Yosemite National Park is a one of a kind. There's no place like it in the country.
This massive California park is filled with sheer granite formations rising thousands of feet in the air, abundant wildlife, and landscapes that you won't see anywhere else on the planet. You can easily spend a week taking it all in, but most people only have a couple of days.
In order to make the most of your time in the almost 1,200-square-mile park, you need a plan. Here is the perfect, two-day itinerary to make sure you don’t miss any of musts.
Day 1: Glacier Point Road & Mariposa Grove
Glacier Point Road and Mariposa Grove are both easiest to access from Yosemite’s South Entrance. Glacier Point Road is only open during the summer when conditions are driveable. The road will also be closed for renovations for the entire 2021 season, so you’ll either want to hurry or wait until 2022 to visit.
Begin your day on Glacier Point Road and parking near the signs for the Taft Point trailhead. The hike to Taft Point is a relatively easy 2.2 miles. The reward is dramatic views of El Capitan, the world’s largest monolith of granite.
I arrived at the viewpoint around 10 a.m. and found completely unobstructed views with only a few other people milling around. The drop from the cliff is over 1,000 feet straight down with no guard rails. Here's your chance to find out how afraid of heights you really are! Plan to spend about 90 minutes here between the hike and the viewpoint.
Hop back in the car and keep driving down the road for 10 – 15 minutes until you arrive at Glacier Point.
The Glacier Point lookout has ample parking as well as (low-quality) public restrooms and a convenience store. If you didn’t pack anything for lunch, here's your opportunity to pick up some sandwiches or snacks.
To get to Glacier Point, it's just a five-minute walk from the parking lot on a well-paved path. This is one of the busier locations in Yosemite, but for good reason.
Glacier Point has gorgeous views of the entire valley and the best view in the park of the famous Half Dome. Alternatively, you can reach Glacier Point from the valley by hiking Four Mile Trail. Just keep in mind you would likely need an entire day to do this grueling hike round trip.
End your day near the South Entrance at Mariposa Grove, a forest of giant sequoia trees.
I always thought I needed to go to Sequoia National Park to see trees like this and boy, was I wrong! Yosemite really does have it all.
Park in the visitor area and take the free shuttle to the grove – the road is closed to public vehicles so the shuttle is the only option. From there, you can choose to take a short walk around the grove or do a two- to seven-mile hike through the grove.
We headed for Grizzly Giant Loop which was a moderate two miles and took around an hour. Mariposa Grove Trail is a seven-mile loop and includes portions of the upper grove which is a great option as well, depending on how much time is left in your day.
Day 2: Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is where the majority of visitors to the park spend their time, so be prepared for things to be a little busier than Day 1. The best approach is to arrive early to find parking. Try to park in a central area near Lower Yosemite Falls or the Visitor’s Center. That way, you won’t have to move your car at all throughout the day.
Make a quick roadside stop at Tunnel View on your way into Yosemite Valley. This popular photo spot will give you fantastic views of the valley, especially in the morning light. There’s not much to do here besides take pictures from the parking lot, so just 10 minutes or so is plenty.
Continue on for a quick stop at Bridalveil Falls. The area is currently undergoing an extensive renovation to make it more visitor friendly. A great viewing area for the waterfall has been installed along with refreshed trails.
The falls are a short, 10-minute walk from the parking lot making this another quick stop on the way to the valley. The falls tower 620 feet above the valley but still pale in comparison to the second-highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls.
Visitor’s Center & Museum
Once arriving and parking in central Yosemite Village, it's worth your time to stop at the Visitor’s Center and Museum. The museum has some interesting exhibits on the history of the park, plus some amazing displays on the glaciers that formed the park itself.
We spent around an hour looking through everything. Yosemite Village is your best option for the day for modern plumbing and food as well!
Thrifty Tip: The Village Store is your best bet in the park to get necessities like groceries, fresh fruit, or anything else you may have forgotten.
Sentinel Meadows & Lower Yosemite Falls
Spend your afternoon visiting Lower Yosemite Falls and hiking the Sentinel Meadows loop. The crowd factor will be high as this is right in the central part of Yosemite Valley.
Lower Yosemite Falls is just a short detour on the Sentinel Meadows hike and can easily be reached from the Visitor’s Center. Sentinel Meadows is an easy walk through the valley meadows, as long or as short as you want it to be (the trail officially is 2 1/4 miles but connects to other various trails).
All of the paths are well paved and flush with beautiful views of everything you came to Yosemite to see. Hardcore hikers can consider Upper Yosemite Falls for their afternoon, which is seven miles round trip. The trail is full of heavy switchbacks and takes six to eight hours to complete.
Four million visitors flock to Yosemite National Park each year for a reason. If you have just a couple days to devote to Yosemite, this should help you scratch as much of the surface as you can.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.