Do's and Don'ts for One Day in Yosemite

By Meg Jernigan; Updated June 08, 2017

The art of Yosemite daytripping

Do's and Don'ts for One Day in Yosemite

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln singled out for protection a section of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in California. Yosemite National Park has since grown to cover 748,624 acres, almost 95 percent of that designated wilderness. More than five million visitors annually climb Half Dome, ski at Badger Pass or float down the Merced River. Conservationist and co-founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, said of Yosemite, “But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”

Top destinations in Yosemite

In springtime, when snowmelt is at its peak, Yosemite Falls is a must-see. The waterfall – one of the tallest in the world – plunges 2,425 feet down a stepped cliff face. A one-mile loop hike leads to the base of the fall. The strenuous hike to the top would take an entire day so save it for a longer visit. History lovers should make time for the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings from the park’s past. The history center is open year-round. Glacier Point, open only in summer, is one of the best spots for a birds-eye view of the Yosemite Valley, 3,214 feet below and Half Dome in the distance.

A one-day drive through the park

Enter the park on Wawona Road and stop at the Tunnel View observation point for memorable views of the Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan. Drive on to the Valley Visitor Center for a quick orientation, then take the short hike to the base of Bridalveil Fall. Continue on Southside Drive to its junction with Northside Drive for a view of Half Dome and the nearby Three Brothers formation. As you head back out of the valley, stop at the turnout for El Capitan, the 3,000-foot-tall rock that’s a favorite with rock climbers. Take Tioga Road, stopping at turnouts along the way, to Tuolumne Meadows, one of the largest meadows in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Clear lakes, granite domes and the glacier-fed wild and scenic Tuolumne River are part of a vast panorama.

Skip these stops

There’s no doubt that the dining room at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, formerly the Ahwahnee, is spectacular. A soaring ceiling tops tall windows framed by enormous chandeliers. But taking the time for a fine-dining experience where prices are high might best be left for a longer trip. Instead, make a stop in the town of Twain Harte, west of the park, to pick up sandwiches to go at the Sportsman Coffee Shop or stop at the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland. Though the views from the top of Half Dome are breathtaking, don’t add the hike up to your daytrip itinerary. View it from an overlook instead because the round-trip hike takes 10 to 12 hours to complete.

Tips for a better trip

Because Yosemite is so vast, a number of transportation systems will get you to all of the park’s high points. The free Yosemite Valley shuttle stops at major vistas, and the El Capitan shuttle transports visitors to El Capitan, the visitor center and Bridalveil Fall. Other fare-based bus services make stops at points like Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. Keep in mind that roads can close at any time of the year if weather conditions deteriorate. Check the National Park Service’s current conditions webpage for temporary and seasonal closings before you head to the park.

When to visit

Spring is the best time for waterfall viewing. As the snow at higher elevation melts, it swells the park’s falls to peak runoff in May and June. As summer progresses, the water supply dwindles until some falls run dry. Autumn showers restore some, but usually not all, of their flow. Summer is the busiest season at Yosemite. While you’ll have access to the entire park, you’ll also be facing heavy traffic on the roadways, crowded overlooks and packed trails. Winter is the least busy time, but many miles of closed roadway limits access to some sites for daytrippers.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan