1 Day in Yosemite National Park – California, USA
Now I know what you are thinking, “Just 1 day in Yosemite! Are you mad?”. Honestly, I could spend weeks in Yosemite, surrounded by it’s towering mountains and calming rivers, but you don’t always have the luxury of time. And so that, my friend, is why I have decided to write this 1 Day itinerary to one of the most beautiful US National Parks, that I have had the pleasure of visiting.
How to get the most out of 1 day in Yosemite
Firstly, enjoy the drive into the park! If you are coming into the Arch Rock Entrance via the 140 highway, at least 30 minutes is spent driving along the Merced River through incredible mountain passes, so you’ll feel you have already arrived!
At the moment, the entrance fee for a non-commercial car/van is $30. This covers all the passengers in the car, so buddy up and save yourself some money! I believe this fee is increasing in 2018 for peak visiting times so make sure you check the National Park Service website for more information.
Once you’re inside the park head to Yosemite Falls Parking which takes you past El Capitan. This vertical granite formation is famed for it’s difficult rock climbing routes and it can take days to climb it. Often you can spot tiny banana shaped looking silhouettes on the face of El Capitan. Give them a wave! Those are climbers in hammocks suspended from the rock face!
With just 1 day in Yosemite I would stick to using the Valley Shuttle bus. This is a free shuttle bus that you can jump on and off as you wish. Yosemite Falls Parking is stop #7 on the route.
List of activities you can choose for your 1 day trip to Yosemite:
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail – Shuttle stop #6, 1 mile round trip, 30 min easy walk.
Mirror Lake – Shuttle stop #17, 2 mile round trip, 1 hour easy hike.
Vernal and Nevada Falls – Shuttle stop #16. To the Vernal Falls Footbridge 1.6 mile round trip, 1.5 hour moderate hike. Carry on up to the falls, 2.4 mile round trip, 3 hour strenuous hike. Carry on up to Nevada Falls, 5.4 mile round trip, 6 hour strenuous hike.
Valley Loop Trail – Shuttle stop #14 or #15 for bike hire at the Half Dome, to cycle the Valley floor. Half loop to El Capitan Bridge, 7.2 miles, 3 hour moderate cycle.
My suggestion for your 1 day trip to Yosemite:
Cycle Valley Loop Trail to El Capitan Bridge (3 hours) you can include Lower Yosemite Falls within this cycle. Then head for lunch back at the Half Dome. In the afternoon you could head for Vernal Falls Footbridge (1.5 hours) and Mirror Lake (1 hour) and still have time to spare for relaxing at the Merced River.
Although that is my suggestion, Yosemite has so much to offer and you can tailor the day to you. Below I have broken down each activity to give you more information on each activity to help you make your decision.
1. Lower Yosemite Falls Trail – Shuttle stop #6
This is a flat 30 minute easy walk to the bottom of lower Yosemite Falls. There are a couple of bridges along the way and you catch glimpses of the falls through the trees. This one would be great for those with children or disability as it is well paved. We saw some beautiful deer on the trail and it was just generally a very pleasant walk. Once you get to the bottom of the falls, there is plenty of space to relax which is great for groups of friends and family. You can also stand on the bridge and feel the spray of the falls as it comes down and flows beneath you.
2. Mirror Lake – Shuttle stop #17
This easy hike has a small 100m elevation which is great for a more chilled exploration. The trail can be muddy and the lake is not always full so check before you set off, but this was a lovely route through the woods. We were warned that there are Black Bears in Yosemite (although sightings are rare) so we were advised to go in pairs and talk to one another, as sound would generally keep them away! Once you reach the lake it will be clear as it is a stunning sight. The water is so still, which is shocking after having walked by rushing rivers on the way there. You come to an opening that surrounds you with tall mountains and as the whole lake wasn’t full on our visit we could venture out further. We spent more time here soaking it all in as it is so quiet and peaceful. You can carry on walking around the lake and do a loop which will take you around 2-3 hours, or you can simply turn back, keeping it to a small 1 hour round trip.
3. Vernal and Nevada Falls – Shuttle Stop #16
This hike is great because you can gauge as you go, how far you want to take it. There are 3 points of interest along this route that make it either a 1.5 hour moderate, 3 hour strenuous or 6 hour strenuous hike. All points on this route make the hard work worth it. The first stop is the Vernal Falls Footbridge. Here you can see the Vernal Falls from afar which is stunning. If you decide at this point to carry on then make sure to stop at the services here as they are the last ones on the trail. Make sure to fill your water bottle as you are going to need it! The next stop is the top of the Vernal Falls. The last 50m are tough on this one but it’s worth it when you get there. Then if you want a real challenge then carry on up the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. Remember to take your lunch, sit at the top and enjoy it; you will definitely deserve it! At the top there is a slightly different route across the bridge, that you can take back down, called the John Muir Trail. This will join back onto the Mist trail but will give you some different vantage points along the way.
4. Valley Loop Trail – Shuttle stop #14 or #15 for bike hire but the route starts at stop #6
As I mentioned before this route can include the Lower Yosemite Falls trail so it could be a great way to tick 2 activities off the list. The half loop takes around 3 hours and takes you down to El Capitan Bridge. It is a sun filled valley floor route so remember your water and sun cream! You will spend a lot of time along the Merced River which is great for keeping your bearings and you’ll know when you reach El Capitan as it towers over you with it’s imposing sheer cliff face.
Food in Yosemite National Park
When you head back to return the bike at the Half Dome (stop #14/15), you can stop here for food. It’s a great place to relax by the river and you can choose take away food or make your own picnic at the grocery store.
If you aren’t heading to Half Dome then you can stop at Yosemite Valley Lodge for a bite. This is at stop #8 so it’s closer to the car park. Here they do some great ice cream!
Where to stay when visiting Yosemite for 1 day
The likely hood is, if you only have 1 day to visit to Yosemite National Park then you are most likely on a road trip. This was true for me and so we stayed in nearby Mariposa. It’s around 45 minutes away from Yosemite and it is a beautiful small village set in a valley. We stayed at the Comfort Inn which was fantastic value for money. The rooms were small compared to most American hotels but this was an inn so it was cosy and had all the amenities we required. Breakfast was also included which was great to start you off before a day of hiking. Mariposa is located conveniently for a California road trip so make sure you consider it if you are visiting.
Finally, as I’m not a novelist, I am going to let John Muir describe Yosemite in a way I couldn’t:
“the far-famed valley came suddenly into view throughout almost its whole extent: the noble walls, sculptured into endless variety of domes and gables, spires and battlements and plain mural precipices, all a-tremble with the thunder tones of the falling water. The level bottom seemed to be dressed like a garden, sunny meadows here and there and groves of pine and oak, the river of Mercy sweeping in majesty through the midst of them and flashing back the sunbeams.”
This extract is from his book “My First Summer in the Sierra” published in 1911. Thanks to him Yosemite’s natural beauty has been preserved well and so his words still ring true today.
I’d love to hear about your experience at Yosemite! Have you had just 1 day there? Let me know below!