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Yosemite National Park was the third stop on our West Coast America road trip, but a jam packed schedule meant we only had one day to make the most of it.
In this guide, I’ll share what we got up to and some top tips for a day trip to one of California’s most popular national parks.
About Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
It known for it’s picturesque views, rugged cliffs and stunning waterfalls, including the largest waterfall in North America; Yosemite Falls.
It attracts over 3.5million visitors every year and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Here are some interesting facts to warm you up:
- Yosemite is the third biggest national park in California.
- It is one of the oldest nature reserves in the United States.
- One of the trails is named after John Muir, a Scottish immigrant who helped raise awareness of the beautiful area which eventually lead to the creation of the national park.
- President Roosevelt once spent three nights camping at Yosemite
- There are over 800 miles of walks around the park.
Is One Day Enough?
We only had time to spend one full day at Yosemite and it was a blast.
Having said that, I did feel that we missed out on a lot of great hikes and would advise 2-3 days to do it the full justice it deserves.
We managed to maximise out time there by staying about 45 minutes away, but you could have even more time if you stay in the park itself.
But, if you’re in a similar situation to us, this one-day itinerary will help make the most of your time.
Where to Stay?
We were visiting Yosemite after Vegas and before San Francisco, so we were keen to stay nearby for two nights to give us a full day at the park.
For our day in Yosemite we stayed in nearby Mariposa at The Miners Inn. It proved a great base for a day trip into the national park itself taking about 45 minutes by car.
Allowing for lunch and dinner stops it took about 10 hours in total to drive from Vegas to Mariposa where we were staying.
What to Pack?
If I had to give you one packing tip for your visit to Yosemite, it’s to pack for all weather occasions!
When we arrived at Yosemite early in the morning, the rain was coming down by the bucketload, yet by the end of the day the sun was blazing so bring weather for all seasons.
Here are some top tings to remember to take in your day bag for one day in Yosemite:
- Sun hat and glasses
- High energy food
- Plenty of water
There is a shop in Yosemite Village to stock up on supplies if need be, although as you’d expect, it’s a little more pricey than being prepared.
KEY INFO: Both the Lower Yosemite Falls loop and Mirror Lake Loop are open all year round however if visiting in the Winter parts of the Vernal and Nevada Falls Trail may be closed due to icy conditions.
One Day in Yosemite Itinerary
Here is my suggested itinerary of short hikes that can all be done during one day in Yosemite:
- Early Morning: Lower Yosemite Falls
- Morning: Mirror Lake Loop
- Lunch: Yosemite Village
- Afternoon: Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails via the Mist trail
Below is more details about the itinerary.
Hike 1: Lower Yosemite Falls (Easy – 30 mins)
The short loop to Lower Yosemite Falls is a relatively quick and easy route.
Look for shuttle stop 6 for the entrance to the loop and providing it isn’t a busy day you should be able to park relatively close rather than using the car parks which are a long walk.
Depending upon how quickly you can take selfies, the route should not take longer than half an hour.
Hike 2: Mirror Lake Full Loop (Moderate – 3 hours)
Unbeknown to us when we set off, Mirror lake is actually a seasonal lake that forms when the snow on surrounding cliffs melts . As you’ll spot from my photos, it was empty during our Autumn trip.
If you’re visiting during spring and summer, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful reflection of the surrounding cliff. Visit in Autumn or Winter for beautiful snowy surroundings and the opportunity to stand in the middle of a lake!
The paved trail to the “lake” would take roughly an hour in total, however I’d recommend taking the full loop which took roughly 3 hours.
Lunch Options in Yosemite Village
For food options, there are a few different places scattered throughout the park, but I recommend you head to Yosemite Village.
Here, there are four options:
- Dengans Kitchen – A café style arrangement serving up sandwiches, salads pizza and baked goods that you can help yourself to and pay at the till.
- The Loft – A bit more cosy, The Loft is just above Dengans Kitchen and has TVs, a fire place and beer on tap.
- Village Grill – This is the real deal, come here for grilled burgers and hot dogs.
- Village Store – If you’d rather snacks, you can grab something here and enjoy it on the benches around the park or in your car.
We actually opted to grab something from the village store, but that’s because we were on a tight budget.
Hike 3: Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails via the Mist trail (Strenuous – 4-5 hours)
After an easy morning of straight forward walks, spend your afternoon in Yosemite National Park trekking up to the top of Nevada falls. We witnessed a man taking a push-chair up this path, when you experience the path you’ll understand why this was such a big deal!
The mist trail starts at shuttle point 16. You can also take the John Muir trail up to Nevada falls, it takes a little longer but will be less crowded during busy months.
There are lots of great viewpoints on the mist trail including the vernal falls footbridge and the top of vernal falls. Once you make it to Nevada falls you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view. Get up close to Nevada falls to understand exactly why it is called the mist trail!
Tips for One Day in Yosemite
- Know when it gets dark – when hiking a trail, remember to allow time to finish the hike before it gets dark. If you’re visiting in Winter it will go dark a lot earlier than summer – check google for an estimate of sunset time.
- Check opening times and road closures – seasonality will make some paths inaccessible during certain parts of the year so check ahead. It is also worth checking for road closures in and around the area before you travel.
- Keep an eye out for deer – if you’re driving around Yosemite watch out for deer sprinting across the road as it does happen.
- Use the store – If you forget a raincoat (as I did), you can buy one from the village store and if you don’t end up using it you can return it for a full refund.
- Go early – especially if you’re only visiting for one day, make the most of your time at Yosemite National Park with an early start.
- Beware of bears – Whilst brown bears are now extinct at Yosemite, there are at least 300 black bears roaming the park. If you stick to the paths like this itinerary suggests then you should steer clear of any bears. Still be very cautious and don’t leave food or waste lying around.
Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.