In June, I traveled to Yosemite and Mariposa County with my husband and in-laws. In case you don’t know, Yosemite is a National Park in California that’s about three hours away from San Francisco. We had the best time hiking and exploring all that Yosemite had to offer! We were there for a week and had a system for hiking. One day we’d do a hard hike and the next day do something easy. We had a good mix of hard hikes and easy walks that had breathtaking views and let you see all that Yosemite had to offer. So, for those of you wanting to get one more road trip in, here’s my Yosemite National Park travel guide.
Yosemite National Park Travel Guide: Top 10 Must Dos
Before visiting Yosemite: Reservations are not required to visit Yosemite National Park. They do strongly recommend that you make a reservation if you plan to stay overnight in Yosemite. The park entrance fee is $35 per car (valid for seven consecutive days).
You can check out the NPS app or website before you plan your Yosemite Trip to see if anything is closed, what are the peak hours, and other national park service updates.
We did this on our first day in Yosemite and was a great way to get started. The hike is 2.8 miles round trip and took us about 3 hours to hike. We stopped along the way to rest and didn’t push ourselves. To me, the hardest part was climbing to the very top of the dome to see the 360-degree view of Yosemite. It also took a while to get used to the altitude and get accumulated to it.
The trail climbs through the forest to the bare rock of the dome. There is no trail on the rock formations so take it at your own pace. Follow the easiest path for panoramic views of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding peaks. Definitely stop for the view and to get your mind ready for the hikes in the days ahead.
This was an off-day stop since the hike is only 0.25 miles round trip. There isn’t a bad view whether you stay in the parking lot or do the short hike down. Look west, and see a close-up view of Clouds Rest, with the Half Dome behind it. Look east, you’ll see Tenaya Lake and the granite domes. Stay in the Olmsted Point parking lot and see surrounding slopes dotted with glacial erratics.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Another thing to do on an off-hike day is to walk around Lower Yosemite Falls. It’s an easy walk that’s a mile long and offers great views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. This trail is paved and offers different vantage points of Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Creek. There are also exhibits along the way to you can learn more about the history of the area.
We also walked around the valley this day and saw the village, meadows, and other flat, paved areas of the park. Just because it’s an easy walk still wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water and sunscreen. It’s also a busier part of the park so if you hate crowds, try to get there first thing in the morning while other tourists might still be asleep.
Mist Trail/Vernal Falls
I think my favorite trail of the trip was to Vernal/Nevada Falls. It’s a 3-mile round trip to Vernal Falls and a 7-mile round trip to Nevada Falls. You saw Vernal Falls hiking up and it was a good place to stop, splash some water on your face and rest at the halfway point.
The rest of the hike to Nevada Falls was a little difficult, but the view from the top was sensational. It’s so green and beautiful and then over the waterfall is the view of the mountains. Our feet were so tired going up that once we got to Nevada Falls, we put our feet in the water and enjoyed our lunch. The walk down wasn’t bad either.
We got to the trail at 7 a.m. and didn’t see a lot of people at the top, which was nice. It took about 5 hours to hike. This was probably my favorite trail because of all the water spots to stop and rest. It helped you cool down if you were overheated and splashed cold water on your face to keep you rejuvenated and going.
We hit Cathedral Beach on an off day. We brought some lunch, and our swimsuits and enjoyed the water! It was 90 degrees the day we were there and the lake was nice and cool. Picnic tables and grills are conveniently located at this scenic spot along the Merced River that offers views of El Capitan. We also saw people setting up hammocks to enjoy the amazing view of El Cap! Definitely, a fun thing to do in the park if you don’t feel like hiking.
Glacier Point is an overlook with views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country. It’s accessible by car and a nice place to stop and enjoy the views for a while. This is a great place to stop when you’re on your way into the park or leaving for the day. There’s a parking lot and it’s easy to get in and out and navigate around groups of people.
I think we stopped at Tunnel View every day in Yosemite. It looks so different at various types of the day like early in the morning or golden hour. This is the view that Ansel Adams made famous! From this vista, you can see El Capitan, the Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls. We were talking to someone there and they mentioned that the view is different in every season and the view was most beautiful after snowing! Again, there are parking lots and it’s easy to get in and out for a quick look.
One of my favorite things that we did on an off day is seeing the sunset at Taft Point. We brought our dinner and flashlights and spend a good two hours there watching the colors in the sky. It’s a 2.2-mile round-trip hike and very easy. You walk through a forest to get to Taft Point and feel like you’re in Narnia!
There’s one lookout with a guardrail and other than that it’s fair game. You can walk right up to the edge and look over if you’re brave. Some of my favorite photos from the trip are from here and the views are unlike anything. If you’re afraid of heights this may not be a great place for you!
The hardest hike we did in Yosemite was Cloud’s Rest. We packed lots of snacks, got there bright and early, and prepared for a long day. It’s 14.5 miles round trip with the most annoying parts being at the beginning and very end. They’re only annoying because there are mosquitos swarming around you for the first and last mile! You know when you’ve reached the small pond you’re about halfway there. The hardest part for me was getting close to the top and the 2000-foot elevation gain! We took this nice and slow with lots of breaks.
My in-laws warned me beforehand of the spine before reaching the peak but didn’t think it was that bad or scary. If you’re majorly afraid of heights this may not be the hike for you. Once at the summit, you can get a wonderful 360-degree view all around Yosemite. We enjoyed our lunch at the top and the views were worth the long hike. Stay up there for a while and watch people climb the half dome and all the little animals that hang out near the peak. My opinion is this should be on everyone’s Yosemite list!
The last thing in my Yosemite National Park travel guide is wading in the water at Mirror Lake. It was a 2-mile round trip hike and Mirror Lake has very little water much of the year, while pleasant at any time of year, it is fullest in spring and early summer. There wasn’t much water when we were there but it was still nice to wade and put our feet in on a hot day. The hike was easy and paved. It’s perfect on a day when you’re sore and tired from a long hike but wants to get out and do something and catch local scenery and sights.
Other things to check out in Yosemite: Mariposa Grove, Curry Village, and the Giant Sequoias.
Between June and September. Everything is open and the weather is nice.
Fresno-Yosemite International Airport.
At least two to three days. We spent a week doing something different every day!
Check out some of my other travel guides:
Which one of these places in my Yosemite National Park Travel Guide would you like to see in person? Share with me in a comment below!