2-Day Itinerary for the Perfect Yosemite Vacation

·7 min read

My Yosemite Park

While you could spend a lifetime exploring the backcountry trails, granite faces and towering groves of Yosemite National Park, most of us don't have more than a weekend set aside to explore this incredible place. The good news is that you can pack in everything from hiking to scenic drives to getting a taste of the park's history in two days.

You'll come home with a camera roll full of memories and a bucket list for your next trip to the park because as anyone who calls Yosemite home can tell you, one trip will never be enough. We've put together our favorite trails, stops and places to eat in this fabulous two-day itinerary.

In 2022, Yosemite is requiring a reservation to enter the park during peak hours May 20 - Sept. 30.

Day 1

Start the Day with Breakfast at Wawona Hotel

Whether you're staying at the gorgeous, Victorian-era Wawona Hotel or not, you won't want to miss breakfast in its charming dining room. The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7-10 a.m. and while reservations aren't required, it's a good idea to arrive early to ensure you don't have to wait for a table and to get a jumpstart on a day exploring the park.

Settle in at an indoor table to take in the dining room's charming details from large windows with sun streaming through them to the hand painted lamps. Or enjoy your breakfast on the veranda in the summertime and take in the fresh mountain air. The restaurant offers a cold continental buffet which includes coffee, tea and juice, as well as hot items like scrambled eggs and bacon a la carte.

Pancake breakfast at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park
Pancake breakfast at the Wawona Hotel (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Stroll Amongst Giants at Mariposa Grove

There's an undeniable sense of wonder that results from walking through an ancient forest of towering giant sequoias. Fifteen minutes from the Wawona Hotel, you'll find yourself transported as you experience the park's biggest sequoia grove. Park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza located at the South Entrance and hop on a free shuttle which operates approximately April through November. The shuttle will bring you to the Lower Grove where you can walk the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail, a two-mile path that circles the grove.

Along the way you'll walk under trees stretching 300 feet into the air, some more than 2,000 years old. This grove of trees holds a special place in American history. In 1864, President Lincoln made it the first piece of land protected by the government for the enjoyment of the people.

The Bachelor and 3 Graces in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
The Bachelor and 3 Graces in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Cool Down and Hike Mist Trail

If you want to escape the crowds, early morning is the best time to hike the park's famous Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Fall. But if you don't mind sharing the trail with new friends, a warm spring afternoon is also a great time to cool off in the falls' mist.

From Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, located at shuttle stop 16, hike 2.4 miles round trip to reach the top of Vernal Fall. The trail climbs 1,000 feet to reach the top of the 317-foot waterfall, including more than 600 steps which are often wet and slippery due to the mist coming off the falls. It's a great way to cool off but stay vigilant, especially with children, as the footing can be treacherous. The trail continues to Nevada Fall, which increases the roundtrip mileage to 5.4 and the elevation gain to 2,000 feet. If you're starting later in the day, it's best to turn around at Vernal Fall.

Hiking past Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail in Yosemite.
Hiking past Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail in Yosemite. (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Learn More About the Park at the Valley Visitor Center and Ansel Adams Gallery

Stop at the Valley Visitor Center, an intimate place for all ages to learn about the geology and cultural history of the park. Don't miss the film Spirit of Yosemite, and check with a ranger on when educational programs like art classes for kids and ranger talks are occurring.

Next door, you'll find the Ansel Adams Gallery, featuring the work of renowned photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams who photographed the park extensively. The gallery hosts photography classes and walks in Yosemite Valley each week. Reserve your spot in advance at www.anseladams.com/photography-education/.

Visitors check out the scale model of Yosemite Valley in the Visitors Center.
Visitors check out the scale model of Yosemite Valley in the Visitors Center. (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Eat Dinner at the Pizza Deck

Eating hand-tossed pizza on an outdoor deck while gazing up at Half Dome is a Yosemite tradition you just can't miss. Head to Curry Village and grab a table where you can order whole pizzas with Yosemite themed names. The El Capitan is your traditional meat and veggie combo, while the Firefall features chicken, bacon, sriracha and ranch. Save room for the s'mores pizza, which is just as decadent as it sounds. You can also build your own pizza, order cheese and pepperoni by the slice and add on garlic bread, or salad if you're craving something green. The Pizza Deck also serves beer and wine.

A slice at the Pizza Deck in Yosemite Valley
A slice at the Pizza Deck in Yosemite Valley (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Day 2

Hike to Glacier Point on Four Mile Trail

Absolutely stunning views of Half Dome and other Yosemite rock formations and peaks surround you at Glacier Point. While you could drive up to take in the view, we like taking the Hiker’s Bus ( www.travelyosemite.com/things-to-do/guided-bus-tours/) up to Glacier Point and then hiking down to the valley on Four Mile Trail. Along the 4.8-mile (one way) route, you'll enjoy amazing views to the valley bottom. Start early to beat the heat as this trail has limited shade as you descend.

Glacier Point Road will be closed all of 2022 and through May 2023 for construction, so the only way to reach Glacier Point is by hiking Four Mile Trail roundtrip, which is a 9.6-mile journey with 3,200 feet of elevation gain.

Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park
Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Drive Tioga Road and Picnic at Tenaya Beach

Located off Tioga Road, Tenaya Lake is impossible to miss as you drive along this gorgeous pass. The 150-acre snowmelt-fed lake offers polar-bear swimming in summer and a great place to picnic on sunny, white-sand beaches. The drive from Yosemite Valley to Tenaya Lake takes more than an hour, so plan accordingly.

Set up at one of the two picnic areas on the lake's shores, or head to the sand to enjoy lunch while listening to the sound of the waves lap on the shore. If you hiked Four Mile Trail in the morning, your legs have probably had enough hiking for one day, but if you still have energy, it's well worth it to follow the 1-mile path around the lake's south side to a shoreline away from the crowds.

On the way back to Yosemite Valley, stop at Olmstead Point to get a unique perspective on Half Dome.

Relaxing at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite
Relaxing at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite (Photo: Getty Images)

Dine at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Opened in 1927, the Ahwahnee Hotel is one of Yosemite's more legendary structures. The beautiful architecture and interior design have drawn guests from queens to presidents. Even if you aren't staying in the hotel, a meal in the historic dining room complete with 34-foot-high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows is well worth it. Reservations are required for dinner and guests are expected to dress the part. Long pants, dresses or skirts are required, and collared shirts or blouses must be worn. Leave the flip flops for the pool.

The menu featured upscale dishes like prime rib, locally sourced seafood and seasonal salads. You'll also find an extensive wine list.

As of July 2022, the Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room was limiting reservations for lunch and dinner to hotel guests only.

The dining room in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park
The dining room in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Yosemite Hospitality)

Have more than two days? Check out our active itinerary with four ways to get off the beaten path.

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