Tunnel View in Yosemite with a canopy of forest trees and granite cliffs

Epic 2 days in Yosemite Itinerary by a local (2024)

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Being a Northern California local, Yosemite National Park is just a three-hour drive for me. I am fortunate to live so close to one of the most beautiful national parks in the US.

I have visited Yosemite several times and in every season. It is our go-to place to take any visiting friends and families.

We typically visit during the weekend and find that two days is the perfect amount of time to explore the main highlights of Yosemite.

With 2 days in Yosemite, you can explore Yosemite Valley, the main waterfalls like Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, iconic landmarks like Half Dome and El Capitan, epic views like Tunnel View and Glacier Point, and a few easy or moderate hikes.

So, let’s get into the details of my epic Yosemite itinerary for two days.

Yosemite Itinerary: Quick Overview

If this is your first time visiting Yosemite, my #1 tip for you would be to find lodging inside the park. The main Yosemite Valley attractions are around 45 minutes from the park entrance and can take even more time on weekends due to traffic.

Below are the main highlights in Yosemite that you shouldn’t miss –

  • Areas – Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point (if open).
  • Waterfalls – Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls.
  • Landmarks – Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View. These can all be seen from the Yosemite Valley – more on this later.
  • Easy Hikes – Lower Yosemite Falls loop, Cooks Meadow Loop, Mirror Lake loop.
  • Moderate hikes – Vernal Falls footbridge and/or top of Vernal Falls hike.

Yosemite Itinerary for 2 days

I recommend arriving at your accommodations on Friday evening so that you have the full weekend to explore Yosemite National Park.

It takes me around 3 hours to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite via the Big Oak Flat Road (Hwy 120), also known as the West entrance.

If you are coming from Los Angeles or somewhere from Southern California, you will arrive at Yosemite via Wawona Road (Hwy 41), also known as the south entrance.

I also sometimes start really early on a Saturday morning and reach the park by 9 AM. That way we only have to pay for one night’s accommodation. But I have been to Yosemite so many times that now I only go for specific hikes.

If this is your first time visiting Yosemite, I recommend staying at least two nights in the park to have enough time to cover all the main sights.

Couple posing against the Yosemite National Park entrance sign
Me and Hubby posing at Yosemite National Park sign at west entrance

Day 1 in Yosemite: Explore Yosemite Valley

On your first day in Yosemite National Park, I recommend taking in the sights of the Yosemite Valley.

You can do this in several ways listed below. I have seen the Valley in each of these ways, and which method I pick depends on the season and the crowds.

  • Driving on your own and doing all the stops. – This is only possible in the off-season, like winter, as parking can be hard at the popular stops during summer and any holiday weekends.
  • Parking at one place and taking the free park shuttle – This is a better option so that you don’t have to worry about being able to find parking at each stop.
  • Taking the Valley Floor Tour operated by the NPS – This is the best option and we did this last summer. You can get so much more information about the park from the park rangers!

Below are my top recommendations for sights to see in Yosemite Valley. If you are doing the Valley Floor Tour operated by the National Park rangers, their tour will take you to all these stops. It is also possible to drive yourself or take the free park shuttle to all these stops.

Tunnel View

Start your Valley Tour with a breathtaking introduction to Yosemite’s beauty at Tunnel View. I believe this is one of the best views of Yosemite! Another epic view is Glacier Point (more on that later!).

Girl sitting on a rock wall staring at the Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park
Me admiring the Tunnel view at Yosemite

This iconic viewpoint offers a panoramic vista, showcasing El Capitan and Half Dome towering above a canopy of evergreen trees. The forest really looks like a green blanket from here! During spring, you can also see Bridalveil Falls in the distance.

It’s a perfect spot for memorable photos, capturing the essence of Yosemite’s grandeur in one frame. I just love to sit here and take it all in for some time.

How to get here: You can drive here; there is a parking lot at Tunnel View. The free park shuttle does not go to Tunnel View, but the paid Valley Floor Tour stops here.

Bridalveil Falls

Next, visit Bridalveil Fall, one of Yosemite’s most prominent waterfalls. Flowing year-round, this 620-foot waterfall creates a misty ambiance.

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park
Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite

The falls are thunderous in spring, and you will get wet with its mist towards the end of the trail near the falls. When we visited Yosemite during winter, the flow was light, and the falls swayed in the wind like a bride’s veil, thus giving it this distinct name!

The short trail to the viewing area is partly paved and partly on a boardwalk, allowing you to experience the falls’ power up close.

hiking path in a forest in yosemite
Bridalveil Fall Trail in Yosemite

When we visited in winter, many people were climbing over the boulders to reach closer to the falls at the end of the trail. It did not look very safe, honestly speaking.

How to get here: You can drive here; there is a huge parking lot at Bridalveil Falls. The free park shuttle does not go to Bridalveil Falls, but the paid Valley Floor Tour stops here.

Lower Yosemite Falls

A must-visit, Lower Yosemite Falls is the lower part of the tallest ahwaterfall in North America (2,425 feet).

Couple standing in front of a waterfall in Yosemite. Yosemite Falls is a must see in any Yosemite itinerary
Me and hubby at Lower Yosemite Falls in Spring, the falls are gorgeous is Spring

A relatively easy walk across a well-maintained trail will lead you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. The thunderous sound of water and mesmerizing views always take me by surprise! It’s really beautiful!

Spring and early summer are the best times to see it in full flow. Once, we visited in May, and the falls were magnificent. We could feel the mist from far away!

On our recent visit in December, the falls had very little flow, and the rocky river bed was mostly dry. Again, I saw a lot of folks on the boulders trying to get near the waterfall!

Yosemite Falls with just a trickle of water in winter
Lower Yosemite Falls in winter is just a trickle

The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is an easy 1-mile loop and really relaxing. Some parts of it are accessible.

How to get here: Park at the Yosemite Valley Lodge parking lot or use the free shuttle and get down at stop #7.

Lunch at Yosemite Valley Lodge

After visiting the Yosemite Falls, stop at the Yosemite Valley Lodge for lunch, which is right across the Falls.

Yosemite Valley Lodge has a decent food court called Base Camp Eatery with some good meal options like pizza, burgers, wraps, soups, etc., and it even has vegetarian options.

After a busy morning, take a moment to enjoy your meal with stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and waterfalls at one of the outdoor picnic tables.

There is a Starbucks here as well! I was so ecstatic to see a Starbucks at a National Park! It is something else to enjoy my Mocha with a view of Half Dome!

Cook’s Meadow Loop

After lunch, stroll through Cook’s Meadow Loop. This easy, flat trail is around a 1-mile loop and offers serene meadows and striking views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point. It’s an ideal way to experience Yosemite’s natural beauty without a strenuous hike.

kids walking on a boardwalk in a green meadow in yosemite Valley
Boardwalk in a beautiful meadow in Yosemite Valley

You can join the Cook’s Meadow Loop from The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center or from the small parking lot near Sentinel Bridge. You can even do this as an extension of the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.

But honestly, any open meadow near the Yosemite Valley Lodge has panoramic views and several boardwalks. I found a similar hiking trail from behind our Lodge building that took me to a breathtaking open meadow and to the Swinging Bridge.

El Capitan

Witness the grandeur of El Capitan, a favorite among rock climbers. This massive granite monolith stands about 3,000 feet from base to summit. Its sheer size and presence are awe-inspiring, a testament to Yosemite’s geological wonders.

El Capitan and cliffs seen in Valley view with the river in the front
El Capitan (on the left) seen in Valley View

You can admire the vast El Capitan from El Capitan’s Meadow. If you have binoculars, you can try your luck and maybe spot some climbers on the massive granite wall. I once saw a couple of climbers while visiting Yosemite in the summer!

How to get here: There is parking at the shoulder of El Capitan Dr and Northside Dr. You can also use the free shuttle and get down at Shuttle Stop #9 for El Capitan Meadow.

Half Dome

Half Dome, another of Yosemite’s iconic landmarks, is visible throughout the valley. Once you see it, you will not forget its distinct shape! This unique granite dome offers one of the park’s most challenging hikes, which requires a permit.

Close up of Half Dome peak
Iconic Half Dome peak seen from Glacier Point

I am just content looking at Half Dome from the valley for now, as the 17-mile steep hike is a little too much for me!

The best views of Half Dome can be experienced from Glacier Point (closed in winter), Curry Village, and Tunnel View.

During our stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, we were surprised to see Half Dome clearly from our hotel room window! It was a visual treat, for sure!

Dinner at The Ahwahnee

Conclude your day with dinner at The Ahwahnee. This historic hotel offers a fine dining experience in an elegant setting. Reservations are highly recommended at the Ahwahnee dining room.

Grand dining room with high wooden beam ceilings, chandeliers and tables with white tablecloths
Ahwahnee dining room

We dined here once as my husband and I were celebrating our 20th anniversary, and I was awestruck by the grandeur of the dining hall with its stone walls, chandeliers, and high ceilings with wooden beams.

Couple dining at the Ahwahnee dining hall with a tall window with drapes behind them.
Me and hubby enjoying dinner at the Ahwahnee dining room

If this is too extravagant for you (it was for us, too, and was probably a one-time thing!), you can also enjoy a picnic at one of the meadows or have dinner at Yosemite Valley Lodge or Curry Village.

How to get here: Shuttle stop #3; there is also paid valet parking at the hotel. Even though we were overnight guests at the hotel (yes, we went all out and stayed at the Ahwahnee on our 20th wedding anniversary!), we still had to pay for overnight valet parking.

Stargazing

End your day under Yosemite’s starry skies. The valley, away from city lights, provides a magnificent backdrop for stargazing. Bring a blanket and lie back to admire the bright stars and constellations. Kids will love this for sure!

Day 2 in Yosemite: Mirror Lake, Vernal Falls, Glacier Point

On your second day in Yosemite, maybe venture out of the Valley and see sights like Glacier Point and Mirror Lake, and do a moderate hike to see Vernal Falls.

Mirror Lake

Start your second day with a visit to the tranquil Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley. The hike to reach Mirror Lake is on the east side. Mirror Lake is particularly beautiful in spring and early summer and offers stunning reflections of the surrounding cliffs in the lake’s still waters.

A shallow lake with still water that has reflection of the boulders and cliffs
Still water of Mirror Lake shows the reflection of the surrounding scenery

I did this hike in December, and there was much less water in the lake, but I could still see the mirror-like reflection of the rocks and cliffs in the water.

You can do the easy paved road walk to reach Mirror Lake or do the 5-mile Mirror Lake Loop hike, which is a dirt trail with some rocky steps and incline.

hiking path in the woods with dirt trail and trees
Mirror Lake Loop Trail

We reached Mirror Lake via the loop trail and came back through the paved road. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning hike, and it took us about an hour. This included our small adventure of trying to cross the shallow Mirror Lake without getting our shoes wet!

How to get here: There is no parking lot at the Mirror Lake Trailhead, so we parked at Curry Village and took the shuttle to the trailhead (stop #17). On the way back, we just walked back to Curry Village, and it was only half a mile from the trailhead.

Vernal Falls Hike

Alternatively, if you want to try a more moderate to strenuous hike on Day 2, try the Vernal Falls hike via the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail.

The Vernal Falls hike via the Mist Trail begins at Happy Isles trailhead, with a steep 0.8-mile ascent to the footbridge offering the first stunning view of the falls. You can stop here to continue on to reach the top of Vernal Falls.

After the footbridge, the trail becomes more strenuous, climbing about 600 feet over half a mile. This section, known for its wet and misty conditions, features granite steps leading to the top of Vernal Falls.

Alternatively, the John Muir Trail offers a less steep route to Vernal Falls. It diverges from the Mist Trail after the footbridge, offering a longer but more gradual climb.

I have only done this hike to the footbridge as the kids were young when we attempted it, but it is on my bucket list to hike to the top of Vernal Falls and maybe even further to Nevada Falls in the near future!

How to get here: You will need to take the shuttle and get down at shuttle stop #16 at Happy Isles.

Lunch at Curry Village

After your Mirror Lake or Vernal Falls hike, stop at Curry Village to refuel. Curry Village has a large indoor Pavillion, A Pizza Patio, and a Meadow Grill, thus offering variety of food options for your group. My family always gets pizza here!

Entrance sign at Curry Village which says 'Camp Curry Welcome'
Curry village

If you happen to visit during the winter months, Curry Village also has an ice-skating rink! How cool is that!

Glacier Point

In the afternoon, head to Glacier Point, an absolute must-see. This overlook provides some of the most spectacular views in the park, offering a panoramic vista of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite’s high country.

The drive to Glacier Point is an experience in itself, with several viewpoints along the way. The area is typically accessible from late May through October, weather permitting. Glacier Point Road is closed in the winter months.

I have been to Glacier Point once during the late summer, and we stayed till sunset. The view from here is unparalleled! We could see Half Dome, Vernal Falls, and even Nevada Falls.

Epic view of Half dome and nearby cliffs from Glacier Point in Yosemite
Epic view of Half Dome and nearby cliffs from Glacier Point

Parking can be a challenge, but you will eventually find it as the lot is quite large, and the turnaround time is quick.

There are several popular hikes on the Glacier Point Road. Taft Point hike and Sentinel Dome hike are both moderate and offer excellent views.

Another popular option is to take the Glacier Point bus to the top and then hike down the Four Mile Trail, which is steep with switchbacks but much more manageable on the way down.

How to get here: When the road is open, you can drive to Glacier Point in your own car or take the seasonal paid Glacier Point Tour operated by park rangers.

More things to do in Yosemite

There are many more awesome things to do in Yosemite, but it might be hard to fit everything in a 2-day itinerary. You can save this for a return visit or if you plan to extend your stay.

Strenuous Hikes

Yosemite National Park has several bucket list hikes, and hikers make trips to the park just for these hikes. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Half Dome via Mist Trail and John Muir Trail: A strenuous 14-16 mile hike to the iconic Half Dome, featuring steep inclines and cable routes.
  • Upper Yosemite Falls Trail: A steep 7.2 mile journey to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall, with impressive valley views.
  • Clouds Rest: A challenging 12-14 mile hike offering exceptional high-elevation views of the Yosemite wilderness.

Biking in the Yosemite Valley

Biking in Yosemite Valley is an excellent way to experience the park’s natural beauty. With over 12 miles of flat, well-maintained bike paths, it’s accessible for all skill levels.

paved bike or walking path next to a lush green meadow with trees and mountains in the back
We enjoyed this bike path behind Yosemite Valley Lodge how gorgeous are these views!

This eco-friendly mode of transportation is ideal for navigating through scenic landscapes, from lush meadows to riverbanks, allowing you to cover more ground while avoiding the crowds and parking hassles.

You can bring your own bikes or rent bikes at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. We rented bikes once during the Fall season, and the kids had a blast. They could stop wherever they wanted, play in shallow river beds, and climb boulders.

Camping

Camping in Yosemite National Park is an unforgettable experience, immersing you in the midst of its natural wonders. The park offers a variety of campgrounds, accommodating both tent and RV camping.

Summer is the best time weather-wise to enjoy camping at Yosemite, but as you can imagine, it is also the most popular season, and campsites are booked at least six months in advance. So, some pre-planning is needed.

Row of white canvas tent cabins with green doors and steps in Curry Village
Tent Cabins in Curry Village

Curry Village is more like glamping, with wooden cabins and tent cabins available. The more rustic campgrounds are Upper Pines Campground, Lower Pines Campground, and North Pines Campground in the Yosemite Valley.

The complete list of Yosemite campgrounds is available on the NPS website.

Where to stay in Yosemite

It would be ideal to stay inside Yosemite National Park to maximize your time in the park. It takes around 40-45 minutes to drive from the west or south entrance to Yosemite Valley. This can be even longer if there is traffic.

Staying Inside the Park

We always look for accommodations inside the park. Below are some of the options that range from luxurious to rustic, catering to different preferences and budgets.

The Ahwahnee (luxury): Known for its stunning architecture and historic significance, The Ahwahnee offers luxurious rooms and suites with breathtaking views of Yosemite’s landmarks. We stayed here during our last visit, and it was amazing. We could see Half Dome from our room window.

hiking path and footbridge in front of The grand Ahwahnee hotel building
The historic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley Lodge (mid-range): A more moderately priced option, Yosemite Valley Lodge provides comfortable accommodations with easy access to Yosemite Falls, hiking, and other valley attractions. We have stayed here twice, and it really puts you in a central location for the food options and the shuttle.

Curry Village (budget): Offering wood cabins, canvas tent cabins, and standard hotel rooms, Curry Village is an affordable and popular choice for visitors wanting a more authentic outdoor experience.

Staying outside the Park

Rush Creek Lodge is one of the better resorts just outside the west entrance of the park with excellent family-friendly amenities. It takes about 45 minutes to drive from here to Yosemite Valley.

Travel Tips / FAQs for Visiting Yosemite

Below answers and travel tips will help you plan your trip to Yosemite National Park.

How to get to Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite is accessible by car, with the nearest major airports being in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno. Rental cars are available at these airports for the drive to Yosemite.

Below are the driving distances:

  • San Francisco International Airport to Yosemite Valley – around 4 hours
  • Sacramento International Airport to Yosemite Valley – around 3.5 hours
  • Fresno Yosemite International Airport to Yosemite Valley – around 2.5 hours

Which Entrance to Yosemite is the best?

The best entrance to Yosemite depends on your itinerary and where you’re coming from.

We visit Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay Area, so we mostly take the Big Oak Flat Entrance (Hwy 120) or the Arch Rock Entrance (Hwy 140), depending on traffic and the suggested route by GPS.

If you are visiting from Fresno or Southern California, the south entrance near Mariposa Grove (Hwy 41) might be best for you.

Cars waiting at the entrance gate of Yosemite park for entrance fee payment
Big Oak Flat entrance (west entrance)

Yosemite Entry Reservations

During peak seasons, Yosemite may require reservations to enter or to access specific regions within the park. It’s essential to check the park’s official website for the latest information and make reservations well in advance.

Yosemite Entrance fee

There is a fee to enter Yosemite, which varies depending on the vehicle type or if you’re entering on foot or bicycle. The pass is typically valid for seven consecutive days.

  • Private vehicle – $35
  • Motorcycle – $30
  • Per Person on foot – $20

This time, we purchased the ‘America the Beautiful’ annual pass at the gate for $80 as we plan to visit more than three national parks this year! You only need to get it for one person in your vehicle.

When is the best time to visit Yosemite?

I have visited Yosemite in every season, and they were all amazing trips. The best time to visit depends on what you want to see and do.

Spring (April- May) is ideal for waterfalls, summer (June- August) offers the best hiking conditions, while fall (September- October) brings colorful foliage and fewer crowds.

Winter (November-March) in Yosemite is magical, especially for snowshoeing and skiing or just enjoying the scenery, but some parts of the park, including Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road, are closed due to snow.

How to get around in Yosemite?

Parking is available throughout the park but can fill up quickly during peak times. Arriving early is recommended, especially for popular spots like Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite offers a free shuttle service in Yosemite Valley and other areas of the park, which is a convenient way to get around, especially during busy times.

People boarding a White bus with Yosemite Shuttle written in green
Free Yosemite park shuttle

During the busy months of summer, I would advise you to park at Yosemite Valley Lodge and use the park shuttle.

Final Takeaways: Yosemite 2-day itinerary

There you have it! My Yosemite itinerary covers all the main sights and attractions and gives you a teaser of its amazing hikes!

From the awe-inspiring views at Tunnel View to the serene reflections in Mirror Lake, every moment spent in Yosemite is a testament to the beauty and grandeur of our national parks.

Whether you ventured up the challenging trails to Vernal Falls or basked in the tranquility of Yosemite Valley, each experience will stay with you forever, and you will want to come again!

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