Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for Yosemite National Park in Springtime
After creating a rough draft itinerary for Yosemite National Park during quarantine, we were fortunate to put it to the test in April 2021. I had read that springtime is the best time to visit Yosemite, despite the park not being entirely opening until late May.
PROS of Springtime
- Weather – Our days in April were highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s which make it perfect for hiking. You could seek out the sun for some additional warmth or the shade to cool off. Of note, rainy season is at its peak from November to March so April and May really is a great time of year!
- Shoulder Season / Low Crowds – Peak season is over the summertime when the crowds are the highest. The springtime brings lower crowds since it is shoulder season. Accommodations should also be less expensive. Fall will also give you this result.
- Waterfalls – I always imagined the waterfalls when picturing a trip to Yosemite so when I read that they waterfalls are not always around, I knew when we were not going. The waterfalls can dry up as early as late July some years so if seeing the waterfalls in their fullest form, the spring time is the best season.
- No Reservations Required – due to COVID, National Parks have instituted crowd control by enacting a reservation system that is required for park entrance. For Yosemite, the reservation season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is unclear if this will continue past 2021 but make sure to double check!
- Limited trails – While this is on the con list, it can also be a positive. Since only the trails on the Valley floor are available, you can concentrate all your time on these trails instead of driving over an hour through the park to reach another part. It is an enormous park and getting from one area to another can take a lot of time. This helps you focus your time and energy, especially on short trips.
CONS of Springtime
- The biggest and only con is that most of the park is not open due to snow. Yosemite Valley area is the only trails open but honestly, these are some of the best trails in the park! However, be diligent about checking the NPS site and AllTrails – even on our trip we had to make a few detours (Muir Trail) and popular spots like Half Dome did not have the cables up.
When exploring which trails to do, this website along with the NPS site was great. Also consider downloading the NPS app – it is free and provides a ton of information about every national park – including the ability to download park maps – to your phone for offline use. It was a big help while out on trail all day. Also, do not forget to take photos of the trail map before you start along your way – it is always good to have a double check to make sure you are heading in the direction you intend.
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. There are also places to stay inside the park itself.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. We stayed at this Airbnb and it was one of the best Airbnbs we have stayed in. It made the hour drive to get to the park well worth it to be this comfortable.
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- Upper Yosemite 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!
- Mist Trail / Muir Trail, Mist Trail up, John Muir back – 9 mile difficult loop trail takes an estimated five hours to complete. The Mist Trail is steep with lots of precarious stairs while the Muir Trail is longer with switchbacks. 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.
- 4 Mile Trail – 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. While it is not open in the springtime, you can drive to Glacier Point when open if short on time or do not want to complete the hike. Also not a bad place to star gazing!
- Cook Meadow – 2 mile walking trail around the Valley floor
- Lower Yosemite Falls – half a mile walking trail to the bottom of Yosemite Falls
- Mirror Lake – 2.4 mile walking trail to a scenic lake
- Bridalveil Falls (if open – not open on our trip due to trail rehabilitation) – 1.2 mile walking trail to Bridalveil Falls, very popular!
View Points – these are all must stops in my opinion! You get fantastic views for no effort so you can spend as little or as much time at these locations as you want. They make for great picnic spots as well.
- El Capitan Meadow
- Yosemite Valley View
- Tunnel View
- Glacier Point (if open – not open on our trip)
Your itinerary should mix and match these areas. If you are a big hiker and want to climb all the things, do one of the big hikes each day. Then lace in a few of the viewpoints and walks either before or after the hikes. You can even sneak in as many viewpoints as you want – even more than once to optimize all those shots depending on the weather and the sun at different points of the day, especially if you are a photographer. If the big hikes are not for you, swap them out with the Valley walks such as Mirror Lake or Cook Meadow Trail. You can even rent bikes to traverse the many trails on the valley floor. This was how we built our itinerary and we thought it was pretty perfect.
|Lower Yosemite Falls / Cook Meadow Loop|
|Upper Yosemite Falls – lunch spot at the falls view point|
|Tunnel View for sunrise|
|Mist Trail up, Muir Trail down – lunch at the top of Nevada Falls|
|4 Mile Trail – lunch at Glacier Point|
|El Capitan Meadow|
|Yosemite Valley View|