The Ultimate 3 to 4 Days in Yosemite Itinerary


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Between towering mountains, emerald pines, and breath-taking waterfalls, it’s no wonder Yosemite is one of the most beloved National Parks in the United States. However, with so much to see and do in this nearly 750,000-acre park, planning a Yosemite itinerary can be a behemoth of a task.

Planning the perfect trip to Yosemite is all about striking the balance between seeing as much as possible, and still leaving time to soak in the park’s natural beauty. With 3 to 4 days in Yosemite, you’ll get to see a ton of the park without feeling rushed. And to save you the effort, we’ve put together the ultimate 3 to 4 day Yosemite itinerary.

How Many Days in Yosemite?

In general, there’s no such thing as too many days in Yosemite. But that could be the native Californian in me talking.

Determining how many days to spend in Yosemite depends a lot on what kind of traveller you are. For those who just want to say they’ve seen it, 1 or 2 days will be plenty. Backpackers who want to explore the more secluded multi-day Yosemite hikes will need a week, at least.

But for most visitors, 3 to 4 days in Yosemite is perfect. 3 days in Yosemite will allow you to see all the major sites and get in some hikes and stargazing. Giving yourself 4 days in Yosemite gives you time to check out the more famous, and challenging, Half Dome hike, or explore the secluded Tuolumne Meadows.  

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Getting To and Around Yosemite

If you’re coming from Southern California, check out our guide on the best LA to Yosemite road trip. This route takes you to the eastern entrance, or the Tioga Pass Entrance, of the park, which is also where you’ll enter if you’re coming from East of California.

In addition, there’s the South Entrance (the more traditional entrance for those coming from Southern California), and two Western entrances: Big Oak Flat and Arch Rock entrance. Alternatively, if you’re coming from the Bay Area, check out our guide to the San Francisco to Yosemite road trip!

No matter where you enter, it’ll cost you $35 USD to get an entrance pass, which is good for 7 days. If you’re planning to visit multiple National Parks this year, you might consider the America the Beautiful pass, which costs $80 USD and gives you unlimited access to all the National Parks for 12 months.

Once inside, the best way to get around Yosemite is via car. The park is pretty big, and the sites are spread out across the park, so having your own car will make the whole trip a lot smoother. In general, Yosemite National Park is easy to navigate as everything is clearly marked and there are really only three main roads throughout the park.

If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across many providers. Alternatively, if planning a longer road trip and wanting your own accommodation, you can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.

Yosemite National Park Entrance Sign
Yosemite National Park Entrance Sign

If you don’t have your own car or don’t want to deal with the parking (which, to be fair, can get chaotic), the park shuttles are a great alternative.

They serve all the major sites throughout the park, are completely free, and run from 7am to 10pm. Depending on what time of year you visit, there are additional seasonal shuttles that take you to some of the harder-to-reach spots, like El Capitan shuttle and the Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle.

If you’re visiting during the summer, when Yosemite is its busiest, I recommend a mix of the two. Having a car is great for getting to and from your campsite or lodge, but the shuttles will help you avoid crowded parking lots and the not-infrequent traffic jams.

Keep in mind, if you are traveling in summer, that Yosemite lodging (both campsites and lodges) often sell out a year in advance, so planning your Yosemite National Park itinerary and booking everything early is a must.

You can also book multi-day tours to Yosemite from San Francisco such as this 3-day camping adventure or this 2-day tour if you want all your transport organised in advance.

Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View

3 to 4 Days in Yosemite Itinerary

The best Yosemite itinerary strikes the perfect balance between nature and tourism. There are plenty of hikes and adventures to be had in Yosemite, but there’s also a lot to be said for the guided tours and one-off activities like Yosemite’s monthly lecture series.

Whether you have 3 days in Yosemite or 4, the first 3 days of this itinerary remain the same, featuring a good balance of hiking, history, and simply enjoying Yosemite’s glory.

For those planning 4 days in Yosemite, day 4 features an optional hike that is more challenging, but one of the best hikes in Yosemite if you’re up for the work, or an alternative adventure in the eastern region of the park.

Day 1 – Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley & Glacier Point

Tunnel View

The best way to start your Yosemite trip is with a visit to Yosemite Valley—the valley that rests in the middle of Yosemite’s striking mountains. On your way in, make sure to drive through Tunnel View.

This drive features the famous view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall that comes up whenever you look up photos of Yosemite. Whether you simply drive through or park your car and take some time to appreciate the vista, it’s a necessary stop as you enter Yosemite.

El Capitan in Yosemite
El Capitan in Yosemite

Valley Floor Tour

When you first arrive in Yosemite National Park, it can be overwhelming to try and take it all in at once. The Valley Floor Tour, one of Yosemite’s many guided trolley tours, is a great way to get your bearings and learn a little more about the park.

It’s a 2-hour tour in an open-air tram that brings you by all of Yosemite’s highlights while a park ranger teaches you about the history and ecosystem of the park. Tickets are $38 USD for adults and $28 USD for children and can be reserved ahead of time.

Rent a Bike

Now that you’ve gotten an overview of the park, take in the beauty of Yosemite at your own pace by renting a bike and going for a self-guided adventure. Bikes can be rented from Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, or Yosemite Village and are available from 8am through 4:45pm.

Rentals run $30 USD for a half-day or $40 USD for a full-day and with the plethora of paved roads and bike paths, you’ll be able to explore the park for as long as you’d like.

The Yosemite Valley Lodge Bike Stand is right near the Valley Floor Tour and a great starting point to a 5-mile route that takes you by Half Dome Village where you can pick up pizza for lunch before making your way back to the bike stand.

Historic Ahwahnee Tour

If pizza’s not your style, head over to the Ahwahnee Dining Room for a bite to eat in this historic lodge before getting a free, hour-long tour of The Ahwahnee.

It’s not easy to find information about this tour online as it’s a bit of an insider secret, but it will take you through the history of the land before Yosemite was converted into a National Park, how the building of the Ahwahnee Lodge came to be, and the unique architecture of the building itself. You can sign up with the concierge on-site or call +1 209-372-1426 to make reservations.

The Ahwahnee Hotel
The Ahwahnee Hotel

Sunset at Glacier Point

To round out your first day in Yosemite, don’t miss sunset at Glacier Point. While famous for its sunrise view, this towering vista offers an equally incredible view of the sunset without the need to wake up at dawn.

If going by car, Glacier Point Road will take you right there. Otherwise, there’s a park bus that goes there from summer (usually Mid-May) through November. If visiting Yosemite in winter or spring, you’ll have to hike to Glacier Point, if the trail isn’t closed as well.

Alternatively, winter travellers can always return to Tunnel View, which offers a beautiful view of the sunset all year long.

Sunset at Glacier Point
Sunset at Glacier Point

Day 2 – Rock Climbing & Bar 1899

Half-Day Rock Climbing Adventure

Yosemite is famous for its rock climbing, so whether you’re an avid climber or have never worn a harness before, there’s no better way to enjoy Yosemite than on the rocks.

The Yosemite Mountaineering School offers half-day rock climbing excursions for climbers of all levels and will tailor the experience to your comfort level. Classes range from $195 USD to $220 USD depending on what you’re looking for, but the basic “Welcome to the Rock” class falls at $195 USD and is perfect for new climbers.

The class runs from 8:30 am – 3:30pm and is full of great views, adrenaline, and a chance to learn what makes Yosemite a bucket list destination for climbers around the world.

Make sure to hit up Degnan’s Deli on your way out; they open at 7am and have a hearty breakfast menu that will fuel your day of climbing.

Yosemite's Famous Rock Formations
Yosemite’s Famous Rock Formations

Drinks on the deck at Bar 1899

After a long day of climbing, you’re likely to be a bit worn out. Unwind and relive your adventure over drinks at Bar 1899. This rustic bar has a deck where you can enjoy a beer or a cocktail under the towering pines. They also have a great menu of bar bites, so you can refuel and relax after the climb.

Souvenir Shopping in Yosemite Valley 

As evening approaches, take some time to explore the shops that dot the Yosemite Valley. The shops here don’t close until 7-9pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to peruse.

Yosemite Valley Gift Shop, the Village Store, and The Ahwahnee Gift Shop boast a massive selection of National Park memorabilia, indigenous crafts, local artwork, and delicious sweets and treats.

Each of these shops is near one of Yosemite’s many restaurants, so grab some dinner enroute before heading back to your lodge or campsite to get some much-deserved rest.

Day 3 – Yosemite Falls Hike & Mariposa Grove

Base Camp Eatery & Curry Village Gift and Grocery

Start day three of your Yosemite trip at the Base Camp Eatery for a filling breakfast. Then, head over to Curry Village Gift and Grocery to get all the fixings for a midday picnic. No Yosemite itinerary is complete without a picnic hike, so stock up on whatever snacks you crave before hitting the trails.

Yosemite Falls Hike and Picnic Lunch

There are two major hikes that feature Yosemite Falls and they both make a great picnic hike. The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is an easy, 1.2 mile loop with the opportunity to see one of Yosemite’s rushing waterfalls. If you choose this option, you can take your time and meander along the trail, stopping for a picnic lunch whenever you see fit.

If you’re looking for something a bit more involved, the Upper Yosemite Falls trail is a personal favorite. It’s much longer (7.6 miles to be exact) and is an out-and-back trail that requires a good bit of climbing.

While the payoff is a stunning vista beside a gushing waterfall that’s the perfect picnic spot, there are plenty of gorgeous break points along the way that would make a wonderful picnic spot for those not up for the climb to the top.  

Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, California, USA
Lower Yosemite Falls

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

After your picnic hike, head over to Mariposa Grove for a chance to meander through Yosemite’s giant sequoias, particularly if you can’t make it to Sequoia National Park! These massive trees range from 4,600 to 7,050 feet tall and are around 3,000 plus years old.

You can easily walk around and witness these beauties without much exertion, but if you chose to do the Lower Yosemite Falls trail and still have some energy to burn, there are a range of trails (from .3 miles to 7 miles) that take you to some of the grove’s most famous trees.

When you’re done, head over to Jackalope’s Bar and Grill to drink and dine while you wait for the sun to set before your evening activity.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Enjoy one of Yosemite’s evening programs

One of Yosemite’s most amazing sites doesn’t show up until after the sun sets: the stars. Before you end your trip to Yosemite National Park, make sure you spend some time enjoying Yosemite after dark.

The Starry Night Skies Over Yosemite is a fantastic way to stargaze while learning about the constellations, folklore, and science of our galaxy. However, that’s only one of a large collection of evening activities available in Yosemite.

If stargazing isn’t your thing, check out the Night Prowl or Fireside Storytelling for a chance to see the stars while exploring what else night-time in Yosemite has to offer.

Day 4 – Half Dome Hike or Tuolumne Meadows

If you’ve chosen to turn your 3-day Yosemite itinerary into a 4-day Yosemite itinerary, that fourth day is the perfect chance to experience some of the more unique Yosemite landmarks that require more of a time commitment.

For those craving an all-day hike, there’s nothing like Half Dome. If you’re more interested in discovering the less popular gems of Yosemite and not hiking for 8+ hours, head over to Tuolumne Meadows for the day.

Hike up Half Dome

For the hard-core hikers, hiking Half Dome is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This 15-mile out-and-back trail is not easy and includes 5,193 feet of climbing, but if you’re up to the challenge, there’s nothing like it.

The trail can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to complete, depending on your speed, so you’ll want to plan ahead and carve out most of your day for the hike. Pack a trail lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.

If you choose this route, make sure to plan ahead as permits are required to hike Half Dome and are only available via lottery.

Closeup of Half Dome
Closeup of Half Dome

Explore Tuolumne Meadows

If seeing Half Dome from the valley sounds much more enjoyable than half a day of hiking, then use your last day to head over to Tuolumne Meadows instead.

This meadow is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada and marks the northern end of a massive stretch of uninterrupted wilderness that continues to the southern end of Mt. Whitney.

There are plenty of hikes of all levels that show off the beauty of Tuolumne, or you can take Tioga Road and drive through the meadow, stopping to enjoy the countless viewpoints along the route.

While you’re there, the 3-mile round trip Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias hike is a great chance to get up close and personal with some of Yosemite’s lesser-known giants.

Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows

Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park

When spending a few days in Yosemite, you’re going to need to find a great accommodation option in near the park entrance. If you’re wondering where to stay near Yosemite, then make sure to have a look at these suggestions:

Little Valley Inn – Located close to the park entrance in the town of Mariposa, this lovely inn is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this iconic national park. They have a number of lovely rooms available and there is also a buffet breakfast on offer each morning. Click here to see their availability

Mariposa Lodge -This lodge is another comfortable and well-reviewed option in Mariposa, and makes for the perfect base to ensure you’re well-rested before exploring Yosemite. They have a number of wonderful rooms on offer, a swimming pool on site and they even allow pets if you happen to be traveling with a furry friend. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental – Finding a private vacation rental is another fantastic accommodation option in Yosemite. There are a myriad of fantastic options available – like this cosy hilltop cabin – you’re sure to find something that suits your travel style and needs. Click here to browse Yosemite private rentals

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yosemite hotels!

Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls

Yosemite is one of the United States’ most spectacular National Parks. Not only does it feature breath-taking views and thriving wildlife, but it’s full of unique activities, tours, and more. However many days you choose to stay, this Yosemite itinerary is the perfect start to what’s guaranteed to be an outstanding trip.

Are you planning a trip to Yosemite? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah is a writer for The World Was Here First who has spent over a decade traveling the world and writing stories inspired by the people and places she encounters along the way. She is an avid adventurer who is always seeking new opportunities to expand her worldview and, thus, her writing.

Comments

  1. “15-mile Out and Back hike” Your description for the Half Dome hike.
    Does your “O&B” refer to 15 miles out and another 15 miles back OR simply put, “15-miles round trip?

    What percentage of this hike is on level or near level ground versus the ascent.
    How many feet is the ascent?

    I understood that the climb was simply a “cable climb”.

    Reply

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