Visiting the granite paradise of Yosemite National Park is a must for any traveler. The park has some of the highest cliffs in the world, including El Capitan, featured in the 2018 documentary Free Solo. A visit to Yosemite can be as relaxed or active as you choose. You can largely stay in the comfort of your car while taking short walks at vista points, take rewarding day hikes from a home base hotel or campsite, or go on a multi-day backpacking adventure in the wilderness. No matter what style you chose, a trip to Yosemite will make lasting impressions.

Highlights

  • Observe the world's highest sheer cliffs up-close
  • Take beautiful hikes, easy or strenuous, along the parks many trails
  • Walk between giant Sequoia trees

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Yosemite Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite
Day 2 Explore Yosemite Valley and its many highlights Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite
Day 3 Amazing views at Glacier Point and hike along giant Sequoias  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Yosemite

O'Shaughnessy Dam

 

The drive from the Bay Area east towards Yosemite starts out on busy highways. It's not the most scenic beginning, but the destination is more than worth the journey. After about 2 hours (depending on traffic), the route starts to become more interesting as you pass almond orchards in the Central Valley. Next, you'll begin the steep climb to Groveland (tip: take the Old Priest Grade for a nice, but steep, shortcut with pretty views).

Groveland is a great little town for a quick coffee or bite. Try Cocina Michoacana for a good burrito.

From Groveland, it's another 45 minutes through dense forest to the the Evergreen Lodge. On this stretch of road, you start to feel that excitement that comes with heading toward a special destination! Follow the directions and turn left about a mile before you reach the park entrance. 

Note: There are many other lodging options in Yosemite as well, including the Ahwahnee Lodge (traditional upscale hotel in the middle of the action in the park) and Curry Village (basic rooms and cabins, also centrally located). Ask your specialist for additional recommendations.

If you arrive early enough during the day, you can take the time to start exploring.  Your hotel is very close to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  Many visitors to Yosemite skip this part of the park, but they shouldn't!  With amazing waterfalls, beautiful wildflowers, and crystal clear alpine lakes, it would be a shame to miss it. 

For a short afternoon hike, you can head to the Lookout Point.  The 2.5-mile short hike gives you a birds-eye view of Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the O'Shaughnessy Dam, and Wapama Falls.   With a bit more time, you can visit these sights up close. The Wapama Falls Hike (5 miles round trip ) has you first walking over the O'Shaughnessy Dam, where you can see the giant wall (910 feet long) holding back the water in the reservoir.  From there, it is an easy, flat hike along the side of the lake past several streams and 2 smaller waterfalls (only in spring), as well as many wildflowers to the main event - Wapama Falls.  The bridge in front of the waterfall gives you access to see the falls from all angles.  Take a break at the falls before heading back to some well-deserved dinner at your lodge.


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Day 2: Explore Yosemite Valley and its many highlights

Yosemite Falls over Merced River
Yosemite Falls over Merced River

Today you'll head to the Yosemite Valley floor to explore some of the most amazing rocks and waterfalls anywhere in the world. 

It's about a 20 minute drive to the park entrance, where you'll pay your entrance fee, and then another 30 minutes to the valley floor. Enjoy the granite slabs lining the road and get ready for an amazing view of El Capitan and Half Dome as you approach the valley.

Your first stop is Bridalveil Fall. Park on the side of the road and hike up towards the foot of the waterfall. Be careful higher up, as it gets slippery and steep. The big boulders are a great adventure for kids.

As you continue the drive, make sure to look up and to the left to see the 3,000 foot high El Capitan ("El Cap") towering above you. 

For a great 3.5-mile round-trip hike, head to the Happy Isles trailhead and complete the Vernal Falls Hike. This trail can get crowded on busy weekends, but the spectacular Mist Trail right next to the Vernal Falls is worth the experience.

Before or after the hike, you can grab a simple lunch at Curry Village or go to the Ahwahnee Hotel for a classier meal.

In the evening, head back to the Evergreen Lodge to enjoy the camp fire and a nice dinner.

See detailed Google Map for this day

Day 3: Amazing views at Glacier Point and hike along giant Sequoias

Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove

Today, you'll head back to the park from the Evergreen Lodge, but when you reach the valley floor you'll make a right towards Glacier Point. The road winds through more pine forests until you reach Glacier Point. Enjoy the sweeping views of the valley and Half Dome. 

Stop at the Wawona Hotel for coffee or sandwiches, and enjoy the old world feeling here as you take in the scenery.  

Then, follow direction to Mariposa Grove to hike between giant Sequoias. The area was renovated in 2018 to better protect the trees from roads and over-tourism, with parking further away and a new shuttle that brings you to the Grove. Follow the signs to park at Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza, where you'll hop on the free shuttle. You can find more information on the official website.

You'll have the option to choose between hikes of various length:

  • Big Trees Loop Trail (0.3 miles)
  • Grizzly Giant Loop Trail (2 miles)
  • Guardians Loop Trail (6.5 miles)
  • Mariposa Grove Trail (7 miles)

All of these are more than worth the effort, so we'd recommend picking the loop that best matches your ability and desire to hike today. 

Once you are done forest bathing, head back to your car and continue toward the South entrance at Fish Camp and follow the directions back to San Francisco. This is a different route back than the way you came. Like the drive in, the more scenic parts of the road are closer to the park.

See Google map for this day .