The United States is blessed with some truly unbelievable natural spaces and scenery. From the countless sandy beaches of the country's enormous stretch of coastline to its vast mountain ranges, mystical alpine lakes, endless forests, and awe-inspiring deserts, America is home to a rich and diverse tapestry of landscapes. The nation's national parks are perfect examples of some of the best and most beautiful scenery in America, with Yosemite National Park being a prime example.
Located in the western Sierra Nevada mountains of Central California, Yosemite National Park is closely linked to two national forests, Stanislaus and Sierra. It covers a total area of almost 750,000 acres spread out across four separate counties, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 and a National Park since 1890, actually paving the way for the entire foundation of the National Park system in America.
Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks of all, drawing in around 5 million visitors each and every year, with many visitors choosing to spend their time camping, hiking, climbing, enjoying scenic drives, skiing, and more. Many people would argue that one day just isn’t enough to really experience and appreciate the depth and beauty of this national park, but if you are planning a day trip to Yosemite, there’s a lot you can get done in just 24 hours.
Getting To Yosemite National Park
There are several different ways to get to Yosemite National Park depending on where you're traveling from. For the purposes of a day trip, you'll likely need to already be in California or just over the border in a Nevada town or city like Reno. San Francisco is around four hours away from Yosemite by car, while Sacramento is around three hours away. The city of San Jose is also around three hours away from Yosemite National Park. Those lucky enough to live in cities like Fresno, meanwhile, are only about an hour or an hour and a half away from the park.
- Getting To Yosemite By Car - Cars are allowed in Yosemite National Park, so driving is generally considered to be the best way to get there. Visitors will need to pay an entrance fee for their vehicles upon arrival, which varies depending on the time of year, and there is free parking around the park itself, but you'll need to arrive early if you want to get a spot. One of the best ways to drive to Yosemite is to take CA Highway 140 via Mariposa, as you'll get to enjoy some stunning views along the way.
Next read: Where to stay in Yosemite
- Getting To Yosemite By Plane - There is actually a small airport called Mariposa-Yosemite Airport, which is only suitable for private and charter flights, and is around half an hour from the park itself. For commercial flights, the best option is Fresno/Yosemite International Airport, which is only a little over an hour away from the southern entrance of the park, but you'll need to factor in all the time of getting to, from, and through the airports.
- Getting To Yosemite By Train - AMTRAK trains can be taken from many major cities all around California, including San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco, to Merced/Riverbank. From there, you can connect with the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus lines to be taken directly into Yosemite Valley.
- Getting To Yosemite By Bus - As mentioned above, the YARTS buses will take you right into Yosemite from Merced, but you’ll need to take other buses along the way to reach this destination.
Tips And Things To Do On Your Yosemite Day Trip
- Guided Tours - If you're only at Yosemite for a day trip, taking a guided tour isn't a bad way to ensure that you see and learn a lot about the park in a short amount of time. Guided tours leave from Yosemite Valley Lodge each day and last for around two hours, taking you all around the Valley and offering fascinating insight into the various stories and landmarks around this beautiful part of California.
- Self-Guided Tours - If you consider yourself to be more of an independent explorer, you can also chart your own course through Yosemite National Park. Bicycles can be rented from Curry Village or you can take the Valley Shuttle Bus to get around quickly and conveniently, hopping off at the different stops to explore and hike around. Some of the best hikes at Yosemite National Park can be found at shuttle stops 16 and 17.
- Glacier Point - Glacier Point Road isn't always open at Yosemite National Park, so visiting this spot will depend on the day's conditions. If it is open, however, it's definitely worth a look. You'll need to follow Highway 41 and follow the signs to get there. When you arrive, you'll be greeted with truly awe-inspiring views to make you wish you were staying longer than a day.
- Yosemite Village - Yosemite Village is a good place to start your Yosemite Day Trip. You'll find a parking lot here, as well as a museum and a visitor center to learn more about the park. Of course, if you only have a day to spend at Yosemite, you'll probably want to skip these locations and head straight into the park, but stopping off at the museum for half an hour isn't a bad way to prepare for the adventures of the day ahead.
- Yosemite Falls - Yosemite Falls is one of the must-do landmarks in Yosemite National Park, so try and fit it into your daily schedule. Measuring up at over 2,400 feet, Yosemite Falls is the biggest waterfall in the whole park and it always makes for some amazing photographs. The best time to see Yosemite Falls is around April/May, but the waterfall can be enjoyed at any time of year, even when the water stops flowing in the fall.
- Bridalveil Fall - Bridalveil Fall is one of the most picturesque photoshoot spots in the whole of Yosemite National Park, and it's quite easy to access. As soon as you get into the park, you can turn off onto Highway 41 and follow the signs. You'll reach a tunnel and will then be able to take some magical photos of the entire Yosemite Valley, complete with glimpses of major landmarks like Bridalveil Fall itself and Half Dome too.
- Pack Food And Be Prepared - The key to any day trip is preparation, and this applies for your Yosemite day trip too. Your time in the park is going to be severely limited, so you don't want any delays or interruptions when you arrive. Plan out every aspect of your trip ahead of time and be sure to pack plenty of bottled water and high-energy snacks to keep you hydrated and energized throughout the day. Packing additional items like bug spray, hats and sunglasses on sunny days, and more will also help you deal with any eventualities.