This 2 days in Yosemite itinerary cover a lot of practical information needed to plan a perfect trip to the park!
Yosemite is a place like no other.
Its combination of glacial valleys, granite monoliths, rushing waterfalls, giant sequoias, powerful streams, and crystal clear lakes makes it one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
I can totally understand why so many people (including me) want to visit and revisit.
This 2 days in Yosemite itinerary will provide you all the information needed to have a wonderful time in the National Park. You can always shorten or extend the trip as needed.
Get ready because we are going to discuss sights, hikes, best times to visit, where to eat and other important topics.
Yosemite National Park is located 200 miles from San Francisco (4 hours), 160 miles from Sacramento (3.5 hours), 320 miles from Los Angeles (5.5 hours) and 440 miles from San Diego (7 hours).
The closest international airports are located in San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento. Due to the distance from the airports to the park, you will need to reach the park by vehicle (private, rental, public bus or shuttle).
How Many Days to Allocate
This itinerary is for 2 days in Yosemite. And, by 2 days, I am referring to 2 full days in the park. So, this means I am recommending a 3 to 4 days trip.
For example, on day 1, you would leave your point of origin early and arrive at the park midday. You will sightsee the afternoon and early evening of day 1, day 2 and the morning of day 3. You will return home the afternoon of day 3. This can easily be done during a long weekend. Adding an extra day will allow you to see more and/or rush less.
Should I visit Yosemite as a day trip from the Bay Area? I know my response is not going to be popular but I do not recommend doing this. I do not want to tarnish anybody’s travel plans but you will spend 4 hours driving to the park and 4 hours driving back to where you are staying.
That would leave 4 to 6 hours for sightseeing (depending on daylight). And, that does not include time needed for meals, bathroom breaks, and other essential activities. It can be done but the day would be very tiring. In my experience, an ideal day trip destination should be located at a max of 2 – 2.5 hours away from the place someone is staying.
When planning a trip, try to stay at least one night in the Yosemite area to compensate for the long distance from the Bay area.
Now, if you have the money, a tour to Yosemite from the Bay Area makes sense since you can be doing your own thing while in transit. But, a lot of tours are 2-day (see what I saying).
As a general rule, the more days in Yosemite, the better. The park is gorgeous and there is a lot to see outside the Valley.
When to Visit
You can spend 2 days in Yosemite all year long.
During winter, several roads are going to be closed and sightseeing may be limited but you are going to have the park all to yourself. Keep in mind you may need chains to access the park.
Spring is one of the best times to stop by Yosemite National Park. Visitors are few, waterfalls are at maximum flow, temperatures are pleasant, and wildflowers are in bloom. The Tioga and Glacier roads will probably be closed during this season (and chains may still be needed).
From June to September (late spring/summer), the Valley gets more than half a million visitors per month (the record has been a bit over 20,000 in one day).
The purpose of these statistics is not to give you a heart attack. On the contrary, I am trying to showcase how popular this place is.
If you are visiting during summer, be ready for crowds, traffic congestion, difficulty finding a parking spot and difficulty finding accommodation. The majority of visitors concentrate on the Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point. Other areas of the park should not be crowded.
Fall is another great time to visit the park. Summer crowds have disappeared and temperatures are nice. Some (not many) fall colors may be present.
Yosemite National Park has 5 main entrances.
El Portal Entrance
The Park’s most popular entrance is through the small town of El Portal. Chances are you are going to enter the park this way if you are coming from towns in the San Joaquin Valley or the South.
The area surrounding the road is very scenic. Basically, you find yourself driving through a canyon carved by the Merced River. There are several spots where you see people swimming or fishing in the river. If you observe with care, you are going to notice thin waterfalls streaming down the tall walls.
In the town of El Portal, there is a chance to fill up your car’s gas tank (expensive!) and buy coffee and other goodies. Make sure you enter the Park prepared!
Also, since this is the most popular entrance, try to pass through early, during peak season, in order to avoid waiting in line for more than 40 minutes under the blazing sun.
Once you pass the arch entrance, get prepared to take your first look at all the granite formations.
Big Oak Flat Entrance
This is another popular entrance used by people coming from the Bay Area, Sacramento and points North.
Before entering the park, you are going to bump into the communities of Big Oak Flat and Groveland. In those, you are going to find some restaurants, a pharmacy, a small market, and a bank.
Since services in these areas are limited, I recommend stocking on everything you need for your trip in bigger urban centers.
If you are coming from Los Angeles, San Diego or Orange County, this is the easiest way to enter the park. Keep in mind the entrance is still an hour away from the Yosemite Valley. So, you still have some driving to do (but you can stretch a bit or rest for a while).
Tioga Pass Entrance
Not many people may know about this entrance but it connects randomly visited Yosemite’s high country with US-395, a highway passing through some of the Eastern Sierra’s most scenic views.
This is the entrance to use if you are coming from Mammoth Lakes, Reno, Death Valley or Las Vegas. Get prepared since you are going to go from 6,000 to almost 10,000 feet in a matter of minutes. From the Tioga entrance, it can be up to 2 hours to the Yosemite Valley.
The Tioga Pass road and park entrance are closed during the winter and most of the spring. Check opening info before your trip. Sadly, the closure of the Tioga Pass adds a lot of driving time to people trying to access the park from the east.
Read More: Tioga Road
Hetch Hetchy Entrance
This entrance is used by those who want to visit the Hetch Hetchy section of the park. I have included it in here for the sake of completeness. However, if you are visiting the park for the first time or are pressed on time, visiting Hetch Hetchy may not become a reality.
2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary – Day 1
Day 1 of my itinerary concentrates on the Yosemite Valley, the main attraction in the park for the majority of visitors.
And, let me tell, this is not an overhyped and overrated place. I can say this is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in my life. Believe me, you need to spend a good amount of time exploring the different nooks and crannies of the valley.
The valley is about 8 miles (13 km) long and up to a mile deep, surrounded by high granite summits and densely forested with pines.
There is a main road circling (counter-clockwise) the valley. The itinerary below presents points of interest following that order.
Glacier Point is a high viewpoint that affords panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley and other features in the park. Do not miss this spot! It is a must!
To reach it, you will need to deviate from the main Valley road and take Wawona Road. However, I promise the divergence is worth the time.
In my opinion, it makes sense to visit Glacier Point first thing in the morning. After that, you will have the rest of the day to spend on the Valley.
Now, my previous advice may not be viable during summer. During that season, it is necessary to head to the Valley before 9:00 a.m. to secure a parking spot and visit Glacier Point later.
When the park reaches a certain number of visitors, vehicular traffic is closed to Glacier Point. You will need to park your car, make a line and take a shuttle to the spot.
Read More: Glacier Point
No visit to the Park is complete without taking a look at the valley from a tunneling perspective. This view has been seen and documented by visitors since the park opened in 1933.
The Yosemite Valley extends from West to East (left to right). From the Tunnel View, you are looking at the opening of the Valley (a glacier was there many years ago) and taking a look East.
From the viewpoint, you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.
You need to deviate a bit on Wawona Road to reach the viewpoint. Parking is limited but people are in and out all the time.
Getting close to Bridalveil Fall, one of the park’s main features, is a magnificent experience. The drop is 617 feet (188 meters).
Expect a short walk from the parking lot (less than half a mile) to reach the bottom of the fall.
The Cathedral Rocks form the eastern side of the canyon through which Bridalveil Creek flows. Some people think these rocks, just opposite of El Capitan, are even more impressive than El Capitan. I’ll let you decide on that!
Yosemite Valley Chapel
The Valley Chapel is the oldest standing structure in the Park. The wooden chapel was designed by San Francisco architect Charles Geddes in the Carpenter Gothic style. It was built by Geddes’ son-in-law, Samuel Thompson, at a cost of three or four thousand dollars.
The chapel was originally built in the “Lower Village” as called then. The chapel was moved to its present location in 1901, as the old Lower Village dwindled.
The Chapel is surrounded by Sentinel Meadow, an ideal place to take a look at the Yosemite Falls. Close to it, you will find the famous Sentinel Bridge, a spot to view Half Dome reflected in the Merced River.
Located between the Merced River and Curry Village, Stoneman Meadow plays an instrumental role in the valley’s ecological health by providing plant and wildlife habitat and regulating water flow.
We parked in the meadow area for our hike to Vernal Fall (we found that spot since the trailhead parking lot was full).
The Royal Arches refers to a cliff containing natural occurring granite exfoliation arches. There is a waterfall adjacent to them.
The Ahwahnee is the grand hotel of the valley. It was opened in 1927 and it is made of stone, concrete, wood, glass, and steel.
The public is welcome to walk around the hotel grounds/ lobby and have a meal in the restaurant or café. The grounds are so beautiful. I loved every inch of this place. I recommend you stop by if you have time.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
This visitor center, located in the Yosemite Village, has information about the ecology, history, flora, and fauna of the park. In addition, it presents a documentary and has maps, guidebooks, and souvenirs available to the public.
This is the place to pick the rangers’ brain if needed. Also, take the opportunity to eat, have a snack and a cup of coffee, visit the Ansel Adams Gallery and stretch your legs for a while.
Sentinel / Cook’s Meadow Loop
This meadow, with a 2-mile trail, offers views of Yosemite Falls, the Merced River, and Half Dome.
Yosemite Lower Falls
This is the highest waterfall in the park (and some sources affirm they are the highest in North America too), dropping a total of 2,425 feet (739 m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.
The falls consist of three sections:
Upper Yosemite Fall: The 1,430-foot (440 m) plunge alone is among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. Trails from the valley floor and down from other park areas outside the valley lead to both the top and base of Upper Yosemite Fall.
Middle Cascades: Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of five smaller plunges collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades. Because of the narrow, constricted shape of the gorge in which these drops occur and the lack of public access, they are rarely noted. Most viewpoints in the valley miss them entirely.
Lower Yosemite Fall: The final 320-foot (98 m) drop adjacent to an accessible viewing area, provides the most-used viewing point for the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the Lower Fall and flows into the Merced River nearby.
The entire loop to the base of the falls have is a mile long. And, believe it or not, you can hike all the way to the top of the falls.
El Capitan (“The Captain” or “The Chief”) is one of the most iconic granite formations of the park (he has even been featured in 25 cents coin).
He extends about 3,000 feet (900 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers and BASE jumpers (which is not legal).
Believe it or not, the top of El Capitán can be reached by hiking out of the valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls.
El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world. There are a meadow and a picnic area close to the base of El Capitan.
Bridalveil Fall Viewpoint and Pohono Bridge
These two additional viewpoints offer yet more views of the main Valley features.
Optional: Cathedral Beach or Sentinel Beach
If you have some time available, taking a dip at the Merced River is an option. You just have to head to one of the “beach” areas. Keep in mind the water is going to be freezing cold.
The beaches in the park are well-equipped with all the services needed to have a great time.
2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary – Day 2
After touring the Yosemite Valley, Day 2 would be spent hiking and visiting other points of interest. Even if hiking is not your thing, I recommend making an effort to hit one of the park’s most scenic trails. They are totally worth it!
Without a doubt, this is my favorite (and the signature) hike in the park. The “mist” name was given to the hike since it takes visitors to Vernal and Nevada Falls. When the water flow is at its highest, the falls spray cover all the surroundings.
The trail (moderate to strenuous) has a round-trip length of 5.4 miles. The Mist Trail then merges with the John Muir Trail.
Now, you do not have to hike the entire 5 miles if you do not want. Let me give you more details. From the trailhead to the Vernal Fall Footbridge, it is 1.6 miles roundtrip. If you make it to the bridge I highly encourage you to walk a bit more to make it to the base of the Vernal Fall. It is massive and a true natural spectacle.
It is another half a mile to the top of Vernal Fall (for a total of 2.4-mile roundtrip) through about 600 steps. I am not the best hiker out there but making it to the top of the fall didn’t feel that difficult (I took my time).
Things start to get a bit more complicated if you decide to do the final stretch to Nevada Fall (you will complete the total 5 miles).
Let me mention you may end walking more than the given times since you are not going to walk straight to these points. You are probably going to be walking around exploring the surroundings. Plus, you have to add the walk from the parking lot (and it depends where you park).
You need to exercise a lot of caution when approaching the falls. The trail may be wet and slippery. Plus, crowds are a reality during high season.
Many sites state it takes 3 hours to reach the top of Vernal Fall. I would allocate half-day to this activity.
Read More: Vernal Fall Hike
2 Days in Yosemite – Other Trails
Yosemite National Park counts with a wide network of hiking trails. Below, I am providing details to about the easy to moderate walks/hikes in the Valley and Glacier Point area.
Mirror Lake Trail – This seasonal lake is reached by a 1.2-mile trail (2.4-mile round trip). The trail continues for an additional mile (4 miles round trip). Spring is the best season to conquer this trail.
Valley Loop Trail – As the name implies, this loop takes visitors through the most prominent features of the Yosemite Valley. The great thing about this trail is that you can explore at your own pace away from the noise of the main roads. Plus, hikers walk over a flat surface!
The entire loop has an 11.5-mile length and the half-loop is 7.2 miles.
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point – Glacier Point may be the most famous viewpoint in the park but the views from Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are equally impressive. The trailheads for these hikes are located on Wawona Road. It is 2 miles, round trip to each site (you would walk 4 miles if you want to visit both).
See the Sequoias
In case you are not aware, Yosemite National Park is home to several Sequoia groves. Sequoias are the largest living organisms on the planet. If you do not have plans to visit other parks on the Sierra, this is your opportunity to visit these humongous trees.
You have three options:
Mariposa Grove – The largest grove in the park offers easy to strenuous hikes among the Sequoias. On the downside, the grove is located more than an hour away from the Yosemite Valley. If you are entering the park through the south, it makes sense to stop by the grove before moving to other areas.
Merced Grove – The Sequoias in this grove are visible after a 1.5-mile hike. From the parking lot, you will lose elevation. However, on the way back the elevation gain takes its toll on the body. Keep in mind this before attempting it. This grove is located close to the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
Tuolomne Grove – In here, you will encounter similar conditions to Merced Grove: need to walk a mile to reach the Sequoias and elevation loss/gain can be extreme for some people.
2 Days in Yosemite – Parking
All the sight and attraction mentioned in this article count with parking lots. In addition, there are many parking spots along the roads that allow visitors to stop and take photos safely.
Nevertheless, and I have mentioned this, during peak season it is going to be difficult to find a parking spot in the Yosemite Valley. My advice is to enter the park before 9:00 a.m. to secure a spot. Then, you can use the free shuttle to move between sights.
Where to Eat
Being a popular park, Yosemite has a very good amount of cafes, grills, food courts, and snack bars.
You will find most options at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Yosemite Village and, Curry Village. Be prepared for simple fare such as burgers, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches, soup, and salad. I was actually surprised by the size and number of offerings at these establishments.
If you are on a special diet or have food restrictions, bring your own food. Do not expect these places to cater to your needs.
During high season, snack bars are open at major points and food carts are located close to the most popular trailheads.
More upscale restaurants can be found at The Ahwahnee and the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Eating options outside the Valley or near the park entrances are very limited.
One of my most important recommendations in this article is to carry food and water with you, at all times, during your stay at the park.
2 Days in Yosemite – Accommodations
It is not my intention to get into detail on what are the accommodation options in or near the park. My advice with regards to this topic is to book a place to stay way in advance.
For the times I have visited, this has been my hardest challenge. One time, I almost cancel the trip because there was nowhere to stay.
Accommodation inside the park gets booked fast. Therefore, you may need to find something outside (this adds to your daily driving time).
Uffff! That was quite the article. I hope you have found this itinerary helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.
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