No amount of time will ever be enough, but a carefully planned Yosemite itinerary will ensure you maximize your time in (arguably) the best National Park in the USA. This travel guide is designed to help you plan for the best possible experience whether you have one day, two days, or three days in Yosemite.
Be aware that the time of year you are planning a visit will drastically impact your options for exploration. Both the Tioga Pass and Glacier Point roads will be closed during winter, limiting you to just the Yosemite Valley. Weather permitting, these roads usually open in May and remain accessible until November.
Before you dig in, you may also want to consider loading some of our other Yosemite guides in a new tab:
- One Day in Yosemite: A comprehensive Yosemite Day Trip Itinerary
- Yosemite Photography Guide: Tips to photographing the Yosemite Valley
- Yosemite Firefall Guide: Everything you need to know about seeing Firefalls
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Quick Facts About Yosemite National Park
- Location: California, USA
- Established: October 1, 1890
- Size: 748,000 acres (1,169 mi2)
- Annual Visitors: 2,268,313 (2020), 4,422,861 (2019)
- Visitor Centers: Valley Visitor Center (year-round), Valley Wilderness Center (May-Oct)
- Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle; $30 per motorcycle; $20 per individual; $80 Interagency Annual Pass
This guide has been designed to begin with a one day itinerary that focuses on seeing the Yosemite Valley and to subsequently add the more remote regions of the park with each extra day available to you. It begins with where to watch sunrise each day and ends with our favorite place for sunset nearby.
With this in mind, those of you who plan on moving quickly may be able to combine Day 1 and Day 2 by avoiding some of the hikes and keeping close to the car.
There’s no reason you cannot change the order in which you visit each region, though they have been written in the order that I find most scenic. In fact, those of you traveling into Yosemite from the east (via Mammoth Lakes or Mono County) should actually begin with Day 3 and work backward!
Last, if you have more than three days in Yosemite, there are endless hiking trails throughout the park to explore and other remote regions (such as Hetch Hetchy) you can add to your itinerary!
One Day in Yosemite Itinerary: Explore the Yosemite Valley
If your itinerary only allows for one day in Yosemite, you will want to focus on hikes and views within the valley. Additionally, if you are visiting between November and April, this will likely be the only part of the national park you can access as the other roads are closed.
The good news is that the Yosemite Valley is largely considered the best part of the park, and a day trip is more than enough time to see it.
In the itinerary below, you will find our recommendations for how to spend one day in the park at a leisurely pace and still see all of the iconic sights. If you are visiting in the summer when the days are long, you will have a bit more time and opportunity for additional hikes.
Sunrise at Tunnel View
Begin your day at the most iconic viewpoint in all of Yosemite National Park. Sunrise at Tunnel View is one of those lifetime travel bucket-list items that everyone should attempt to experience.
In the spring, the sun will rise directly in line with the viewpoint. By summer, it peeks out from behind El Capitan to the left of the vista. In the winter, it actually will not make it over the mountains to the right of the vista for an additional hour or more.
Be sure to get there early! The park entrance gate gets insanely busy and backed up, which will cost you precious hours. Additionally, the parking lot can get full within an hour of sunrise. Do yourself a favor and get parked up at least 15 minutes before sunrise to enjoy the beautiful colors and magical light.
Drive the Yosemite Valley Scenic Loop
At this point, you will have all day to drive the loop and explore the many waterfalls and trails. Be aware that most of the roads through the valley are one-way.
The views are incredible from pretty much everywhere and you will find small pull-offs frequently for photo opps.
In order to make sure you have time for everything, I recommend sticking to mostly the shorter hikes and trails. If it is open, consider the hike to Bridalveil Falls as you leave Tunnel View. Other waterfalls with a short hike to consider are Vernal Falls and Yosemite Falls (Upper and Lower).
There are many unmarked places to stop and enjoy the views, but the most iconic are the Swinging Bridge, Sentinel Beach, Half Dome Bridge, and Valley View.
Consider perusing our Yosemite Day Trip Guide for a more thorough and detailed breakdown of our favorite stops.
Sunset at Four Mile Trail
The trick to seeing sunset in any valley, including Yosemite, is to try and find some elevation. On a one day itinerary, you likely won’t have time to drive to some of the higher vantage points. Luckily, one of the best sunset views in the park is accessible via a short hike up Four Mile Trail.
Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to hike four miles up! After about one mile, you will find a clearing with a pile of rocks to the right of the trail. If you are sure-footed and the rocks are dry, one can easily scamper up a bit to get a clear view of the entire Yosemite Valley. If not, you will still have a great view but may have a bit of vegetation partially obstructing the valley floor.
Two Days in Yosemite Itinerary: Add Glacier Point Road
Those of you wanting to spend a weekend in Yosemite National Park will have time to explore all there is to see and go on the Glacier Point road in addition to driving the Yosemite Valley.
While you will be looking at “the same” natural features for the most part, such as Half Dome, Vernal Falls, etc, you will be doing so from 7200 feet (2195m) up!
There are tons of trails to explore in this region and I recommend doing as many as you are comfortable with based on the heat and your personal level of fitness. Just remember that you are at a higher elevation where the air is much thinner.
Sunrise at Glacier Point
Begin the day watching the sun come up behind Half Dome from the highest accessible viewpoint in the park! Watching sunrise at Glacier Point will require a very early start, which is why this two day Yosemite itinerary suggests attempting it the second day.
For perspective, the drive from El Portal to Glacier Point is 1h 6m according to Google Maps. From the parking area, you will still need to walk about a quarter-mile (5-10 minutes) to get to the lookout. Hey, you didn’t come to Yosemite to sleep through the best time of day!
Hike Panorama Trail (or some of it)
If you are in good physical condition and want to see arguably the best views in all of Yosemite, consider hiking the Panorama Trail. The total distance is 8.5 miles but takes most hikers 4-6 hours to complete. Along the way, you will enjoy sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley, as well as several top-down looks at an assortment of waterfalls.
Of course, an 8.5 mile trek is not for everyone! Not to worry, there are shorter options worth considering. As time is precious, I recommend just walking about 1.8 miles to a view of Illilouette Falls. There is some elevation change that makes this a moderately difficult 3.6 mile roundtrip walk, but it is worth the effort. Additionally, there are plenty of places to stop and rest in the shade.
Walk the Mono Meadows
For a gentle meander through open fields, drive back down Glacier Point Road and park up at the Mono Meadows trailhead. Instead of staring at granite cliffs and waterfalls, visitors will enjoy open meadows with plenty of birds and wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Mono Meadow trail is an easy 1.2 mile out and back. Most people choose to also stop by the Sierra Overlook, which increases the distance to 3.5 miles roundtrip.
Sunset: Taft Point
Assuming you have done a few walks and made time to enjoy your meals, the day will be getting late and it is time to enjoy the best place for sunset in Yosemite at Taft Point.
Westerly views are difficult to find in the park, particularly with ample elevation. Taft Point offers the best west-facing vistas and a series of rock ledges that give the perspective of being above it all. As dangerous as the photos make it look, the ledges are mostly wide and spacious, posing little risk if common sense is applied.
The hike from the parking area to Taft Point is about 2.2 miles roundtrip. It is an easy stroll and mostly shaded throughout. Bring a camera and perhaps a beverage while you watch the light dance and fade on the granite cliffs of Yosemite.
Taft Point is the ideal place to watch sunset and conclude your two days in Yosemite.
Alternative Sunset Options: Washburn Point or Glacier Point
If you are not physically able to walk the 2+ mile roundtrip to Taft Point, both Washburn Point and Glacier Point provide beautiful foregrounds for some sunset photography as well. These views both face mostly east, so you will be watching the light and shadow play on the distant mountains and valley rather than looking into the sun.
There is no hike at all to Washburn Point and ample parking is available. If you have already photographed sunrise at Glacier Point as was recommended, consider Washburn Point instead to have some variety in your portfolio.
Three Days in Yosemite Itinerary: Add Tioga Road
If you are fortunate enough to have an itinerary that allows three days in Yosemite, you will have enough time to see everything included in our one and two day Yosemite itineraries as well as the Tioga Pass.
As was mentioned in the beginning of this guide, both the Tioga Pass (Hwy 120) and Glacier Point Road are only open seasonally. Both roads typically open in May and close in November.
There are too many hikes to list along Highway 120, but listed in this section will be the must-sees and quick-hitters along the way to Lee Vining where the park boundaries end.
If you are traveling onward toward Mono County and Mammoth Lakes as part of a bigger California road trip, we have written several guides to hidden treasures and popular destinations that you will be nearby upon exiting the park. In particular, do not miss the natural, incredible Travertine Hot Springs and Buckeye Hot Springs, located just 30 minutes north of Lee Vining.
Our favorite place in all of California is the city of Mammoth Lakes, located just 30 minutes south of Lee Vining. On the way, you absolutely must at least take a drive through the June Lakes Loop scenic drive. We stayed a week camped on BLM land exploring the myriad of Mammoth Lakes hot springs, soaking in mineral-rich water and enjoying too many sunsets, sunrises, and moonlit nights.
Sunrise at Yosemite Valley View
Begin your third day in Yosemite with sunrise at Valley View. This is the last stop on the Valley Loop drive and is one of the most iconic views in the entire park. As most of you will be camping either in the park or in nearby El Portal, this will allow you a bit more sleep as the drive is only about 20 minutes from town.
Parking is limited but rarely fills up this early. Bring appropriate footwear as the best photos will be taken from the water’s edge.
See the Giant Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove
If you haven’t stood at the base of these ancient giants and marveled at their size, consider a brisk one-mile hike to stand with them in the Tuolumne Grove. While the hike down is only a mile, it is steep with a 500 foot elevation loss. Obviously, this means hiking a steep one mile back up following your time amongst the sequoias.
Expect the hike to take you about an hour and be sure to bring plenty of water, particularly in the summer months.
The trailhead to the sequoia grove will be well signposted and will be the first stop along the Tioga Road.
Stop by Lukens Lake
There will be plenty of roadside lakes along the drive through the Tioga Pass, but this is one of the most accessible for those who wish to include a few short hikes in their Yosemite itinerary. The total roundtrip distance is only 1.6 miles and is mostly shaded, making for a pleasant stroll.
Lukens Lake is a beautiful alpine lagoon surrounded by bright green trees and often providing a mirror reflection. Consider packing your late breakfast or lunch to picnic by the water.
Enjoy the view from Olmsted Point
As you climb to one of the highest points in the park, you will arrive at the breathtaking Olmsted Point. This is a must-see on your way through! Most visitors will simply admire the scenery from the parking lot, but there is a small trail that provides some alternative views in a short walk.
Just past the Olmstead Point parking area is an unmarked pull-off. In the distance is Tenaya Lake, tucked below Cathedral Peak. If you are feeling adventurous and the weather is completely dry, consider climbing some distance up the slick rock on the other side of the road. With a bit of elevation, the view improves dramatically and is one of the best secret photo locations anywhere in Yosemite.
Picnic at Tenaya Lake
The number of stops and hikes you have done will determine whether or not it’s time to eat. Ideally, you should be arriving at Tenaya Lake around dinner time. This is a great spot to enjoy your meal as the lake is gorgeous and no hike is required to access it.
When you have finished eating, you can walk around the lake if you like and get some nice evening photos. Just make sure you allow yourself time to explore the final stop on our three-day Yosemite itinerary with a sunset visit to world-famous Tuolumne meadows.
Sunset: Tuolumne Meadows
Your three days in Yosemite National Park comes to a brilliant conclusion with a sunset stroll through the Tuolumne Meadows. This will be the last stop on Tioga Road before exiting the park and rapidly descending in elevation en route to Lee Vining.
Stretch your legs exploring the large subalpine meadow that is teeming with wildlife and natural beauty. The Tuolumne River snakes gracefully through, surrounded by the large granite peaks that make the region so striking.
A few various hiking trails are available ranging wildly in distance, but you really can’t go wrong. For a short, easy jaunt, consider a quick walk to Soda Spring. Of course, my personal recommendation is to simply read the sky and sunlight and chase that around in pursuit of scenic foregrounds complemented by the evening glow.
Planning Your Yosemite Itinerary
We’ve covered everything you want to see whether you are sticking to a one day, two day, or three day Yosemite itinerary. Before you hit the road, it is worth considering some external factors that will be important to the success of your journey.
Best time to visit Yosemite
If you are only making a day trip to Yosemite, each time of year offers unique benefits and challenges. Winter weather can be challenging but extremely beautiful, for example. In addition, if you have never seen the natural phenomenon known as the Yosemite Firefall, these occur in February only and are definitely a bucket list experience. In short, there is no one best time to visit Yosemite if your visit is short.
If you are hoping to spend more than two days in Yosemite, you are definitely better off planning your road trip for a time when Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road are open. Accordingly, the best time for longer-term visits to Yosemite is between late May and October, when these roads are open. In particular, May provides the most impressive waterfalls as they burst with snowmelt. Alternatively, October is a good option to get some fall colors.
Of course, there is no bad time to visit the park, just plan as far ahead as you are able to ensure you have all the reservations you require.
Where to stay
There are a lot of campgrounds throughout Yosemite National Park, but only one in the valley. The others are mostly primitive options and are dotted throughout the outskirts of the park. All campsites require reservations and fill up months ahead of time, so plan accordingly. Also, be aware that overnight parking is not permitted anywhere in the park without a permit. You can find out more about camping in Yosemite on the NPS website.
For those of you who want a bit of comfort during your stay and want to be centrally located, Yosemite Valley Lodge is the only hotel within Yosemite village, near the base of Yosemite Falls.
The best option for most will be to stay overnight in the town of El Portal. This is the nearest town to the park boundaries and is only a 20 minute drive from the Yosemite Valley. There are plenty of accommodation options as well as places to sleep in your vehicle if you are self-contained.
Click here to check for current availability and prices of accommodation near Yosemite National Park.
Gas and services
Surprisingly, there are plenty of gas stations not just near, but within the Yosemite National Park boundaries. Unsurprisingly, you pay a bit extra to fill up in the park, as well as in El Portal.
All services are available in the Yosemite Village, ranging from a small general goods store to a Starbucks! There is also a cafeteria, gas pumps, and pretty much anything else you might need during on your visit.
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 EVERYONE get the One Year Interagency Pass. This will get you into EVERY National Park, Monument, and Recreation Area for a full year, and costs slightly more than double just a one-week pass. 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.
Other Guides & Things to See Nearby
If Yosemite National Park is just one stop on your California road trip, consider adding some of these nearby gems to your itinerary:
Other Yosemite Guides
- ULTIMATE Guide to Yosemite Firefall
- Yosemite Photography Guide: Tips For Photographing Yosemite Valley
- Yosemite Day Trip Guide
Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides
- Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs Comprehensive Guide
- June Lakes Loop Scenic Drive
- Travertine Hot Springs Guide
- Buckeye Hot Springs Guide
- Hilltop Hot Springs Guide
- Rock Tub Hot Springs Guide
- Shepherd Hot Springs Guide
- Whitmore Hot Springs Explained
- Best Things to Do on a Northern California Road Trip
- The Ultimate Guide to Burney Falls in NorCal
- Shasta-Trinity National Forest Photography Guide
Southern Oregon Guides
- Southern Oregon Photography Locations
- Southern Oregon Coast Photography Guide
- Waterfalls of Southern Oregon
Yosemite Itinerary Final Thoughts
No matter how much time you have on your Yosemite itinerary, this place will always leave you wanting more! This is truly one of the most beautiful places in the state of California and indeed in the country. Having visited every US national park, I can say with some credibility that Yosemite is among the very best of them.
Most importantly, I hope you have found this travel guide useful and inspiring in planning adventures of your own. Of course, mistakes do happen! If you see anything inaccurate or misleading, please let me know in the comments below. Likewise, it makes my day to read comments of appreciation and I absolutely welcome those as well.
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