The United States is filled with absolutely beautiful national parks. From the cacti-covered deserts of Joshua Tree National Park to the orange alien rock formations of Bryce Canyon, none as breathtaking, however, as Yosemite National Park.
And if you’re lucky enough to live on the west coast of the US, you can get the full Yosemite experience over a long weekend road trip.
Yosemite is best known for its cascading waterfalls and jaw-dropping rock formations formed 100 million years ago.
These astonishing cliffs also contain hundreds of miles of hiking trails and some of the world’s most beautiful panoramic views.
So if you’re craving some fresh alpine meadows, impossibly tall pines, and of course itching to watch some world-class free-soloing at El-Capitan…. Yosemite National Park is your next weekend getaway.
In this Yosemite itinerary we have included everything you need to know to spend an incredible weekend in Yosemite National Park.
Whether you have 2 days or 3 days in Yosemite, we look at everything like where to stay, what to do, the best hikes and more!
- 1 General tips for a weekend in Yosemite
- 2 Where to stay for a weekend in Yosemite
- 3 My Perfect Yosemite Itinerary
General tips for a weekend in Yosemite
– It costs $35 for a 7-day car pass to visit the park.
– Be sure to book accommodation FAR in advance. Yosemite is a very popular summer road trip destination & lodging fills up fast.
– Yosemite is seasonal. Summer is the most popular time of year but Spring & Fall can be enjoyable for their own reasons. Fall for the weather & autumn colors and Spring for the gushing waterfalls.
– Be sure to stock up on food and gas before entering the park. Supplies are limited and snacks are super overpriced inside. The best food stop inside Yosemite is The Village Grill Deck.
– Hike with a map. The trails in Yosemite converge constantly. It can be easy to get lost and some routes are 26+ miles long.
Where to stay for a weekend in Yosemite
This is THE place to stay in the Yosemite area. Now, technically the lodge is outside the National Park but it’s just a short 10-minute drive from the south-west entrance.
The cabin-style rooms are budget-friendly (a rare find in the valley), & there is a phenomenal vegan-friendly cafe in the main lodge that packs the perfect to-go lunches for your day in the park.
For those with impeccable planning skills and a healthy travel budget, the Yosemite Valley Lodge is the most popular place to stay. Sitting directly in front of Yosemite falls itself you won’t find a more prime location.
For the True Nature Lovers
Yosemite Valley has loads of campsites all across the national park and in the surrounding areas. You’ll definitely need to book far in advance for the reservation sites.
For the availability of first-come-first-serve sites, be sure to check out the national park service website for the most up to date information.
My Perfect Yosemite Itinerary
This perfect 2-3 day itinerary will guide you through all the best attractions in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite Day 1: Get Acquainted with the Park
Yosemite National Park is massive. Nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness covered with scenic drives, lovely hiking trails, and some of the most iconic rock-climbing peaks in the world.
It’s overwhelming trying to decide what to prioritize when you only have one weekend to visit the park.
An ideal first day in Yosemite allows you to take in all the iconic views and enjoy a few scenic walks without exerting yourself too much. Honestly, my drive through the park was one of my favorite days in Yosemite.
Start your drive through the South-East entrance and head to Bridal Veil Falls. Depending on the season, the falls will be gushing & it may be necessary to wear a poncho to prevent yourself from spending the rest of the day soaked.
Next, you’ll drive through the Yosemite Valley itself, surrounded by all the iconic rock formations.
This small loop will take you toward Lower Yosemite Falls where you can walk around if you choose.
From the valley floor, you’ll then head back past El Capitan one of the single most breathtaking natural wonders in the world.
I recommend stopping here for your lunch break. You should be able to spot some climbers attempting the summit or even sleeping in tents clinging to the side of the cliffs.
After you’ve marveled at El Capitan you should follow the winding road to the upper rim of the valley and take in the sights at Tunnel View.
It’s a whole new perspective of Bridal Veil Falls and El Capitan and the best viewpoint you can access via car.
To round-off your first day in the park take a scenic sunset walk. To Taft Point! This hike offers the best views for sunset and is super easy. It should only take two hours at most to complete.
Yosemite Day 2: Mist Trail & Glacier Viewpoint
The Mist Trail is my favorite hike in Yosemite National Park. Guiding you up the grey rocky cliffs this short hike takes you past Vernal & Nevada Falls.
At one point on the trail, you’ll be directly in the spray of Vernal Falls and depending on the time of year, you should expect to get soaked.
Not only is this trail one of the most beautiful and not too difficult it also has some of the best views of the surrounding mountains.
The hike is around 7 miles round-trip if you take the John Muir trail back into the Valley. (Which you should.)
End your day with another remarkable sunset at Glacier Viewpoint. A stunning head-on view of Half-Dome.
3-Day Weekend? Want to spend one more day in the park? Here are two options depending on your energy levels after yesterday’s hike.
Yosemite Day 3: (For Hiking Enthusiats) Upper Yosemite Falls
The Upper Yosemite Falls hike isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging. Approximately 9.5 miles round trip to Yosemite point with a 3,000 ft elevation gain.
It can take anywhere from 6-10 to complete the trail but if you have the stamina and the time…it’s a must. You won’t get a better view of the valley from anywhere in the park.
As an added bonus, if you visit in the spring or early summer the falls will be roaring beneath you. Simply spectacular.
Yosemite Day 3: (For Everyone Else) Snow Creek, Mirror Lake, & Tioga Pass Drive
For those who are feeling a bit sore after the Mist Trail or those just looking to marvel at some painfully pretty scenery these are the sights for you.
Mirror lake is placid and glasslike, reflecting the cliffs high above it & Snow Creek is a looping mostly flat trail that guides you past the lake through bear country.
It’s relaxing & really puts you smack dab in the middle of nature. Another bonus, the trail isn’t highly trafficked so it’s likely to be just you and the deer.
If you start your day nice and early you can finish your Yosemite adventure with a scenic high-altitude drive through Tioga Pass. The highlights up through Tioga Pass include Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake.
Important: The pass is only open during the summer months before snowfall. It opens sometime in May/June depending on the weather.
This 2-3 day perfect Yosemite itinerary will guarantee you get to experience the best the park has to offer.
Yosemite National Park is one of the best national parks in the US, and one of those places that you’ll remember visiting forever. Carved by glaciers and impossibly green, the landscapes here are known for their drama.
And sitting at the base of El Capitan, staring up at the sheer granite face, you’ll understand why it’s one of the most popular National Parks in the United States.
We hope you find this Yosemite itinerary useful in planning your own trip! If you have any questions, just let us know in the comments below!
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