Ah, Yosemite! This is easily one of our all time favorite places to visit. Everytime we go, we find more reasons to go back and get even more excited when others tell us they’re going to visit for the first time. If you’re one of these people and need help planning it out, we’re sharing our go-to three-day itinerary. If you want to alter it or add more activities, you can check out the other places we’ve been to here. Hope you love it there as much as we do!
DAY ONE: BIKE AROUND YOSEMITE VALLEY
Yes, Yosemite Valley can get a bit over crowded but for good reason - it’s a one stop shop for all the classics: Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, you name it. Even just a slow drive through the loop can put you in awe but nothing let’s you experience the valley like a good bike ride.
If you don’t have your own, there are two places you can rent: Yosemite Valley Lodge (Shuttle Bus Stop #8) or Curry/Half Dome Village (Shuttle Bus Stop #13), both at reasonable prices. Worried about finding parking in either of the two? Don’t fret. You can pretty much park your car in any lot and use the free shuttles to get around. You can also find rental rates and more information about the valley here. We rented our bikes for two hours but I recommend renting it for the full day so you have time to stop and explore each section.
When we last went, we started at Half Dome Village and made our way to Mirror Lake. You can’t take your bike to the lake itself but there’s a designated spot you can park and walk the rest of the way. Afterwards, we followed the bike path all the way to the Visitor Center. Depending on the season, this is where it definitely gets more crowded to the point that you’ll need to walk your bike. Even so, this is perfect place to grab a bite to eat, stock up on snacks at the store and stamp your National Park Passport. You’re also a quick bike ride away from the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
It was extra crowded when we went so we skipped Lower Yosemite Falls and crossed the street to check out the meadows, ponds and walkways (many of which you don’t typically get to see from the main road). Make sure to bring a map so you don’t get lost (we did) as there are many forks on the path. We spent a good time exploring this area of the valley because there were countless opportunities to stop and take photos. In the spring, you’ll even get a great view of Upper Yosemite Falls.
Once your legs start to give up (or your time starts to run out), just bike to the other side and make your way back to Half Dome Village (completing your loop around the valley). By that time you may be hungry again so you can either stay and grab a bite to eat (there are so many options to choose from), take the shuttle to your parking lot or simply walk to camp. Just give yourself some time to rest for tomorrow.
DAY TWO: HIKE TO VERNAL & NEVADA FALLS
You’d think we’d get sick of this trail since we do it almost every time we visit but this is one of those trails that’s long and tough enough to keep you busy all day and is beautiful from start to finish. There are a variety of routes to take but we typically start at Happy Aisle Bridge, climb up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, continue up to Nevada Falls then take the John Muir Trail down to where we started. This allows us to see the park and both waterfalls from all different angles .
If you want to beat the crowds, I recommend
This is where I’m going to write stuff about the Mist Trail and how awesome it is and Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls and John Muir and how tough it is and all those stairs and how you should wear a waterproof jacket and bring lots of food and that you should take your time and also bring water and how sometimes there is a water source but last time I was there it was broken but maybe it’ll be fixed by now and yeah.
DAY THREE: EXPLORE WAWONA
WHERE TO STAY
Aside from what to do, ‘Where should I stay"?” is one of our most commonly asked questions. Of course, it’s really based on what you plan on doing when you visit but based on this itinerary, this is what we recommend:
CAMP IN YOSEMITE VALLEY
Upper pines, Lower pines and North pines are our go to campsites but unfortunately, they book ridiculously quick. If you want to camp here, you’ll need to plan months in advance and book the second they open online.
CAMP IN WAWONA
If you aren’t able to secure a spot within the valley (which happens to us almost every year), we recommend camping in Wawona. It’s a 45 minute drive out but this section of Yosemite is an underrated gem. The only con is that unless you arrive before 8am, you’ll have difficulty finding parking in Yosemite Valley.
CAMP IN CRANE FLAT
This site offers a much shorter drive to the valley than Wawona but the sites are quite close together that you’d be afraid to talk too loud because 6 other campsites could hear you. It’s a great spot though and you have a much higher chance of grabbing a site here than any other campground.
TIPS FOR BOOKING CAMPSITES
All sites can be found on recreation.gov
Go for individual sites vs group sites
Select your dates and be on a specific site’s before booking opens (ie. if you’re looking to book at Upper Pines, pick the actual site number and be on that page when registration opens)
Utilize ‘week view’ if looking for a site after booking has already opened
CABIN IN WAWONA
Sometimes you want a warm and dry place to stay rather than staying in a tent and on those occassions, I always recommend one in Wawona. Our absolute go-to cabin belongs to a fellow named Garth and you can find his listings here. It’s a small place but you immediately feel at home and the river is just a short walk away. If he’s booked, there are plenty more on airbnb or VRBO.
AT A GLANCE