​​2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary: Spend a Magical Two Days at the Park

2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary

Your all-inclusive itinerary for 2 days in Yosemite National Park, including where to go, where to stay, and where to eat. 

Have you been dreaming of a vacation to Yosemite National Park but don’t know where to start? 

Do you want to maximize your precious time with the least amount of effort spent planning, organizing, and researching? 

Well, you’re in luck! 

I created a 2-day itinerary for Yosemite National Park that takes out all the researching and leg work on your end and allows you to skip right to the good stuff. 

It includes all the best places to stay and eat, plus all the must-see natural wonders in Yosemite (and how to see them in a short amount of time). 

I’ll be honest, Yosemite National Park is both huge and very confusing, especially Yosemite Valley, which has a notoriously confusing traffic pattern. 

The road is two-way in some places, one way in others, and it seemingly switches from one to the other without warning. 

With this 2 days in Yosemite itinerary, you’ll skip the part where you wander around the Valley feeling frustrated.

All of the stops in this Yosemite itinerary are planned so that they naturally connect with the least amount of double-backing. 

So, go ahead and start planning your Yosemite weekend trip!

Use this Yosemite itinerary as is or as a base plan to help you plan your ideal vacation. Either way, I’m here to help you maximize your days in Yosemite National Park. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

How to Spend a Magical Weekend at the Park

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Two Days in Yosemite Itinerary

Note: For the 2022 summer season Yosemite National Park has stated that Glacier Point Road will be completely closed for repairs. This means some Yosemite icons like Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and, of course, Glacier Point itself cannot be accessed. Not to worry though, there are still tons of breathtaking views and natural beauty to behold in this Yosemite itinerary.

Day 1 in Yosemite – Hikes, Waterfalls, and Panoramic Views

Dine in Style at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Dine in Style at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Start your 2 days in Yosemite with breakfast at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel

Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can enjoy a meal in their gorgeous wood-paneled dining room. 

The dining room has 30-foot windows, which oversee a beautifully manicured lawn and Ahwahnee Meadow. 

You can park right at the Ahwahnee Hotel, just follow signs for the hotel as you enter Yosemite Valley. 

Breakfast is served between 7-10 am, and there’s no dress code for breakfast (although there’s one for dinner). This is the breakfast buffet menu

They also have a Sunday brunch option that goes from 7 am-3 pm, and is a bit more expensive ($56) than the normal breakfast buffet, but it’s best described as “legendary.”

Pack a Picnic Lunch at the Village Store

Pack a Picnic Lunch at the Village Store

After you’re done at the Ahwahnee, stop at the Village Store to grab lunch materials and snacks (if you didn’t already). 

The store’s hours vary but are currently listed as 8 am-7 pm. This is where you can get all the necessities to fill you up (plus pre-packaged s’mores kits). 

Also, don’t forget water! Be sure to pack plenty of water for each person in your group as your next activity will be hiking a strenuous trail. 

Enjoy Nature on the Mist Trail

Mist Trail Hiking Guide

The Village Store is located between the Ahwahnee Hotel and your next destination: the Curry Village Parking Lot and the Mist Trail. 

There’s parking available for hikers at Curry Village, both along the road across from Curry Village and in the Orchard Lot. 

If parking is full here, you can try parking at Trailhead Parking, which is located east (towards Half Dome) of Curry Village. Look for signs or ask a ranger if you aren’t sure where to go. 

Once you’ve parked, it’s time to grab your hiking boots because for the afternoon you’ll be hiking one of Yosemite National Park’s most famous trails: the Mist Trail. 

From the parking area, you’ll need to walk about three-quarters of a mile to the Mist Trail Trailhead. There’s no closer parking to the trailhead unless you have a handicapped sticker. 

The Mist Trail takes visitors up the Merced River Canyon to destinations like Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, and the Vernal Falls footbridge, which are some of the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley.  

You can choose which destination you want to hike to. All of them offer great views of waterfalls, and all are rated strenuous. 

Mist Trail Hiking Guide

  • Vernal Falls Footbridge (1.6 miles round trip, 400 ft of elevation gain, 30 min [lower estimate] or 1-1.5 hours total [official estimate]).
  • Vernal Falls (2.4 miles round trip, 1000 ft of elevation gain, 45 min [lower estimate] or 3 hours round trip [official estimate]).
  • Nevada Falls (5.4 miles round trip, 2000 ft of elevation gain, 2 hours [lower estimate] or 5-6 hours round trip [official estimate]).

Note: the lower time estimates are based on a 20-minute mile, which is how fast I usually hike. The higher estimates are for those who need more time or plan to take a lot of pictures. These are in line with the official time estimates on the NPS website, but I find I often hike much faster than what’s estimated, which is why I put both. 

Here’s a little more info about each hiking destination: 

Vernal Falls Footbridge

Vernal Falls Footbridge

The Vernal Falls bridge is a good destination for those with small kids, as this will still be a challenging hike for them. 

The footbridge has the benefit of a bathroom located near it and gives a great view of Vernal Falls. 

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

A common destination for visitors is the top of Vernal Falls, where many people enjoy a picnic lunch. 

Be aware that hungry squirrels often hang out here hoping for food from visitors, but you should never feed any wildlife, not even the squirrels. 

It’s also common to see bears on the trail, so be prepared and know what to do. It’s never ok to get more than 50 yards (half a football field) to a black bear, even if you see other visitors doing it. 

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

If you’re feeling very ambitious, go for the top of Nevada Falls, which gives an incredible view of the river gorge below. 

Wait, why didn’t you include the Half Dome Hike?

Half Dome Hike

I know what you might be thinking: I want to hike Half Dome! 

Visitors can hike Half Dome if they have a permit, but be aware that these permits need to be obtained in advance (the lottery to snag one of these is in March each year). There are no permits given out the day of. 

Half Dome is also an extremely difficult hike, even before you start up the slick granite dome, and the hike takes most people all day (I’m talking 5 am to 5 pm). 

Because of this, I’m not including Half Dome as a hiking option here if you only have 2 days in Yosemite. 

I also want to note that you can’t see Half Dome from any of these hikes as you’re too close to the back of it to really see it. 

If you want to see the front of Half Dome, you can choose the Mirror Lake Hike instead. The good news is that you can walk to the Mirror Lake Trailhead from Curry Village as well, just follow the signs. 

Alternative Day 1 Afternoon Option: Take a Guided Hiking Excursion

If planning a hike is more than you want to navigate (or you don’t want to hike by yourself), there are plenty of amazing private and group tours available in Yosemite, like this Guided Hiking Excursion

Be Inspired at a Ranger Program

Be Inspired at a Ranger Program

Once you’re done with your hike, head over to the Yosemite Visitor Center to check out a Ranger Program

The Yosemite Visitor Center doesn’t have parking near it, so you must either park along the road, or at Day Use Parking or Yosemite Valley Lodge, and walk to the Visitor Center. 

The Day Use Parking area is located near the roundabout and is south of the Village Store. 

Yosemite National Park has some incredible interpretive rangers whose job it is to help visitors understand the nature around them. 

They hold entertaining and educational programs and I highly recommend catching one. 

The times of ranger programs change throughout the season, so be sure to check ahead and make sure there will be a program when you’re available. Ranger programs also vary in length.

Enjoy a Peaceful Meadow on the Cooks Meadow Loop

Enjoy a Peaceful Meadow on the Cooks Meadow Loop

Chances are, if you parked along the road or at Yosemite Valley Lodge, you walked right by Cooks Meadow on your way to the Visitor Center. 

On your way back to your car, take a detour on one of two wooden boardwalks that cross the meadow. 

These boardwalks are great spots for photography and have educational signage along the way. 

From Cooks Meadow, you can get views of the famous Yosemite Falls, and if cross the bridge over the Merced river, you can go check out the historic Yosemite Chapel

This stop can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes. 

Watch Rock Climbers on El Capitan

Watch Rock Climbers on El Capitan

Yosemite National Park is famous in the climbing community for its incredibly challenging granite walls and El Capitan is perhaps the most well-known climbing wall of all. 

El Capitan is sometimes hard for first-time visitors to recognize because it doesn’t have a recognizable shape the way Half Dome does. 

As you’re leaving Yosemite Valley, follow the signs for Highway 41 towards Fresno. Just after the first intersection (called El Capitan Cross), there is a long row of parking on the left side of the road. 

The meadow next to the road is El Capitan Meadow, and El Capitan is across the street from the meadow. 

Grab a parking spot and wander into the meadow with your binoculars to see climbers make their way up the famous cliff. 

At night, you can see the lights of climbers who are spending the night on the wall. 

Once you’re done admiring the massive granite wall (and the crazy people climbing it!) you can continue on the one-way road towards Highway 41/Fresno to get to Tunnel View. 

Admire the Vista at Tunnel View

Admire the Vista at Tunnel View

Around or just before sunset, end the first of your 2 days in Yosemite National Park at one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the country: Tunnel View

Tunnel View got its name because it’s the first glimpse you get of Yosemite Valley after exiting a long tunnel. The effect of popping out of the tunnel and seeing the valley is quite extraordinary.

From Tunnel View, you’ll see almost the entire Yosemite Valley. 

Mighty El Capitan, the famous climbing destination, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome will be bathed in glowing orange light (on clear evenings) and is a great place for sunset photography. 

Tunnel View is located along Highway 41 towards Fresno, about 20 minutes from Yosemite Valley. Even if you came into the park from this highway, it’s worth going back at sunset.

Dinner in Curry Village

Dinner in Curry Village

For dinner, head back to Curry Village and grab a pizza at the Pizza Deck

The Pizza Deck has varying hours in the summer, so check here for the most updated schedule. The menu at the Pizza Deck is located here.

If you’re still in a wandering mood after dinner you can meander across the street to the wooden boardwalk in the meadow and enjoy the remaining sunlight on Half Dome. 

Day 2 in Yosemite – Big Trees Day

Breakfast and Coffee at Degnan’s Deli

On the second day of your Yosemite trip itinerary, start early and grab a quick breakfast and coffee at Degnan’s Deli, located in Yosemite Village. You can park at Day Use Parking to walk to Degnan’s. 

While you’re at Degnan’s, you should also grab some sandwiches to go since the middle of the day will be spent in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. 

Learn about Yosemite History

Learn about Yosemite History

After you’re filled up and caffeinated, you can meander over to the Ansel Adams Gallery (open 10 am-3 pm) or the Indian Village of Ahwahnee. Both are located in Yosemite Village. 

The Ansel Adams Gallery showcases the work of famous photographer Ansel Adams and even has some of his original prints. You can buy artwork from local artists and snag some postcards. 

The Indian Village of Ahwahnee is located behind the visitor center and gives education about the Ahwahneechee Indians, who were among the first to call Yosemite home. 

Each of these stops can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as an hour each depending on your interests. 

Cool off at the base of Yosemite Falls

Cool off at the base of Yosemite Falls

From Yosemite Village, drive to the Yosemite Valley Lodge to park. Across the street is the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, which is a paved trail that’s only a half-mile long. 

Since it’s completely paved, the Lower Yosemite Falls trail is one of the very few trails where dogs are allowed in Yosemite National Park. 

The walk around the paved loop takes anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour and will deposit you at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. 

In the spring when the water is high, you can enjoy feeling the mist on the footbridge over the stream. 

Walk Among Giants at the Mariposa Grove

Walk Among Giants at the Mariposa Grove

Anyone visiting Yosemite for the first time should try to make time to see one of the giant sequoia groves in the park. 

There are several groves of giant sequoia trees to visit in the park, and the Mariposa Grove is the biggest and most famous. 

This excursion should take approximately six hours end to end, without too much traffic. 

The Mariposa Grove is located next to the South Entrance (Hwy 41/Wawona Rd) to the park and is about 45 minutes away from Yosemite Valley. 

To see the giant sequoias you must park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (next to the park’s entrance). From there, you’ll walk the two-mile road to Mariposa Grove. 

The road has 500 feet of elevation gain, so it isn’t too strenuous, but plan for about 40 minutes to an hour each way.

To get closer to the sequoia trees, and to see the famous Grizzy Giant, you’ll need to do the 5.5-mile round trip hike as well. 

If your giant sequoia adventure takes longer than you thought it would, you can stop in for snacks at the store next to the Wawona Gas Station

Alternative to the Giant Sequoia Trees

Alternative to the Giant Sequoia Trees

Admittedly, the logistics of getting to the Mariposa Grove are a bit complex. 

If you’re dying to see some giant sequoia trees but don’t want to figure out the trip yourself, you can pay for a private tour in a Jeep in Sierra National Forest (out of Oakhurst). 

This will not be a tour inside Yosemite, but it involves less walking if that’s a problem for you. 

Return for Dinner and an El Capitini at the Ahwahnee Bar

Return for Dinner and an El Capitini at the Ahwahnee Bar

At the end of your 2 days in Yosemite itinerary, I recommend going back to where you started: The Ahwahnee

Enjoy dinner set to live piano music and grab a drink at the Ahwahnee Bar afterward. The El Capitini is the local twist on a martini. 

Dinner is served from 5:30-8:30 pm and the menu can be found here

Take a Stroll Around Ahwahnee Meadow

Take a Stroll Around Ahwahnee Meadow

If there’s still light out after dinner, you can walk around the meadow next to the Ahwahnee Hotel, which is called the Ahwahnee Meadow. 

Ahwahnee Meadow is lined by charming employee housing called Ahwahnee Row, and the meadow itself is often a good place to spot deer munching on grasses. 

Ahwahnee Meadow gives a spectacular view of Half Dome, just keep in mind that it’s prohibited to walk through the meadow so stick to walking around it. 

Traffic in Yosemite National Park

Traffic in Yosemite National Park

It’s very important if you’re planning 2 days in Yosemite that you prepare for horrendous traffic, especially if you’re visiting in the summer or during a holiday weekend. And especially if you’re traveling from a popular route like from San Francisco

To get into Yosemite Valley for the morning of your first day, you should plan to be at the park entrance no later than 7:30 am. 

Most park entrances are 30 mins to one hour from Yosemite Valley. And it’s not uncommon for visitors to spend two hours waiting in the entrance station line before they can even enter the park.

This should not be a problem if you arrive before 8 am, so rise and shine!

The same issue presents itself on busy weekends as visitors are trying to leave the Valley. 

Congestion and traffic patterns in the valley can back up and people end up waiting an hour or more to get out. 

Cell Service in Yosemite National Park

Cell Service in Yosemite National Park

Don’t plan to have much cell service in Yosemite once you arrive. 

You may be able to access WIFI at Degnan’s Deli or the hotels, but otherwise plan to have paper maps or downloaded maps on your phone. 

I also recommend having a hiking app downloaded on your phone before you arrive. This will save you some headache, I promise. 

Note: cell service is actually quite good in Yosemite National Park in the winter, but the massive numbers of people in the valley in summer is what jams the cell towers. 

Is Two Days Enough for Yosemite?

Is Two Days Enough for Yosemite?

How many days do you need in Yosemite?

When most people think of visiting Yosemite in California, they envision Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and El Capitan. 

These are what I call the “best of Yosemite” sights and it’s possible to see the best of Yosemite National Park in two days.

That said, I strongly suggest you do some planning before you leave so you can maximize your time. 

It’s also a good idea to have some backup plans in mind if, for example, your favorite trail ends up being closed for trail repair.  

Also, keep in mind that Yosemite is HUGE (about the size of Rhode Island), so to explore the entire park would take much longer than two days. 

Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

No matter what time of year you visit, my top recommendation is to avoid the weekend in Yosemite if you can. I would especially avoid holiday weekends. 

Weekends are noticeably busier, which means less parking available (a notorious problem in Yosemite Valley), longer lines for food and services, and more crowded trails. 

Other than that, the time of year you should visit depends on what you want to do. 

Some trails are closed in winter due to the danger of ice, but the park is quieter. Plus, Yosemite in the snow or during Christmastime is quite magical. If you visit in February, you also might be able to catch the Yosemite Firefall.

Summer is the best time for wildlife viewing, but you may end up driving around the valley for a few hours looking for parking (believe me, it happens). 

Where to Stay in Yosemite

Staying Inside of Yosemite National Park

Staying Inside of Yosemite National Park

If you’re dead-set on staying in Yosemite itself, there are a few options.

The Pines Campgrounds are comprised of North Pines, Upper Pines, and Lower Pines. I know, the names could have been a little more creative. 

These are some of the most popular campgrounds in the park because they’re situated in the heart of Yosemite Valley. They’re within walking distance of Curry Village, which has a restaurant, bar, and gear rentals and sales. 

If camping isn’t your thing, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel offers the poshest lodging in the Valley, and Yosemite Valley Lodge offers standard hotel rooms at a more economical price.

Both of these hotels are also located within walking distance to the most popular trailheads (like the Mist Trail) and amenities in Yosemite Valley. 

Yosemite Valley Lodge is also right across the street from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.  

Just keep in mind that all of these options book up fast, so many visitors end up staying outside the park or booking well in advance. 

Staying Outside of Yosemite National Park

Staying Outside of Yosemite National Park

The closest towns outside Yosemite National Park are Oakhurst (South Entrance: Hwy 41), Mariposa and El Portal (Arch Rock Entrance: Hwy 120), Groveland (Big Oak Flat Entrance: Hwy 140), and Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes (Tioga Pass Entrance). 

Oakhurst (and technically the small village of Fish Camp) are about an hour from the closest park entrance, the South Entrance. 

Oakhurst has a wide array of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from, along with three grocery stores. Sierra Sky Ranch in Oakhurst has some of the best ratings. 

In Mariposa, check out the 5th Street Inn, which offers a quaint and cozy atmosphere an hour from Yosemite Valley. 

In Groveland, the Yosemite Rose Bed and Breakfast is a must for a quiet, private stay and is an hour and 10 minutes from Yosemite Valley. 

If you’re coming from the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (only possible in summer), check out the Lake View Lodge. In the summer it takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the Valley from Lee Vining.

How to Get Around Yosemite

How to Get Around Yosemite

No matter what you plan for your itinerary for Yosemite, factor in the driving time or the time to take a shuttle. 

Yosemite National Park is huge, and the most convenient way to get around for most people is by car. 

When planning your travel time to and from the park, always put “Yosemite Valley” in as the destination and not just “Yosemite.” Otherwise, you’ll get an inaccurate travel time. 

Even though most people prefer to drive, finding parking can be a nightmare in the summer during peak hours, so you may end up saving time by taking the YARTS bus

Before 2020, Yosemite offered shuttle buses around the valley, but those have been on pause indefinitely. 

It’s unclear whether the shuttles will be operating again for the upcoming summer season. 

However, you can check here before you plan your trip to see if the free shuttle will be available when you visit. 

What to Pack for Yosemite

What to Pack for Yosemite

General Packing List

Camping Packing List


Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author bio - Meredith Dennis

Meredith Dennis

Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!


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2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary

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​​2 Days in Yosemite Itinerary: Spend a Magical Two Days at the Park

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