Rough Draft: 3 Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park

Rough Draft: 3 Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park

December 2020

Rough Draft: Yosemite National Park, California

Due to the COVID quarantine, I am creating rough draft, “off the shelf” travel itineraries for when travel resumes normal operations so we do not waste any time getting out and exploring!

One of the biggest request from you guys was itineraries for visiting the National Parks which happened to be one of my 2020 goals. This may have to be a 2021 goal as I think everyone (EVERYONE) will be flocking to National Parks as a post-COVID escape plan. Many of the photographers we traveled with on our storm chasing trip frequent the country’s National Parks capturing unbelievable pictures and they could not speak more highly about visiting these areas. I have not hit many of the iconic National Parks so I will be taking the next couple itineraries to discovery them.

COVID Note: Many National Parks are requiring reservations in order to enter. This is separate from a park entrance fee. Be sure to check the requirements at the National Park official website and if needed, free reservations are made at often for a $1 or $2 service fee. These reservations are limited and are often gone within minutes of release so make sure you plan around this when it is in place.

Off to Yosemite National Park!

For as many times as we have been to California, we have still not checked this one off the list. Visiting Yosemite would make a great pairing to have an extended trip with San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma, or Lake Tahoe. Depending on how this virus shakes out for 2021, I think it is likely we can add this to our travel plans.

When to visit

There are arguments to justify visiting Yosemite any time of year cause it is open all year round. One tidbit of knowledge that I found especially helpful was the optimal time to see the gushing waterfalls. Peak runoff for the waterfalls typically occurs in May to June and can dry up by August so that window is a bit small. Otherwise, being open 365 years a year means the park has a big revisit ability to be able to see the park change at each season.

How to get there

You are going to want a car to get around the park and potentially to get to the park itself. Yosemite is about a three to four hour drive from SFO airport so odds are high you will be renting a car if you are flying. This gives you lots of flexibility for seeing the park and adding stops to your trip. There is also an option if you do not have a car. First, there is YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) which connects neighboring towns to the park entrance. This gives you a bit of extra wiggle room to stay an hour outside the park and save a bunch of money. While it is not free, the fares seemed reasonable. Once in the park, there is the Yosemite Valley Shuttle that does a big loops around the park with over 20 stops. You will have to get there early for a parking spot as it is a popular service offered. The shuttle is currently not operating due to COVID.

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Where to stay

There are a few options here depending on how you are traveling. From campsites to lodging and many Airbnbs in between there are plenty of options. But booking in advance is important as this is a very popular park to visit. The market for spots within a half hour is pretty tight so if you are willing to drive an hour, the options expand greatly.

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How much does it cost

There is a $35 fee per vehicle or a $20 fee per person without a vehicle, both are valid for 7 days. If you make National Park hopping a priority, make sure to check out the American the Beautiful Pass – $80 for the year and included entrance to over 2000 sites!

What are the trails

Let’s review the most popular trail options at Yosemite. Unlike other parks, the more popular hikes here are on the longer side so pack a good pair of hiking shoes and a pack for the multiple trails.

There area areas in the park that are not trails but are must seeings in the area with short to no walks required. These stops include Tunnel View, Bridal Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite Valley Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, and Sentinel Bridge/Cooks Meadow Loop. For me, this feels like a great way to get to know the park when you first arrive by driving the loop and making this stops.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail – 7.6 mile difficult out and back trail due to the elevation gain of over 3000 feet. As the name implies, you will be rewarded with a waterfall so best to complete this when the waterfall is worth seeing in the spring time. This takes an estimated five hours to complete due to the steep climbing so come prepared. Hikers note that are great views about one hour in and the views of Yosemite Falls can be seen around two hours into the hike so if you don’t want to complete the entire trail, you can at least hike to those!

Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point – 9.2 mile difficult out and back trail with the most spectacular views in the park at Glacier Point, including the iconic Half Dome. It is estimated to take about six hours to complete this trail, probably longer as you will want to spend time at the top. There is a strong recommendation for hiking poles on this trail and after reading the distance of all of these hikes I think I will invest in a pair for the journey. You can also drive to Glacier Point if short on time or do not want to complete the hike. Also not a bad place to star gazing!

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop – 5.1 mile moderate loop trail can be completed under three hours and make for a wonderful sunset hike. This one is quite popular since it is a shorter hike (relatively speaking) and not as strenuous.

Mist Trail up, John Muir back – 9 mile difficult loop trail takes an estimated five hours to complete. The main attraction here is getting to see Vernal and Nevada Falls- two for one! Best to complete this when the waterfall is worth seeing in the spring time.

Based on the duration of the hikes and the proximity to each other, here is how I would structure a 3 day itinerary. The closest major airport is in San Francisco and from there is about a 3 hour drive. As with most 3 day weekends, I like to fly on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination.

Day 0AfternoonTravel to Yosemite
EveningExplore: Tunnel View, Bridal Falls, El Capitan Meadow,
Yosemite Valley, Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, Sentinel Bridge/Cooks Meadow Loop
Day 1 MorningTrail: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (7.2 mile)
AfternoonTrail: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (7.2 mile)
EveningExplore areas that did not see Evening Day 0
Day 2MorningTrail: Mist Trail up, John Muir back (9 mile)
AfternoonTrail: Mist Trail up, John Muir back (9 mile)
EveningStoneman Meadow
Day 3MorningTrail: Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point (9.2 mile) OR
Trail: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop (5.1 mile) OR
Can also drive to Glacier Point if short on time
AfternoonTrail (continued)
EveningMariposa Grove

I wouldn’t necessary commit to doing the trails in this order. I also would not want to commit to the longer trails on the last day of the trip cause I would be stressed out about missing the flight in case it is a bad hiking day and it takes longer to complete. And do not forget to check the National Park website frequently as the trail status can change – trails (even before COVID) can close for maintenance.

I did not include a food section in the itinerary because most of the food here is trail snacks and lots of water! Stop by a grocery store to stock up for hiking.

If you have been to Yosemite, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!

We had the chance to test this itinerary in 2021 and it was epi!

Check out all our blog posts about our trim exploring Yosemite National Park here!

Don’t forget to check out all DESKRIB itineraries here!

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