Yosemite National Park makes for a perfect weekend getaway, as it is a mere four hour drive from San Francisco and can be added on a road trip from Los Angeles as well. Here is how you can spend an epic 2 day Yosemite itinerary
Here you will find yourself among beautiful waterfalls, feel humbled in the presence of sequoia trees, said to be the biggest in the world, gaze up at towering waterfalls and uncover an embarrassment of riches which are all native to just Yosemite.
Another great thing about Yosemite is that no matter what time of the year you choose, whether a sun-drenched summer afternoon or when snow covers the valley floors in winter, you will find natural beauty all around you.
2 day Yosemite itinerary and travel guide
Encourage yourself to prepare for the trip by walking several times a day in good hiking boots that you plan to pack with you. The trails in Yosemite are high altitude and can be strenous, so going for a walk four to five times a week is strongly recommended.
If you are going on a saddle trip, spend a couple of days at a riding stable to learn to handle a mule or a horse as riding can be as physically demanding as hiking once you spend long hours in the saddle everyday.
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With so much to see, a trip to Yosemite National Park can be a massive undertaking. A great way to experience the full splendor of this beautiful park is by opting for a guided tour in an exclusive convertible bus.
Of course, you can see Yosemite on your own, but if you have limited time a guided tour is recommended to ensure you see all the major highlights without the stress of planning and having to drive yourselves.
These trips offer unobstructed views of Mariposa Grove, Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point and the towering trees and cliffs of Yosemite. When you travel with a guide, you get to learn a lot more and gain a deeper understanding of what you are experiencing.
Another popular tour is the one day Giant Sequoias and Glacier Point tour. This tour covers the famous viewpoints and majestic waterfalls before ending with a hike to the towering sequoia trees.
For those coming from San Francisco, there is another option of joining a two day Yosemite tour for a hassle free experience. This guided tour is inclusive of transportation, accommodation, hikes, entry fees, hikes, introductory tours of the most iconic landmarks of the park.
Expect to see Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan and Inspiration Point. The tour is inclusive of a night’s stay at the Yosemite Lodge.
Yosemite is located in central California, which makes it far from the major airports. A road trip, therefore, is the ideal way to visit the park. Just remember to plug Yosemite Valley into your map and NOT Yosemite National Park.
If you are arriving from San Francisco, the Arch Rock entrance is the fastest via I-850 to I-205 east to highway 140 east and into the park.
For those coming by air the nearest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport(1.5 hours, 65 miles) and the furthest Reno(4.5 hours, 200 miles ) to the Valley.
Your entire itinerary will only be decided if the Glacier Point road is open, as during the snow season from mid May to mid November you will have to skip this route. You will also have to give a miss to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point if the road is closed.
Alternatively, you can use the Half Dome cables, but they are only open from May end till mid October, depending on the weather at that time of the year.
Where to stay
Since you have just two days to spend in Yosemite, it is strongly advised to spend the extra buck and book a place in the Valley in order to save driving time and see as many sights as possible. A few accommodation options are:
- Yosemite Valley Lodge
- The Ahwahnee
- Camping and Curry Village
If you prefer camping, the North Pines Campground in the middle of the valley is a place where finding a good spot is not difficult, but if you like to stay in a proper room, book at least six months in advance. Accommodation in the valley is limited and rooms fill up fast in the peak season.
(There is a good Airbnb option for five to six persons at Yosemite West, which is 16 miles south of Yosemite Valley and takes around 45 miles to reach).
When to visit
Yosemite is a winner at all times of the year, but some areas of the park can get snowbound during winters. So I would recommend visiting the park in May or September, when it is less crowded and almost all attractions are open.
September is also a good month, but as the summer has just ended the waterfalls would have dried up by now. However, hiking is most comfortable as the temperatures are not so hot.
During winter, most of the activities in Yosemite are snow related and there are plenty of opportunities for cross country skiing. There are dedicated skiing areas in Badger Pass Ski and Tube and Snowboard Area where you can both ski and snowboard.
While there is no doubt that Yosemite has a free and efficient shuttle service, you simply won’t be able to access all the spots in two days unless you are on your own wheels.
While public transport is available in Yosemite from 7am to 10pm round the year, you can only use your car, depending on conditions, from July to October as some roads may close and tire chains may be required from October to April.
There is also a free seasonal shuttle which runs from Mid June to early October between the Valley Visitor Center and the Four Mile Trailhead. Other seasonal shuttles that run from mid June to early September include the Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle and the Badger Pass Ski area shuttle between mid December and end March.
Two day itinerary
The first step is to decide what’s the best there is to see in Yosemite in two days. (By two days it means two FULL days, so your tour can only be completed if you reach Yosemite the day before your itinerary starts).
The most stunning hiking area in the park is the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and should be the first tick off on the first leg of your trip early in the morning at 7am.The hike is a little strenuous, but short, and provides for some incredible photo opportunities on the way to the top.
The Mist Trail is 5.4 miles long and with an elevation gain of 1925 feet. I would recommend go the extra mile and a half to the John Muir Trail down from the Nevada Falls to give you a fantastic loop trail hike. Additionally, John Muir is less strain on the knees, except for the fine layer of sand on it which makes it quite slippery.
I would recommend wearing good hiking boots along the trail which has three stopping options, Vernal Falls base, Vernal Falls top or Nevada falls. I found the top of Vernal Falls the best of the lot, and it took me three hours for the 2.4 miles round trip.Make sure to carry water and some protein bars to keep you going.
After the hard hike, head back to your hotel for a shower, some food and a short rest.The main option here is the Yosemite Valley Lodge’s Base Camp Eatery, but I found the food here highly overpriced and extremely bland. The Village Grill and Pizza Patio are some of the other outlets but they too had poor reviews. When it comes to dining you have little choice.
Your next target should be to watch the setting sun from Tunnel View.This point is just a fifteen minutes drive from the valley by a vehicle.I would recommend reaching there as early as possible to grab the best vantage point and guarantee yourself parking as well. From the viewpoint you get to see the entire Yosemite Valley which includes Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Three Brothers and El Capitan.
It is worth ticking off El Capitan Meadows, which lies on the way to the Tunnel. No matter which time of the year you are visiting Yosemite, Tunnel View should be on your itinerary even if you are in the park for a single day. Tunnel View lies just off the Wawona Road, which is the road which leads to Glacier Point.
After watching the sunset at the Tunnel, head back to your accommodation to have a meal and grab a cup of coffee and head outside to do some stargazing as the stars are incredibly clear in the park. Next jump straight into bed to rest and relax for the hard day ahead of you.
The Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park is home to about 500 sequoia trees, some of which are said to be over two thousand years old. The grove is very popular with visitors and can get extremely busy at times, but that should not act as a deterrent. The place is so beautiful that it must not be missed.
To get to the grove on your second morning, drive down to the Mariposa Grove parking lot and catch a shuttle to the Giant Sequoias Trail, which passes through the most famous trees of the grove such as Grizzly Giant, Fallen Monarch, California Tunnel Tree and others. The trail is about 10 km in length and takes two and a half hours to complete.
Start as early as possible and do not forget to bring good hiking shoes, water, snacks and lots of sunscreen. Carry a picnic hamper to enjoy a picnic at some of the beautiful spots in the area, instead of wasting time by going back to the hotel to eat.
Day two (afternoon)
After having food, head to the Yosemite Museum, not very far from the Mariposa Grove. This is a wonderful place to understand the history of the native Americans who once lived in the park.The rebuilt Indian village of Ahwahnee, just behind the museum, showcases traditional games and demonstrations of bead work and basket weaving. If you are interested in Yosemite – inspired art, then check the nearby Ansel Adams Gallery.
Other options for a first time visitor can be, in order of difficulty, Lower Yosemite Falls our Four Mile Trail or the Panorama Trail during late spring or fall. If you want to explore the valley from above take the Sentinel Dome Trail.
Another stunning place to watch the sun set by is Cook’s Meadow, which is not very far from the valley and can be easily accessed by using the shuttle service to stops six or seven. Due to the boardwalks the trail is also wheelchair accessible.
Here from the Sentinel Bridge one can watch the great views of the Half Dome as the sun rays strike the white granite cliffs and turn them into hues of pink and orange. The trail is just 4km long and makes for a perfect way to wind down the second day.
Wrap up your last evening at Yosemite National Park with a gala dinner at the Ahwahnee, an exceptional but expensive outlet. The place has enormous windows and high ceilings and is perfect for a formal last evening dinner. The Ahwahnee is one of the most popular restaurants in the park and one should make a reservation to avoid any disappointment.
Yosemite is a place where valley temperatures can be high while the alpine sites can be quite cool. So here are some of the essential items to pack in your suitcase for your two-day Yosemite trip:
- Sturdy rubber-toed shoes.
- Boots for hiking on granite
- A rain jacket
- Couple of reusable water bottles
- Sun hat, sunscreen and Sunglasses
- Warm and cold clothing layers
- Star Chart
- Insect repellent
- Park Maps
- Garbage bags
- Trekking poles
- Reusable water bottle.
An important travel advice
The bears in Yosemite, and there are plenty of them around, have a strong sense of smell and should never be underestimated in their ability to access almost anything which is scented.
Food items can only be kept inside a vehicle with doors and windows firmly shut and out of sight during daylight hours. Do not leave food in a car after dark and use a food locker instead that is available at all trailhead lodges and parking lots.
Bear sprays are prohibited in Yosemite and it is against the rule to approach a bear or surround it. Keep your distance if you come across one in the backcountry and inform the nearest ranger about its presence.
Other last minute tips to make you fully prepared for Yosemite are as follows:
- Before heading out, check out the current conditions on the park website as some trails may be open and some closed due to various reasons.
- Download the app AllTrails before setting out. This app highlights the various trails around the park and their levels of difficulty. Before you arrive it is better to download as many of the trails as you can.
- The signals in the park are sketchy, so expect to be off the phone for the two days. Make sure to gather all the information you need before you arrive.
- Fuel is very expensive at the park, so fill up your vehicle to avoid spending a fortune on petrol.
Day trips from Yosemite
As you continue through the high country in the eastern part of Yosemite, Highway 120 becomes Tioga Road. This is a seasonal road which opens only in late spring until fall. Plan visiting this area in spring to avoid the crowds.
Along the way, expect to view some jaw-dropping views from Olmsted Point and look down upon the grassy meadows of Tuolumne and the crystal clear alpine lakes. Your North entrance to Yosemite is full of wineries, historic towns and exceptional scenery.
Explore Yosemite’s spectacular backcountry in the rugged and high altitude hike to the Cathedral Lakes. The Tioga Road reaches its highest point at Tioga Pass as it leaves the park and descends into the semi-arid desert are on highway US 395. Here you can explore some of the abandoned ghost towns like Bodie State Historic Park.
On the way back home you can stop at Donner Memorial State Park. The tale of the park are quite grim, but the lakes and hiking trail is beautiful. This will be your last taste of the Sierra before your 184 miles trip back to San Francisco.
Yosemite National Park budget
One of the best things about visiting Yosemite is that it can be experienced in any budget from backpacker to a four-star luxury traveler.
To start with, entrance to the park is $35 per vehicle plus $2 as reservation fee, irrespective of the number of people, for three days. You are required to purchase the pass online before you enter the park on recreation.gov. Then there are free shuttle buses that run on the valley floor throughout the day, meaning you can hop on and off without having to spend a cent.
The average cost of accommodation in Yosemite is $52. For two people this relates to $104 in a twin sharing room. Meals cost on an average $32 per person per day. The price in a sit-down restaurant will be often more than the fast food joints.
Entertainment and other activities like tickets to museums and other attractions and sightseeing expenses will cost $15 per person on an average per day.
Health and Safety information
The Yosemite Medical Clinic which is located between The Ahwahnee and the Yosemite Village is fully equipped to handle any sick or injured park visitor. In case of emergencies, just dial 911 as you would do from anywhere in the US.
The following guidelines will ensure a safe visit to the park:
- Stay away from flowing water and the slippery rocks on the edge. Never approach a water at the top of a waterfall.
- When hiking, wear the right layers and bring ample food and water. Study the trails carefully and plan accordingly. You can view hiking tips on tte National Park Service website.
- The single most important rule about safety is to keep the food away from all wildlife, including storing in bear-resistant containers.
- When staying in tent cabins, use a cot or a surface which is at least 12 inches above the ground.
- Discard all trash as per park regulations.
- The high altitude of Yosemite means the air is thin and dry. The best way to avoid the high altitude symptoms is through gradual acclimatization.
Are two days enough? 2 day Yosemite itinerary
There is so much to explore in Mariposa County and Yosemite that two days can barely look enough. However, two days will be enough for one great hike and a few other glimpses. That said, no matter how little or how much you get to see, it will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Planning a trip to Yosemite is not an easy task, as with so many things to see and do, it is easy to get confused and frustrated. Having said that, even if you have two days, believe me it is 100% worth it.
I found Yosemite to be a truly beautiful national park and worth the trip from anywhere to get there. These two days were packed with bear sightings, unbelievable hikes and tons of photo opportunities.