One Day in Yosemite

If your West Coast road trip is on a tight schedule, but you still don’t want to sacrifice visiting Yosemite, this is for you! How to make the most of it, and hit all the hotspots.


If you’ve read our previous post about our West Coast Itinerary, you’ll know by now that we tried to squeeze in every place we planned to visit, even if that meant spending only one day in there.
We’d have loved to spend a few days, or even go on a whole trip of just Yosemite and more Yosemite… but we are very happy with what we saw in a day. And as we usually say, it gave us a reason to have to go back and fully explore it!

One of the most famous, vast and beautiful National Parks of the USA. Not just because of the raw beauty and nature but because of its 3.000km2 of park for you to explore!

Located 300km East of San Francisco, it deserves a few days to properly explore it, but we managed to fit it in our itinerary and spend a day hiking around the essentials. A perfect day of raw nature to disconnect from the urban days of sightseeing in SF.

If, much like us, you only have a day (or a few hours) to visit it, you need to plan you route in advance and study the map to properly enjoy it. As our first experience in a USA National Park, we were surprised by how well managed and taken care of it was, and by how prepared it is for visitors to get to know it. True it wasn’t high season (September), but we found no issues driving around and finding parking spots near the highlights like Tunnel View (viewpoint towards the famous rock formation «El Capitan»). Be aware it may be harder in summer! The map you’ll get in the visitor centre will be very useful if that’s your case, as it shows the bus lines and stops within the park. And it’s a completely free service!

We spent the night before in Merced, halfway between San Francisco and Yosemite. That way, by waking up early enough, we entered the park using Route 140 at 8am. The entry price is 30$ per vehicle, no matter how many people are in it. Using Route 140, you’ll stumble into Tunnel View viewpoint right away. The view of El Capitan is so impressive that you’ll get drawn to staying there for a while, not knowing yet what you’ll see afterwards!

Park by the visitor centre, or as close as you can, although the walk to it if you can’t find a spot is already pretty nice, and you’ll start understanding the environment (and how warm it’s going to get despite not being full on summer weather!).

Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Yosemite, but be aware that the famous Yosemite Falls may be quite dry this time of the year. At 782 metres high, it’s the longest waterfall in North America (and 7th in the world), although not particularly wide. We walked from the Visitor Centre to Lower Yosemite Falls.

From there we took the bus to stop numer 16 «Happy Isles» to start our 3 hour hike towards Vernal and Nevada Falls. The path starts next to Merced River and follows it for around 1km, and gets steeper towards the end, before crossing the footbridge to the other side of the river. From here you can already see the waterfalls in the distance (with not much water in september either). Continue to the top of Vernal Falls and you’ll find Emerald Pool, a backwater of Merced river before the fall. This was a perfect picnic spot for us!

To go back to the visitor centre and our car, we used the John Muir Trail.

Make sure you calculate well the hours of sunlight you’ll have, in order to make the most of the beautiful sunset light. We weren’t sure if we’d make it in time, but we gave it a shot and headed to Glacier Point before leaving the park. Drive on Glacier Road for an hour while enjoying the amazing views from the car, and get ready to become speechless with some of the most scenic landscape images we’ve seen!

SUNLIGHT. Make sure you are aware of the hours of sunlight you’ll have depending on which season it is. You don’t want to miss those golden sunsets, nor have to do a lot of night driving afterwards!

Our next stop was Mammoth Lakes for the night, so we took Route 120, the famous «Tioga Pass» (which is only open in the summer months! So make sure you check the calendar in advance if you want to take it to keep going East). We learned it’s open until September 30th unless a snow storm blocks it, which is not very likely. On the way to Mammoth Lakes, and still with some sunset light, we made a couple more stops along the way: Olmest Point and Tenaya Lake. We’ll always remember this day as one of the best sunsets of our lives.

Already at night, we left the park, and drove a couple more hours to get to our hotel in Mammoth Lakes, where we could still do some quick shopping for the next day: Death Valley! (post about it coming soon)

Planning a West Coast trip? Make sure you check the essentials on our West Coast Itinerary post!

We hope it helps and you anjoy a great trip just like we did!

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