With a lifetime of Yosemite visits as my experience, I’ve crafted the short but classic Yosemite itinerary, which spends 2 days in the Yosemite Valley and will ensure a memorable visit whether it’s your first time or your fifth. I always like to travel at a relaxing pace, so that’s how I’ve put together the below tips and recommendations. I like to set realistic expectations for my fellow travelers and incorporate some free time, since, as we all know, it’s during this down time in which we often find some of the most beautiful, unexpected moments.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 1: Arrival and First Night in the Valley
To maximize the 2 days of your Yosemite itinerary, I recommend arriving as early as possible. For suggestions on where to stay, check out my Ultimate Yosemite Valley Travel Guide. Check-in usually isn’t until about 4pm, so if you arrive early, prepare to not have your room immediately available. Also be sure to check out my Yosemite Packing List.
1.1. Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley:
On the way into Yosemite valley you must stop at tunnel view. This is your first intro to Yosemite and its raw, majestic beauty. Simply pull over, find a quick parking spot, step outside, and enjoy. This will be one of your best best photo opps.
1.2. Yosemite Falls:
I think the best welcome activity for a Yosemite itinerary only 2 days long is to head straight to the heart: Yosemite Falls. One of the most iconic symbols of the national park, Yosemite Falls is over 2,425 feet high, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. There is pretty short hike that takes you to the base of the falls. It’s an easy pace, involves some incline and uphill walking, but is nothing strenuous. Once you reach the base of the falls, there is a bridge that crosses over the river. Relax here as long as you want and get those photos in while there is still day light.
1.3. Dinner at Yosemite Lodge
Once you’ve checked into your home for the night and have said hello to Yosemite Falls, it’s time to relax and have a nice dinner at Yosemite Lodge, because you’ve got an active day tomorrow. There are 3 places to eat at the lodge:
- Base Camp Eatery: Cafeteria-style dining
- Mountain Room Lodge: Casual spot with a mountain-climber theme. Perfect for drinks, appetizers, and light food. There is giant, central fire pit in the middle which is ideal if you’re visiting in winter.
- Mountain Room: Luxurious, seated dining option with a view of the Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 2: Full Day and 2nd Night in the Valley
2.1. Vernal Falls, aka The Mist Trail:
Vernal Falls is my favorite hike in the park and the one thing I consistently recommend to every one who asks for my ideal Yosemite itinerary 2 days long. Also called The Mist Trail, Vernal Falls is a moderately strenuous hike that involves lots of incline, and, at the very end, lots of uneven stairs made of rock. This will be a good work out on the old legs, and and a good stirring for the soul. The trailhead begins at Happy Isles, where there is also a convenient shuttle stop. The full hike to the top of the falls and back down should take about 3 hours total.
Along the way there are beautiful views of the Merced river, and there is plenty of space to stop and have a rest. There is a good amount of shade as well, which is a relief in the summer. In the spring and summer months the falls are at their largest, so be prepared to get wet from the spray (hence the Mist Trail nickname). There is a midway point in the hike at the footbridge of the falls where you can choose to stop and turn back if needed. There are also restrooms and a water fill station at the footbridge.
Vernal Falls Hike Expert Tips:
Get started early so you can beat the heat and crowds. The cooler temperatures will make it easier on you, and the open pathways guarantee you can move at your own pace. No one wants to be stair climbing in the noon heat while stuck behind that inevitably slow party hogging up the whole path. Also be sure to bring plenty of water and some celebratory snacks for when you reach the top.
2.2. Curry Bar: The Perfect Pitstop on Your Yosemite Itinerary
Congratulate yourself on surviving the Mist Trail hike to Vernal Falls by stopping at Curry Village on your way back, where there is an outdoor bar with shaded seating. Maybe it’s just me, but there is nothing better after a long hike than a fresh margarita or Bloody Mary. This is the perfect pitstop on your Yosemite Itinerary: 2 Days.
2.3. Yosemite Village:
Once you’ve rested from your morning hike, it’s time to head back out. Walk or take the shuttle to the Yosemite Village area, where you can take your time and explore the visitor center, museum, and cemetery.
2.4. Lunch at Degnan’s Deli and Loft:
While you’re in the Yosemite valley village, stop at Degnan’s Deli and Loft. The deli on the first floor has sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas, and the loft above has good BBQ, beer, and wine. I highly recommend taking your sandwiches and snacks to go and have a picnic elsewhere the park.
2.5. Rent Some Bikes:
Bikes are available for renting in Yosemite Valley Lodge by the pool. This is the best way to get around, and the most efficient way to complete your afternoon. From here, feel free to explore the valley. One recommendation is to take the bike path down to the the swinging bride, where you can stop and get a great photo of the falls with the river in the foreground. If biking isn’t your thing or if your legs have had enough from the Vernal Falls hike, take a tour on the free shuttle, which stops all around the park.
2.6. Mirror Lake: The Relaxing Part of the Yosemite Itinerary
Whether you’re on bikes or on foot, head to mirror lake. This is a relaxing easy-paced activity that will give you some beautiful views. Wander along the trails, enjoy the field of cairns that always seems to be there, and sit by the lake. From here you get a unique view of Half Dome since you’re closer to the base of the mountain. This is your picnic spot. Enjoy.
2.7. Dinner and Drinks at Curry Village Pizza Patio:
Be sure to return your bikes on time, stop at your home base and change if needed, and then head out to the Curry Village Pizza Patio. This fun, casual spot is right next to the Curry bar I recommended earlier. Take your time to enjoy Curry Village, once called Half Dome Village, and wander around the grounds.
2.8. Stargazing in Curry Meadow:
Bring a flashlight and a blanket, because next we’re heading into the dark. Across from Curry Village shuttle stop and registration area is a meadow with a boardwalk. Find a spot, lay out the blanket, and enjoy. The mountains have disappeared into the dark and the stars have come out to play. If you look up at the mountains, you may see lights from rock climbers making camp for the night. I love those phone apps that help you recognize the constellations in the night sky.
2.9. Campfire Time: The Perfect End to Your Yosemite Itinerary
Unfortunately this activity is only an option if you’re camping or staying at Housekeeping Camp. Each unit in these camps come with a fire ring. If you’ve got one, get that fire roaring and bust out the s’mores and beers. Wherever you are, enjoy your last night in Yosemite valley.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 3: Check Out and Head Home
3.1. Check Out:
Say goodbye to Yosemite Valley and pack up your things.
3.2. Yosemite Valley Village Store:
I recommend stopping at the Yosemite Valley Village Store on your way for your souvenirs and snacks for the road to trip home or to your next destination.
3.3. Tunnel View:
If you didn’t get to stop at Tunnel View on your way in, now is your chance. Also stop if you just can’t resist taking in the amazing view one last time.
Planning a Visit? Explore More Yosemite.
- Start your packing with my Yosemite Packing List
- Explore more options with 10 Things to Do in Yosemite Valley.
- Get more planning tips, including when to visit and where to stay, with my Ultimate Yosemite Valley Travel Guide
- Check out some of my suggested Yosemite Hiking and Camping Tours.