A Day in Yosemite National Park: Creating Your Perfect Itinerary

By Joshua Davis •  Updated: 07/02/22 •  48 min read

I’ve lost count of how many times our family has made the pilgrimage from South Texas to Yosemite National Park in California. Over 20 years ago, way before our boys were born, we visited this slice-of-heaven-on-earth for the first time with Heather’s parents.

I was hopelessly hooked. Out of all the national parks we’ve had the pleasure of exploring, Yosemite is The One for me. It’s always calling me back.

My oldest son, Luke, was only 3 years old when we first introduced him to the grandeur of the silver granite spires and crystal clear rivers and glacial lakes of Yosemite and the colossal redwoods of Mariposa Grove.

He was only 7 when he first hiked with me to North Dome to view the mighty Half Dome from across The Valley and to the top of America’s tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls.

So, whether you’re vising Yosemite with or without children, I have some tried-and-true insights for planning your next (or first) visit to one of America’s most iconic treasured lands. We’ve made it easy to craft your perfect Yosemite National Park itinerary!

  1. How to Use this Guide: Creating Your Yosemite National Park Itinerary
  2. Why Visit Yosemite National Park?
  3. 1-Day Day-Hiking Itineraries in Yosemite National Park
  4. Yosemite Valley Day Hikes
  5. Hetch Hetchy Day Hikes
  6. Glacier Point Day Hikes
  7. Wawona Day Hikes
  8. Mariposa Grove Day Hikes
  9. Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road Day Hikes
  10. Crane Flat Day Hikes
  11. White Wolf Day Hikes
  12. 2-Day Back Packing Itineraries in Yosemite National Park
  13. 1-Day Biking Itineraries in Yosemite National Park
  14. 1-Day Horseback and Mule Riding Itineraries in Yosemite National Park
  15. 1-Day Water Activity Itineraries in Yosemite National Park
  16. 1-Day Auto Touring Itineraries
  17. 1-Day Rock Climbing Itineraries
  18. The End of the Trail … For Now

How to Use this Guide: Creating Your Yosemite National Park Itinerary

If it’s your first time exploring Yosemite National Park (or any large national park for that matter), it is easy to become overwhelmed with all there is to see and do.

This guide provides 1-day itinerary “packages” that are sorted by activities popular in Yosemite National Park (just like we did for Zion National Park). Whether you are interested in day-hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, or auto-touring, you can select your favorites.

Use the QUICK LINKS above to jump to activities that suit your interest and scroll down to view our different 1-day itineraries under that activity.

Also, depending on how many days you have to spend in Yosemite National Park, you can select as many 1-day itineraries as needed to pack your time there full of adventure.

No matter how you choose to use this guide, I hope that it will help you plan efficiently and experience all that Yosemite has to offer.

Why Visit Yosemite National Park?

Well, 4.5 million annual visitors can’t be wrong.

There are many reasons why one should visit Yosemite National Park, but here are just a few.

Yosemite is one of the most iconic national parks in America, and for good reason. This 1,619 square-mile park is home to some of the most stunning natural wonders in the world, including granite cliffs, rushing crystal rivers and lakes, plunging waterfalls, and 3,000-year-old giant redwood Sequoias.

Established as America’s 3rd national park in 1890, Yosemite is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, offering endless opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, swimming, and more.

In addition to its natural wonders, Yosemite is also home to a rich cultural history. The park was once home to the Native American Ahwahneechee tribe whose name for the area’s giant grizzly bears (uzumate) was pronounced Yosemite by the first white men to come upon The Valley.

It has since been an envied destination for adventurers, artists, and writers, including John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Galen Clark.

No matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something to love in Yosemite National Park. So, let’s get to it!

1-Day Day-Hiking Itineraries in Yosemite National Park

It goes without saying that hiking is one of the most popular activities in Yosemite National Park.

There are almost 800 miles of trails to explore in the park, ranging from easy, flat walks to strenuous multi-day backpacking trips. No matter your fitness level or hiking experience, there’s a trail for you in Yosemite.

One of the best things about day-hiking in Yosemite is that you can do it just about anywhere in the park, including popular destinations like Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and Tuolumne Meadows.

To help you plan your next day-hike (or hikes), we’ve put together a few different 1-day itineraries featuring some of our favorite trails in Yosemite.

These are subdivided into the 3 regions of Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy, Glacier Point, Wawona, Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Meadows, and Tioga Road, and Crane Flat.

Helpful Tip: Hiking times are based on personal experience and/or averages. To determine how long it may take you and your entourage to hike a given distance, see our post How Long Does It Take to Hike ? Miles?

Yosemite Valley Day Hikes

Several popular day hikes in Yosemite Valley offer visitors a taste of the park’s natural wonders.

Trails range from the easy wheelchair-and-stroller-accessible sidewalks of Yosemite Village, dirt paths along the valley floor under the towering Ponderosas and granite cliffs to the very strenuous climbs up to Upper Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.

Yosemite Valley is a popular trail hub that caters to hikers of all ages and ability levels. So, grab a hydration pack loaded with water and snacks, and let’s hit the trails!

But, first …

Dealing with Traffic In Yosemite Valley

To make the most of your time in Yosemite Valley; you MUST plan to outsmart traffic congestion.

If You Take Your Own Vehicle (Not Recommended in June, July, and August)

Yeah, during peak season (May – October), be sure to pack your patience, especially if you drive your own car into the Valley! To avoid crowds, it’s best to visit Yosemite in the late Fall.

For the best chance to score a parking space, arrive EARLY (gates are open 24/7/365)!

When and IF you get a space, it’s best to leave your car there for the duration of your time in the Valley. If you try to move your car, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find another spot.

Helpful Tip: A reservation is required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park between 6 am and 4 pm from May 20 – September 30. Check The Yosemite NPS website for more information on reservations.

Public Transit to Yosemite Village

Take a YARTS! The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System is not only a great way to bypass the reservation process, and avoid wasting valuable time in traffic and parking-spot-hunting, but it also allows you to take your eyes off the road and take in all that jaw-dropping scenery.

YARTS has routes that approach the park from 4 of its major entrances and they all converge on Yosemite Valley; so, regardless of which direction you’re coming from, you’ll be able to park your car for free outside the park, cruise on in and enjoy the valley without worrying about the car.

Then, when you’ve had enough, cruise back to your car.

To plan your arrival in Yosemite, visit the YARTS website.

Helpful Tip: Alternatives to the YARTS include Amtrak and Greyhound.

Public Transit Inside Yosemite Valley

Once you arrive in Yosemite Valley (whether you have taken YARTS or managed to find a space for your personal vehicle), the best way to explore the Valley is on foot, by bicycle, or by shuttle.

Yosemite National Park’s free shuttle service makes hopping from one trailhead to another without wasting time jockeying for a parking space a cinch.

Busses circulate between the 19 shuttle stops on the valley floor, arriving every 12-22 minutes (much shorter than the time you’ll be spending in your own vehicle!) from 7 am- 10 pm.

If you want to take an auto-tour of the entire Valley, just ride through all the stops on a 1 hour 30 minute circuit! Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for your desired trailhead and hop off and on at your leisure!

Hiking Itinerary #1: Yosemite Valley Loop Trail (Moderate)

Relative quiet and solitude are difficult to come by in Yosemite Valley, especially during peak season; but, the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail provides both in spades. Walk along some of the oldest trails and wagon roads in the Valley, through lush green meadows and towering Ponderosa Pines.

This long, moderate hike is mostly flat and follows the valley floor intermittently along the Merced River, offering excellent views of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Falls, Three Brothers, and Sentinel Rock.

All in all, it’s a great way to spend a whole day familiarizing yourself with Yosemite Valley, the park’s most popular region.

Hiking Itinerary #2: Cook’s Meadow Loop, Yosemite Village Museums, Galleries, and the Ahwahnee Hotel (Easy)

If you want a laid-back day full of breath-taking views indoors as well as outdoors, this is the 1-day itinerary is for you.

There is so much history in Yosemite’s past and so much art that has been inspired by its wild beauty, a good itinerary MUST include a tour of the museums and art galleries in Yosemite Village as well as the historic Ahwahnee.

Start your day strolling along the flat, 1-mile Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail.

Stop #1: Cook’s Meadow Loop (Easy)

Cook’s Meadow Loop is nestled in the tall, sun-drenched grass and Ponderosa Pines of the valley floor, directly in the center of the valley.

Along the short boardwalk loop trail through the meadow, you’ll be treated to 360° panoramas of the towering granite structures that enclose the valley, including Royal Arches, Sentinel Rock, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.

Take a leisurely stroll around the loop soaking up the sights and snapping worthwhile pics. Once you’ve finished, take the sidewalk across the street from the meadow Northwest, following signs to Yosemite Village.

Stop #2: Yosemite Village Historic District

First settled in 1865 by non-native explorers seeking a permanent residence and to steward the land, Yosemite Village has evolved (or devolved depending on one’s perspective – insert a nod to Muir and Hutchings) into the commercial hub of the valley, having received criticism as a mar on the natural landscape.

While it is true that the popularity of this area has trampled an indelible mark on the valley, there are certain treasures to be found here that should be appreciated: namely, the history and the art of Yosemite.

Also, there are places to grab lunch, some souvenirs, and even mail a Yosemite photo postcard to those back home at the United States Post Office.

While here you can take your time to explore the following:

Whenever you have had your fill of the Village, walk to Shuttle Stop #4 and hitch a ride to the Ahwahnee Hotel at Shuttle Stop #3.

Stop #3: The Ahwahnee Hotel

When trying to reach out to the wealthy and influential to garner support for protecting the pristine wilderness of Yosemite, one Stephen T. Mather got it in his head in 1926 to build a luxury hotel that complimented the rugged beauty of the Yosemite landscape, but also, provided a seat of luxury for the posh and proper.

And all this, without using a single natural resource from within the protected park. And he did it … with a luxurious flair that still impresses almost 100 years later!

Whether you chose to stay at the Ahwahnee or just visit, the best way to soak up the history of this architectural gem is the free, guided, 1-hour tour given each day at 2:00 pm from October to December.

Hiking Itinerary #3: The Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls (Easy to Moderately Strenuous)

Time for a waterfall hiking tour! Start this hiking itinerary EARLY to take advantage of milder temperatures (especially in summer) and more time to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

Yosemite National Park’s plunging waterfalls are among its most endearing attractions. However, they are also dangerous to those who are careless. Practice safety and caution and all times.

We recommend beginning your day by taking a shuttle or driving to Shuttle Stop #16 Happy Isles.

Stop #1: Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls (Strenuous … depending on how far you go)

First, let’s talk hydration. Drinking water is only available at the trailhead; but, NOWHERE ON THE TRAIL. If you plan to hike the entire way to the top of Nevada Fall, bring a minimum of 3 liters of water per person.

Second, be realistic about your hiking ability and stamina! The first mile of this hike is paved and POPULAR; however, after that, it’s almost entirely uphill until you turn around. The beauty of this hike (apart from the spectacular scenery) is that you can turn around at any point and head back.

If you feel you’ve reached your limit, some ideal turn-around points are at:

Third, the best time to enjoy this hike in all its glory is during Spring and early Summer as the spray from Vernal Fall’s 317-ft. plunge almost completely shrouds the trail (hence the name of the trail)!

If you can hack another 1.5 miles of steep switchbacks, you’ll be rewarded with an encounter with thunderous Nevada Fall’s massive 594-ft. cascade!

Once here, your skill, stamina, and desire will determine if you spend the rest of your day exploring this part of Yosemite. Past Nevada Fall and over the footbridge that crosses the Merced, you’ll come upon the infamous John Muir Trail that will take you to Liberty Cap, Half Dome and much more!

However, you must be responsible for yourself, your safety, and that of those accompanying you. Ensure you understand the food, water, and skill requirements to press on.

If you think you might be interested in hiking all the way to Half Dome, see our section on Hiking Itinerary #6: Half Dome in Quick Links.

However far you go, when you return to the trailhead, hop on the shuttle and head to Shuttle Stop #6 Yosemite Falls.

If you are driving your own vehicle, you’ll have to hunt for parking in Yosemite Village and walk as there is no parking at the trailhead.

Stop #2: Lower Yosemite Fall Trail (Easy)

The views of Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow are impressive, true; but, it’s even better up close! Let’s go stand at the foot of America’s tallest waterfall!

The lower portion of Yosemite Falls may be only a part of the whole waterfall; but, it is still a staggering 320-ft. plunge and is positively thunderous in spring and early summer! Plan a trip at that time if you want to get soaked by the spray!

(Helpful Tip: If you want to experience the full grandeur of America’s tallest waterfall, read the next section on Hiking Itinerary #3: Upper Yosemite Falls.)

When you’re ready, it’s time to head to the last stop on the day’s itinerary: Bridalveil Fall.

Since the shuttle route does not pass this trailhead, you’ll need to retrieve your own car, or bike (8.6 miles round trip; about 1 hour) … or you can hoof it (8.4 miles round trip; about 3 hours) along Southside Drive.

Stop #3: Bridalveil Fall Trail (Easy)

Helpful Tip: Bridalveil Fall is currently inaccessible to the public due to the Rehabilitation Project until the Fall of 2022.

Depending on the time of year you visit, Bridalveil Fall may be a trickle or an impressive 620-ft. plunge! Even when the flow is light, the waterfall is still beautiful as it tumbles down the granite cliff.

The trail to Bridalveil Fall is short and easy; however, due to a large number of visitors, it can feel crowded at times … something the park is working hard to correct.

Helpful Tip: There is no drinking water available at this location. Plan accordingly, especially if you walk or bike from The Village.

Hiking Itinerary #4: Upper Yosemite Falls (Strenuous)

Yosemite Falls is not the world’s tallest waterfall … but, it’s only 200 feet shorter.

That’s still 2,425 feet, folks. And we’re going to hike to the top of it!

As America’s tallest waterfall, the hike to the top is one you will feel for a few days after, having gained 2,700 feet in elevation in a mere 3.6 miles. And then, there’s the descent to get back to the valley floor … whew!

In 2016, my older son Luke attacked this trail with me when he was only 7 years old. Yeah, I was proud … and pooped. I never knew my thighs could hurt like that!

But, man, IT WAS WORTH EVERY STEP! Switchback after grueling switchback (135 of them) provides hikers with increasingly jaw-dropping vistas of Yosemite Valley and the Sierras.

And then, the view from the top … it just cannot be described. I didn’t want to come down.

If you have time and energy to spare, you can continue from the top to Yosemite Point (adds 1.6 miles roundtrip) or Eagle Peak (adds 5.8 miles roundtrip). Just keep track of your daylight. You don’t want to hike back down in the dark.

Either way, this hike will fill up your day; so, START EARLY to enjoy the cool of the morning. This trail gets HOT in summer!

Hiking Itinerary #5: Four Mile Trail (Strenuous)

If you want to visit Glacier Point at a time when most everyone else can’t, now is the time! This highly popular attraction is currently inaccessible to anyone not willing or able to hike to it since the only road to get to it is closed for major construction.

And the four Mile Trail can take you there. But, you’re gonna earn it!

The views of Yosemite from Four Mile Trail are second-to-none and will give you a perspective of Yosemite Falls that most others miss out on. Beyond that, you will be treated to ever-more-amazing views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome.

Due to snow accumulation, plan this hike between May and November when snow accumulation has made the trail unsafe and inaccessible.

Helpful Tip: During the closure of Glacier Point Road, there are no services (water, restrooms, transportation, … ice cream) at the top. Be prepared to fend for yourself and make the return trip back.

Hiking Itinerary #6: Snow Creek Trail (Strenuous)

If you’ve hiked Upper Yosemite Falls or the 4-Mile Trail, you know what’s coming. You’re gonna feel this.

Beginning on the floor of Tenaya Canyon along the Mirror Lake Trail, you’ll meet up with the Snow Creek Trail about a mile beyond the lake.

The climb begins. But, the views get better as you climb higher. Better and better and … wow! Half, Dome, Quarter Domes, and Cloud’s Rest are just some of the few awesome geologic leviathans you’ll have front-row seats for.

Still, be wary of your stamina. What you ascend, you must descend … and vice versa.

Helpful Tip: Start this trail EARLY. It gets hot in Summer! Also, this trail has many steep drop-offs, rocky terrain, and loose sand and gravel. Injuries happen often (so, I’ve heard). Be careful!

Hiking Itinerary #7: Half Dome (Strenuous)

Introducing what is probably the longest, most challenging day-hike you will ever experience in a national park. Begin your hike no later than sunrise (earlier if at all possible).

Helpful Tip: The park’s shuttle service does not begin until 7:00 am, which means relying on this service delays your start on this hike until closer to 8:00 am. We recommend driving your own vehicle and parking at the trailhead parking lot or Curry Village to get an earlier start.

Be sure you are adequately supplied with energy-rich snacks and plenty of water (at least 1 gallon per person). Drinking water is available from a fountain at Vernal Falls early in the hike; however, you’ll need a way to boil your water if you plan to rely on the Merced River further on.

Since you will likely be hiking back at dusk or later, bring a flashlight or headlamp with fully-charged batteries.

The most arduous (and famous) portion of this hike is along the cables anchored up the back slope of the dome to the summit. Carelessness and irresponsible behavior here can cause fatal injury to you and other hikers. Be calm, respectful, and cautious at all times.

Inform yourself fully of the requirements and safety protocols of this hike on the NPS website.

Hetch Hetchy Day Hikes

Hetch Hetchy Valley, which is hidden in Yosemite National Park’s quiet northwest corner, is a treasure well worth seeing every season. It features one of the longest hiking seasons in Yosemite and spectacular thundering waterfalls and wildflower displays in the springtime.

The summer months can be HOT, but the pleasure of exploring the vast wilderness with stunning peaks, mysterious canyons, and remote lakes is well worth it.

And, it’s a great way to escape the crowds down in the valley!

There are no public transit service routes to this portion of Yosemite; so, hop in the car! The Hetch Hetchy parking lot is about 38 miles (1 hour 20 minutes) from Yosemite Valley.

Hiking any trail in Hetch Hetchy requires a wilderness permit between May and October. The demand for these permits is low on average; so, procuring one is rarely an issue.

Hiking Itinerary #8: Rancheria Falls

The eastern end of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is home to this quiet waterfall. The hike to Rancheria Falls will take you through a more peaceful portion of the park. It’s a great starting point for excursions into the northern half of Yosemite to the likes of Tiltill Valley and Rancheria Mountain.

While there is little elevation gain along the entirety of the trail, it’s an undulated trek along a rocky trail that will slow your steps to avoid tripping or turning an ankle.

And take some anti-itch cream. Posion Oak abounds!

While there are no super-star shock-value attractions along this hike as in other parts of Yosemite, it is a peaceful immersion in the more subtle beauty of Yosemite’s less-explored wilderness. It’s worth it to spend a day here.

Glacier Point Day Hikes

Note: The road to Glacier Point is closed until 2023 for extensive maintenance. The only way to access the following trailheads is by hiking the long strenuous trail from the Valley Floor.

There is currently no water or facilities provided at Glacier Point during the maintenance project. If you chose to hike to Glacier Point, plan and pack accordingly.

The following itinerary was developed with this in mind.

Hiking Itinerary #9: Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome (Very Strenuous)

During the Glacier Point Road closure, the only way to reach Glacier Point is on foot. One of the trails leading there is the Four-Mile Trail as discussed in the previous section Hiking Itinerary #4: Four Mile Trail.

However, if you have some spunk left after hiking up to Glacier Point, adding a stop to Sentinel Dome will only add a few hours to your trek and is well-worth while.

The summit of Sentinel Dome offers 360-degree panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Cathedral Rocks, and many other iconic landmarks. It’s like standing on the top-of-the-world’s bald spot!

It is usually a popular, crowded trail; however, during the road closure, it’s a prime time to see it in relative solitude.

Wawona Day Hikes

The Wawona region of Yosemite National Park is located south of Yosemite Valley and features giant sequoias, a historic hotel, and expansive meadows. The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias is the largest stand of sequoias in Yosemite and one of the easiest places to see them.

The following itineraries will guide you through some of the best day hikes in Wawona.

To drive from Yosemite Village to the Wawona Visitor Center takes about an hour depending on traffic. We recommend getting an early start to avoid traffic and to more easily find a parking space in Wawona.

Otherwise, you can hop on a YARTS for an inexpensive ride to Wawona and back if you’d prefer to leave your car in the valley.

Hiking Itinerary #10: Wawona Meadow Loop, Swinging Bridge Loop (Easy), and Swimming at Wawona Swimming Hole

This particular itinerary makes for a pleasant, easy-going day for families with kids and leased pets (and, no, those aren’t the same things). Wear something you would enjoy taking a swim in.

Stop #1: Wawona Vistor Center

It’s worthwhile to begin your day here to get your bearings, a map of the area, and discover the historical and artistic exhibits of Hill’s Studio and the Yosemite History Center.

Some of the paintings of Yosemite panoramas cover walls from floor to ceiling, and there are opportunities to ride on a horse-drawn wagon and watch authentic blacksmiths practicing metallurgy.

Once you’re finished here, take the 3-minute walk across the parking lot and Wawona Road to the Wawona Meadow Trail.

Stop #2: Wawona Meadow Loop Trail (Easy)

What was once a beautiful natural meadow is now a golf course. If you can get past that, it’s still a lovely place for an easy stroll through a forest of evergreen and deciduous trees.

You’ll have the opportunity to see some historical buildings along the way including the Wawona Hotel (circa 1879) and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center.

The Wawona Hotel is currently undergoing renovations (i.e., the electrical wiring dates to 1917 … yikes!) and is not open to the public; but, it’s still fun to see nonetheless.

The Pioneer Yosemite History Center is a collection of buildings from the late 1800s that were moved here from other locations in Yosemite. It’s like a living museum where you can see how people used to live and work in Yosemite.

When you emerge from the loop, you should be across the street from the Wawona Store parking area – the starting point for our next hike.

Stop #3: Swinging Bridge Loop Trail (Easy)

Follow Forest Drive, a paved road two miles upriver from the store, to the Seventh Day Adventist camp. Continue on the same road, bearing left at the camp and following it for a half-mile to Swinging Bridge; our 4th and final stop in today’s itinerary.

Stop #4: Wawona Swimming Hole

The South Fork of the Merced River, like the main fork of the river that runs through Yosemite Valley, is a protected Wild and Scenic River. The South Fork of the Merced River runs through narrow river-cut canyons above and below Wawona, making access difficult.

But, where it passes through the small community of Wawona, the river widens and offers a variety of sites to take a refreshing dip in late Spring and Summer.

This portion of the Merced River is a popular swimming destination when the current is light. These mountain waters are cool, crisp, and clear making it easy to while away the remaining hours of the day here.

Pay attention to any warning signs before entering the river. If conditions are too dangerous, signs will have been posted by park rangers. It would be unwise to not heed these warnings.

When you’ve had your fill of water-fun, head back from whence you came or continue straight on, crossing the bridge and turning left onto a dirt road, then Chilnualna Falls Road. This route will return you to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center.

Cross the covered bridge back to the Wawona Store after viewing exhibits in the historic center and its covered bridge.

Hiking Itinerary #11: Alder Creek Fall Trail (Moderately Strenuous)

The trail to Alder Creek Fall is a peaceful trek through thick forest and a historical trip down the remains of an ancient logging railway, culminating at Alder Creek Fall, a 100-foot waterfall.

It’s one of Yosemite’s lesser-known gems and is a fantastic spot to get away from it all on a spring weekend.

Hiking Itinerary #12: Chilnualna Falls (Strenuous)

The slow, steady climb on this low-elevation route can become rather stuffy in the summer months; but, you’ll be able to cool off from the cascading mists or swimming holes off the main trail.

This trip isn’t nearly as stunning as Nevada or Vernal Falls, but it’s much less crowded than anything in Yosemite Valley, and you might get some solitude while walking.

Mariposa Grove Day Hikes

If you’re looking for a less crowded alternative to the main attractions in Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove is a great option. With more than 500 mature giant sequoias, it’s one of the largest and oldest groves of sequoias in the world.

The Mariposa Grove is located near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, about a 15-minute drive from Wawona and an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley.

The grove is accessible by free shuttle from the nearby Wawona Store; so, if you’d rather leave your car parked in Wawona, you’re less likely to have to compete for a parking spot.

There are several trails and loops you can take through the Mariposa Grove, ranging in length from 0.5 miles to 8 miles. Some of the highlights include the Grizzly Giant, California Tunnel Tree, and the Wawona Tree.

From the Mariposa Welcome Plaza, take a free shuttle to the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area.

Hiking Itinerary #13: Big Trees Loop and Grizzly Giant Loop (Easy) + A Section of Mariposa Grove Trail

Both of these loops begin at the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area. The Big Trees Loop is a 2.5-mile loop that will take you past the famous Fallen Monarch, a thousands-of-years-old redwood that fell over 300 years ago.

This loop also features placards explaining the life cycle of these ancient leviathans which makes for a fascinating ecology lesson.

The Grizzly Giant Loop is a 2.1-mile loop that encompasses the smaller Big Trees Loop and features even more giant sequoias such as the Bachelor, Three Graces, the colossal Grizzly Giant, and the California Tunnel Tree.

While this combination hike hardly fills up a day, there is much more to explore in Mariposa Grove Via the Mariposa Grove Trail which intersects the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail at the foot of the tree it’s named for.

If you want to add some more sights and distance to your hike, follow the Mariposa Grove Trail as far as you like and then turn around and head back.

Hiking Itinerary #14: Mariposa Grove Trail (and Guardians Loop) to Wawona Point (Moderately Strenuous)

For generations, people have used this broad and smooth trail to enter the grove.

Following this somewhat strenuous approach to the higher levels of the forest, you’ll see such famous sequoias as the Bachelor and Three Graces, the Faithful Couple, and the Clothespin Tree.

These ancient trees, some more than 2,700 years old, will amaze you with their height and girth.

(Optional: Along the way, you’ll come across several junctions, one of which is the Guardians Loop Trail. This will add about 1 mile (30-45 minutes) to your hike and take you by the Wawona Tunnel Tree, Telescope Tree, and the Mariposa Grove Cabin before intersecting again with the Mariposa Grove Trail.)

Continue to Wawona Point, a viewpoint with panoramic views that also offers a dramatic overlook of Wawona Meadow, the meandering South Fork of the Merced, and the Wawona Dome.

Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road Day Hikes

The meandering Tuolumne River and surrounding granite peaks and silver domes provide the beauty of Tuolumne Meadows in Northern Yosemite, a large, open subalpine meadow graced by the winding river.

The Tioga Road is a 47-mile drive between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass, which winds through woods and meadows and passes by lakes, granite domes, and more. Turnouts provide spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

This is where one comes to escape the crowds of the commercialized and popular Yosemite Valley. Hiking trails along the Tioga Road provide more solitude and, therefore, more of a wilderness experience.

Plus, anyone who has spent any respectable amount of time in Yosemite will tell you that the types you come across in the wilderness along the Tioga Road seem much happier and are much more polite than the types that throng the Valley.

You can quote me on that.

Tuolumne Meadows is a 54-mile drive (1.5 hours) from Yosemite Valley and a 74-mile drive (2 hours) from Wawona in the South.

If you’re camping in either and making the drive to Tuolumne or any hike along Tioga Road, get an early start to beat traffic and save your daylight.

Helpful Tip: The Tioga Road is typically closed from November to late May when winter weather makes the road unnavigable. There is no access to any of the following trails during that time (unless you hike to them from the Valley … and that’s an epic trek!).

Another Helpful Tip: From about mid-June to mid-September, the Tuolumne Shuttle service offers easy transport within the greater Tuolumne area. However, sadly, it is not in service for 2022.

Hiking Itinerary #15: Soda Springs, Parsons Lodge, and Lyell Canyon via the John Muir Trail (Easy)

This two-part hiking itinerary can easily take up your entire day, depending on how far you choose to take the John Muir Trail into Lyell Canyon. Keep track of your time and remaining daylight!

Stop #1: Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge (Easy)

Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge is a simple day trek in Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne Meadows, perfect for families with youngsters.

Prepare to be enchanted by meadows thick with blooms, the foaming cold (and, yes, naturally carbonated) water of Soda Springs, panoramic vistas of the Cathedral Range, and colorful lore that complements the natural beauty. This path is ideal for families with children.

After you’re finished here, head to the Lynell Canyon Trailhead across from Shuttle Stop #2.

Stop #2: Lynell Canyon via the John Muir Trail

This flat, smooth path meanders through Lyell Canyon and mostly follows the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. This is a well-worn path by hikers on the 211-mile John Muir Trail.

Not to be a downer; but, there is no specific destination for this trek because it goes to nowhere in particular … unless you’re climbing Mount Whitney (190 miles away), it’s not a difficult walk.

During the early season, the path can get pretty muddy. There are several creeks you will have to cross, including Rafferty Creek (bridge) and Ireland Creek (no bridge).

While not monumental by Yosemite standards, it is still a pleasant walk through beautiful countryside. A day well-spent.

Hiking Itinerary #16: Elizabeth Lake and Cathedral Lakes (Moderately Strenuous)

Depending on your skill and stamina, this hike will consume your entire day, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Begin no later than sunrise to maximize your time!

Our recommendation: Take 2 days to enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of these two hikes. It’s almost profane to rush through them.

Stop #1: Elizabeth Lake

My favorite hikes involving elevation gain allow me to hike uphill on the first leg and relieve me with a downhill stroll coming back.

This is one of those hikes!

Similar to many other picture-perfect lakes scattered throughout California’s High Sierra, Elizabeth Lake is a lovely thing that is big enough to take at least an hour to walk around, yet small and secluded enough to feel like you’ve found some secret getaway.

Set in a picturesque bowl encircled by trees and bordered on one or two sides by magnificent granite promontories that rise dramatically from the lake’s edge (namely, Unicorn Peak).

It’s a beautiful spot!

Spend all day here, or make your way back so we can see what other wonders ancient glaciers hath wrought from the Sierra granite.

Stop #2 Cathedral Lakes

How do I say this? Where are the words?

If a spot on earth was ever modeled after something in heaven itself, this may just be it. I want to build a cabin here and retire.

Of course, it’s also the most popular hike in Tuolumne Meadows – still, there’s much more elbow room than in the Valley.

The second-largest of the granite-encased High Sierra lakes, Lower Cathedral Lake is one of Yosemite’s most beautiful. It’s nestled in the High Sierras, framed by Cathedral Peak to the east and Echo and Tresidder Peaks to the south, both of which reach an elevation of 10,000 feet!

The rocky shore of the lower lake’s eastern side is a spacious rock shelf that provides a paradisical place to rest and forget that any other place in the world exists.

If you walk halfway around the lake and then look west, you’ll notice Tenaya Lake lying serenely below, almost close enough to touch (Don’t try; it’s not).

Stay here as long as you wish; but, keep an eye on the sun. It’s 2-3 hours back.

Hiking Itinerary #17: Gaylor Lakes and Mono Pass (Moderate to Strenuous)

Stop #1: Gaylor Lakes (Moderate)

This trek has some of the best high Sierra views off Tioga Road. Climb steadily to a ridge with views of the high Sierra, including Mt. Dana and Dana Meadows, with its scattered ponds, and know what it is like to see forever.

The trail ascends 200 feet to Middle Gaylor Lake at the ridge crest before dropping back down. The same path must be followed back.

Stop #2: Mono Pass

The historic, trans-Sierra route climbs gradually from the Mono Pass parking area through marshy meadows and gently-roaring streams.

From the Spillway Lake junction, the path rises gradually and more steeply to Mono Pass (elevation 10,600 feet).

Don’t pass up the magnificent view of Mono Lake and Bloody Canyon while descending toward Upper Sardine Lake.

Hiking Itinerary #18: Glen Aulin Trail (Moderately Strenuous)

This waterfall hike follows the Tuolumne River as it makes its way through picturesque meadows and drops through a series of cascades on its way to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

Four miles in will bring you to Tuolumne Fall and White Cascade which, unfortunately, brings us to the terminus of this prescribed hike. However, you can push on to California Fall (13 miles round trip), Le Conte Fall (15 miles round trip), and Waterwheel Falls (18 miles round trip).

Take it as far as you want; then, about-face!

Hiking Itinerary #19: Vogelsang High Sierra Camp (Strenuous)

The John Muir Trail’s first two miles are quite level as they follow the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. The trail climbs 1,200 feet in the first mile to Tuolumne Pass at Rafferty Creek.

Follow the markers to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, which is another 160 feet higher in elevation. It’s also possible to continue your trek by heading to Vogelsang Lake (0.5 mile, 280-foot elevation gain) or to Vogelsang Pass (1.5 miles, 600-foot elevation gain).

Crane Flat Day Hikes

Crane Flat is located 16 miles (30 minutes) from Yosemite Valley at the junction of the Big Oak Flat Road and Tioga Road. It is accessible by car all year, but tire chains may be required from October through April.

There is a gas station in Crane Flat all year; however, the adjacent store is presently closed due to public health standards (welcome to the sticks!).

The Crane Flat region contains two of Yosemite’s three groves of colossal sequoias. The trailheads are open all year, but the pathways may be covered in snow in the winter. The two short trails here descend gradually into secluded valleys with soothing water, dogwood, azaleas, and ancient sequoia trees.

Hiking Itinerary #20: The Giant Sequoias of Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove (Moderate)

Stop #1: Tuolumne Grove

Follow the Old Big Oak Flat Road, which was one of the first roads into Yosemite Valley, down 0.8 mile (1.3 km) through sugar pines and white firs to the “Entering the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias” sign.

The first sequoia is 0.2 mile beyond the sign, on the left. Follow designated paths through the grove to view more sequoias. To learn more about these enormous trees, take a 0.5-mile nature walk through the grove.

The grove has about six of the world’s largest trees, including four visible sequoias hidden among a thick undergrowth of dogwood. The “Dead Giant,” a fallen giant sequoia with a stagecoach-sized tunnel cut through it, is located in the grove.

Stop #2: Merced Grove

The tiny and most isolated of Yosemite’s three sequoia groves is visited on this walk, which follows a historic roadway twisting down into the Merced Grove.

The park’s cabin, which was once the summer retreat of park superintendents, is a part of its history. Look for dogwoods to blossom here in the springtime.

White Wolf Day Hikes

After the Tioga Road was built in the early 1900s, European settlement began in White Wolf. The region was first utilized for shelters for ranch hands, and by 1930 a modest resort existed there, featuring tents, tourist cabins, a tiny store and restaurant, and a gas station.

While the hikes in White Wolf are typically not as spectacular as others in Yosemite, two, in particular, are well worth a day hike.

Hiking Itinerary #21: North Dome (Strenuous)

Everyone has seen Half Dome from the Valley Floor and its convenient boardwalks. And it’s spectacular, even from a distance.

But, a geological marvel like Half Dome deserves a close-up, and so God created North Dome.

Positioned almost intentionally directly across Yosemite Valley from Half Dome, North Dome provides the perfect vantage point to see its neighbor in all her glory. The best part is hardly anyone goes there.

The hike to North Dome is long and strenuous, but it’s worth every drop of sweat. The views from the top are simply breathtaking. Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Tenaya Canyon, and the high Sierra Nevada are all visible from North Dome.

Be sure to make the side trip to Indian Rock Arch, a natural rock archway that is like Yosemite’s tiny granite nod to Utah’s sandstone wonders 700 miles away!

Hiking Itinerary #22: Ten Lakes (Strenuous)

You would never know that this trail is as popular as it is: it covers a vast, beautiful landscape; so, there’s plenty of room for everyone who ventures out this way.

Follow this route through conifers and across granite to access Yosemite Creek’s tributary (crossing cautiously in the early season when it runs high). Continue trekking to Ten Lakes Pass, which offers panoramic views of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and Sierra Crest.

After that is 693 feet of descent into the Ten Lakes Basin, which contains a healthy smattering of beautiful High Sierra lakes.

Helpful Tip: In all honesty, packing this hike into one day rather cheapens it. While it can be enjoyed in one hard-trekked day; devoting an over-night backpacking excursion provides more opportunity to soak it all in.

2-Day Back Packing Itineraries in Yosemite National Park

Stay tuned for additions to this section in the future!

1-Day Biking Itineraries in Yosemite National Park

Biking around Yosemite Valley provides an experience that simply is not possible in a car.

Touring by bike frees you of the obligations that burden and frustrate motorists: finding parking, being urged forward by traffic, the risk of a day-killing fender bender because you were mesmerized by the scenery at the wrong dang time …

On a bike, you have more freedom to stop and take it all in.

Biking Itinerary #1: Yosemite Valley Loop (Easy)

Along Yosemite Valley’s Loop Trail, you have a view of the park’s most notable granite landmarks and waterfalls.

Along the way, you’ll run across side-trip opportunities to places like Mirror Lake, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Lower Yosemite Falls, Leidig Meadow, Sentinel Bridge, Hanging Bridge, Bridalveil Meadow, and El Capitan Meadow.

Altogether, you can easily fill your entire day sightseeing!

Take your time taking it all in (a secretly congratulate yourself that you were smarter than most by leaving your car behind).

1-Day Horseback and Mule Riding Itineraries in Yosemite National Park

Although the large majority of us don’t tow a horse trailer and a Palomino doesn’t fit comfortably in the back of the family sedan, a dude can still procure a sure-footed, saddle-compliant equine within Yosemite National Park.

Seeing Yosemite from horseback or muleback is a quintessential experience that harkens back to a bygone era when the fumes and roars of combustion engine traffic and the distractions of a technocentric society had no place in the lives of free human beings.

Life was bigger and better, says I.

These excursions are available from May to September.

Horseback Itinerary #1: Wawona Stables to the Meadow Loop Trail

Helpful Tip: Since this ride hardly fills up a day, we recommend combining it with one of the shorter day-hiking itineraries in Wawona, such as Hiking Itinerary #13.

On a two-hour ride that follows the historic pioneer road, you’ll follow in the footsteps of early settlers. A hiking trail will also provide views of the Wawona Hotel, the Wawona Meadow Loop, a former Miwok village, the Wawona Dome, and forested vistas.

The riding is easy and the terrain flat, making it ideal for riders of all ages and abilities.

Visit TravelYosemite.com for more information and reservations.

Horseback Itinerary #2: Wawona Stables to the Mariposa Grove of Giants

This all-day (9:30 am – 3:30 pm) ride begins at Wawona Stables and makes its way to the magnificent Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. This is a demanding trek for seasoned riders in excellent physical condition only. This ride is only available on Thursdays.

Visit TravelYosemite.com for more information and reservations.

Multi-Day Guided Mule-Back Trips in the High Sierra Camps

Imagine the pleasure of backcountry camping and exploration without wearing a heavy backpack full of gear and supplies!

The idyllic Yosemite High Sierra Camps are isolated and surrounded by nothing but nature, including some of the best views Yosemite has to offer, making them a one-of-a-kind experience.

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll be free to explore the wilderness—just take a day pack with you each day as you go out. The loop trail has campsites that are 6 to 10 miles apart. Guided mule excursions are offered to newbies to the outdoors.

The duration of these trips ranges from 4 – 6 days.

For more information and reservations, visit TravelYosemite.com.

1-Day Water Activity Itineraries in Yosemite National Park

The crystal clear, cool waters of Yosemite in the Summer are impossible to resist, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy them.

Still, without being a buzz-kill, let’s talk safety:

People seldom experience fear when standing near water in the same manner that they would if they were standing on a cliff’s edge. However, falling into the water can be just as fatal as tumbling down a precipice. Hazards in the water are not always obvious.

Keep these things in mind when choosing a place to swim in Yosemite:

Now that we’ve committed to swimming safe and smart, here’s our list of the best water activities in Yosemite:

Swimming Itinerary #1: Tenaya Lake on Tioga Road

Swimming Itinerary #2: The Merced River at Housekeeping Camp (Sandy) Beach

Swimming Itinerary #3: Sentinel Beach Near the Swinging Bridge

Swimming Itinerary #4: Wawona Swimming Hole

1-Day Auto Touring Itineraries

Touring Yosemite by motorcycle or car is a relaxing way to explore the park. The following are three different one-day itineraries that can be done by car or motorcycle.

Auto-Touring Itinerary #1: The Famous Tioga Road: Hetch Hetchy to Tioga Pass

Driving along the Tioga Road in Yosemite’s high country not only provides some of the best views Yosemite has to offer; but, it is also a welcome reprieve from the thick crowds down in the Valley.

It’s easy to fill your day by making numerous stops along this route exploring trailheads and admiring the beauty surrounding them.

Start your day early with a full tank of gas so you can take your time driving and enjoying all there is to see. Be sure to take a grab trails map of the area from the entrance station as there are plenty of short hikes to some worthwhile locations from the roadside.

If approaching Tioga Road via Hwy 120 from the Northwest, fuel is available at Crane Flat. There is no fuel along Tioga Road until you reach Lee Vining 60 miles East.

Auto-Touring Itinerary #2: The Famous Tioga Road: Tioga Pass to Hetch Hetchy

This route is simply the reverse of the Northwest approach above, but, equally impressive. If approaching Tioga Road via Hwy 120 from the Northeast, fuel is available at Lee Vining. There is no fuel along the Tioga Road until you reach Crane Flat 60 miles West.

Auto-Touring Itinerary #3: The Full Monty (Wawona, Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy, Tioga Road, and Tuolumne Meadows)

So, you want to see it all? Gas up and crank the road-trippin’ mixtape, baby! It’s all of Yosemite (almost) or bust!

This is the mother of all touring days in Yosemite. It’s a long day, but, possible and definitely worth it if you can swing it.

You can approach this route from any point be it the Northwest at Hetch Hetchy, the Northeast at Tioga pass, from the South in Wawona, or even from the heart of it all in Yosemite Valley (not recommended … you’ll backtrack a lot.).

Regardless of your approach, you’ll need to top off your tank (or charge your EV). Fuel is not available in Yosemite; so, here are a few options:

If beginning at Hetch Hetchy: Fill up at Crane Flat on your way in.

If beginning at Tioga Pass: Fill up at Lee Vining before starting off.

If beginning at Wawona: Fill up at Oakhurst on your way in.

If driving an electric vehicle (EV), charging stations can be found on Village Drive in Yosemite Village and to the South of Wawona at Fish Camp in the parking lot of Tenaya Lodge.

1-Day Rock Climbing Itineraries

Guided rock climbing tours and lessons are available in Yosemite and vary in duration and difficulty, from beginner to insane-dude-climbing-El-Capitan.

The more people you have in your group, the better per-person rates you’ll score. Tours range from a partial day (6 hours) to full-day (8 hours), to as long as 6 whole days!

For more information, rates, and, and policies, visit TravelYosemite.com.

The End of the Trail … For Now

Now that you have a few (or more) different ideas for ways to piece together your perfect itinerary in Yosemite, it’s time to start planning your trip. Keep in mind that these are just a few suggestions and there is so much more to see and do in the park.

Mix and match these with other activities you discover during your time in Yosemite. The possibilities are endless.

Now, get out there!

Joshua Davis

Being outdoors is freedom! Being outdoors with my wife and two boys is LIVING! Whether in my backyard or getting lost in a National Park, there’s nothing I’d rather do than explore, discover, and experience the paradise that surrounds us. Give me my family, a backpack, and a trail and my life is full!