Things You Must See In Yosemite In One Day – Itinerary & Tips
Millions of visitors head over to Yosemite National Park every year. The park had a record of over 5 million visitors in 2016. While this National Park is roughly equal to the size of the state of Rhode Island, would you believe that these visitors spend their time mostly only in the six-mile square radius of the Yosemite Valley? Well, there's good reason for it, too. The downslope movement of ancient glaciers from a million years ago, sculpted and designed the beautiful valley that is the major attraction today. Providing incredible vistas and other natural wonders that are a must see, this area is sure to impress.
Though Yosemite National Park is massive and offers tons to see and do, there are some bucket list places that can be experienced even in one day. A day that is filled with jaw-dropping views, peaceful walks through shaded forests, and short hikes to towering waterfalls.
Voted as one of the top places to visit in the U.S. over and over, Yosemite National Park is a great vacation spot that doesn't require a passport or a big budget. Known for its giant sequoias, valley vistas, historical lodging, rustic camping, and adventures like rock climbing and hiking, there's lots to do here for any type of visitor on any budget.
Note: If getting there with your own car is not an option or you feel that public transportation will take too much time and hassle, get there from San Francisco and explore with a tour.
Top Places To See In A Day In Yosemite
If we had to pick just one spot to recommend on your day in Yosemite Park, it would be Glacier Point. This is hands down, one of the most picturesque and breathtaking places we have ever been! You don't even need to drive too far into the park to get to Glacier point, so it's certainly offers that quick satisfaction factor. A short walk from the parking lot will deliver you a magnificent panoramic scene that includes several of the famous landmarks.
Atop this cliff, you'll be presented with the ever majestic Half Dome, practically, in center stage. A bit to the right of that you'll recognize Nevada Falls in the distance, and down below, the unmistakable Yosemite Valley. Pictures could never convey the feeling of awe that one experiences with all of this in their field of vision. Don't miss Glacier Point for the most "bang for your buck." at Yosemite!
A panoramic viewpoint area, located directly east of the Wawona Tunnel portal. Visitors entering Yosemite Valley from points south on state Route 41 will run into this view just after passing through the tunnel. Here, you will be presented with the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.
Yosemite Valley - The valley floor may not sound as intense of a scenic point as the above-mentioned locations, but you'll be surprised by the humbling effect it will have.
This is where the grandness of the park really hits home. There's a special silence that echoes in the Yosemite Valley; it may even be compared to the vastness that the ocean presents to a deep sea diver. Nevertheless, be ready for a sore neck as you tilt your head up for the views of soaring granite rock demanding their place against the blue skies above.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Yosemite Village is located in the valley. This is where you can find shops, restaurants, medical clinic, visitor center, and theater, as well as lodging.
One of the easiest and quickest places to sightsee in the park is the falls with which it shares its name. One of the WORLD'S TALLEST waterfalls, much taller that even the waterfalls in these small towns of New York, it's made of three tiers and has its maximum flow during the month of May. You can view Yosemite Falls from the base or a distant viewpoint. For the extra adventurous, it can even be hiked, but that will require a full day! Though there are lots of signs around the base warning visitors of the dangers of climbing the slippery rocks to get up close, we took our time going forward carefully.
The rock here is VERY slippery even when not wet, and we wouldn't recommend doing the hike unless you really feel that you can handle the risky terrain. As you make your way through the rocks penetrated by the icy flow of water, you'll once again be mesmerized by the exquisite nature of this national park.
We absolutely love being immersed in nature and Yosemite Park is one of the best places we have ever visited to experience this. Our trip to Hawaii gave us a chance to hike and see waterfalls but it was quite different terrain than this!
The 1.2 Mile walk to Mirror Lake itself could be listed separately as one of the top things to see in Yosemite. There is a path to walk on, or you can just follow the street directly leading to the lake (it is closed off to cars unless they have accessible plates). At a normal pace, it will take approximately 20 minutes to reach Mirror Lake by foot, and it is an easy walk with gorgeous forest views all around. Visiting in late September gave us a bit of a disappointing view of the lake itself, though.
The small pond that was all that was left of the lake after the summer season still reflected the cliffs and sky in its own way. Just resting here for a few moments and taking in the surrounding was certainly worth the stroll through the forest. This would be a great place to hang a hammock for a couple of hours of relaxation. I can imagine the lake reflecting the surrounding cliffs and trees when it is filled with water after the spring season. May would probably be an awesome time to see the full potential of this lake.
Mother Nature takes another opportunity to show off her true beauty in this majestic Sequoia tree orchard. The ancient giants will have you tripping backward as you try to glance up to their heights.
The Mariposa Grove restoration project was underway at the time of our visit. So we were unable to get a quick look or walk through the trunk of the famous California Tunnel Tree. However, the project is due to end in November of 2017 and will provide better facilities as well as more trails! In the meantime, Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove are other great places to see giant Sequoia trees on your visit to Yosemite National Park.
How To Get There And Get Around For A Day Trip
Driving the scenic route: A day trip from San Jose will take just under five hours. This is pretty much the length of drive from most places around the San Francisco Bay Area. We recommend entering the park via CA-140. This route will give you some nice scenery along the way as you drive alongside the Merced River.
Coming in from this direction, it will be about an hours drive to Glacier Point. You can stop to see Tunnel View first as you drive up Wawona Road. However, if you arrive there around noon, it may be very crowded. We suggest going to Glacier Point and then stopping at Tunnel View on your way down. We recommend sightseeing in the following order as you drive through the park:
- Glacier Point
- Mariposa Grove
- Tunnel View
- Yosemite Valley
- Yosemite Falls
- Mirror Lake.
Note: The entrance fee for Yosemite is $30 per vehicle (regular cars) and allows entry for up to 7 days.
Go With Tour: Check out some options below.
Take Public Transportation: BART and Amtrak in the Bay Area are great public transportation option for those who don't want to drive on their own or do not have a car. For instance, if you are going to Yosemite from San Jose, You would need to get to Fremont BART vis the VTA 181. You will take BART to the Richmond Station and then get on the Amtrak to Merced. Once you arrive at the Merced Station, the YARTS bus will take you right to Yosemite Valley.
Take A Bus: Greyhound Bus provides transportation to Merced as well. Again, from Merced, you can take YARTS to Yosemite National Park.
Transportation Inside Yosemite: The National Park Service provides a free shuttle inside the park. This bus system goes around the Yosemite Valley and gives you plenty of stops to key locations such as Yosemite Village, Valley Visitor Center, Lower Yosemite Fall, Mirror Lake Trailhead, Half Dome Village, and many more. The Yosemite Valley Shuttle operates from 7 in the morning to 10 at night year-round.
Where to stay
After our packed day of sightseeing, we drove through Yosemite on Tioga Road and exited out the other end. We could only see the park in one day because we had planned to drive to Lake Tahoe and spend a couple of days at South Lake Tahoe. After leaving the park, it took us about an hour to get to Bridgeport.
We spend the night at the historic Bridgeport Inn. It was a delightful stay in this quaint little motel, just outside of Yosemite, and we would highly recommend it.
If you prefer to stay inside the park, Camp 4 is a great option for campers, and if you are the luxury-type, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel may be a fantastic option for you. Other places to stay include Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, Yosemite Valley Lodge, or Tenaya Lodge.
Some additional lodging recommendations:
If you're planning more time in California, you might be interested in some other amazing romantic and quick getaways near San Francisco. Check out the article we put together on the best places to go for romantic getaways Northern California.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!