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Yosemite in One Day

What to See in Yosemite in One Day

Make the Most of One Day in Yosemite

Yosemite is just over 1,100 square miles, and contains over 800 miles of hiking trails, so as you can imagine, it would take months to explore the entire park. However, time and budget restraints often limit us to much less time in the park. If you only have one day to explore, this guide will share some tips and recommendations for seeing Yosemite in one day.

BEST WAY TO SEE YOSEMITE IN ONE DAY

Yosemite is a large park with many distinct areas. Depending on what you’re looking to see, whether it be the granite behemoths El Capitan or Half Dome, or the peaceful seclusion of lakes surrounded by peaks and domes, there is surely something that will spark your interest. Although there are other great sights in Yosemite that are not listed, below are the four most commonly visited areas of the park:

Yosemite Valley: The Yosemite Valley is what most visitors think about when they think about Yosemite National Park. Big, granite legends such as Half Dome and El Capitan reside in the Valley. Stunning waterfalls, gigantic cliffs, and panoramic vistas are accessible year-round. Because of its infamous views and breathtaking scenery, this is the busiest area of the National Park. Highways 41, 140 and 120 all run into the Yosemite Valley.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: Mariposa Grove is the largest concentration of giant sequoia trees in Yosemite, boasting over 500 looming sequoias. The history of the national parks is derived from Mariposa Grove, when Lincoln, in 1864 set it aside for public use and recreation. These towering giants are a unique look into the past and a fresh look into the future. Mariposa Grove is located at the very south entrance of the park, off Highway 41. There is a large parking lot and visitor center at the base of the hill, this is the only place to park. Shuttle buses take visitors up the hill to the grove every 15 minutes.

Hetch Hetchy: Tucked away in Yosemite’s northwest corner, Hetch Hetchy is a peaceful oasis that is great for visiting at all times of the year. It is at 3,900 feet elevation, so it’s hiking season is longer than most other areas of the park. In springtime, visitors are rewarded with roaring waterfalls and blooming wildflowers. And it’s not just impressive in the spring, year-round visitors will marvel at the hidden lakes, extraordinary mountaintops, and vast wilderness of Hetch Hetchy. The road to Hetch Hetchy is located just outside the park, near the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, on Highway 120, it is approximately 38 miles from Yosemite Valley.

Tuolumne Meadows: Tuolumne Meadows is a vast, subalpine meadow, with the Tuolumne River meandering through, and marvelous peaks in the distance. Sprinkled with lakes, rivers, peaks and wildlife, Tuolumne Meadows one of the most majestic areas in Yosemite. Views of the Yosemite Valley from the north give a unique perspective. It is accessible from Tioga Road-- a 47-mile scenic drive from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, and is closed November through May or June. For road closure information, click here.

SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE

Yosemite is impressive all day long, but especially impressive when the Valley is set ablaze by the rising or setting sun. When the sun’s first light hits the beloved El Capitan, or when the Valley is shadowed and Half Dome is highlighted in a fiery orange, Yosemite is every sunrise or sunset enthusiasts’ dream. Below are the best locations for watching the sunrise:

Tunnel View: Tunnel View is located just outside the Valley, on Highway 41. It is a parking area with an impressive overlook, making it great for sunrise because you don’t have to go too far. The view looks down over the entire Yosemite Valley; Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls are all visible, and are lit up one by one as the sun starts making itself known to the Valley.

Inspiration Point: Inspiration Point is also accessible from the Tunnel View parking area. Tunnel View has the tendency to get crowded, so Inspiration Point is a great spot to escape while getting the same impressive view. The trail is short but steep, as it climbs up for 1.3 miles to the overlook. Watching sunrise from this secluded and panoramic vantage point is all worth it though.

SUNSET IN YOSEMITE

Below are best locations to watch sunset in Yosemite National Park:

Glacier Point: Take an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley down Glacier Point Road, and you will encounter a spectacular sunset experience. Glacier Point looks down on the Valley, and at sunset you’ll watch Half Dome lit up pink and orange as the Valley below is shadowed into a dark blue. If you can handle the crowds, these are the best spots for sunset:

Olmstead Point: For a little quieter sunset location, Olmstead Point is off Tioga Road. The view looks over the Valley from the north, so the major characters are visible from a different and unique perspective. Sunset enthusiasts are rewarded with expansive views, while watching the Valley sink into the shadows and the peaks above glow orange.

Horsetail Fall: Horsetail Fall is located on the east side of El Capitan, and on most nights of the year, is seemingly ordinary at sunset. However, around the second week of February, with the sun positioned perfectly in the sky, a phenomenon occurs. Because of the angle of the sun and the flow of the falls, the waterfall glows a red-orange color and looks like a stream of fire is being poured off the cliff. With popularity growing, the Park Service has put rules in play that confine viewing to a certain zone, but of course, they have our best interest in mind, and it is the best view of the phenomenon. To read more about Horsetail Fall at sunset, click here.

TAKE A HIKE IN YOSEMITE

If you’re up for an adventure and want to see the best of Yosemite, strap on your hiking boots, because with over 800 miles of hiking trails, there is something for all ages and levels of ability. Hiking is one of the best ways to fully experience this massive park, and is also a great way to escape the crowds. Ranging from easy to moderately-strenuous, and varying in distance, these trails are hand-picked to enhance your time in Yosemite, if you only have one day in the park. Below are the top trails in each of the four main areas of the Yosemite:

BEST HIKES IN YOSEMITE VALLEY

For iconic views of Yosemite Valley and to experience waterfalls up close and personal, these are best day hikes in the area:


1. MIST TRAIL TO VERNAL FALL AND NEVADA FALL

This moderate to strenuous hike on the Mist Trail begins at Happy Isle (shuttle stop #16). It leads you up close and personal with two waterfalls, that are roaring in the springtime and alluring year-road. For a shorter hike that still provides spectacular views, the Vernal Fall footbridge is a 1.6 mile round-trip hike, with 400 feet elevation gain. This footbridge offers great views of the majestic Vernal Fall. Just after the bridge, about .2 miles, the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail separate. The Mist Trail continues to the top of Vernal Fall, a 2.6 mile round-trip hike. Climbing an additional 600 feet in elevation, the trail goes up a series of stairs containing over 600 steps. At the top of Vernal Fall, you are able to look straight down at the entirety of the fall, 317 feet. Continuing past Vernal Fall, the Mist Trail climbs another 1000 feet in elevation on steep switchbacks, to bring you to the top of Nevada Fall. Once at the top of the climb, look for a bridge that crosses the Merced River and takes you to a closer view of the fall. Round-trip to the top of Nevada Fall and back is 5.4 miles.


2. UPPER AND LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS

The Yosemite Falls Trail leads you up to the tallest waterfall in North America, rising 2,425 feet over Valley below. Starting at the trailhead, at Camp Four, the trail begins a steep ascent right off the bat. Switchbacks help you gain elevation quickly, and as you climb above the trees, you get your first glimpse of the Valley and its’ marvelous features. After 1.5 miles, you will be rewarded with impressive views of Upper Yosemite Falls, while starring at Half Dome and Sentinel Rock in the distance. This is a great turn around spot for hikers with less time, and the trail gets pretty steep after this point.

Continuing up steep and rugged switchbacks, the trail eventually leads you to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, and the view is absolutely worth the climb. Once at the top, you can extend your trip by following signs to North Dome, which leads .8 miles to Yosemite Point. From here, you have direct views of Half Dome and the Valley below, and are surrounded by granite. You can also follow signs for El Capitan, which leads west 2.7 miles to Eagle Peak. Make sure that if you decide to extend the hike, you have plenty of water and snacks to do so. When you are ready to head down, follow signs back to Yosemite Falls, and then begin down the trail you came up.

BEST HIKES IN HETCH HETCHY

For a little more solitude, surrounded by granite domes while relaxing at the reservoir, these are the best day hikes in Hetch Hetchy:


1. LOOKOUT POINT

This 2 mile round-trip hike begins at the entrance station. With some basic rock scrambling, it leads you up to a rocky overlook of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Hetch Hetchy Dome and Kolana Rock. The trail is short, sweet and simple, but provides a great view of the wilderness beyond.


2. WAPAMA FALLS

This trail begins across the O’Shaughnessy Dam and through the tunnel, and is a 5 mile round-trip hike to the base of Wapama Falls. The trail follows the banks of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and provides spectacular views of Tueeulala Falls and Wapama Falls— both original Miwok names; to learn more about Hetch Hetchy’s cultural history, click here. It consists of moderate uphill and downhill climbing as you walk along the shoreline. In the springtime, the wildflowers are in magnificent bloom, and the falls are alive with water. To extend your trip into a 13.4 mile round-trip hike, you can continue on the trail past Wapama Falls to Rancheria Falls.

BEST HIKES IN TUOLUMNE MEADOWS

With unique views of the Yosemite Valley from the north, spectacular wildflower viewing in the spring, and wildlife roaming through the land, Tuolumne Meadows is booming with life. Below are the best day hikes to enhance your time in Tuolumne Meadows:


1. GAYLOR LAKES

Gaylor Lakes Trail begins at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station, and is a 2 mile round-trip hike. Some of the best views from Tioga Road are seen from this trail, and it provides spectacular views of the high Sierra range. The trail climbs steeply and steadily to the ridge, and Mt. Dana and Dana Meadows are visible once there. At the top of the ridge, the trail drops 200 feet and leads you to Middle Gaylor Lake. Surrounded by granite peaks and domes, this deep blue lake is an oasis in an otherwise busy and bustling park. Once you are ready to head back down, simply turn around and hike down the trail you came up.


2. CATHEDRAL LAKES

Cathedral Lakes Trail rewards hikers with views of some of the most impressive glacially-carved granite in Yosemite’s high country. The trailhead begins ½ mile west of the Tioga Pass Entrance Station-- parking is limited here, so it is recommended to take the Tulumne Meadows shuttle bus for a small fee. The 8 mile round-trip hike leads you to the shores of Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes. From the trailhead, the trail climbs through a lodgepole pine forest and gains 600 feet elevation in just over a mile. The trail continues on a sandy path and climbs up some more, until is flattens out at the junction of Lower Cathedral Lakes, 3 miles into the hike. Take this junction and in .5 miles you will reach the banks of Lower Cathedral Lake, the clear blue water glistening and the granite peaks of Eichorn Pinnacle towering above you.

To reach Upper Cathedral Lake, return to the junction and head right. The trail continues upwards for .5 miles until you reach Upper Cathedral Lake. This is a great spot for lunch and to relax by the lake in the shadows of the granite surrounding you. For an extra view, hike .5 miles further to Cathedral Pass, where you will be rewarded with incredible views of the Cathedral Range. When you are ready to return to the trailhead, hike down the same way you hiked up.

BEST HIKES IN MARIPOSA GROVE

With over 500 towering sequoias, this is the largest concentration of giant sequoias in the park. Below are the best day hikes in Mariposa Grove:


1. GRIZZLY GIANT LOOP TRAIL

Mariposa Grove is said to be the birthplace of the idea for the National Parks. It was this area that Lincoln set aside in 1864 to be preserved for public use and recreation. The grove has years of history after that also. Most National Park enthusiasts know about John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt’s camping trip to Yosemite in 1903; it was under the Grizzly Giant sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove that the first night of their camping trip was spent.

Start on the Mariposa Grove Trail at the Big Trees Loop. The trail will lead past giants such as the Bachelor and Three Graces, and bring you to Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. There is railing around many of the trees in Mariposa Grove, it is important not to cross over the railing to get a closer look at the trees. By staying on the outside of the railing, you will help in preserving these giant trees for future generations, and John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt would thank you for that. The loop is 2 miles and has a slight elevation gain of 300 feet.


2. GUARDIAN LOOP TRAIL

This loop is off the main trail that winds through the grove, Mariposa Grove Trail. Follow the trail, and you will pass Grizzly Giant, but continue straight instead of taking the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail. You will meander through the sequoias past the Faithful Couple and Clothespin Tree. The trail is very tranquil and quiet the further back you go, and you may even experience solitude with the giants. Take the Guardian Loop Trail at the junction, you will pass by the historic Mariposa Grove cabin and continue on the loop for a total of 1.5 miles. Once you reach the junction at the other side of loop, turn left and start your way back down the Mariposa Grove Trail.

FOOD AND OTHER ATTRACTIONS

There are many places to eat in Yosemite, most of them being the in Yosemite Valley, since it is the most popular area of the park. Near the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley, Degnan’s Kitchen provides a food court type atmosphere with many different options for a quick bite, including deli-style sandwiches, pizza and salads. The Loft at Degnan’s Village is right above Degnan’s Kitchen, and offers a sit-down atmosphere, serving tacos, rice dishes, and pizza. Meadow Grill is located in Half Dome Village and serves burgers, sandwiches and salads.

If visiting the Mariposa Grove, the closest dining is located in Wawona, 7 miles up the road from the grove. Dining options are limited to the Big Trees Lodge Dining Room or the Pine Tree Market. If visiting Tuolumne Meadows, dining options include the Tuolumne Meadows Dining Room, with sit-down service for breakfast and dinner, or the Tuolumne Meadows Grill serving burgers and hot dogs.

BOOK A DAY HIKE WITH WILDLAND TREKKING

When you only have a single day to see this majestic natural wonder, you need to be efficient with your time make sure you see the best things. But if you're not familiar with the area, you can lose a lot of time just figuring out where to go and how to get there. If you're an inexperienced hiker without the adequate gear, the experience may be uncomfortable and possibly even dangerous.

At Wildland Trekking, we solve both of these problems by offering all-inclusive Yosemite hiking tripsYosemite day hikes, and backpacking trips in Yosemite. We provide the gear, so you won't have to worry about picking out an appropriate outfit for your expedition. You also won't waste any time figuring out where to eat, since we provide the meals. Furthermore, you can rest assured you'll stay safe and won't get lost, as all our tours are lead by certified hiking guides who adhere to the strictest safety standards. Reach out to us today to plan your Yosemite adventure!

Join a Guided Hiking Adventure

Yosemite hiking tours

Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Yosemite: waterfalls, views, wildlife, solitude, adventure and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation.

Guided Yosemite treks are all-inclusive which covers permits; local transportation (excluded on certain tours); meals; equipment; safety systems and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allows visitors to maximize their time in Yosemite and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.

YOSEMITE ADVENTURE TOURS

  • GUIDED BACKPACKING ADVENTURES: these are for people interested in an authentic Yosemite hiking adventure away from the roads and crowds.
  • PORTERED TRIPS: on these innovative trips, guests hike with light day packs and camp in stunning backcountry locations.
  • INN-BASED PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
  • CAMPING-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of Yosemite on wonderful outdoor vacations.
  • DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Yosemite on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park's best trails.