Wondering what to do in Yosemite National Park in one day? You’re in the right place! 

Whether it’s busy school schedules or a jam-packed bucket list road trip limiting your visit, sometimes you have to make the most of what you’ve got. That’s where I can help!

Over the years, we’ve become pretty awesome at maximizing our time and squeezing every drop of fun out of every adventure – even when they’re short. From last-minute road trips (hello, epic California road trip with a day trip to Yosemite due to a hurricane thwarting our flight back east!) to meticulously planned tropical vacations, we’ve done it all.

As someone who loves the research and planning part of a vacation, I spent a ton of time sorting through all the best things to do and essential travel tips to make the most of a day in Yosemite. 

In this guide, I’ve combined all that research with insights we learned during our own visit to help you plan. I’ll walk you through how to experience the best of Yosemite when you only have one day. I’ve got you covered from early morning views at Glacier Point to scenic drives. We’ll cover must-see attractions, hike suggestions, and essential tips so you can make the most of your time in the park. 

Let’s get started! 

Important Note

Reservations are required to enter Yosemite during peak season in 2024. You’ll need to snag one in advance for weekends & holidays between April 13 – June 30 and August 17 – October 27. If you’re heading to Yosemite in the height of summer, July 1 – August 16, you’ll need a reservation no matter what day you visit.

🎧 We love these self-guided audio tours to learn more about the park during your visit!

7 Best Things to See in Yosemite in One Day

Two visitors sitting at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, enjoying the majestic view of Half Dome and the surrounding mountains on a clear day.
Yosemite National Park is stunning. That is all.

1. Take in the Views at Glacier Point

Starting your day in Yosemite bright and early at Glacier Point is a pro move – especially if you’re all about experiencing popular locations without the crowds. 🙌

During my research, I learned that Glacier Point parking lot can fill up early – like by 9 am early. And if the lot is full, you just have to wait – or turn back and join a guided bus tour (and hope they still have space available).

We left our hotel (Yosemite Southgate Hotel) first thing to avoid this situation. We grabbed a quick bite from the continental breakfast and were out the door by 7 am to make a beeline for Glacier Point. 

The drive up Glacier Point Road itself is incredible, with epic scenery, and you’ll want to plan for about an hour and a half to make the trek from the South Entrance. Keep in mind that the road’s opening dates vary each year, so you’ll want to double-check that it’s open before your arrival. 

Glacier Point is home to one of the best views in the park—and honestly, it’s one of the most impressive views I’ve ever experienced. From the overlook, your early wake-up will be rewarded with views of Half Dome, the Yosemite Valley, and even a few waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls).

Arriving early gave us plenty of time to explore at our own pace and take in the views with only a handful of other early risers. But by the time we left mid-morning, the parking lot was full, and that early morning solitude was long gone. 

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A smiling couple takes a selfie with Half Dome towering in the background at Glacier Point, capturing the memory of their day trip to Yosemite.
Sometimes you just need a selfie!

2. Stop at the Tunnel View Scenic Overlook

​For one of the most iconic views in Yosemite, you’ll want to stop at Tunnel View. As you drive through the Wawona Tunnel, you’ll catch a peek, but to take it all in and snap pictures, snag a spot in the parking area for views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridelveil Fall all in one. 


 If your schedule allows (ours didn’t 😢), golden hour (just before sunset) or blue hour (just after sunset) is the best for photos!

A thin, wispy Bridalveil Fall descends gracefully among the rocky cliffs during a day trip to Yosemite.
Whispy falls being blown by the wind at Bridalveil Fall.

3. Hike to Bridalveil Fall

For your next stop, head into Yosemite Valley to check out Bridalveil Fall. Plunging 620 feet, the falls are impressive year round, but especially when it’s at full force in the spring. 

Our visit came during a dry spell, so the falls were transformed into wispy streams blown about by the wind, but it was still absolutely worth it.

To get to the base of the falls, you’ll take a short hike on the 0.5-mile trail, making it accessible for even little hikers. Just don’t forget their hiking shoes!


The trail to Bridelveil Fall has been closed due to the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project. It was anticipated to be complete in the fall of 2023. As of our last update, there was no additional information, but you can check the status here

Panoramic view from Glacier Point overlooking Yosemite Valley with its iconic granite cliffs and dense pine forests, captured during Yosemite day trip.
After visiting Glacier Point, we headed 3214 feet down to the valley floor to see more.

4. Explore the Yosemite Exploration Center

Formerly called the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, the Yosemite Exploration Center is a great place to learn more about the park’s history and features. An exhibit hall and interpretive displays share information about the park’s wildlife, geological features, and more. 

Be sure to check out the short film Spirit of Yosemite to learn more about the story of this incredible Park. The theater is located behind the Exploration Center, and showings are every half hour (daily schedules are here). 

5. Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery

My husband and I have always been huge fans of Ansel Adams, so a visit to Yosemite wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at The Ansel Adams Gallery. Throughout the gallery, you’ll find original photographs and prints for purchase by Ansel Adams and several other incredible artists and photographers. 

Besides the artwork, we also enjoyed perusing the collection of books, handcrafted items, and more, perfect for gifts or souvenirs. We browsed as long as the kids were willing! 😉

6. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Climbers on El Capitan

Next up on your Yosemite adventure is El Capitan! This towering rock formation soars 3,000 feet up from the valley floor and attracts climbers from around the globe.

But you don’t have to be an elite rock climber to enjoy El Capitan. Honestly, just seeing it in person from the valley floor was spectacular. 

El Capitan is one of those places that we’d seen a ton of times in pictures but didn’t really grasp the scale of until we saw it in person. 

Whether you’re spying El Cap as you cruise through Yosemite Valley or from El Capitan Meadow, be sure to keep your eyes peeled—you might be able to catch a glimpse of tiny dots (climbers) moving up the massive rock face! 


Take a pair of binoculars to help you get a closer look. These are the ones we have and love.

Scenic view of a forest from a lunch spot along Tioga Pass, perfect for a stop during a day in Yosemite.
Where we decided to stop for a picnic!

7. End Your Day with a Scenic Drive Through Tioga Pass

An unexpected detour due to fires closing Highway 120 West led us to wrapping up our day by driving through Tioga Pass after leaving Yosemite Village and it ended up being the perfect way to end our day. As the crowds began to disperse, the kids got hungry, so we found a pull-off with stunning views and had a picnic lunch with views of the park. 

Back in our van, we continued down Tioga Pass and were rewarded with more viewpoints, including a stop at Olmstead Point – totally worth it! From this spot, you can see Half Dome from a completely different angle, along with views of Clouds Rest and Tenaya Lake. 

Vast landscape viewed from Olmsted Point featuring granite rock formations and scattered pine trees, a unique viewpoint of Half Dome and more during a day trip to Yosemite.
Olmstead Point was an excellent spot to stop for the view.


As you continue to make your way out of the park, my advice is this: when you see a viewpoint, stop—even if you only have a few moments! It will give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, and we find it’s always worth it. We’ve never regretted making a quick roadside stop—and often, they end up giving us some of the most memorable views! 

Additional Things to Do in Yosemite

If you’d rather have someone else plan your itinerary, check out one of the guided day trips below.

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Or, if you have a little more time to spend in the park, here are a few other stops and hikes that we wish we had been able to explore during our day.

8. Sentinel Dome & Taft Point

Only 2.3 miles roundtrip and ~300 ft of elevation gain, the hike at Taft Point looks to have stunning views similar to what you see at Glacier Point. Or, if you’re up for a little more adventure, try the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop (4.9 miles and ~1000 ft of elevation gain).

9. Upper Yosemite Falls

This hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is just over 7 miles and categorised as hard. We would venture to guess we would need the entire day to do this with the boys. Hopefully, we can make it work on another trip when we are able to visit for more than a day.

10. Tenaya Lake

Located off Tioga Road, Tenaya Lake Trail is an easy 2.5-mile loop around the lake—and it looks gorgeous! This one would be a great option to try if you’re new to hiking.

11. Sentinel Dome & Taft Point

Also off Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows is a trail through a sub-alpine meadow. It is approximately 2 miles, depending on how much you want to explore.

12. Mist Trail to Vernal Fall

Honestly, this is probably the hike we hate we missed out on the most. The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall is approximately 3 miles roundtrip and offers what look to be spectacular views. It is on our must-do list for our next visit. 

13. Mariposa Grove

The Mariposa Grove, the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite, is a great place to see some of California’s giant sequoias. However, we had just come from Sequoia National Park, so we felt our time would be better spent elsewhere.

Boy stands on rock next to stone geology hut perched on the rocks at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park with a backdrop of clear blue skies and towering pine trees.
Our youngest showing off by the Geology Hut at Glacier Point.
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Where to Stay When Visiting Yosemite

During our road trip through California and Yosemite, we played things by ear for lodging each day, so we came prepared with all the essentials for camping just in case we opted for a campsite along our path. 

We like to use Roadtrippers to help us plan our itinerary for each day so it’s easy to see where we need to find our next hotel or campground.


We did this road trip in September, before COVID, after schools were back in session. I wouldn’t recommend trying this now, especially for National Park lodging during summer months. 

Camping in Yosemite

During the busiest season (~April-October), reservations are required at all campgrounds, and there are no first-come, first-served campsites. So, if you opt for camping within the park, you’ll want to take special note of reservation windows for each campground

Snagging a camping spot can be as challenging as getting Taylor Swift tickets, so be ready with your concert fast fingers promptly at 7 am PST on the day the reservation system opens for your preferred campground! 

Some start taking reservations 5 months ahead on the 15th (Upper Pines, Lower Pines, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow), others open for reservations 2 weeks in advance (Bridalveil Creek, Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Porcupine Flat), and Camp 4 doesn’t take reservations until 1 week ahead. In addition, North Pines sites were available for early access via lottery, and any sites left over will be open for reservations 5 months out.


 In 2024, Tuolumne Meadows Campground is closed for rehabilitation.

If you want the camping experience but don’t want to schlep all your gear, check out the canvas-sided tent cabins at Curry Village or Tuolumne Meadows Lodge!

Hotels and Lodging Near Yosemite

If you prefer to sleep in more comfort, there are several hotels, lodges, and cabins within Yosemite National Park. 

For a luxury hotel in Yosemite Valley, The Ahwahnee is your best bet. It has beautiful architecture and well-appointed rooms.

Alternatively, Yosemite Valley Lodge (near Yosemite Falls) and Wawona Hotel (near Mariposa Grove) are a bit more economical. ​

During our visit, the many nearby fires affected the air quality, so we opted out of camping and stayed just outside the park at the Yosemite Southgate Hotel. Located just 14 miles away, it was an easy drive to the South Gate entrance. The hotel was nicely appointed, our room was spacious, and the beds were comfy!

​For more details on these and additional places to stay in and near Yosemite, check out the map I created for you below (my top picks are in orange).

Things to Know When Planning a One-Day Visit to Yosemite National Park

How to Get to Yosemite National Park

When planning a Yosemite day trip, you’ll want to consider how you’ll get to the park. Whether you’re on your own or tackling a California family vacation, you have a few options to choose from to make your trip as smooth as possible. 

  • By Car: Like many people (us included), you may find driving to Yosemite the most flexible option —especially if you’re combining your visit with a longer family road trip. With a car, you can explore at your own pace and make as many impromptu stops as you like. That said, there are two things you’ll need to know if you choose to drive.
    • You’ll need a reservation to drive into the park on peak days between April and October.
    • Parking is very limited, particularly in Yosemite Valley. On busy days, if you find a parking space in the Valley, snag it! You can walk or head to the nearest shuttle stop to explore the area more.
  • By Public Transit: 
    • YARTS: If you want to relax and enjoy the scenery while avoiding the hassle of driving (and parking), the Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) may be a great option for you. With routes from Merced, Fresno, Mammoth Lakes, and Sonora, it’s a convenient and eco-friendly way to visit the park. 
    • Amtrak or Greyhound: Amtrak (train and bus) and Greyhound (bus) also have seasonal route options to get you into the park. 
  • By Plane: If you’re coming from farther away, flying into nearby airports might be your best bet. Some of the closest airports are Fresno/Yosemite (FAT), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Oakland (OAK), and Sacramento (SMF). You can rent a car or pair with public transit to enter the park from there. 
Informative map at Glacier Point with an engraved depiction of Yosemite's topography, providing visitors on a day trip to Yosemite with a unique perspective of the park's geography, helping them identify prominent landmarks.
View of Half Dome and surrounding landmarks from Glacier Point.

How to Get Around Yosemite

Once you’ve made it to Yosemite, there are a couple of ways to get around. If you’ve brought your own car, you can drive yourself throughout the entirety of the park, stopping at your leisure.

Alternatively, you can use public transportation to move around the park. Even if you drove yourself, you may want to take advantage of this, particularly in Yosemite Valley, where parking spots can be hard to find. The Yosemite Valley Shuttle System is free and covers all the most-do stops in the Valley. Additional shuttles provide service to more areas of the park, such as Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows. You can even snag a ticket for the Glacier Point Tour (one-way or round trip) if you don’t make it first thing in the morning to avoid the stress of parking at this popular spot. 


If you plan to hit all the places on this list in one day, you’ll want to have your own vehicle. Due to the extra time needed for public transit, it would be very difficult (if not impossible) to hit all these spots with the shuttle system. If the timing works with your schedule, you could definitely use it to streamline stops in the Valley, but beyond that, I recommend using your own vehicle when you have limited time. 

Start Early

When you only have enough time to visit Yosemite for one day, you’ll want to maximize your time to see the most. To ensure you have time to see everything on this list, start your day as early as possible. 

Entrance Fees

To enter Yosemite National Park, you’ll need a valid access pass. Here are your options: 

  • America the Beautiful Pass: This is my top recommendation if you plan to visit any other National Parks, Recreation Sites, Monuments, or National Forests during the year. You pay one annual fee ($80) and then have access for a full year to any of these federal lands. 
  • Yosemite Annual Pass: This may be your best bet if you live close to Yosemite and don’t anticipate visiting any other National Parks or federal lands. However, it’s only $10 cheaper ($70) than the interagency pass, so if you’re on the fence, I’d still spring for the America the Beautiful Pass. 
  • Standard Entrance Pass: If you’re only visiting Yosemite this year and will spend less than a week, a Private Vehicle pass is $35 and covers your car and passengers for up to 7 consecutive days.

When to Visit Yosemite

We’re big fans of traveling to national parks during shoulder seasons, where the main attractions and roads are typically open, but the crowds are smaller. 

If you can avoid traveling to Yosemite on a weekend (particularly in the summer months or over a holiday), I highly recommend it. Otherwise, here are a few things to keep in mind for each season when you’re deciding what time of year to visit Yosemite National Park.

  • Summer: The most popular time to visit Yosemite is summer, when you’ll have the best weather and higher elevation mountain passes will (generally) be open. Plus, you’re likely to catch wildflowers! However, it’s also the most popular time to visit 😅 so you’ll have more crowds to contend with. In addition, fires are not uncommon and can cause smoke, air quality issues, road closures, etc. Towards the end of summer, waterfalls also start to dry up. 
  • Fall: Visiting Yosemite in the fall means most of the park will still be open, and there will be fewer crowds. You’ll also get to enjoy the stunning fall colors! Early snowfall can cause some roads to close, however, and some campgrounds and lodging options may not be available. Fires can still happen into the fall, and waterfalls and lakes may still be low. 
  • Winter: If you love exploring winter wonderlands without many people, you may want to consider visiting in winter. While higher-elevation roads and campgrounds will close, there are still plenty of things to do in Yosemite during the winter months. From sledding and ice skating to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, winter in Yosemite is a unique experience! Just remember to prepare for winter driving conditions and wear clothing that can keep you warm and dry during hiking and snow sports.
  • Spring: During spring, waterfalls are at their peak as snow starts to melt, and there are fewer crowds than in summer. However, it’s usually too early for wildflowers, and there can still be quite a bit of snow, so you’ll want to plan for winter driving conditions (including bringing chains). 

FAQ’s About Visiting Yosemite

Is there cell signal in Yosemite? 

Yosemite has some cell signal, but it’s primarily concentrated in the main areas (such as Yosemite Valley) and can vary in different seasons. 

You can learn more about cell phone coverage at the National Park Service website

Do I need a reservation to drive through Yosemite? 

Yes, you need a reservation to drive through Yosemite during peak season. From April 17 to June 30 and August 17 to October 27, 2024, you’ll need a reservation for both weekends and holidays. During the height of summer, from July 1 to August 15, you’ll need a reservation no matter what day of the week you are visiting.

Is visiting Yosemite for only one day worth it?

Yes! Even if you only have one day to spend in Yosemite National Park, it’s 100% worth the visit. Our day in the park still stands out as one of my favorite travel memories! That said, we could easily have spent at least a week happily exploring if we had the time.

Final Thoughts on One Day in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is an epic destination with a ton of incredible things to do. But it can be hard to narrow it down – especially when you only have one day! 

Whether visiting Yosemite National Park has been on your bucket list forever or it’s a convenient stop along your road trip plan, now you know all the best things to see to make the most of the time you have! 

This one-day Yosemite itinerary gives you the top things to see and do for an unforgettable day in the park —bookmark it and come back as you finalize your trip details! 

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