Yosemite National Park is one of the top five most visited national parks in the United States. It is known for its breathtaking waterfalls, hikes, and scenery.
In 2017, Kevin and I spent a four-day weekend in Yosemite National Park and fell in love with it. Now we frequently recommend Yosemite National Park to friends and family and are itching to get back there ourselves.
Below is our four-day itinerary for one of our favorite national parks in the USA.
There are several accommodation options. Below we have broken them down for you.
There are numerous campgrounds throughout Yosemite National Park. Some campgrounds are open all year round while others are open just during Yosemite’s busy season (typically July through September).
When Kevin and I visited, we stayed at Tamarack Flat Campground. This campground is located 45 minutes north of Yosemite Valley at about 6,300 feet in elevation. It is first-come-first-serve and costs $12 per night. Tamarack Flats Campground provides campers with picnic tables and fire pits, as well as, a bear box for storing food and drinks. Though it is open all year round, pack accordingly if you choose to go in the winter months. It gets very cold up there due to the elevation!
Other campgrounds include:
Tip: The campgrounds mentioned above are located in Yosemite Valley and fill up quickly during the summer months. Also, note that Camp 4 and Upper Pines are the only Yosemite Valley campgrounds open all year.
For campgrounds that are first-come-first-serve make sure you arrive early, especially when arriving closer to the weekend. For reservation campgrounds, plan early and book fast, reservations are made five months in advance! If your interest, you can book reservations at www.recreation.gov.
Yosemite National Park does offer “cabins” for visitors to stay at in addition to the campgrounds. A few of our friends stayed at Half Dome Village Tent Cabins for $140 per night. Half Dome Village Tent Cabins are located in Yosemite Valley next to Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village.
Though the cabins are expensive in comparison to camping, you are granted access to showers, bathrooms, and running water with this option. Also since Half Dome Village Tent Cabins are located in the valley, your only a short walk to the grocery store, restaurants, and trailheads (most of the trails start in the valley).
There are two options for lodging in Yosemite National Park. Both are considerably more than camping and renting a cabin.
This historic hotel was built in 1927 and is located right in Yosemite Valley. If you choose to stay here you can look forward to views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. Additionally, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is only a 1.5-mile walk from Yosemite Village which contains restaurants and a small store. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel does fill up quickly so book your reservation well in advance if this is where you wish to stay.
Similar to The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite Valley Lodge sits right in Yosemite Valley. It is in close proximity to Yosemite Falls so it is easy and convenient to get out and explore. If you are planning to stay here, make sure you book your reservation in advance, these rooms fill up just as quickly as The Majestic Yosemite Hotel!
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We highly recommend scheduling your longest hike on your first full day! Our top priority was to hike Half Dome, but unfortunately, we did not win the lottery and were not awarded a permit. Instead, Kevin and I decided to hike Upper Yosemite Falls.
Tip: In order to hike Half Dome, you need to purchase a lottery ticket in advance and hope your ticket is selected to recieve a permit. Half Dome is a very popular hike which is why the park limits the number of hikers per day and the amount of permits they give out per season. If you do not get a permit for Half Dome, do not be discouraged, there are so many other amazing hikes in Yosemite National Park.
The second-longest waterfall hike in Yosemite National Park is Upper Yosemite Falls. Upper Yosemite Falls is a strenuous 3.8-mile hike that brings you just above Yosemite Falls. This hike contains a very steep incline to the summit and is essentially like being on a stair-master for six hours straight.
As Kevin and I approached the top of Upper Yosemite Falls we were hesitant about going to the point due to how exhausted and sore we already were, but after talking to other hikers heading down as we were heading up, they gave us the motivation to keep going.
From the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, it is an additional 0.9-miles to Yosemite Point. Yosemite Point is 2,969 feet in elevation and has panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, as well as views of Sentinel Dome, North Dome, and the infamous Half Dome. The views seen at Yosemite Point are completely worth the extra 1.8-miles (round-trip) and both Kevin and I recommend checking them out!
Tip: Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point is a full day hike! Bring lots of water and snacks. Also make sure to enjoy the hike and take in the views!
Glacier Point is an overlook offering unbelievable views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome. This viewpoint can be accessed by car from late May until roughly November, after November the only way to access Glacier Point is by completing 10.5 miles of cross country skiing.
Tip: If you choose to visit this viewpoint between the months of May and September and want to drive there make sure to go before 10:00 AM. After 10:00 AM the road is shut down and the park offers a free shuttle service to get people to and from the point from Badger Pass Parking Lot.
There are two main lookouts from Glacier Point. One of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls and the other of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan.
Taft Point is another amazing viewpoint just west of Glacier Point. The hike to Taft Point is roughly 1.1 miles from the parking area (the parking area is shared with Sentinel Dome) and fairly easy. Once at Taft Point you will be able to view Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. This viewpoint is roughly 7,503 feet in elevation and will definitely test your fear of heights since there are minimal guard rails once you get to the top! In addition to the views, one of the other main attractions to Taft Point is the large fissure in the mile-high granite rock.
Much like Glacier Point, Taft Point is closed in the winter months to car traffic and can only be accessed by cross country skiing. However, from May to November this point is accessible by vehicle.
Since Taft Point and Sentinel Dome share a parking lot you should aim to do both hikes on the same day. From the parking lot, it is 1.1 miles to Sentinel Dome, similar to Taft point.
Tip: There is an opportunity for a more intense hike that loops around both Taft Point and Sentinel Dome if you are up for it. Kevin and I learned the hard way that the loop varies in elevation making it much harder then taking the same trail in and out. Our advice is if you are tired from previous hikes and want an easy day, chose the shorter path, the one that leads to and from the parking lot.
Sentinel Dome is 8,100 feet in elevation and is the second highest point in Yosemite National Park. The panoramic views of Yosemite from Sentinel Dome are breathtaking and you definitely don’t want to miss them! From Sentinel Dome, you can view Half Dome, El Capitan, both Yosemite and Nevada Falls, and the snow-covered Sierra Peaks.
On the third day, Kevin and I hiked the Mist Trail, the most enjoyable trail in Yosemite National Park in our opinion. This hike was put off until the third day in hopes that we would receive a Half Dome hiking permit because the Mist Trail is actually the beginning of the Half Dome trail.
The Mist Trail is a difficult 6.4-mile loop trail that offers awesome views of both Vernal and Nevada Falls. The first waterfall you will view while on the Mist Trail is Vernal Falls. Vernal Falls is a 317-foot waterfall that actually gives the Mist Trail its name. When Vernal Falls strikes the pool and rocks at its base it creates a spray of water that covers the hikers in its path. That being said make sure to wear quick-drying clothes or a poncho on this hike because you will get wet!
Once atop Vernal Falls feel free to take and break and enjoy the views of Emerald Pool. Emerald Pool is the swallow lake above Vernal Falls where Nevada and Vernal Falls come together. Emerald Pool got its name from its deep emerald color that is caused by algae living on the rocks at the bottom of the lake. Although during calm water people can be found swimming here, it is strictly prohibited by Yosemite National Park due to the number of deaths that have occurred after swimmers have been swept over Vernal Falls.
After resting at Emerald Pool, continue the hike up to the top of Nevada Falls, the second and last waterfall on the Mist Trail. Although Nevada Falls is an additional 1,900 feet in elevation it is worth it in our opinion.
Nevada Falls is a 594-foot waterfall that is known for its “bent” shape. Water from the top freefalls the first third of its length before hitting the rocks below and causing turbulent white water that appears “bent.” Kevin and I took our second break here at the base of Nevada falls and ate a snack while enjoying the views and getting our feet wet in the water.
Tip: Be careful when going into the river because the current is very strong! Going down the falls is not something we recommend, so please use caution!
At this point, you can either turn around or hike to the top of Nevada Falls. Kevin and I hiked to the top and were not disappointed. Once at the top of Nevada Falls you can relax and wade in the water or just take in the views of the valley and river below.
Tip: Located atop Nevada Falls you will find a bridge that actually crosses over Nevada Falls. This is a great place to take photos of the valley below and the river above Nevada Falls!
On our last day, we woke up early to beat the traffic exiting the park and headed straight to Tunnel View for sunrise. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that morning so there was not much of a sunrise but the views were still gorgeous. From Tunnel View, you can see Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinal Dome.
After sunrise, Kevin and I drove to Bridalveil Falls and completed our last hike of the weekend. The hike to Bridalveil Falls is short, 0.5 miles, but it does get crowded fast due to how easy it is.
Bridalveil Falls is the first waterfall you will see upon entering Yosemite National Park and it is 620-feet in height. After viewing Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls this waterfall appears small but it is worth checking out regardless.
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite National Park and want to hike then here is our recommended itinerary.
Overall, Yosemite is our favorite national park yet! We although we have already been there once, we definitely want to go back. We hope to tackle Half Dome and several other hikes on our next trip. If you enjoying hiking you should definitely consider adding Yosemite National Park to your bucket list!
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