perspectives of the lake, Half Dome, and North Dome. 

North Dome with a reflection in Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

Given that this is one of the best easy hikes in the Yosemite Valley, lots of visitors wind up flocking here, especially at the main viewpoint for Mirror Lake near the trailhead. However, the crowds definitely thin out after just a quarter mile or so on the trail. 

This is also an excellent option if you happen to be visiting during a hot summer’s day, given that almost the entire path is shaded (something that’s surprisingly uncommon amongst Yosemite hikes!). 

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 55 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail map

After you’re done at Mirror Lake, you can either catch the green shuttle at the trailhead or walk for about 45 minutes along the flat and paved pathway to the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. 

However you get there, Yosemite Falls is absolutely not to be missed in the park—it’s actually the tallest waterfall in California AND in continental North America, towering at a whopping 2,425 feet tall.

Woman standing on a bridge along the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

This family-friendly trail is easy and paved, with the eastern section of the trail accessible to wheelchair hikers.  

To be honest, I was pretty grumpy about the OBSCENE amounts of crowds we encountered when we started this trail, but, by the time I was standing along the wooden bridge at the base of the waterfall, any kind of negative emotion had just melted away to pure awe of the falls’ incredible beauty and power. 

People walking along the pathway towards Yosemite Falls along the Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park

If you come in the early summer, like we did, just expect to get a bit wet!

Cook’s Meadow

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 22 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail map

If you walk the Lower Yosemite Falls loop counter clockwise, it actually continues on past Northside Drive onto Cook’s Meadow. This trail offers a mix of a paved pathway and wooden boardwalk that traverse an open and grassy field and the Merced River, with some of the best views of Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Sentinel Dome in the Valley.

Couple standing in Cook's Meadow in front of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

This one mile trail is easy, flat, and accessible for wheelchair hikers. 

Along this pathway, you’ll get to enjoy some of the best views of the waterfalls in May and June, but Cook’s Meadow is also absolutely spectacular in fall, when the lush field turns a golden color and the surrounding oak and elm trees explode into their vibrant fall colors. While no one ever talk about fall in Yosemite, it is, in my opinion, one of the best national parks to visit in October, with way less crowds than the summertime and GORGEOUS fall foliage amongst its deciduous trees.

Yosemite Village

From here, make the 10 minute walk back to your car at the Yosemite Village lot. 

This can be a good time to check out Yosemite Village, whether you want to grab some lunch or a coffee (options are limited in the Valley, but my go-to is Degnan’s Deli); ask rangers any questions you have at the Yosemite Valley Welcome Center; or stop by the Ansel Adams Gallery, which offers more upscale souvenirs and even photography classes.

El Capitan Meadow

From here, you’re going to give up that coveted parking spot of yours and start making your way to a series of viewpoints, starting with El Capitan Meadow.

View of El Capitan from El Capitan Meadow in the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

True to its name, this viewpoint features a lush meadow at the foot of El Capitan. This is one of Yosemite’s most famous granite monoliths, stretching 3,000 feet above the Valley floor below, and is one of the most famous climbing destinations in the world (definitely watch Free Solo before your visit!).

Bring along a pair of binoculars or your zoom lens with your camera to see if you can spot any climbers on the massive granite wall. We saw them in all sorts of interesting places—sleeping on a tiny ridge about a third of the way up the cliffside and a small group of climbers just a few hundred feet from the summit! 

Climbers sleeping on a ridge on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley View

Continuing on down the road, this viewpoint, right along the Merced River, provides perhaps the most Instagrammable view of the Yosemite Valley, with jaw-dropping views of El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls. 

View of the Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Valley View in Yosemite National Park

Given it requires zero hiking to get there, it’s definitely one of the most bang-for-your-buck stops in the Yosemite Valley! 

Tunnel View

Speaking of Instagrammable views, Tunnel View is likely the most famous viewpoint in Yosemite National Park, offering an incredible vantage point of the layers upon layers of granite formations and mountains of the Valley. Just be prepared to share the overlook with lots and lots of other people, regardless of what time you arrive—it’s definitely a popular stop! 

View from Tunnel View at sunset in Yosemite National Park

If you’re making good time and really want to escape the masses, you can consider hiking up the moderately challenging Artist’s Point Trail, which departs right from the Tunnel View parking. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with an even more stunning view of the Valley, but without any of the crowds!

Glacier Point

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting when Glacier Point Road is open (typically late May through October), you HAVE to visit. 

View of Half Dome at sunset from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

This overlook is located 3,200 feet above the Valley floor below, almost directly above Curry Village, and offers sweeping views of Half Dome, numerous waterfalls, and the High Sierra. It’s inarguably one of the most spectacular views in all of Yosemite, especially around golden hour or sunset, and is just an easy, short walk from the parking lot. 

Taft’s Point

  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 354
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail map

If you’d rather watch a spectacular sunset without the crowds of Glacier Point, make the one mile hike to Taft’s Point. 

This forested path slopes gently downhill and leads you to a rocky outcropping that juts out from the granite cliffside.  From here, you’ll have absolutely breathtaking views of El Capitan and the rest of the Yosemite Valley, which somehow manage to look even more spectacular at sunset.

Hiker standing at Tuft's Point at sunset in Yosemite National Park

Unlike Glacier Point, there are few railings here separating you from the 3,000 foot drop to the Valley floor below, so this may not be the best hike if you’re scared of heights or have vertigo.

After sunset, the hike back to the trailhead is a bit of a climb (about 350 feet of elevation gain in about a mile), so be sure to save a little bit of energy. And don’t forget your headlamp

Alternate option if Glacier Point Road is closed

If your one day in Yosemite National Park happens to be when Glacier Point Road is closed (like it was for us during our last visit!), here’s an alternate itinerary.

Woman hiking along the Mariposa Grove Trail in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park

After lunch, head over to Mariposa Grove. This is Yosemite’s largest collection of giant sequoias, which is the most massive species of tree on the planet! There’s a number of cool hikes in this section of the park, like the Mariposa Grove Trail, where you can wander under the canopy of over 500 ancient giant sequoia trees. 

Afterwards, you can head back to Yosemite Valley to enjoy sunset at Yosemite Valley View and Tunnel View. 

Where to Stay near Yosemite National Park

The park has a whopping five entrances, so there’s seemingly endless amounts of hotels and accommodations to choose from, both within and outside of the national park and at every price point. 

But with just one day in Yosemite, I’d suggest staying either in the park itself or in the towns of Mariposa or Groveland, given their proximity to the Valley and their offerings of bars and restaurants. 

View of El Capitan from the road in Yosemite National Park

Check out:

  • Curry Village: This is one of the most affordable lodging options in Yosemite, located right in the heart of the Valley. It’s definitely more of a glamping option than a typical hotel, with either heated or non-heated tents and shared bathroom facilities, but there’s tons to love about this place, from its iconic pizza to an onsite pool. I just wouldn’t recommend staying here in the wintertime (even the heated tent options feel pretty cold in below freezing temperatures!). 
  • Tenaya at Yosemite: For a more upscale vibe that’s still close to the park, Tenaya, located right outside of Mariposa, offers a full-service spa, hot tub, and multiple dining options onsite (which is definitely a plus after a long day in the park!). 
  • Hotel Charlotte: This cute-as-a-button, historic hotel offers a cozy place to stay in Groveland, with incredibly friendly staff, a killer onsite bar, and complimentary coffee and muffins in the morning.

Wherever you wind up booking, I’d suggest reserving your accommodations well in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the busy summer months, given that accommodations in and near the park can book up over a year in advance. If you’re hoping to stay at Yosemite campgrounds, set a calendar reminder and reserve a site as soon as the reservations open (typically five months in advance!).

What to pack for one day in Yosemite National Park

  • Layers: Given that you’re going to be in the park early in the morning and late in the evening and may be going up over 3,000 feet in elevation throughout the day, it’s likely you’ll experience a whole host of temperatures during your time in the park. So come prepared with some cozy layers to keep you warm—that you can strip off when you’re climbing up those trails!
  • Daybag: If you plan on following our itinerary above, you’re going to be doing a LOT of walking and hiking away from your car, so be sure to bring a backpack or day bag so you can carry all those layers as well as the other essentials listed below. I use this daypack and here’s the men’s equivalent.
Woman hugging giant sequoia in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
  • Bugspray: There’s lots of mosquitoes here, y’all!
  • Hiking boots: While most of the hiking trails recommended in this post are on the easier side, I’d still recommend wearing hiking boots, like this pair that Justin uses or this pair that I use, as you can definitely encounter uneven rocks and roots along Yosemite’s trails. For example, when we hiked the Mirror Lake Trail, almost half of the path was totally flooded and we wound up scrambling over a lot of boulders and logs and through shallow streams to make our way back to the trailhead. We were very glad to have our waterproof boots on for that one!
  • Water: Yosemite can get seriously hot in the warmer months, so remember to stay hydrated! Justin and I LOVE our comically giant Nalgene bottles and always take them with us on the trail. 
Woman hiking along the Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park
  • Headlamp: As mentioned above, if you’re doing it right, you’ll be in the park super early and leave late. Bring along a headlamp so that you can safely get around in low light. 
  • Food: There’s a handful of restaurants and snack stands sprinkled around the park, but, to be honest, the food isn’t very good and it’s definitely on the pricier side. I’d suggest packing your lunch and plenty of snacks so you don’t have to spend your precious time in the park waiting in line for mediocre food. 

Frequently Asked Questions about spending one day in Yosemite

Is it worth going to Yosemite for one day?

Totally! While you’re going to have a jam-packed schedule and won’t be able to see everything, one day in Yosemite is definitely enough to check many of the park’s biggest highlights— especially in the Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point—off your bucket list. 

How much time do you need in Yosemite?

Listen, Yosemite is HUGE and has tons of awesome hikes and viewpoints. While I absolutely think you can cram a lot into one day, you could easily explore the park for at least four days, especially if you’re interested in longer hikes and are visiting when all of the park’s areas, like Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point, are open.

RV driving down Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park

Additionally, it’s worth noting there are tons of cool things to do outside of the park (especially when Tioga Pass is open), from King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks to the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes and camping in the Alabama Hills, one of the most spectacularly beautiful places we’ve ever been!

Can you do day trips to Yosemite?

It all depends on where you’re coming from and how much you’re willing to drive! 

Just remember that Yosemite is at least three and a half hours from any major city. When Justin and I lived in Seattle, we would occasionally drive on weekends to trailheads that were three and a half hours away—so clearly, we felt that hiking those trails was worth the seven hour round trip drive. However, I’d imagine, for most people, that’s probably going to be too much driving for one day—and, for most visitors, driving to Yosemite will take even longer than that, especially if traffic is not cooperating. 

View of Wawona Point in Yosemite National Park

Accordingly, I’d recommend spending at least one night in or near the park so that you can get to the park bright and early.

I hope you feel well-prepared for your one day in Yosemite National Park. Do you have any questions about visiting the park or any of the hikes or viewpoints we highlighted above? Let us know in the comments below!

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