The popular Yosemite National Park is nestled into California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Visitors flock to Tunnel View, the iconic vista of Yosemite Valley; the panoramic view of Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome can’t be beat. This majestic park truly has a little something for everyone and this 2 day itinerary of Yosemite National Park is the perfect weekend trip.
Ultimate 2 Day Itinerary Yosemite National Park: Hikes and Sights
If you have two days in Yosemite, what should you hike? This really depends on your fitness level and what kind of hiking you prefer. I would try and squeeze as many trails in as possible – but I’m also a little crazy!
There is truly a trail for everyone at Yosemite National Park; here is how I would plan out my 2 days in Yosemite.
Day 1: Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point
Spend your first day in the park exploring the iconic Yosemite Valley and the highly photographed Glacier Point. Start with Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Hike Vernal and Nevada Falls
My intense hiker friends should have this full trail, 6 miles and over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, completed by noon. My less intense hiking pals might want to stick to the shorter, less intense Vernal Falls Loop before returning to the car. Get an early start on day 1 to ensure you have enough time to see all the beautiful places.
Grab lunch (or eat a premade lunch) before hopping in the car and driving up to Glacier Point. You first stop will be the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Trail Head. Choose one or both of these gorgeous, short hikes for gorgeous views of the valley, el Capitan, and Half Dome.
DISTANCE: 6 Miles – 4.2 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This is a tough hike! Challenging but rewarding nonetheless. The first suggestion is to take the Mist Trail up and the John Muir Trail down.
The second suggestion is to start this hike at 6:00 AM. FOR REAL THOUGH… unless you like waiting in line on steep, stone steps up along the side of a misty waterfall, leave for this hike before the crowd begins to climb.
We had no choice but to hike on a summer weekend and even starting at 9:00 AM we were waiting in lines of people up 600 stairs until we made it to the top of Vernal Falls; here the crowds thin out as the remaining 1.5 miles consist of some seriously strenuous switchbacks.
Once you reach the intersection for Half Dome you are home free and will be enjoying stunning views into the valley that are one hundred percent worth the wicked climb. Please cross the bridge and take the JMT back down to the valley floor; the trail is almost double in length but it is significantly less steep, it isn’t misty and full of people, and it allows for so many beautiful viewpoints along the way so don’t stop forget to stop and enjoy the view!
Hike Taft Point
Head west on Wawona Road to exit Yosemite Valley. Shortly after leaving the valley your first stop will be at Tunnel View parking lot. Stop to see the iconic view and then continue on to the Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Trailhead on your way up to Glacier Point.
DIFFICULTY: EASY – MODERATE
DISTANCE: 2.3 Miles
DESCRIPTION: An incredibly easy hike to the most perfect views of Yosemite Valley that overlook El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Taft Point and its surrounding rock fissures provide panoramic views of the valley; make sure to take a gander at the vertical chasms that drop into a trench coursing down into Yosemite Valley but don’t get too close! Or do…
Hike Sentinel Dome
Sentinel Dome is another short, easier hike that leaves from the same trailhead as Taft Point. A Short, steep ascent will bring you gorgeous panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. If you’re pressed for time or simply exhausted at this point in your day, leave this one out.
DISTANCE: 2.2 Miles RT
DESCRIPTION: The hike to this granite dome, which lies on the south wall of Yosemite Valley, will provide you with miles and miles of stunning views in whatever direction you care to turn.
Looking west, you’ll see down Yosemite Valley and beyond to the Merced River canyon. To the north, you’ll see Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. To the east, you’ll see Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Clouds Rest, and an assortment of High Sierra peaks.
I never wanted to leave my spot atop Sentinel Dome; even if that spot changed countless times because I couldn’t pick which view I liked best.
After hiking Sentinel Dome and/or Taft Point, drive the remainder of the road to Glacier Point. Bring dinner with you and watch the sunset here, you won’t be upset with your decision.
Day 2: Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road
No matter where you’re staying, make sure you spend a day exploring the trails off of Tioga Road. The Tuolumne Meadow area of Yosemite National Park deserves a 2 Day Yosemite itinerary of its own.
Start your morning with a gorgeous hike up Lembert Domw
DIFFICULTY: MODERATE – CHALLENGING
DISTANCE: 2.8 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This hike is relatively easy, but do remember you are going to gain some elevation here towards the end! Once you make it to the open rock face you can determine what your ability level is for going further.
With young children, this is certainly a great place to stop and enjoy your view; as an adult with decent coordination you should head on to the tippy top. Be selective in your route, however, there are multiple lines you can take to your desired elevation; choose whichever one works best for you! Lembert Dome offers excellent views looking west across Tuolumne Meadows on top of simply being an enjoyable hike followed by an exciting climb.
DIFFICULTY: MODERATE – CHALLENGING
DESCRIPTION: A steady climb to Upper Cathedral Lake provides a stunning view that after a swampy crossing to a large rock shelf can be enjoyed along the shore of a beautiful lake.
The impressive granite-wrapped High Sierra lake is surrounded by Cathedral Peak in the east and by Echo and Tresidder Peaks along the southern shore, all of them over 10,000 feet in elevation!
This is a great place to swim, enjoy lunch, and grab some sunshine which is why I put it as your mid-day hike! Please plan to spend some time to hang out here. Swim, picnic, and revel in the beauty of this spot.
The hike up isn’t exceptionally steep or difficult, just a consistent climb. The mosquitoes (on trail, not near the lake) were pretty brutal so definitely plan accordingly for that!
DISTANCE: Up to 3 Miles
DESCRIPTION: You can explore the meadow at first light or sunset. What a beautiful place to be as the light dances up over the towering rock faces to the east and an equally magical place to be as the sky turns from a soft cotton candy pink to fiery orange while the sun disappears over the dome-studded sub-alpine meadow section of the Tuolumne River.
This photo is from sunset, which is why I have it scheduled as your sunset hike on day 2! This is by far one of the best places to watch a Yosemite sunset. It was such a beautiful place to sit and enjoy the final bit of warmth for the day. You can make this hike as long as short as you’d like as gorgeous views are only steps from your vehicle.
Nearby you can find soda springs and Parsons Lodge. The Historic Parsons Memorial Lodge offers exhibits; check a schedule to see if there is one while you’re in town!
Additional Yosemite Hiking Trails
Maybe you’ve already hiked one of the above mentioned trails for the 2 Day Itinerary Yosemite National Park. Or maybe you’re just looking for something with less elevation gain or a different view! No matter what you wind up choosing, you’re going to have the most adventurous two days in Yosemite National Park.
Mirror Lake Loop
DISTANCE: 4 miles
DESCRIPTION: Bring your bathing suit for this one! A simple hike with no real elevation gain will bring you to one of Yosemite’s most popular swimming holes.
The full loop itself is 4 miles long if you make it to Tenaya Canyon and loop around, however, it is only 2.4 miles from the trailhead to the lake. It is heavily trafficked and full of swimmers in the warm summer months.
For my hiking partner and I, this hike was a waste of time. We prefer something more strenuous with greater reward but for people looking to cool off or hiking with children, this is a viable option. Close to the base of Half Dome, easily accessible and home to varying water depths.
DIFFICULTY: EASY – MODERATE
DISTANCE: 3 Miles
DESCRIPTION: The great part of this hike is that the trail to the grove is downhill. This grove contains a couple dozen mature Giant Sequoias, including the one you can walk through. If you haven’t already seen dozens of huge Sequoias in SEKI, don’t miss this hike!
Lower Yosemite Falls
DISTANCE: 1 Mile
DESCRIPTION: An accessible paved walkway will bring you to the bottom of the falls. From here you can choose to stay on flat, solid ground or venture onto the large boulders littering the side of Yosemite Creek.
Despite signs warning of injury, you’ll see people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities doing some light rock scrambling to get as close to lower falls as they can. If you’re up for it and capable, I suggest doing the same. It’s incredible to get up close and personal with the 320 foot shortest section.
If you come prepared, you can swim in a beautiful pool of water right at the base of this colossal waterfall. We also experienced a handful of rock climbers in this space. It’s definitely one you shouldn’t miss out on! Yosemite Falls is a 2,425-foot tumbler, the highest waterfall in North America, that is so tall it has to take two rests before it’s done falling.
Places to Stay in Yosemite National Park
First and foremost, where are you staying? Accommodations book QUICKLY here, especially during the summer busy season (Late May – September); they range from simple tent cabins at the High Sierra Camps and campsites, to deluxe rooms at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Visit the Yosemite Hospitality website for full descriptions, prices, and online reservations. Reservations are available 366 days in advance and are strongly recommended, for ALL accommodations, especially from spring through fall and during holidays.
Speaking from my area of expertise and experience, camping at Yosemite is quite the experience. There are campgrounds that take reservations and campgrounds that are first come first serve only. CLICK HERE for a well-organized chart explaining important campground information such as pricing, availability, running water, sites, pets, elevation, and, most importantly, opening dates.
Places to Stay in Yosemite Valley
- The Ahwhanee
- Camp 4 Campground
- Curry Village
- North & Upper Pines Campground
- Yosemite Valley Lodge
Places to Stay in Yosemite West
- Ahwahnichi Lodge
- Yosemite Park Place
- Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders Condominiums
- Various Home Rentals
Accommodations Along Tioga Road
- Crane Flat Campground
- Tioga Pass Resort
- Tuolumne Meadows Campground
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge
- White Wolf Lodge
Important Information on Campgrounds
Many first come first serve campgrounds are not open from October through early spring; the opening of these sites depends heavily on the year’s snowpack. For example, in August of 2017, I traveled here expecting all the first come first serve campsites on Tioga Road to be open since their projected opening date was August 1st; on August 10th the only campsites open on Tioga Road were Tamarack Flat and Tuolumne Meadows.
In our case, arriving at 1:00 PM on a Thursday did not bode well for our chances at getting a site. We were two people away from securing one for ourselves, however, a kind gentleman and his family offered to share their site with us for the night in hopes of better luck the next day. Arriving to
wait sleep in line at 4:45 AM only secured me the 6th open campsite available, but it was well worth the blacktop mattress for a weekend-long site.
Eating While in Yosemite National Park
There are plenty of restaurant and dining options throughout the park. Yosemite Valley has year-round dining options while these options are only available seasonally in Wawona, Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass), Glacier Point, White Wolf, and Tuolumne Meadows. Additionally, groceries are available all year in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Crane Flat, and El Portal; groceries are available seasonally at Tuolumne Meadows.
We indulged twice while in Yosemite Valley and were not disappointed either time. At Half Dome village we enjoyed delicious burgers for a late lunch after a tough 10 mile morning. The following morning we devoured breakfast sandwiches from Degnan’s Cafe. Degnan’s was very busy but provided a good range of breakfast options and coffee along with a variety of delicious looking pastries and coolers full of drinks and prepackaged food items.
For a 2 Day Itinerary in Yosemite National Park, I’d suggest packing a camp stove to cook at your site or at a picnic area with. Being able to eat an early breakfast, or a late dinner wherever you want is incredibly convenient when trying to see as much of the park as possible.
All campgrounds are equipped with a fire pit and grilling grate. With the help of tin foil and cooking equipment, the grilling grate converts into the perfect stove. Each campsite also has food lockers; these food lockers provide a great place to store food and any other items with scent (think deodorant, face wash, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, chapstick, sunblock, etc.) in a place that makes your stay safer for both you and the wildlife. We found that these lockers stayed cool throughout the day and wound up being incredibly convenient for all of our storage needs at our site.
Plan A 2 Day Itinerary Yosemite National Park Backpacking Trip
Considering Yosemite is composed of 95% designated wilderness land, it would not surprise me if many of my readers were hoping to obtain wilderness permits to further enjoy their stay in Yosemite. As someone who applied for one and was denied due to filled quotas four months in advance, be sure to apply for your wilderness permit exactly 6 months prior to when you would like to utilize it.
Wilderness permits are issued to a limited number of people for each trailhead in order to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude, as required by the Wilderness Act. A reservation typically costs $5 per confirmed reservation plus $5 per person unless you plan to hike Half Dome on your trip which will run you a bit more money.
the JMT, or John Muir Trail, is a famous long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada. A good portion of it runs through Yosemite National Park. Spending a few days on this trail, even if you don’t hike the whole thing, is a great way to experience Yosemite’s backcountry.
Yosemite also contains nearly 70 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail as well. You can hike portions of the PCT from Tuolumne Meadows as a day hike or an overnight hike. This is another great way to meet really cool (and smell) people and see beautiful sights.
If you have trail questions or concerns during your stay you can stop at any of Yosemite’s multiple Welcome Centers/ Visitor Center and speak to friendly, knowledgeable staff. At the trailhead of many trails, you may find PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue) volunteers who are scattered to help prevent illness and injuries but can also suggest hikes and provide directions. If you find a park ranger, talk to them! They know all of the most beautiful places in everyone’s favorite national park.
Tips and Tricks for a Successful Yosemite Trip
Yosemite is a beautiful place and you’ll have a lot of ground to cover. You will be sharing the 750,000+ acres of Yosemite National Parks with their 4 million annual visitors. Here’s the first two tips for a successful Yosemite visit:
- Get Gas Beforehand
Although there are gas stations within the park, gas is pricey! It’s 55 miles from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, which means it’s likely you’ll need to fill up within the park. Plan accordingly to save yourself time and money.
- Utilize Shuttles
There are shuttle systems within the park to help save visitors time and money! No need to waste time and gas driving in circles for a parking spot. Check out the different shuttle options in the full post.
Check out the full article for all 11 Yosemite National Park tips.
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