The beauty of Yosemite National Park, California, overwhelms every visitor, from the most skeptic city dweller to experienced outdoorsy people. This very place is so inspiring that it’s responsible for giving 19th-century writers and naturalists—most notably John Muir—the idea for protected parks. It’s a place everyone should visit in their lifetime. To help you do that, we’re offering you an itinerary for how to visit Yosemite National Park in 3 days in this blog post.
How to Visit Yosemite National Park in 3 Days
While to the first explorers, Yosemite was a place of solitude, peace and quiet, today it’s very different. No fewer than four million people visit the park each year. Yosemite Valley sometimes feels overcrowded and too commercialized, especially in the summer months. The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is spring, when wildflowers carpet its valley and waterfalls are thundering down its cliffs.
There are thirteen campgrounds in the park, all of which are popular, and seven of which require advance reservations. You can make those at Recreation.gov. Remember if you visit Yosemite National Park that this is a hugely popular destination. Even the first-come, first-served campgrounds tend to fill up entirely by noon, and often much earlier. Make sure if you visit Yosemite National Park to arrive in the park as early in the morning as possible if you want to camp with an RV Rental or tent and weren’t able to book a site in advance.
The best campgrounds are, of course, in Yosemite Valley. Naturally, they’re the busiest ones and the hardest ones to get a site at. Plan ahead or get there (very) early. If you can’t find a camping spot, consider booking a site at Yosemite Pines RV Resort, which is located about half an hour by car outside the park.
The following itinerary for three days in Yosemite National Park is for a spring-time visit. Note that Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows doesn’t open until about June, nor does the road up to Glacier Point. This entire itinerary focuses on the Yosemite Valley area. Spending three days in Yosemite National Park is plenty of time to get to know this area inside out.
Day 1: Yosemite Valley Loop and Mirror Lake Trail
After pitching your tent, head over to Yosemite Village, the epicenter of tourism and commercialism in Yosemite National Park. In the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, you can get information and maps, check on weather and trail conditions, and ask park rangers questions.
Next to the visitor center, you’ll find the Yosemite Museum. There, you can learn about the park’s history in various historical and cultural exhibits. Admission is free. Behind the museum, a self-guided trail loops through the Indian Village of Ahwahnee, including Miwok buildings such as a sweat lodge and roundhouse.
After stocking up on information, it’s time to head out for your first exploration of Yosemite Valley. First of all, though, on the way into the valley, you should pull over your rental car at Tunnel View, arguably the greatest all-round view of Yosemite Valley. Another superb viewpoint is Valley View, just across the Merced River.
Yosemite Valley Loop
Although you can drive around Yosemite Valley, the best way to really experience the sheer beauty of this glacial valley is walking. You can explore much of the valley on foot on the Yosemite Valley Loop. The half loop is 7.2 miles long; the full loop is 11.5 miles. Roughly following the Merced River and the two roads on either side of it, this trail provides magnificent views of Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan. Take your time walking this mostly flat trail. You can also break up it in sections, catching the shuttle bus back to Yosemite Village.
Mirror Lake Trail
In the afternoon, head out for a pleasant hike on the Mirror Lake Trail. This one-mile trail leads to Mirror Lake, named after its beautiful reflection of Half Dome. You can extend your hike by taking in the 5-mile loop trail around the lake, or you can simply retrace your steps for a 2-mile roundtrip.
Finish off the first of your three days in Yosemite National Park with dinner and drinks in the iconic Ahwahnee Dining Room.
Day 2: Hike to Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and Inspiration Point
On day two, you’ll strap on your sturdy hiking boots for a more challenging hike.
Today, you’re hiking the Mist Trail—one of the park’s best hikes—to the top of both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. On the Mist Trail, it’s 1.2 miles one way to the top of Vernal Falls and another 1.5 miles to the top of Nevada Falls. The total ascend is 2.7 miles. From the top, you can choose to retrace your steps on the Mist Trail, or make it a loop hike by descending on the John Muir Trail. This hike is considered to be strenuous, so be prepared and carry plenty of food and water.
Inspiration Point Trail
In the late afternoon, jump into your rental car and drive back to the Tunnel View parking lot. There, you’ll find the trailhead of the Inspiration Point Trail. This 1.3-mile trail climbs steeply toward Inspiration Point, a phenomenal viewpoint. This is a great spot to watch the sun set over Yosemite Valley.
Day 3: Yosemite Falls Trail
The last of your three days in Yosemite National Park will be spent with more hiking and enjoying panoramic vistas. Cook up a hearty breakfast at your campsite in the morning before making your way to the Yosemite Falls trailhead.
The Yosemite Falls Trail is one of the park’s oldest and most classic hiking trails. A 7.2-mile round trip, this steep trail climbs from the Yosemite Valley floor all the way up to the top of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. This hike is by no means easy. You’re advised to bring plenty of snacks and water with you. People who don’t want to climb all the way to the top can hike to Columbia Rock, one mile up, for superb views of the Upper Yosemite Falls and turn back. For the full hike, you should count on six to eight hours in total.
Head back to your campsite afterward for a filling dinner. After three days in Yosemite National Park, leave the park in the morning on your way to the next fantastic national park in California.
If These Photos Don’t Make You Want to Visit Yosemite National Park, Nothing Will