So you only have one day in Yosemite National Park and want to make the most of your trip? Then you came to the right place! This post dives into the exact itinerary I followed while spending 24 hours in Yosemite National Park.
This one day itinerary goes beyond just a day trip- it’s designed for you to stay inside of Yosemite National Park so you can maximize the limited time that you have.
Yosemite National Park attracts visitors from all around the world, and for good reason. It’s a location that photos and videos truly can’t do justice- it’s simply magnificent. While exploring Yosemite in 24 hours isn’t a ton of time, it’s certainly enough to get acquainted with the park and see some incredible views.
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click a link and make a purchase I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Having affiliate links on the site allows me to provide you with valuable, free content.
When to Visit Yosemite National Park
You can visit Yosemite National Park year-round, but I completed this itinerary in early October. I thought this was a fantastic time to visit Yosemite National Park, especially if you’re looking to avoid crowds. The waterfalls in Yosemite Valley weren’t flowing like they do during the spring, but crowds were low and temperatures were pleasant.
We were also able to snag a last-minute campsite in the North Pines Campground by checking rec.gov for cancellations the night before our trip, which is unheard of during the summer. While we were in Yosemite we didn’t have any issues with traffic or finding a parking spot, even in popular areas.
Late spring and summer are also great times to visit Yosemite National Park for pleasant weather. During the spring the waterfalls in Yosemite start flowing from the winter snowmelt. They can really rage during heavy snowpack years! Summer in Yosemite is extremely busy, but it’s a great time to visit if you want to float the Merced River (the water levels were too low to float in early October).
Winter is the least ideal time to visit Yosemite National Park for the purposes of this itinerary. You won’t be able to drive over Tioga Pass or up to Glacier Point, but you can still access Yosemite Valley. One perk of visiting Yosemite during the winter is encountering fewer crowds, but you’ll need to plan to encounter snow and cold temperatures.
Recreating Responsibly in Yosemite National Park
With so many people visiting and enjoying Yosemite National Park’s trails, it’s incredibly important that everyone does what they can to minimize their impact on the environment. Here’s how you can recreate responsibly in Yosemite National Park:
Remember the 7 Leave No Trace principles, which include:
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research the trail you plan to hike to make sure it’s suitable for your fitness levels and abilities; check the weather; and pack appropriately.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on trails or other durable surfaces like rocks.
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack out all waste, including pet waste.
- Leave what you find. Don’t carve into trees, take natural objects, or stack rocks.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Check for fire bans and practice campfire safety. This means creating campfires in established fire rings; making sure fires are attended and don’t get out of control; and making sure fires are out completely (stir the ashes until they are cool to the touch).
- Respect wildlife. Make sure to practice bear safety and always keep food and other scented items properly stored. Never feed wildlife. Make sure to maintain a safe distance from wildlife.
- Be considerate of others. Wear headphones instead of blasting music over a bluetooth speaker. Remember uphill hikers have the right of way!
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.
Visiting Yosemite National Park With Dogs
Like most national parks in the United States, Yosemite is not very dog-friendly. Dogs are NOT allowed on trails, beaches, or in buildings. Dogs ARE allowed in developed areas, fully paved roads, paths, and bike paths (unless signs say otherwise), and in campgrounds (except walk-in sites and group campsites). There are a couple of other obscure places where pets are allowed, as shown on the National Park Service’s website.
Dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash at all times and you are required to clean up after your pet. Yosemite Valley has over 12 miles of paved bike paths, so there are plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and take in the views with your pup. The only thing on this 24 hour Yosemite National Park itinerary that is not dog-friendly is the hike down to Tuolumne Grove.
How to Spend 24 Hours in Yosemite National Park
On your first visit to a new destination there’s a natural inclination to want to see and do everything, but that can be challenging if you’re pressed for time. This itinerary details everything you should do during a 24 hour visit to Yosemite, and allows you to see some of the park’s most popular attractions without feeling rushed.
Getting to Yosemite National Park
There are a few ways to access Yosemite National Park, but for this itinerary you’ll drive into the park from the east. Turn onto Route 120 from Highway 395 in Lee Varning and continue driving over Tioga Pass towards Yosemite National Park. Be aware, the road is closed from November-May.
You’ll drive through Inyo National Forest before reaching the entrance gate for Yosemite National Park. I recommend getting a map and guide from the ranger so you can get the lay of the land, learn more about the park’s shuttle system, and discover activities happening in the park. The entrance fee for Yosemite National Park is $35 for a private vehicle. You can also use an America the Beautiful or other federal recreation pass.
Where to Stop Along Tioga Road
There are numerous scenic overlooks and pitstops to visit once you enter Yosemite National Park. You’ll also pass a number of trailheads if you want to stop and stretch your legs on a quick hike. If you’re a beach lover be sure to make a stop at Tenaya Lake for teal waters with granite mountain views.
As you continue driving, get your first glimpse of Half Dome from Olmstead Point. This scenic overlook is surrounded by granite rock, so there are plenty of opportunities to spread out from the crowds and take photos of Yosemite Valley in the distance.
Short Hike in Yosemite National Park
As you drive down Tioga Road you’ll pass burn scar from past wildfires. While fire is essential for a healthy forest, wildfires in California have intensified due to climate change and fire-phobic 20th century forest management policies. The burn scar you see is a stark reminder of what’s at stake as the climate crisis progresses.
Make a stop at the Tuolumne Grove Trailhead for a short hike down to a grove of giant sequoia trees. You’ll descend approximately 400 ft. to the Tuolumne Grove where you’ll find yourself surrounded by ancient sequoias. The climb back to the trailhead is a nice little workout to get the blood pumping before your drive down to Yosemite Valley.
Camping in Yosemite Valley
The entire drive down to Yosemite Valley is breathtakingly scenic. You’ll wind past towering trees, hug the edges of dramatic cliffs, and begin to understand why early preservationists like John Muir fought so hard to protect this area (it is also important to acknowledge that John Muir supported the forced removal of Indigenous Ahwahnechee people from Yosemite Valley to accomplish this objective).
Once you arrive in Yosemite Valley head to your campground to check in and set up camp (or head to your lodge and get unpacked). Every campsite in Yosemite comes equipped with a bear locker to store all of your food, trash, and other scented items. When bears get access to human food they become a threat and often have to be euthanized. A fed bear is a dead bear, so it’s very important to practice bear safety when visiting Yosemite National Park.
Spectacular Sunset at Glacier Point
After setting up camp, hop back in your car and make your way up to Glacier Point. This scenic drive will take you past one of Yosemite National Park’s most iconic views, Tunnel View, before climbing through the forest to an epic overlook where you’ll watch the sunset.
The drive will take just over an hour (unless you stop for pictures along the way of course!). The National Park Service repaved the road in 2022, so it’s a smooth and easy drive up to Glacier Point.
Glacier Point is an extremely popular and busy sunset spot in Yosemite National Park. If you want to take in the sunset from different vantage points above Yosemite Valley you can also go to Taft Point or Washburn Point.
I recommend packing something to eat to have a picnic up at Glacier Point. There’s an amphitheater with a stunning view of Half Dome that makes a great place to enjoy dinner. My husband and I made ramen as the sunset turned to dusk and we watched the headlamps of hikers and climbers flicker on in the distance.
After enjoying the sunset at Glacier Point head back down to your campsite or room and enjoy the evening. Make sure to set your alarm because you’re going to wake up early to watch sunrise at Tunnel View.
Stunning Sunrise at Tunnel View
Tunnel View is one of the most scenic viewpoints in Yosemite National Park. It’s a short 15 minute drive from the valley campgrounds and the view is right next to the parking lot, so you don’t need to prepare for a hike. Because Tunnel View is so accessible, it’s a popular place to watch the sunrise and sunset. Be sure to stay long enough to watch the first light hit the Dawn Wall on El Capitan!
On your way back to your campsite stop at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley to grab some coffee and a shower. You can also rent a bicycle for your next activity if you didn’t bring your own.
Relaxing Morning in Yosemite Valley
Spend the rest of the morning on a leisurely bike ride or walk along the paved paths through Yosemite Valley. Be sure to look up at the valley’s granite walls along the way to see if you can spot rock climbers! If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, head out for a hike along the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. The entire hike is 6.4 miles with 2,200 ft. of elevation gain, and is considered difficult.
Before leaving Yosemite National Park make a pit stop at Yosemite Village. You can check out the new welcome center that is slated to open in fall 2023 and have lunch at the Village Grill before hitting the road to head home or on to your next destination.
If you have more time to spend in the area, head over to the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park to see some more of the park’s beauty!
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
For the purpose of this 24 hour itinerary, I recommend staying in Yosemite Valley in either a campground or one of the park’s lodges. This will give you the best access to Glacier Point for sunset and Tunnel View for sunrise. It also puts you in the heart of some of the best views in Yosemite National Park.
Lodges in Yosemite Valley
If you prefer staying in hotels when traveling, Yosemite Valley has 3 lodges to choose from for your overnight stay in the park:
- The Ahwahnee: A historic hotel with upscale accommodations.
- Yosemite Valley Lodge: A cozy, historic lodge with incredible views of Yosemite Falls.
- Curry Village: Cabins, canvas tents, and motel rooms for folks looking for a more rustic experience.
There are also a variety of vacation rentals and lodges located nearby outside of the park, so whether you’re looking for something budget friendly or prefer a luxury experience, you can find something that suits your needs.
Campgrounds in Yosemite Valley
For budget-friendly accommodations camp in one of the 4 campgrounds in Yosemite Valley. The Lower Pines, Upper Pines, and North Pines campgrounds require advanced reservations from rec.gov. Be aware, these are EXTREMELY popular campgrounds and sites typically sell out shortly after becoming available.
Camp 4 is a tent-only, first-come, first-serve campground in Yosemite Valley that is popular amongst rock climbers. These sites are highly coveted, so come prepared with a backup plan in case it’s full.
I was able to get a last-minute campground reservation the night before my trip to Yosemite, but I got VERY lucky. It was a spontaneous decision to check for openings and there was ONE site available at the North Pines Campground, so I obviously had to snag it!
Here are some tips for scoring a campsite in Yosemite Valley:
- Plan your trip in advance. Campground reservations in Yosemite are released in blocks on the 15th of the month 5 months in advance, so set an alarm for when your desired dates become available.
- Set alarms for cancellations. Rec.gov allows you to set an availability alert for specific campgrounds. It requires you to select a start date, but allows you to select flexibility for up to 3 days before and after your date.
- A spontaneous, last-minute trip is going to require a bit of luck. Basically you need to log-in to rec.gov at the right time and find a last-minute cancellation. It’s possible, but a risky strategy to rely on, especially during the summer or events like Firefall.
If you’re unable to find accommodations in Yosemite Valley you can also stay in a campground in a different area of the park. The Bridalveil Creek Campground is located along the road to Glacier Point, making it a good alternative for this itinerary.
What to Pack to Go Hiking in Yosemite National Park
Hiking pack recommendations are incredibly subjective. I personally use and love the Osprey Sirrus 24L. A trail running vest is a great option on shorter hikes if you want to be able to carry sufficient water while staying light on the trail.
Make sure that you carry sufficient water for the hike that you’re planning on doing. Also consider carrying electrolyte packs like Liquid IV to add to your water, especially if you’re hiking during warmer months!
Protein bars, trail mix, pb&j sandwiches, dried fruit, and jerky are all great hiking snack options!
If you’re going on a sunset or early morning hike it’s important to carry a headlamp to help you see the trail in the dark.
A well stocked first-aid kit should always be in your pack as one of the 10 essentials. Consider carrying band-aids, moleskin, gauze, tape, Tylenol, and tweezers.
Map & compass:
A knife can come in handy for a variety of purposes from cutting an apple to fixing your gear. Plus it’s one of the 10 essentials, so it should be one of those items that just lives in your pack!
Injuries that may require a hiker to spend an emergency night in Yosemite don’t happen frequently, but they do happen, so it’s important to carry an emergency bivvy or space blanket to help you stay comfortable during an emergency situation.
Trekking poles are optional but recommended to help your knees during steep hikes.
What clothing you specifically need to wear or carry depends on a number of factors including the forecast, time of year, and your personal preferences. Keep in mind that even if it’s going to be hot during the day, temperatures drop quickly once the sun goes down so you should carry appropriate layers for hiking in the dark. Helpful layers to consider wearing/bringing include a sun shirt, rain coat, and outer layer (how heavy of an outer layer you need to carry will depend on the month you’re hiking).
I always carry a Garmin in-reach mini GPS on hikes to easily get in contact with authorities in the event of an emergency. Yosemite National Park has spotty cell reception, so it’s a good idea to have an emergency device just in case!