Half dome in Yosemite National Park in California
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Things to do in Yosemite: The Ultimate Weekend Itinerary

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What to Do in Yosemite National Park

We only found out we were travling to California for work with a few week’s notice. We decided that during our month there we would have to make a weekend trip to see Yosmite National Park.

Really a trip to Yosemite should be planned well in advance. Camping sites are so coveted that reservations are mostly allotted by ballot and are snapped up the moment they become available a YEAR in advance. Lodges fill up months in advance in the National Park and the surrounding villages. Aside from scoring accommodation in Yosemite National Park, you need time to plan exactly what to do in Yosemite. There are a million things to do in Yosemite and to experience it all would take quite a long time. Never the less, even with only a few weeks to secure accomodation and plan your Yosemite adventure, you can experience a weekend in Yosemite. If you find yourself with a free weekend in north California why not take advantage of our list of the best things to do in our Yosemite National Park last minute itinerary.

Accommodation in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley is the most popular place to stay in Yosemite National Park with four of the nine lodgings operating inside the National Park located here. We stayed at Curry Village which offers the largest selection of accommodation in Yosemite Valley. The accommodation options range from canvas tent cabins (heated and unheated) to private cabins and hotel rooms. This large camp usually has a few reservations to spare, as people cancel or change plans last minute.

Accommodation is basic but comfortable. Amenities include a couple of on-site restaurants and coffee shop.

With accommodation sorted, now it is time to figure out what it is you are going to do with your time in Yosemite National Park.

The Perfect Yosemite Itinerary

Friday Evening: Curry Village Pizza Patio

If you arrived in Yosemite Valley before dark, I suggest taking advantage of the light and head out to explore. If you are like us and arrived after dark, food is probably on your mind.

Skip the Curry Village Restaurant where the pre-prepared food sits in bain-maries before being served in plastic bowls containers. Head over instead to the Curry Village Pizza Patio for a large pizza which easily feeds three to four people. Craving a beer? Check out the tiny bar inside. They have a wider selection here than the Pizza Patio.

Other than that, there is not much to do in Yosemite Valley during the evening. Make sure to bring a pack of cards or another game to keep your party entertained. Do not expect to be using your phone much either as cell service and wifi are spotty at best.

Pro-tip: Bring you own alcohol to reduce costs. Beers and wine range between $6 – $9 USD per drink. And you can even BYOB in the large onsite dining hall.

Saturday Morning: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop

To be clear, Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop do not start in Yosemite Valley. Although it is possible to hike out of the valley, who wants to spend their day climbing uphill for some 4,000 feet with all of the famous Yosemite sights to see behind them. Not us and my guess is not you. Skip the hikes beginning in Yosemite Valley and opt for more scenic routes overlooking the valley which begin on Glacier Point Road.

The Sentinel Dome and Taft Point loop is a 5.1 mile moderately trafficked hike offering stunning panoramic views over the Yosemite Valley. The trail head starts on the road to Glacier Point, probably three miles before the Glacier Point parking lot. With limited parking available, it is wise to arrive early to snag a spot and to avoid most of the other hikers. From the trail head hike counter clockwise!

The hike itself is not overly strenuous, but after 5.1 miles you might feel some muscle and joint pain the next day. The views, however, you will remember for a lifetime. Hiking counterclockwise you first stop atop Sentinel Dome. Sentinel Dome provides jaw dropping, 360 degree views of Yosemite Valley. Icons El Capitan and Half Dome sit amongst many equally impressive monoliths, mountains and waterfalls. And, like I said earlier, if you go early enough you may be one of only a few people there enjoying it.

Half dome in Yosemite National Park from the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop trail, easily one of the best things to do in Yosemite

After Sentinel Dome, we hiked down to Glacier Point adding an additional two miles to the hike, to the already five mile journey. My advice, skip the extra hike unless you are looking to be extra fit. Here there are spectacular views of Half Dome from Glacier Point, but the hoards of tourists about detract from the beauty. In my opinion, the best views are seen from the top of Sentinel Dome.

After Sentinel Dome, head towards Taft Point. This walk takes you along the precipice of Yosemite Valley providing spectacular views of the granite valley and El Capitan while snaking through the Yosemite evergreen forest. At Taft Point stop and have a morning snack or lunch. If you are lucky, people will be there high lining between two points over the valley [crazy].

Saturday Afternoon: Yosemite Valley

Back in the valley, shower up before heading out to explore again. Merced River snakes along the valley floor providing a scenic path for exploring Yosemite Valley. Head towards the Swinging Bridge as you meander through this awe-inspiring valley. Cross Swinging Bridge and down towards the river bed just before dusk for a memorable sunset. Take a few snacks and a bottle of wine to watch the sunset over Half Dome. Trust us, the views are worth the trek.

The sun casting a yellow glow on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Watching the sun setting and casting stunning colors back over Half Dome was one of our favorite things to do in Yosemite

Saturday Evening: Yosemite Valley Lodge Mountain Room Bar

With dining options limited in Curry Village, head over to the Yosemite Valley Lodge Mountain Room Bar. Your typical sports bar with TVs, beer and pub food, rest your tired feet while enjoying a beer and watching your favorite team. You have earned a few after hiking all day.

Sunday Morning: Mariposa Grove

Located at the southern entrance to Yosemite, Mariposa Grove is an excellent stop before heading back into the Bay area. Home to over 500 mature sequoia trees, these monstrous trees will leave you stunned.

The sequoia might not be the tallest (coast redwood) or the widest (boabab tree or Montezuma bald cypress) or the longest-lived (Great Basin bristlecone pine), but it does hold the distinct of being the most massive tree. Reaching volumes of 52,500 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), these mammoths of trees are a must see for any visit to California and Yosemite National Park.

A shuttle takes you from the parking lot to the Mariposa Grove. Do not be put off by the bus loads of people entering the grove. Instead, set your sights on the Mariposa Grove Trail and leave the tourists behind.

Wander the path to visit the Grizzly Giant, the park’s oldest and second largest tree in the grove. Standing over 210 feet (64 meters) tall and with a basal circumference of 92 feet (28 meter), it is quite frankly absurd. Next, head over to the California Tree Tunnel, cut in 1895 to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass through the tree, before veering to the left to the Mariposa Grove Trail. This 7 mile in and out trail snakes past some impressive sequoias and leaves the faint at heart behind.

With very few hikers on the trail, you can take photos uninhibitedly, meander at your own pace and at times stand with your jaw on the floor awing at the impress size of these giant sequoias. While the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail passes a handful of large sequoias, it is not until you walk deep into the Mariposa Grove that you can truly experience the grandeur of the grove. With groups of 10 to 15 sequoia trees clustered along the path, you can only imagine how the first settlers felt stumbling upon these mammoth of trees. Take your time and enjoy, with global warming, it is no telling if these trees will be around forever.

Useful Tips for Exploring Yosemite National Park

Tip 1: Head out early from the bay area

Leave the bay area early. We left at 14:00 on a Friday from and it took almost 5 hours to reach Yosemite Valley. Without traffic it should take just over 3 hours.

Tip 2: Skip the buffet, grab the pizza in Curry Village

If you are staying in Curry Village, skip the buffet and grab a pizza. A large pizza is big enough to feed three to four and looks more appeasing than the slop from the main restaurant.

Tip 3: Dine at Yosemite Valley Lodge Mountain Room Bar

Head over to the Yosemite Valley Lodge Mountain Room Bar for sports bar type food and your favorite team. A shuttle runs between all of the lodging year-round.

Tip 4: Bring your own food

Bring your own food (at least for breakfast and lunch). Food in Yosemite can be expensive (think resort prices). For breakfast grab some bagels and use the bagel toaster in the coffee cafe at Curry Village. For lunch, you most likely will be exploring, so a packed lunch is preferred. All facilities will offer bear boxes to store food (and all things scented). Facilities are even available at the trail heads as well as you shouldn’t leave food unattended in a parked car.

Tip 5: Get out early!

Yosemite National Park is popular. I mean really popular. Head out early to avoid crowds, especially at the more touristy spots like Glacier Point.

We hope that you enjoy your weekend in Yosemite as much as we did! Let us know what you think below.

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  1. Yosemite is somewhere we would love to visit. Unfortunately our trip got cancelled because of the fires. Will have to add it to our bucket list!