morning light with the sun coming up just to the right of half dome

How Many Days in Yosemite? Your quick quide to the park

I think Yosemite is the most grandiose of all the national parks. Towering granite walls. Epic waterfalls. Stunning views. And endless Sierra hiking trails. It’s a treasure to be seen, and I’m so glad I’ve had over a dozen opportunities in this great valley.

With so much to see, you’ll ask yourself, ‘How Many days in Yosemite?‘ It’s a valid question with the always hopeful answer of ‘forever.‘ Sadly, our world doesn’t work like that, and you’ll have to go home at some point.

How Many Days in Yosemite National Park?

So, how many days in Yosemite National Park?

While it depends on your trip, I always like to tell people that four to six days is a perfect amount of time to visit Yosemite. You’ll get to see all the classics, such as Yosemite Falls, El Cap, Glacier Point, Half Dome, the Merced River, and hike the Mist Trail.

First, you don’t want to get in and out and feel rushed. That’s just not fun. Secondly, I genuinely believe you should get up to Tuolumne Meadows. The landscape up there is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and you’ll feel so at peace vs. the lower valley’s busyness.

Best Spots to Photograph in Yosemite

Regarding how many days in Yosemite, two to three days exploring the valley and then a day or two in the high country is a perfect amount. This will give you about five days of adventuring and enjoying the environment.

While you’ll dread saying goodbye to the park, it’s an excellent introduction to the area and one that you’ll look back on incredibly fondly.

a lone hiker walks on a path towards a waterfall
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Is 2 Days Enough In Yosemite?

You’ll be able to knock out a few of the classics, but you won’t be able to get a full experience in Yosemite National Park. With only one night and two days, you’ll be able to choose one or maybe two good hikes and drive the Yosemite Valley floor to briefly soak in the views.

If you’re sleeping in the main area, it’s more doable. But if you have to drive out of the park and then back in the next morning, you’ll be time-crunched for sure.

Is 3 Days Enough in Yosemite?

This is a better time frame to visit Yosemite. So when you’re thinking about how many days in Yosemite, you’ll really want to start with three and go up from there.

This time allotment means you won’t be rushed and can get some great hiking in without having to rush. One of my favorite parts of Yosemite is hiking and then coming to the meadows, laying down a blanket, and watching the world pass you by.

What’s the best month to visit Yosemite?

This depends on what you’d like to do. If you’re a sucker for waterfalls, April and May are incredible months as all the waterfalls are roaring. But if you’re looking for serious hikes (Half Dome or Clouds Rest), heading into Yosemite in June or July will open up more possibilities.

Must See Destinations in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley Region

Yosemite Valley is home to the most iconic views in Yosemite National Park. Half Dome. Check. El Cap. Check. Yosemite Falls. Check.

climbers hang on el caliptan in yosemite national park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

The granite walls will make you feel like an ant and fill you with wonder, especially as you see tiny climbers high on their walls.

These are the following places I highly recommend checking out as you try to decide how many days in Yosemite for your trip:

  • Mist Trail: One of Yosemite’s most popular hiking trails, the Mist Trail offers an up-close experience with two majestic waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, complete with refreshing mist and stunning views.
  • Lower Yosemite Falls: An easy, accessible walk leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, providing a spectacular view of the tallest waterfall in North America, especially impressive in the spring.
  • Upper Yosemite Falls: For those seeking a challenging hike, the Upper Yosemite Falls trail is a strenuous ascent that rewards hikers with breathtaking views from the top of North America’s tallest waterfall.
  • Four-Mile Trail: This trail offers a strenuous but rewarding hike from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point, providing stunning views of the valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
  • Tunnel View: An iconic vista point in Yosemite, Tunnel View offers a classic and unforgettable view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.
  • Merced River: Flowing through Yosemite Valley, the Merced River offers scenic spots for relaxation, picnicking, swimming, and fishing, with its gentle sections ideal for rafting in the summer.
  • Taft Point: Offering a unique and less crowded viewpoint, Taft Point features dramatic cliff edges and stunning views of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan, exceptionally breathtaking at sunset.
  • Glacier Point: Accessible by car, Glacier Point provides one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Yosemite, offering panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra.
lyell canyon with a gorgeous sunset in the sky. a small creek runs at the bottom of the photo.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Tuolumne Meadows Region

This is one of my favorite areas with fewer visitors because it’s not the popular hotspot. But let me tell you, it’s highly worth it! When deciding on how many days in Yosemite, don’t leave this area out!

Up here at 8,000 – 10,000 feet, it might even be a tad chilly during the summer, while Yosemite Valley might be in the 90s. I remember camping in a larger tent with my parents, and we had a wood-burning stove to keep us warm!

  • Clouds Rest: Offering one of the most spectacular panoramic views in Yosemite National Park, Clouds Rest is a challenging hike that rewards adventurers with a unique perspective of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.
  • Cathedral Lakes: Set against the stunning backdrop of Cathedral Peak, Cathedral Lakes are two of the most picturesque alpine lakes in Yosemite, accessible through a scenic, moderate hike.
  • Lembert Dome: Lembert Dome presents a relatively easy hike culminating in expansive views of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding Sierra peaks.
  • Tenaya Lake: Known for its strikingly blue waters and serene setting, it is a favorite spot for picnicking, swimming, and kayaking, nestled along Tioga Road.
  • Tioga Lake: A small, beautiful glacial lake located near the Tioga Pass entrance of the park. Tioga Lake is a tranquil spot for fishing, picnicking, and viewing wildlife.
  • Olmsted Point: Offering a unique vantage point, Olmsted Point looks down on Yosemite Valley from the east, providing breathtaking views of Half Dome and the surrounding high country.
  • Lyell Canyon (hike on the PCT): Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the hike through Lyell Canyon is a relatively flat and scenic trek, showcasing expansive meadows, flowing streams, and the grandeur of the High Sierra.

Hetch Hetchy Region

It is one of the areas I haven’t been to, so these recommendations are only from photos/reading.

  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: The centerpiece of the area, this reservoir offers stunning views, especially with the backdrop of granite cliffs. It’s great for photography, especially in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Wapama Falls: Accessible via a moderate hike, Wapama Falls is impressive, particularly in the spring when the water flow is at its peak.
  • Rancheria Falls: For a longer hike, continue past Wapama Falls to reach Rancheria Falls. This trail offers beautiful views and a more secluded experience.
  • O’Shaughnessy Dam: This impressive structure is worth a visit. The walk across the dam offers fantastic views of the reservoir and the surrounding cliffs.
  • Lookout Point: An excellent spot for panoramic views of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and the reservoir.
a gorgous sunset with a waterfall on the right and granite rocks in the horizon.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Yosemite National Park Itineraries

Let’s quickly dive into what to do while you spend your days in Yosemite. I’m a big hiker, and my days are usually go-go-go. I will add in some less intense options. (PS: If you get Half Dome permits, shift the itinerary accordingly.)

Hoping this helps steer you when deciding how many days in Yosemite for your trip.

3-Day (No Tuolumne Meadows)

Day 1: Hike the Mist Trail up and down the John Muir Trail. (Vernal Falls – Easier, Nevada Falls, Harder), Enjoy the Sunset in Yosemite Meadows under El Capitan. Check out Lower Yosemite Falls

Day 2: Hike the Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point or drive all the way around and experience Glacier Point, Taft Point, and Sentinel Dome

Day 3: Go hike Upper Yosemite Falls, Float the Merced, or Rent Bikes and cycle around the valley floor.

a photo of the three brothers reflected in the water below. There are three jagged rocks in the center of the picture.

4-Day

Day 1: Start your trip up in Tuolumne Meadows. Hike to Cathedral Lakes (six miles) or Clouds Rest (12 miles) and watch sunset if you’re okay hiking back in the dark.

Day 2: Spend the morning exploring Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, and Olmstead Point. If the days are long enough, begin heading down into Yosemite Valley to Lower Yosemite Falls. Check out Tunnel View for sunset.

Day 3: Hike the Mist Trail. Either go to Vernal Falls or up to Nevada. Come back on the JMT for a differnt view, less crowds, and better footing.

Day 4: Hike the Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point, then come back and relax and float the Merced, swim in it, or lay in the meadows and watch the rock climbers on El Cap.

5-Day

Day 1: Get acquainted with Yosemite Valley. Soak in the views at Tunnel View. Hike the Mist Trail. (Less Hard: Go to Vernal Falls. Harder: Hike up to Nevada Falls.) Enjoy the sunset in Yosemite Valley.

Day 2: Hike Four Mile Trail (Hard), Float the Merced River, Bike throughout Yosemite Valley, Go to Lower Yosemite Falls

Day 3: Morning Hike to Upper Yosemite Falls (Hard), Stroll around Yosemite Valley, and Begin packing up to go to Tuolumne Meadows. Stop at Olmstead Point for scenic views.

Day 4: Hike Clouds Rest (hard), Stroll up Lembert Dome (easy to moderate), lunch/dinner at Tenaya Lake, Enjoy the Meadows

Day 5: Hike up to Cathedral Lakes (moderate), hike around Tuolumne Meadows Trails (easy), hike to May Lake (moderate), Go to Tioga Pass (highest drivable part), and hike a little in Lyell Canyon (easy)

a early morning scene in Tuolumne meadows. low fog trees, lightly frosted grasses
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Where to Stay Around Yosemite

Hotels/Motels

Yosemite has a few hotels open inside the park, though those are more costly. However, the closest hotel outside of the park is Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal.

In the Park

Near the Park

Half dome with blue sky above it. waterfalls are visible to the right.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Campgrounds

There are 13 campgrounds in Yosemite National Park spanning the valley, Wawona, and the upper elevations. Tuolumne Meadows will not be open until 2025.

There are four that are open year-round: Camp 4, Wawona, Upper Pines, and Hodgdon Meadows.

See all of them here.

Additionally, numerous places are outside the park, especially via the western entrance.

Lastly, there are tents at Curry Village, which is nicer than camping but not a hotel situation.

10 Car Camping Essentials

Yosemite’s National Protection

Yosemite National Park, renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, was established as a national park in 1890. This momentous event was a pivotal chapter in the American conservation movement, marking Yosemite as one of the earliest national parks in the United States.

The park’s journey to protection began in 1864, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, initially safeguarding a portion of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. This action, unprecedented at the time, laid the groundwork for national parks.

Later, through the tireless efforts of conservationists like John Muir, who passionately advocated for preserving Yosemite’s unique wilderness, the federal government recognized the need to protect the broader Yosemite region.

In 1890, this vision was realized when Yosemite was officially designated a national park, encompassing over 700,000 acres of spectacular cliffs, waterfalls, and groves, including iconic features such as Half Dome and El Capitan.

Yosemite’s establishment as a national park not only preserved its extraordinary landscapes for future generations but also catalyzed the formation of the national park system, a testament to the enduring value of preserving natural beauty and wildlife.

yosemite and sequoia road trip california
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts: How Many Days in Yosemite National Park

I truly hope this helps you decide on how many days in Yosemite National Park. It’s a gorgeous place and one you’ll absolutely love. This was my home away from home for two years during my college life and was instrumental in connecting me to nature and leading me to become a photographer.

Every moment here is unique; I know you’ll feel the same!

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside