If you’re planning a trip for two days in Yosemite, you won’t be able to see and do everything, but you’ll be able to see the highlights. No matter how much or how little you cover, it’ll leave you wanting to come back for more. This 2 days in Yosemite itinerary will help you hit all the best places to visit and includes scenic drives and easy/moderate hikes.
One key to fitting the most into your Yosemite 2 day trip plan is staying close by. I’d highly recommend booking one of the hotels or campgrounds in the valley itself if possible, but you will pay a premium. I honestly believe that waking up to views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls are worth the extra cost, plus you won’t have to spend your time commuting from further away or worrying about traffic into the park.
I’ve divided this itinerary into two separate days, but you can do them in any order. Day One doesn’t have to be the first day you’re there if it’s more convenient to do Day Two first due to weather or logistics.
Note: this itinerary for 2 days in Yosemite is intended for spring, summer, and fall. Some of the places included are closed for winter and early spring, so check the NPS website for opening dates and current conditions as you plan your trip.
Day one Yosemite itinerary
Start your Yosemite vacation in the southern part of the park. This day will include a scenic drive along the Glacier Point road and a visit to Yosemite’s Mariposa sequoia grove. Depending on where you’re staying, you can do them in either order. If you’re coming from the south (Highway 41 from Fresno) or staying in Oakhurst or Fish Camp, you’ll probably want to start in Mariposa. If you’re staying in the Valley or entering from one of the western entrances, you can pick which option to start with.
Since we were coming from the Valley, I’d start the day with a drive to Glacier Point. (Note that the road here closes for the winter and doesn’t open until late spring.) The drive isn’t too tough, but the last stretch does involve some tight switchbacks. Your jaw will drop when you find yourself staring straight at Half Dome coming around one of them.
There is quite a bit of parking at Glacier Point, though it will get crowded during busier times. Shuttles also run there during the summer. The view is a highlight of any Yosemite itinerary and you can see almost all of the top sights in the valley from high above. From the overlooks up there, you’ll have perfect views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall.
Glacier Point can also be reached via the Four Mile Trail if you don’t mind climbing up from the valley. If you have time, the hike to Taft Point just a bit up the road from Glacier Point gives you another outstanding view. The trail there is relatively level and is just over 2 miles round trip. You’ll be able to look straight down one of Yosemite’s famous cliffs and visit the Fissures – giant slices in the rock.
By this point you’ll probably be ready to have lunch, so you can find a spot to picnic if you’ve brought your own food or head to one of the park’s restaurants. There is food for sale at Glacier Point, so you may want to eat before leaving as it’s several miles to the next place to buy anything.
The Mariposa sequoia grove is located just inside the park’s southern entrance. You’ll pass the Wawona Visitor Center and the Big Trees Hotel on the way to it (food is available at the hotel). The giant sequoias are incredible to see in person. It’s hard to imagine such a large living thing until it’s right before you. There is even a sequoia with a manmade tunnel cut through it in the grove. There are a few different trails to choose from ranging from the easy .3 mile long Big Trees Loop to the 7-mile Mariposa Grove Loop.
Note: if you’re including a visit to Sequoia and/or Kings Canyon with your trip, you may want to substitute something else as both parks are home to larger sequoias. I’d recommend the North Dome hike or the McGurk Meadow, both along the Glacier Point road.
If you’re staying in the Valley, make sure you stop at Tunnel View on your way back to your accommodations. The view is spectacular, and late afternoon will give you the ideal lighting for photography. If not, you can stop here on your way in on day two. If you want to avoid the crowds here, try hiking a little way up the Inspiration Point trail. You only need to go up a couple of the switchbacks to get fantastic views and a little solitude.
Day Two Yosemite Itinerary
Day Two is all about the Yosemite Valley. If you have a full day to spend, you can hit all of the highlights and fit in a couple of hikes. If you’re doing a Yosemite weekend trip and need to hit the road a little earlier, you may want to drop one of the hikes.
If you’re not staying in the Valley, make sure to stop at Tunnel View to get a fantastic view of El Capitan, Horsetail Falls, and Bridalveil Fall.
Your next stop will be the short, paved trail to Bridalveil Fall. You can walk almost right up to the base of the falls, but you may get wet from the mist if you go all the way. We visited at the peak of spring snowmelt, so it was absolutely raging that day and water was splashing up onto the pathway. The roar was something to behold.
Once you’ve enjoyed the waterfall, continue on the loop road along the valley. There are tons of scenic spots to pull over, so take your time and enjoy the views. Keep an eye out for El Capitan meadows, which offer a great vantage point for the massive granite cliff. If you have good eyes or binoculars, you might spot rock climbers high up on the face.
Continue heading to Yosemite Village and make a stop at the Visitor Center. There is a small exhibit about Yosemite and you can get information about park happenings, weather forecasts, and tips from rangers. There is a paved trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls from here. As you near the falls, you can choose to head straight to the bottom or veer off to the left. I’d recommend taking the path to the left first. It’ll take you to a quiet overlook where you can get a good view of the falls. It was also the site of a cabin John Muir lived in for a couple of years.
Once you’ve enjoyed the relative quiet there, you can head up to the base of the waterfall itself. You won’t have a good view of the Upper Falls (the really tall part), but the lower falls are pretty impressive in and of themselves.
There are free shuttles offered throughout Yosemite Valley operating on fixed loops. I’d recommend picking up some food for a picnic at the village before catching a shuttle. The rest of the afternoon will be spent at the eastern end of the valley and includes 2 easy to moderate hikes – Mirror Lake and Vernal Falls.
You’ll reach the Happy Isles stop where the trail to Vernal Falls starts first, but I’d recommend taking it to the next stop to do the Mirror Lake hike first. Why? You’ll probably be ready for lunch soon and it’s the perfect spot to picnic. The Mirror Lake trail is an easy walk to a small lake that really lives up to its name. Toward the end of summer, it’s more marshy, but when water levels are high, you’ll get to enjoy perfect crystal clear reflections of surrounding peaks in its water. Plus, you’ll get fantastic views of Half Dome looming above you.
The trail continues further up Tenaya Canyon and is worth exploring, but if you’re trying to hit as many highlights as possible on your 2 days in Yosemite, you’ll want to save time for a couple more waterfalls.
To get to the trailhead for Vernal Falls, you can walk about a mile to the trailhead from the Mirror Lake stop or hop on the shuttle and take it to the Half Dome Village parking stop. You’ll hop off there and walk across the road to the stop heading the opposite direction and catch another shuttle there. Or, if you don’t want to have to backtrack, you can do Vernal Falls first and try to find a spot to eat your picnic lunch in the Happy Isles, though they’re a bit more rocky and offer fewer great views. This trail is the most strenuous of the ones in this Yosemite itinerary and involves a steady, but not too steep, uphill climb. Most visitors will be able to make it to the footbridge with a few pauses to rest.
To get to the Vernal Falls footbridge, you’ll follow signs for the waterfall, Mist Trail, and John Muir trail. They all start together on a paved walkway that treats you to views of three waterfalls. You’ll be able to spot Yosemite Falls in the distance first as you reach an overlook. It’s easy to miss because you have to look off to the right, but it’s cool to see its immense height from afar.
Next you’ll come across Illilouette Falls, which was a nice bonus for us because we didn’t even know it was visible along the trail when we started out. I thought it was particularly gorgeous with its seemingly endless series of cascades joining the Merced River. You’ll be treated to a few different viewpoints of this waterfall along the way, which are great opportunities to take a second to catch your breath.
The Vernal Falls footbridge crosses the Merced a little ways away from the bottom of the waterfall. Your view from the middle of the bridge is slightly obstructed, but the water rushing by will give you a sense of how powerful the waterfall really is.
We turned back here because the Mist Trail was still closed for the winter and we’re certainly not in shape for hundreds of stairs, but if your timing and/or physical fitness is better you can continue on the Mist Trail or John Muir trail to get to the top of the falls and possibly continue on to see Nevada Falls upstream.
Other ideas for your 2 days in Yosemite
If you want to swap out one of the activities listed in my Yosemite 2-day trip plan or find yourself with a little extra time, here are a few suggestions for other things to do:
- Pay a visit to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel aka the Ahwanee. It’s way out of my price point, but we enjoyed visiting the lobby and peeking into the dining room. The lunch menu is pricey, but not outrageous, but we didn’t even have anything in our suitcases that fit the dress code. If you’d like to dine there, I’d recommend making reservations and checking out the requirements first.
- During the spring and summer, there are shows at the village theater most nights. We saw a show featuring John Muir telling stories of his adventures that was quite enjoyable for $10/person. I didn’t even realize until partway through the show that the actor portraying Muir was also the author of a book I was reading about him.
- In spring, if you’re lucky enough to be there during a full moon, you can walk to Lower Yosemite Falls during the evening to try to spot a moonbow – a rainbow from the light of the moon. We had the timing right, but both nights we were there were rainy so there was no moon, sadly.
- If you’re traveling with kids, I’d highly recommend the Junior Ranger program. We did these growing up and loved them. I still have mementos of them stashed away in a little wooden box.
Visit the Happy Isles Nature Center. It has a small exhibit about the flora and fauna in the park. I found the part about how bears reproduce to be particularly interesting. You can also take part in open art sessions there.
- Check the NPS website for a schedule of events. There are daily films, ranger talks, group walks, and more to experience if you have time.
- Join an evening guided hike or stargazing excursion if you want to fill in your evenings with activities too.
Spending more time in the Sierra Nevada? Check out these other guides:
- Hiking Your Way to a Spectacular View of Lake Tahoe
- Ten Best South Lake Tahoe Restaurants
- How I Skied for Free at Lake Tahoe
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