Is one day enough in Yosemite? Well, no it would be better to have more time. However, it is possible to have an outstanding one day trip to Yosemite. Although Yosemite Park covers over 3,000 square kilometres most visitors spend the majority of their time in the six-mile radius that is the Yosemite Valley. This is for good reason as this area contains some of the highlights of the park. However, if you only have a day in Yosemite eg getting inside the park by 9 am it is possible to see more than that in this world heritage site with some good planning!
Yosemite in One Day – Getting there and Getting Around
Yosemite Park is located in Eastern California in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is a 4-hour drive from San Francisco and a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles. The closest airports to Yosemite Park are in Fresno and Merced but these are quite small. If you’re travelling from overseas San Francisco Airport will be your best bet.
The best and easiest way to travel from San Francisco to Yosemite Park is to hire a car. There are loads of hire car options at San Francisco International Airport. Indeed, there is a four-storey building at the airport full of car hire companies! It was quite easy to get from arrivals to the car hire desks (it is well signed) and the process of picking up the car is very smooth and easy.
San Francisco International Airport is south of San Francisco so it is possible to avoid driving in San Francisco and to hit the freeways straight from the airport. I highly recommend getting a sat nav to help you get to Yosemite and to get around the park once you are there. The Yosemite website contains directions. There are four entrances to Yosemite Park.
If you don’t want to hire a car the next option is to take a bus. However, the bus journey does take 11 hours each way so that is a lot of travelling for just one day in the park! The other shorter option – 7 hours – is to take a transfer from San Francisco but that is considerably more expensive than the bus.
The best option for spending one day in Yosemite without a car is to take a guided tour from San Francisco. A day trip to Yosemite from San Francisco is a long day – about 15 hours – but someone else will do the driving, take you to the best places in the park and then deliver you back to your hotel.
⇒ If you’re in San Francisco don’t miss my post on the top 17 Unique Restaurants in San Francisco
Getting around Yosemite Park
Even if you have a car there are several great transport options for getting to some of the key sights within Yosemite. YARTS or Yosemite Area Regional Transport System has been operating in the park since 2000. During the summer YARTS does hotel pick-ups so you can leave your car behind. YARTS offers the same in the winter so you won’t necessarily have to put snow chains on your tyres.
YARTS does meet up with some of the bus companies to ease the connections to the park but the bus trip still takes a really long time!
Where I found YARTS most helpful was in the busy Yosemite Valley. Even though all of the attractions at Yosemite are well signed it can still be a pain trying to figure out what is where and the signal isn’t overly consistent. The free YARTS buses allow visitors to drop their cars and then get around Yosemite Valley easily – a real bonus if you are trying to see Yosemite in a day.
1 Day in Yosemite – The Top Tourist Attractions
So you may notice there are several things listed here and you may think hey I could never do all of that in one day. That is true. However, when I research going somewhere I find the things I want to do and then trade off which ones I can and can’t get done in the time that I have.
So I will list all the options and then give you a couple of different Yosemite 1 day trip Itinerary choices. I will also include in the itineraries what I consider to be the things you really must do in Yosemite as well as explaining factors like time of year which may affect your choices eg there is no point going to a waterfall if there is no water. The best Yosemite one day itinerary will depend on these factors. I hope that makes sense!
1. Yosemite Valley
The beautiful Yosemite Valley is the heartland of Yosemite Park. It is essentially an 8-mile loop full of stunning deciduous trees (particularly beautiful in the autumn) and home to some of the key sights of Yosemite Park including the Half Dome and El Capitan rocks. This is my Yosemite must-see one-day trip choice.
The valley drive has some great viewpoints which are literally on the road – you can tell by the number of well-placed spots to pull over! Don’t miss the cute church that is on the way to Yosemite Village on the right.
At the centre of the loop is Yosemite Village which I will cover in my next point. This is the best place to park. Once you have parked your car you can use the terrific complimentary shuttle bus system to get around the Yosemite Valley area. If you are visiting in summer or another peak time this is definitely something to use as traffic can be terrible in this part of Yosemite Park.
Once you have parked it is then possible to do a mix of the shuttle bus and walking to get to some of the key highlights of the park. Shuttle bus stop 6 will take you to the Cook’s Meadow Loop and Sentinel Bridge with some amazing views of the Half Dome. Or you can walk to Sentinel Bridge from the car park for this shot.
However, my favourite views within the Yosemite Valley were towards the end of the Yosemite Valley loop. Just past the El Capitan bridge there is a small picnic area on the Merced River. The views of El Capitan and Half Dome are stunning from here. I was there late morning and even then I had great light for my photos.
2. Yosemite Village
Yosemite Village is at the centre of Yosemite Valley and has a visitors centre, restaurant, gallery and everything you might possibly need for a great day in Yosemite Park. I would recommend starting with the terrific Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre. There are loads of maps, guidebooks, souvenirs etc. I also sat down with one of the guides and a map of Yosemite Park and we went through what was open and closed, what was in bloom, which waterfalls are running etc. I highly recommend doing this at the start of your time in the park to maximise the efficiency of visiting Yosemite National Park in one day.
Next door to the Yosemite Valley Visitor’s Centre is the lovely Ansel Adams Gallery. This is definitely the place to go if you are after some beautiful and unique souvenirs of your visit.
A great place to grab lunch and a drink is Degnan’s Kitchen. This is what I would call a posh cafeteria with pizzas, soups, sandwiches, chips and snacks and most things you may need to eat for the day. If it isn’t lunchtime I would grab something to take with you for lunch from Degnan’s Kitchen Yosemite Valley.
3. Yosemite Park Waterfalls
Yosemite Park is famous for its stunning waterfalls. Which waterfalls you are able to see will vary depending on the time of year and how much time you have available. As a general starting point, the waterfalls tend to be dry in the winter. However, this can, of course, vary from year to year so do double-check – particularly if you are visiting in the shoulder months like October and March.
The easiest of the Yosemite Park waterfalls to visit is Bridalveil Falls. The walk from the road is only 0.5 miles – and the top of the falls is visible from the road if you have very limited time. Bridalveil Falls is in the Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and it flows in three sections. The Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are also within the Yosemite Valley. The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is a one-mile loop and quite a flat trail that will take you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. The starting point is the shuttle bus stop #6. This should take about one hour. VIsiting the Upper falls is a full day activity. Yosemite Falls is at its maximum in May.
The paths to visit Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls can be accessed from the Nature Centre at Happy Isles. However, these are also very long walks and unlikely to work within a one day visit.
4. Glacier Point
Glacier Point is famous for its amazing views over the Yosemite Valley -, particularly at sunset. The view is genuinely awesome and I think this is a must-do on any day trip to Yosemite Park. It takes around one hour to drive from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. The great news is that the parking area for Glacier Point is only 300 metres from the views so it takes no time to get there.
If you are visiting in the summer aim to arrive at least one hour before sunset in order to get a good spot. If you are visiting during off-peak times you only need to worry about what time the sun will be dropping!
Washburn Point is very nearby although you will need to drive there. Washburn Point is essentially the extension of the glacier point view heading east. I felt like I had already captured all I needed at Glacier Point, to be honest, so if you only have one day you can give this a miss.
5. Tunnel View
Tunnel View is at the start of the Yosemite Valley loop road and only a slight detour from the main road. The views are fantastic! Glacier Point does have better views as you are closer to the Yosemite Valley (in my opinion) but as it is so close to the main path there is no reason not to pop in and check out Tunnel View. Also, Tunnel View definitely offers the best view in the park at sunrise.
6. Mirror Lake
It is all about the time of year when it comes to Mirror Lake! I visited in October so alas there was no lake. This is the situation for most of the summer and the fall. Mirror Lake tends to be fullest in spring and early summer. So to be honest I didn’t go and see Mirror Lake. There are two options for walking this Yosemite trail. The first is a 3.2km loop. The second is an 8km loop. I was told that the walk to Mirror Lake was lovely and that the longer walk offered some fantastic deciduous trees for changing leaves but alas you can’t do everything!
The Mirror Lake Trailhead can be accessed from shuttle bus stop #17.
7. Mariposa Grove and the Sequoias
Mariposa Grove is home to 500 giant Sequoia trees and is rather stunning. There is an easy 0.3 mile trail through part of Mariposa Grove and a second longer 2 mile loop option. It takes about one hour to drive from the Yosemite Valley south to Mariposa Grove.
Park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza. From here, it is necessary to get a free shuttle bus to Mariposa Grove. This parking lot fills up fast in peak times so plan your trip for the morning or late afternoon. The shuttle buses run between every 10 and 15 minutes depending on the time of year. The shuttle bus takes about 10 minutes to get to Mariposa Grove.
NB: There is no shuttle service from December 1 to March 15.
The Itinerary for One Day Yosemite
Don’t miss Yosemite Valley. No matter what else you choose to do with your day make sure Yosemite Valley is part of it as it is quite a small area that includes several of the key sites in Yosemite Park. And it is gorgeous. And it is also home to the best food options which are open year-round so it works on several levels!
A critical factor in what you choose to do on your Yosemite day trip will be the weather. Essentially, from September to May various roads and facilities within the park will be closed. Also, the waterfalls are at their peaks in May and then generally dry up around October as does Mirror Lake. And the alpine wildflowers of Tuolumne Meadows reach peak bloom in July and August.
So here is my recommendation for Yosemite in One Day in the Summer:
Waterfalls – Bridal Veil, Lower Yosemite – won’t have time for the others
And 24 hours in Yosemite in the Autumn:
Glacier Point Road beyond Badger Pass closes over the Winter (normally December – May).
Guided Yosemite Tours within the Park
Yosemite Park offers a number of guided tours within the park. The two hour Valley Floor tour runs all year round. The Glacier Point is a four-hour return trip which runs between May and November. The Grand tour takes 8 hours and covers Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. It runs May through September. And there is a full-day tour to and from Tuolumne Meadows which runs in the summer months.
All tours leave from Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite One Day Tour from San Francisco
A Yosemite 1 day tour is a long day – about 15 hours – from San Francisco. It is possible to have about 5 hours in the park on a day trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park.
⇒ California is home to some fantastic wine. Check out my posts on California’s hidden gem Livermore Wine Valley, the best things to do in Calistoga in the Napa Valley and staying at the lovely Solage Spa in Napa.
Where to Stay the Night
If you’re looking to stay in Yosemite Park then the Ahwahnee (formerly called The Majestic Yosemite Hotel) is the only AAA 4 star hotel in the park. It is located in the east end of the Yosemite Valley and thus has some fantastic views of the key sights in the Yosemite Valley.
The 5-star Chateau du Sureau is located in Oakhurst, just outside of the park. It has 10 country-chic rooms with wooden beams, an outdoor pool, and a spa.
Another great option is the lovely Evergreen Lodge. The Lodge is located in Groveland which is only 6 miles outside the park. Evergreen Lodge has 80 plus cabins and was renovated two years ago. They also have fixed tents with blow-up mattresses for some low-level glamping!
Evergreen is very much tucked away with loads of outdoor space so it does feel wonderfully rustic. However, they also have a great restaurant and bar with a large outdoor area and an excellent general store with a very nice selection of California wines! Evergreen Lodge is a great mix of creature comforts whilst still feeling like you’re in the great outdoors!
What to bring to Yosemite Park
⇒ bring decent walking shoes, sunglasses, a hat or a cap, sunscreen, water and a day pack
⇒ there are limited places to get supplies in Yosemite Park. For one day a visit to Yosemite Village is perfect – but remember to grab everything you will need for the day
There are ATMs in Yosemite Valley, Curry Village, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. The shops and restaurants in Yosemite all take cards.
Yosemite is open all year round and only closes in extraordinary circumstances. It is also open 24 hours a day. There is an entrance fee to the park which is charged on a per-vehicle basis.
Weather can be a major factor in Yosemite National Park – particularly in Winter. When you’re planning your trip do make sure you check out the Yosemite Road conditions guide to ensure you’re making the most appropriate routes for the time of year in which you are visiting. Closer to your trip make sure you are regularly checking Yosemite weather updates.
Autumn is one of the best times to visit Yosemite. September and October are perfect months for hiking as the days are generally still warm and sunny but the nights cool. This is also the time when the leaves are at their most colourful as the seasons change.
Summer is quite warm in the Yosemite Valley and is consistently sunny. Temperatures are cooler in the higher points of the park. Spring can be wet and cool, to begin with but then turns warmer and sunnier.
Winter is stunning but brings some snow and closures to certain areas of the park. If you like outdoor activities in the cold Yosemite is a fantastic place to visit but careful planning is required.
⇒ If you love the outdoors check out my posts on a day by day guide to the Everest Base Camp Trek, the best things to do in Verbier Switzerland, Climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland and climbing Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.
Yosemite Tours for Solo Travellers
There are lots of options for solo travellers to Yosemite – from full multi-day guided tours to day tours to join.
⇒ Tourradar offers tours of Yosemite between 3 and 8 days designed for solo travellers
⇒ Exodus offers several different Yosemite trips which suit single travellers
⇒ Gadventures also offers organised tours of Yosemite with deals for single travellers
⇒ If you’re already in Yosemite, Rush Creek Lodge offers a variety of different half-day and day group tours you could join.
Who Paid for What in this Yosemite One Day Itinerary Post
My visit to Yosemite and the surrounding Tuolumne County was hosted by Visit Tuolumne County – thank you! I paid for my flights to California and my car hire and Visit Tuolumne covered all of my costs eg meals, accommodation, transport etc. But as always my views are my own.
This post also contains affiliate links. This means that if you click through on these links and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.
READ NEXT: VISITING YOSEMITE IN OCTOBER
Like this post? Why Not Pin It?