Day Trip to Yosemite: How to See EVERYTHING in just ONE Day!

Itinerary for One Day in Yosemite National Park blog cover.  Text overlaying an image of Yosemite Tunnel View with a fresh dusting of snow.

With the perfect one day itinerary, a day trip to Yosemite National Park is just enough time to see the entire Yosemite Valley!

First-time visitors to America’s favorite national park will be thrilled by how many beautiful, iconic sights they can experience in such a short amount of time.

The trick is to arrive early, leave late, and to study this travel guide! If you follow this day trip itinerary closely, you will explore all of the Yosemite must-see destinations at the best times of day. These include:

  1. Sunrise at Tunnel View
  2. Bridalveil Fall
  3. Cathedral Beach
  4. Four Mile Trail Lookout
  5. Swinging Bridge
  6. Yosemite Falls Viewpoint
  7. Sentinel Bridge (Half Dome View)
  8. Vernal Falls
  9. *Yosemite Village (avoid if possible)
  10. Lower Yosemite Falls
  11. Upper Yosemite Falls
  12. Sunset at Yosemite Valley View, or…
  13. *Glacier Point (only possible for summer visitors)

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One Day in Yosemite Introduction

Beginning our Yosemite day trip itinerary with watching sunrise at Glacier Point.

We understand that capturing the best possible photos is often the priority for nature lovers visiting our incredible national parks. This means not only seeing the Yosemite must-see sights, but being there at the best time of day!

While this is more difficult to achieve with just one day in Yosemite to work with, we were diligent in creating an itinerary that puts you at the best locations in the park for sunrise, mid-day, and sunset.

On that note, we highly recommend you begin your day with an iconic Yosemite sunrise at Tunnel View and plan to stay through sunset.

Starting early and staying late provides the most time possible, while also allowing you to experience the park during the most magical times of day.

Before you begin, all photos within this guide are available for fine art prints in full resolution. Feel free to browse our Yosemite Photography Gallery or Northern California Gallery for prints and inspiration.

*IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR 2022*

Summer sunrise at Tunnel View - a must-see on any Yosemite itinerary

Reservations for 2022

Entrance reservations are required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6am and 4pm.

If you enter the park prior to 6am or after 4pm you do not need a reservation. Furthermore, if you enter prior to 6am, you may still remain in the park during peak hours.

Glacier Point Road Closure 2022

Unfortunately, for those that planned on venturing further afield, the entire Glacier Point Road is closed in 2022. The only access to Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and other Glacier Point Road destinations is via a long, strenuous hike.

The good news is, that with one day in Yosemite, the spectacular Yosemite Valley will provide you with plenty to see and do.

Understanding the Yosemite Valley

El Capitan and Half Dome are two of the iconic sights you will see with our one day itinerary.
El Capitan and Half Dome are two of the iconic sights you will see with our one day itinerary.

Visiting Yosemite is easily one of the best things to do in California. But with only one day in Yosemite available, it is important to spend your time wisely. This means knowing where to spend the majority of your time and understanding the layout of the park.

While the national park border spans a large area and includes sister destinations like Hetch Hetchy, you will only have time to explore the Yosemite Valley on a day trip.

There are two things you must be aware of when planning your visit:

  1. The majority of the popular features, hikes, and vistas are located in the Yosemite Valley loop, which is also the only section of the park open year-round.
  2. The Yosemite Valley is primarily a one-way loop that resembles a figure-eight! Study the map and approach destinations slowly. If you can’t find parking or accidentally pass your stop, you will not be able to turn back!

It is also worth noting that you will have access to any necessary services in the Yosemite Valley, including food, gas (at a high price!), and even Starbucks!

Since one day in Yosemite is not going to allow much time, we recommend starting early, packing a lunch, and bringing any supplies you may need in order to avoid the congestion within Yosemite Village.

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Getting to Yosemite National Park

Begin your day in Yosemite by taking in sunrise from Tunnel View.

By Car

With one day in Yosemite, for most people, the easiest and most convenient way to get around will be by car. Whether you have your own car or rent a car, having a vehicle will allow you to explore at your own pace without timetable or group constraints. You can compare car rental prices here.

By Public Transport

It is possible to reach Yosemite National Park using public transportation. YARTS provides year-round bus services from Merced, as well as additional seasonal routes. This can be combined with AMTRAK or Greyhound services to reach Yosemite Valley.

Once at Yosemite Valley, you can use the free Yosemite Valley shuttle system to get around.

You can find out more about public transportation to Yosemite on the NPS website.

By Tour

If you don’t want to drive or dont want to have to figure out all the details yourself, then a day trip tour to Yosemite is a great option. Tours prevent you from having to arrange your own transport and reservations, allowing you just to relax and enjoy your day in the park.

There are a wide range of different tours to choose from. Each tour will vary in length, stops, number of people, and inclusions, such as food, so make sure you check the details carefully and find one that best matches your needs.

Here are some of the best-rated day tours to Yosemite National Park:

Yosemite Day Trip Itinerary Map

It may help to get better acquainted with the layout of the Yosemite Valley, as well as with the stops our Yosemite day trip itinerary recommends.

As mentioned, the North and South River Roads are one-way with very limited crossover points. This means you will have to do a long, slow loop to get back to a place once you’ve passed it!

The map below shows our recommended stops in the order that you should visit them, and assumes your arrival from either Hwy 140 or Hwy 120 (the two most common access points).

Click here or on the map below to open the driving directions in Google Maps in a new tab.

*Those traveling via Wawona Road will have to adjust appropriately.

Day trip Yosemite itinerary map
You may notice that the entire Yosemite Valley road is just one big circle — just remember that it is also primarily ONE WAY, so be sure to do things in the order presented!

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Your Yosemite Day Trip Itinerary

This itinerary is designed to allow visitors with only one day in Yosemite to see everything there is to see in the Yosemite Valley. Summer visitors will also have the option of getting up to Glacier Point as the days are longer and the road is only open seasonally.

We have also endeavored to arrange it in a way that is time and fuel efficient. What’s more, we’ve got you scheduled to spend sunrise and sunset at the most special locations in the park!

Be sure to follow the order we have presented. As mentioned above, if you pass the parking area you will not be able to turn around.

Sunrise at Tunnel View

A young woman with a cofee mug enjoying sunrise from Tunnel View on a day trip to Yosemite.
Begin your day in Yosemite by taking in sunrise from Tunnel View.

In case you were still debating whether or not to begin your day trip to Yosemite so early, hopefully this picture will settle it. Tunnel View is a Yosemite must-see!

It also may be the most iconic vista in any US national park, and sunrise is a magical time to be there!

If you have time for a second sunrise before leaving the park, you can read about our favorite places to watch sunrise at Yosemite and photography tips here.

Not only is the light spectacular at sunrise, but the crowds are as small as they will be all day, and parking is still easy to find in most of the park. Having said that, the one place it may be full so early is at Tunnel View.

Check to see what time sunrise will be as this obviously varies throughout the year. If possible, begin your day in Yosemite watching the valley come to life from this incredible viewpoint.

Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall you will see on your Yosemite day trip.
Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall you will see on your Yosemite day trip.

The first waterfall you will see upon entering Yosemite National Park is Bridalveil Fall. In fact, assuming you started your day trip at Tunnel View as recommended, you’ve already been seeing it!

The trail to the falls is a very short half-mile hike roundtrip. If budgeting your time, you can be parked, soaked by its spray, and back at your car all within 20 minutes. That doesn’t mean you should, but you could!

Cathedral Beach

Enjoy breakfast with views of El Capitan.
The famous El Capitan rock formation is blanketed in morning clouds.

Your next stop will be at the Cathedral Beach picnic area for views of the famous “El Capitan” rock formation. This is also a great place to have breakfast if you have not yet eaten as picnic tables are available.

If the morning is still, consider spending a moment on the beach itself capturing some morning reflections off the Merced River.

Four Mile Trail

The Yosemite Valley as seen from the Four Mile Trail.
The Yosemite Valley as seen from the Four Mile Trail.

Do not be scared by the name! While the four mile trail is a rough climb, I do not recommend doing more than a mile or so on a one day trip to Yosemite.

Within a short distance, you will already be high enough to appreciate panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley. Even in the winter, the Four Mile Trail is easily accessible for the first mile or so.

Admittedly, my favorite light for the scene is in the evening golden hour. It is still spectacular in the morning though, especially after the sun has cleared the ridge line.

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Swinging Bridge

Gorgeous morning sunshine highlights Upper Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge.
Gorgeous morning sunshine highlights Upper Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge.

Your first opportunity of the day to use a restroom will be in the Swinging Bridge parking area. This also tends to fill up quickly, so I may suggest simply walking there from wherever you parked to begin the Four Mile Hike.

In fact, it might be best to park here in the first place, then walk the extra couple hundred yards to the Four Mile trailhead.

From the bridge, you will enjoy your first glorious view of Yosemite Falls. With any luck, you may see double the beauty as the Merced River often projects a perfect reflection.

Yosemite Falls Viewpoint

A coyote poses in front of Yosemite Falls.
A coyote poses in front of Yosemite Falls.

If you couldn’t find parking at the Swinging Bridge, you will find a long stretch of parking on the left-hand side just as you pass it. Snag one of these spaces and enjoy a wide open view of the Yosemite Valley field, while Yosemite Falls plunges from above.

With any luck, you may get a coyote sighting as they often hunt for mice in this field!

If you need a moment of internet service for any reason, this tends to be the most reliable signal you will find in the park.

Sentinel Bridge

The iconic Half Dome is captured from Sentinel Bridge.
The iconic Half Dome is captured from Sentinel Bridge.

You have completed the South River Road section of our Yosemite day trip itinerary! As you near the end of the road, you will cross over the Sentinel Bridge and be greeted with a postcard-worthy view of Half Dome!

Just a few feet from the bridge is a large parking area. Take a moment to capture your next wallpaper with Half Dome mirrored in the Merced River.

*If parking is nightmarish, consider leaving your vehicle parked in the Yosemite Falls Viewpoint area and walking instead.

*Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls is an optional hike on our Yosemite day trip itinerary.
Adam poses in front of Vernal Falls.

Depending on your pace, length of daylight, and your desire, you may have time to hike to the beautiful Vernal Falls. While I don’t recommend this for most people with only one day in Yosemite, those with the time should certainly consider it.

The drive will add about a 15 minute detour there and back. You should also allow about an hour for the hike and photos as well.

Park in the Happy Isles lot and take the Mist Trail. The distance is only 1.6 miles roundtrip, but there is a moderate ascent to consider as well.

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Yosemite Village & Valley Visitor Center Pit Stop

We recommend bringing lunch and supplies with you to make sure you see everything. With only one day in Yosemite, you will not want to spend your time in lines for bathrooms, parking, and food.

That said, not everyone is the “packed lunch” type of person. If you need to fuel up, the Yosemite Village has a grocery store, restaurant, and even a Starbucks.

You will also find the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center here if you have any questions , need souvenirs, or want further inspiration from the Ansel Adams gallery.

Lower Yosemite Falls

Sophie Clapton in front of Lower Yosemite Falls.
Sophie making the most of our one day in Yosemite.

You will inevitably have been staring at Yosemite Falls for much of your drive already. At certain moments, you may have noticed there is actually a lower tier as well.

This lower tier is the easily-accessible Lower Yosemite Fall. From the parking area, you will follow signs for the Lower Yosemite Falls hike. This 1-mile loop will take you to the base of the waterfall.

Doing just the Lower Fall loop will only take you about 30 minutes total.

*Upper Yosemite Falls

A moonlit photo of Upper Yosemite Falls.
A moonlit photo of Upper Yosemite Falls.

It is possible to walk to the more-impressive second tier via the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, but the trail is steep! Those who persevere will be rewarded with a unique vantage point.

I generally do not recommend trying to squeeze this into your one day Yosemite itinerary. While the hike is only 2 miles roundtrip, it is steep and will likely take at least 2 hours to complete.

If you are planning your Yosemite trip during the long summer days, you may have time to schedule this in. Otherwise, it is probably best to enjoy equally-fantastic views of Upper Yosemite Fall from many other places within the park and skip the hike.

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Sunset at Yosemite Valley View

Ending a Yosemite day trip with sunset from Valley View.
Ending our Yosemite Day Trip with a magical place to enjoy sunset.

The day concludes with sunset from our favorite viewpoint in Yosemite National Park!

Enter Yosemite Valley View into your GPS (or click here to find the location in Google Maps) so you know which parking lot you need as it will not be sign-posted.

There will also be one or two small pull-offs prior to the actual parking area with space for 2-3 cars on the left-hand side. If you see one of these open, you probably just want to take it. Parking can be a nightmare at Valley View and there is no turning back on the one-way road.

You will not see the actual sun set from anywhere in the Yosemite Valley as you are surrounded by the Sierra Mountains. However, the light that is cast onto El Capitan at the end of the day is wonderful. The vista often benefits from a colorful sky as well.

Adding Glacier Point Road to Your One Day Itinerary

A summer visitor of Yosemite National Park gazes upon Half Dome from Glacier Point.
Summer visitors will have the time and ability to add a visit to Glacier Point to their itinerary.

*IMPORTANT 2022 UPDATE*

As mentioned, the entire Glacier Point Road is closed in 2022. The only access to Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and other Glacier Point Road destinations is via a long, strenuous hike. Therefore, for most visitors with only a day in Yosemite, unfortunately reaching Glacier Point is not an option.

Summer visitors will have enough daylight hours and seasonal road openings to include a drive up to Glacier Point to their Yosemite day trip itinerary. This adds s substantial time and fuel commitment, but the views are well worth the endeavor!

If you happen to be visiting Yosemite NP in the summer, you can still follow this one day itinerary in the order described above! The only difference is that you will make only a quick stop at the Yosemite Valley View and instead watch sunset at Taft Point or Glacier Point.

The drive to Glacier Point Overlook takes about one hour with several vistas and trails along the way. Here are the additional stops and hikes in the order they appear for you to consider adding to your itinerary (based on how much time you have available):

Adam Marland & Sophie Clapton of We Dream of Travel watching sunset at Taft Point in Yosemite National Park.
Taft Point is the best place in Yosemite to see sunset.
  • Mono Meadows Trail: A beautiful meadow, but probably not worth visiting without more time.
  • Taft Point: A short walk and the best view of sunset in all of Yosemite NP.
  • Washburn Point: A parking-lot viewpoint worth a quick stop.
  • Glacier Point: A Yosemite must-see when open. Glacier Point is Arguably the best view in the entire national park (with Tunnel View as the challenger).

    Only a short walk is required to get to the viewpoint. While the light on Half Dome is beautiful at sunset, you will not be facing the right direction for sunset from here. This location is more renown for sunrise!
  • Panorama Trail: Perhaps the best hike in the park! The Panorama Trail is too far to walk on a day trip at 8 miles, but you should consider walking a short section if time permits to enjoy the stunning elevated views.

Yosemite National Park General Information

Before packing up for your Yosemite day trip, it may be useful to understand a few things about the park for logistical purposes. Since time will be precious, it’s worth knowing now!

The sun rises over the Merced River.
The sun rises over the Merced River from Hwy 120.

Gas In and Around Yosemite

There are a couple gas stations within the park, but all are extortionately priced. It is in your best financial interest to fill up outside of the park.

The best option for those arriving via Hwy 140 is in Briceburg. Do NOT hold out for El Portal! Gas prices can be up to $1 more per gallon here.

The cheapest option for those arriving via Hwy 120 is at the KWIK-SERVE just before Groveland.

Yosemite Entry Fee

Watching sunrise on a day trip to Yosemite National Park.

*IMPORTANT 2022 UPDATE*

Entrance reservations are required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6 am and 4 pm.

If you enter the park prior to 6am or after 4pm you do not need a reservation. Furthermore, if you enter prior to 6am, you may still remain in the park during peak hours.

Note that there are no day-passes to Yosemite. There are too many options to list them all, but the most commonly-purchased tickets are:

7-Day Vehicle Pass: $35/ vehicle
7-Day Individual Pass: $20 (must be traveling by bike/bus/foot)
One Year Yosemite Pass: $70
One Year Interagency Pass: $80

We recommend you get the One Year Interagency Pass. This will get you into EVERY National Park, Monument, and Recreation Area for a full year. It costs about twice as much as a one-week pass, but lasts a lot longer and is gets you into far more places.

You can find up to date prices and more info on the NPS website.

They match your signature to your ID so it cannot be loaned to others, but there is space for two signatures if you want to share it with a friend!

Services

You will find plenty of options for food and amenities both in and around the park.

The Yosemite Village is well-stocked, even including a Starbucks for that afternoon coffee. There are also several options for food and a general store.

Outside of the park, each town you pass through will have the basic necessities.

Since you will only have one day to explore the entire Yosemite Valley, we recommend bringing anything you will need if possible in order to maximize your time exploring.

Where to Stay at Yosemite

Looking down at the Yosemite Valley from high above on a moonlit, starry night.
Looking down at the Yosemite Valley from high above on a moonlit, starry night.

If you are planning on staying overnight, the best place to stay within the park is at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. There is also one campsite within the valley.

When those are sold out, which is often, the best and closest place to stay near Yosemite NP is in the town of El Portal.

You are not allowed to freedom camp, including vehicle camping, anywhere within Yosemite National Park!

El Portal is about 20 minutes down Hwy 140 and has multiple hotels, places to car-camp, and services.

If you want to stay within the park, be warned that most options are completely sold out 5-6 months in advance.

Click here to check current availability and prices for places to stay in and near Yosemite National Park.

Packing List for a Day Trip to Yosemite National Park

Travels of Sophie taking a stroll through the meadows.

Depending on the time of year and activities you have planned, your exact packing list will vary. However, there are a few key items that you should consider including for a day trip to Yosemite:

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

The annual national park pass costs $80 and provides access to all 63 national parks in the US. Additionally, it grants admission to over 2000 federal recreation sites! Discounted passes are offered to some groups, including seniors, military personnel, and 4th graders. Check the NPS website for up-to-date information and to purchase your pass.

Camera

Yosemite is an absolute treasure trove when it comes to photography, so don’t forget your camera! We use the Sony a7riii and have loved it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners, you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start learning manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.

Hiking shoes

Even on a day trip, you’ll want to explore some of Yosemite’s incredible hikes so you’ll want to ensure you have some comfortable shoes. Ideally, bring a waterproof pair of hiking shoes as rain is not uncommon, particularly if you’re visiting from October and May. I also love my Brooks sneakers and find them perfect for walking when the weather is dry.

Sun protection

Yosemite sits at an average elevation of 4,000ft. (1219m) so you can expect the sun to be strong here. Ensure you have good protection from the sun with a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as a minimum. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s eco-friendly and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.

Layers

The temperatures in Yosemite can fluctuate by 30°F (~18°c) in a day. Additionally, the temperature varies hugely depending on elevation.

With this in mind, you’ll want to pack layers of clothing. A wind and waterproof jacket is also likely to come in handy. I love my Columbia jacket as it’s comprised of two layers. This allows me to just wear the outer waterproof/windproof shell, inner insulated layer or combination of both, depending on the weather.

Reusable Water Bottle

We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remaining hydrated is even more important in the desert. Bring your own bottle to prevent wasting single-use plastic bottles! Water is available at trailheads and visitor centers.

Portable Powerpack

It’s likely you’ll be using your phone to navigate, take photos, and more! Bring a power pack with you to keep your phone charged on the go.

Backpack

You’ll want a backpack that’s comfortable and sturdy to carry around during the day. I use the GoGroove camera backpack as it also provides easy side access to my camera while out and about.

Mini First Aid Kit

When out hiking, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case. You never know when it may come in handy (particularly as I’m clumsy)!

Yosemite Day Trip FAQs

Sunrise at Yosemite Valley View

Below are concise answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding a day trip to Yosemite.

Is a day trip to Yosemite enough? Can you go to Yosemite for one day?

Yes! With a well-constructed one day Yosemite itinerary, you will be able to see nearly everything the park has to offer (if only at a glance).

How far is Yosemite from San Francisco?

Whether you arrive via Hwy 120 or Hwy 140, it takes just under 4 hours to drive from San Francisco to the iconic Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park.

How do I spend one day in Yosemite?

Begin with sunrise at Tunnel View, then drive the scenic Yosemite Valley loop stopping at waterfalls and short walks along the way. End your day with sunset at Valley View, or drive up to Glacier Point if the road is open.

Can you just drive through Yosemite?

Yosemite has been well-designed for self-guided driving tours! Many of the waterfalls and iconic sights are visible from the road without ever leaving your car.

What is the best month to visit Yosemite?

May is the best month to visit Yosemite National Park. The waterfalls are fully flowing from snowmelt, Glacier Point Road is open for the first time, summer crowds have not yet arrived, and wildflowers will begin to bloom.

Can you enter Yosemite without a reservation?

Entrance reservations are required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6am and 4pm.

If you enter the park prior to 6am or after 4pm you do not need a reservation. Furthermore, if you enter prior to 6am, you may still remain in the park during peak hours.

Can you enter Yosemite without a pass?

The entry and exit gates remain open 24/7. If you arrive before rangers are present, you can enter the park without showing or purchasing a pass, but not being able to provide one if requested could result in a fine or ticket.

More Guides to Yosemite & Nearby Destinations

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Be sure to get out to Mammoth Lakes just outside of Yosemite for more incredible nature & hot springs!

Where to next?! We have written many guides to Yosemite and some of the must-see regions nearby that may be of interest depending on your itinerary…

Other Yosemite Guides

Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides

Northern California Guides

Final Thoughts on How to Spend One Day in Yosemite

Adoring the granite cliffs on a winter day.
Adoring the granite cliffs on a day trip to Yosemite.

If I only had one day to spend in any national park, Yosemite would be the one I would choose to spend it in! I’ve been to most, and none quite offer so much striking and diverse scenery in such a small area.

We hope you found our Yosemite Day Trip Itinerary helpful in planning your big day at America’s favorite national park. As always, please let us know if you find anything is inaccurate, or if we skipped something you think deserves inclusion!

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20 thoughts on “Day Trip to Yosemite: How to See EVERYTHING in just ONE Day!”

    • I am so happy to hear that it helped you Carrie!! Feel free to email us if you have any questions that weren’t answered 🙂 We also just posted a Yosemite Photography Guide as well that you may enjoy 🙂

      Reply
  1. This is a fabulous one-day itinerary. I’ve been to Yosemite before but I’m planning to return and bring my husband who’s never been. This is a great guide to get us oriented to the park.

    Reply
  2. I am planning a trip to Yosemite this spring. After the pandemic didn’t allow us to visit last spring and the wildfires in California made it impossible last fall… Hope the new year gives us chance to realize our first visit!

    Reply
  3. Yosemite is so high on my bucket list. I am hoping to go sometime this summer. It is great to know that there is so much to see within a day trip. 🙂

    Reply
  4. I haven’t made it to Yosemite yet so this is a really helpful guide for visiting it in a day! I would ideally like to spend a few days in the area, but it’s good to know what to see during a day trip as well in case I don’t have enough time.

    Reply
  5. This is such a great guide! I didn’t know that much about Yosemite, and this was so helpful! Saved this for a future trip! I want to see Bridalveil Falls!

    Reply
    • Its so difficult for us to determine value for you Anthony, as much as we would love to! It is an incredible view and though you are looking at much of the same features as you would be from the valley, it looks and feels very different from up high. That said, it is a very long for only ONE significantly different view. I guess my advice would be to go straight to the Valley Drive, see everything there, and then decide if you have time for Glacier Point or not 🙂

      Reply

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