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The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite in Two Days

Yosemite is no hidden gem, but it’s so iconic for good reason! This is one of my favorite national parks in the US. With incredible granite cliffs, sheer drop-offs, and some of the best viewpoints in the world, Yosemite isn’t to be missed! Here’s my guide to seeing Yosemite in two days.

The best time to visit Yosemite

You can really visit Yosemite any time of year, but my favorite times is autumn. In summer, the hiking trails are open and wildflowers are blooming, but it can be quite crowded and buggy. When you get later into the summer and into autumn, the leaves change color, it gets cooler and less crowded, and Yosemite somehow gets more magical. ✨

Things to do in Yosemite in two days

There is so much to do in this beautiful park, and while you can’t see everything, you’ll be able to cover a good amount of the highlights in two days.

Hiking

There are so many iconic hikes to do in Yosemite. I’d recommend picking a trail that sounds exciting to you—if you like waterfalls, the Mist Trail might be a good one. If you like being down in the valley to be surrounded by views, hike to Cook’s Meadow or Mirror Lake.

Of course, I have to mention Yosemite’s most famous hike, Half Dome. If you can snag permits, this is an incredible, grueling adventure that takes you up 5,000 feet over 8-9 miles. The hike culminates with the cables, an infamous section of scrambling up to the top of Half Dome.

Hiking from Glacier Point to Panorama Point is another beautiful hike—this view is potentially better than Half Dome (there, I said it!) because you get to SEE Half Dome. This isn’t the hardest hike but it is straight downhill and then straight uphill, although you could hike all the way down to the valley and take YARTS (the bus) back up to Glacier Point.

To pack in a bunch of viewpoints into one hike, the Pohono trail is a rewarding one. You can either hike this as a day hike or extend your trip and make it a backpacking adventure.

Biking

This is one of the best activities in the Valley. Rent a bike or take advantage of Yosemite’s free bike share program and rip around the valley. You’ll get the most insane views and being on a bike really allows you to go anywhere!

We rode our bikes to Mirror Lake, which was nice and cool, and so, so beautiful. Note that if you go to Mirror Lake, you can’t take your bikes TO the lake—there’s a bike rack where you can store them.

Camping

Yosemite is a bucket list camping destination! The spots in the valley are the most coveted—planning ahead is important if you’re looking to stay at Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, or Camp 4. They all require reservations in the summertime, and Camp 4 runs on a first-come, first-serve basis for the rest of the year. Look at key dates and make reservations here.

If you’re a little more flexible with camping and aren’t opposed to camping outside of the valley, you’re more likely to get a last-minute spot. I’ve had the most luck at these campsites, all a drive away from the valley. It’s still nice to stay in the park!

Photography

Ansel Adams took so many gorgeous photos in and around Yosemite, and thousands of photographers come to Yosemite to follow in his footsteps. I always take something to take photos with, whether that be my 35mm film camera, my rangefinder, or just my phone, and I’m always on the hunt for that perfect shot.

Drive the Valley

If you have mobility issues, want a lower-key day, or just like driving, driving the valley floor is incredible. The views are unparalleled and there are quite a few places you can stop and see. Parking can be near impossible during the summertime, so keep that in mind!

Backpacking

With two days, you could do a one-night backpacking trip! Make sure to leave no trace and get a permit. Also, bring a bear box or rent one.

This is potentially the best way to see Yosemite National Park, although you’ll likely be exploring outside of the valley (where the best hidden gems are!).

If you’re looking for a last-minute permit, I find that Hetch Hetchy pretty consistently has available permits. It isn’t in the main part of Yosemite National Park, which makes it a little harder to get to, but it’s a really beautiful place.

My favorite viewpoints in Yosemite

  • Panorama Point
  • Inspiration Point
  • Glacier Point
  • Half Dome
  • Taft Point
  • Clouds Rest
  • Sentinel Bridge
  • Mirror Lake
  • Tunnel View
  • El Capitan Meadow

Yosemite in 2 days: Itinerary

Here’s my perfect 2 day Yosemite itinerary.

Day 1 AM: Enter the park and drive around the valley. Get a lay of the land and figure out what hikes look interesting and what spots you ABSOLUTELY want to check out. Stop for views of El Cap and Dawn Wall, check out Yosemite Falls, and enjoy the morning.

Day 1 PM: Rent bikes. It can be quite difficult to get the free shared bikes, but there’s a bike rental place. I’ve biked around Yosemite as both a child and an adult, and it just doesn’t get old! I highly recommend biking towards Mirror Lake—the views on the way are beautiful, and once you’re there, there are even more!

Day 2: This is your hiking day! Return to the spots you’re excited about. Make sure to bring water and snacks and to wear proper gear. There are tons of connected trails to explore, so most hikes have the option to be longer or shorter than posted—just ensure you’re prepared and ready for the mileage.

Places to stay near Yosemite

For camping, check out the camping section above.

Most of these hotels will be a little drive away from the park. Make sure to factor in another hour-ish of driving each day to get from these hotels to the park.

Airbnbs are typically more expensive than hotels nearby, but are typically a little nicer if you have a group. The majority of Airbnbs are also located about an hour from the park.

Staying in Yosemite is possible if you plan way ahead (or get very lucky). There are a few canvas-tented camps and hotels available by booking ahead or lottery. Book them here.

What to pack for two days in Yosemite

If you’re camping, backpacking, or looking for good clothing, this post will be really helpful. It’s full of my gear recommendations.

I’d recommend bringing the following:

  • Shirts (sun shirt or t shirt)
  • Sunscreen
  • Trekking pants, leggings, or shorts
  • Wool socks (Darn Tough or Smartwool are my fav)
  • Good, supportive hiking boots or trail runners
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Water filtration if you’re doing a longer hike
  • Jacket
  • Rain jacket or poncho

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