With a lifetime of Yosemite visits as my experience, I’ve crafted this classic Yosemite valley itinerary, which is 4 days long 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. Please note that day 1 of this 4-day itinerary is the same as day 1 on my 2-Day Itinerary. So if you’ve already read my Yosemite Itinerary: 2 Days, feel free to skip down to Day 2 below.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 1: Arrival and First Night in the Valley
To maximize your four day itinerary in Yosemite Valley, 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 the 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 4 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. The lodge reservations desk in the lobby is a good place to stop and ask any questions or book any last minutes valley tours if needed. 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 Night Spent 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 4 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 to 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: 4 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. 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. There is a hiking gear Mountain Shop, and a Gift and Grocery Store where you can pick up any necessities needed for the rest of your trip. Be sure to check the Yosemite Events Calendar to see if there are any evening programs scheduled at the Curry Village Amphitheater during your stay.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 3: Full Day and Night Spent in the Valley
It’s rafting day! One of my favorite activities in the park. I recommend bringing your own inflatable raft with oars if you can. If not, they are available for renting inside the park. While the river is mostly mild, there are definitely going to be areas with rapids and big boulders, so this isn’t really the place to bust out the inflatable pizza slice or unicorn inter-tube, unless you are just planning to float in place in a mild beach area of the river.
The best way to go seems to be to put your raft in at the Stoneman Bridge near Curry Village and raft down to Sentinel Beach, where you can exit. There is a rafting shuttle that will pick you up at Sentinel Beach that will take you back to Curry Village. There is a small cash fee to board, and you can bring your deflated raft on board with you. You may have to wait a bit for this shuttle, but it sure beats the alternative of having to figure out the logistics of parking your car at Sentinel Beach and then making your way back to Curry to start the rafting.
- Bring your swimsuit. You’re going to get wet.
- Bring a life vest just in case. Some days you may be permitted to wear one if the water levels are especially high. Life vests and oars can be rented in the park.
- Bring sunscreen and towels
- Bring snacks and drinks for a mid-day lunch. There are plenty of places to stop along the river and go for a swim or have a picnic.
- Be sure to water proof your belongings or leave the valuables at your camp, because chances are they will get wet.
3.2 Mirror Lake: The Relaxing Part of the Yosemite Itinerary
Mirror Lake is a lovely, lazy afternoon 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 also makes a great picnic and photo spot.
3.3 Visit the Ahwahnee Hotel
The gorgeous Ahwahnee Hotel is a National Historic Landmark that was built in the 1920’s. Its iconic, rustic architecture is a crown jewel in Yosemite Valley. Called the Majestic Hotel for a short time, it’s a great place to change it up and enjoy an evening of luxury. The lobby and grounds are open for visitors, so feel free to wander around and take a seat in the comfortable chairs in the lobby. This is a great place to cool off and read a book. There are also some good gift shops at the Ahwahnee for local pottery and rustic decor.
Blue Sails Tip:
Planning dinner or cocktails at the Ahwahnee is the perfect way to soak up some of that luxury without having to pay the high price of the hotel stay. Even when staying at Housekeeping Camp or Curry Village, I always pack a nice outfit for a night out at the Ahwahnee. Plus how fun is the contrast of walking out of your campsite in a dress and heels or nice suit jacket? Be sure to make dinner reservations ahead of time. If you don’t want to commit to the dinner, I recommend at least stopping in the hotel bar for some classy craft cocktails and views.
3.4 Campfire Time:
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. This is actually something I do nightly when staying in these camps. If you’ve got one, get that fire roaring and bust out the s’mores and beers.
Yosemite Itinerary Day 4: Full Day and Last Night in the Valley
4.1. Glacier Point
Today we head to the top. Glacier Point is a must-see for magnificent views of Yosemite valley. This is a strenuous 6-8 hour round trip hike if you want to do the full thing. You have the option of taking a one-way shuttle up to Glacier Point and then hiking down if you’re looking to get that view and hiking experience while saving both time and your leg muscles. For those short on time or with limited hiking abilities, you can book the round-trip shuttle. I recommend booking all Travel Yosemite Guided Bus Tours ahead of time.
For those taking the shuttle, there is an 8:30am and a 1:30pm tour. For the sake of this itinerary, I chose the 8:30am. You can catch the start of the bus tour at the Yosemite Lodge lobby entrance. There is a snack and gift shop with restrooms at the top of Glacier Point. For those hiking both up and down, the trail you will be using is called the Four Mile Trail, which starts at near the base of Sentinel Rock. The trail was created in the late 1800’s originally as an old toll trail. It’s changed a bit over the years and is now closer to bring a five mile trail, but the old name has stuck.
4.2 Stop at Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge:
Depending on how much time you have after your Glacier Point experience, I recommend stopping at the Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge. This spot is good for casual appetizers and cocktails, perfect for a quick lunch or snacks.
4.3 Dinner at Curry Village Pavillion
This is your last night in Yosemite, so you may have spotted some other food spots or picnic areas to choose from. If not, I would recommend heading to the Pavilion at Curry Village. This restaurant is cafeteria style, with plenty of choices to please everyone. They even have desserts and a coffee bar.
4.4. Stargazing in Curry Meadow: The Perfect End to Your Yosemite Itinerary
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 recommend getting one of those phone apps that help you recognize the constellations in the night sky. Enjoy your last night in Yosemite.
Day 5: Check Out and Head Home
5.1 Check Out:
Say goodbye to Yosemite Valley and pack up your things.
5.2. Yosemite Village Store
I recommend stopping at the Yosemite Village Store on your way for your souvenirs and snacks for the road to trip home or to your next destination.
5.3 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.
Pin it for Later: Yosemite Valley Itinerary: 4 Days
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.