About the Area: Yosemite National Park lies within the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Yosemite is known for its vast sequoias trees, its abundant rock climbing, especially on Half Dome & El Capitan, and for its waterfalls and beautiful hikes throughout the area. It’s also America’s most popular National Park. Make sure to reserve permits the first day they are available if you want a shot at camping in the valley. There are several camping sites that are perfect for a weekend getaway to Yosemite National Park. Thanks to Chris Meugniot for helping capture the fantastic memories from this trip! Make sure to check out his work here!
Our Yosemite trip was a 2-day, last-minute addition to close out a prior 5-day backpacking trip. Despite our exhaustion levels, the extra 20 miles of Yosemite hiking & walking we completed were incredible and 100% worth it. If you need help with what to pack for this trip, make sure to check out our outdoor gear guide! We HIGHLY recommend the following itinerary for anyone desiring to make a quick weekend getaway to Yosemite National Park.
For your best shot at securing a camping permit, aim to go during the off months (aka not during the summer), or risk it and try to get permits at the ranger station based on cancellations in the park when you decide to visit. If you plan to visit during the winter, just be aware that Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road (beyond Badger Pass) are usually closed so you won’t be able to see Glacier Point or Taft Point. You can check for updates on road closures on the National Park Service’s website daily. There are usually more cancellations in the winter due to the weather, so if you don’t mind a little bit of rain, then your chances of getting a permit are higher! Looking to book your reservation? Click here. You usually have to book around 6 months in advance.
*Note: if you have a backpacking permit for Yosemite, you can stay in the Backpackers campground for one night before or after the end date on your permit without needing an additional campsite permit, but make sure you carry around $10 cash per person with you to avoid getting a ticket from the Park Rangers!*
In terms of getting around the park once you have your permits, try and grab a parking spot EARLY if you are doing a hike in an area further away from your campground as parking goes insanely quickly! You’ll likely do a lot of walking/biking around the valley floor because it is busy and difficult to find parking later in the day.
Weekend Getaway to Yosemite National Park Itinerary
Sunrise at Glacier Point: A must. Hardly anyone is up at this hour, and getting the view of Half Dome all to yourself as the sun rises is a pretty spectacular experience. We ended up just bringing our camping stove and cooking up breakfast afterward. Tourists started arriving a lot later in the morning, and we enjoyed a super scenic view and great talks.
Mist Trail & Vernal Falls: The Mist Trail is probably one of the busiest hiking trails we have ever encountered. If you want a fun game to play while hiking, try counting the number of tourists that you pass on your way up and try to get up to 100. Watch out for the very aggressive squirrels on this hike as well; they love to get up close and personal and are not afraid to come and steal your food from you. We stopped at the bottom of the falls to have a quick little picnic for a snack on the rocks. You get to enjoy a marvelous view of the massiveness of the waterfall and its heavily flowing river.
The hike didn’t take that long for us although it involved A LOT of slippery stair climbing toward the top of the falls. In the end, the hike is worth the views but try to go early to avoid the peak rush of people trying to do this hike. It usually recommends something around 6 hours to complete the full hike for beginners, but if you are in shape you can most likely get up in down in about 2 hours.
More Things to do on the Yosemite Valley Floor:
Yosemite Falls: We ended up only hiking to the Lower Falls, which was refreshing since it was so hot outside. It’s quite a relaxing and tame walk up to the point, and we were lucky enough to be able to watch some rock climbers on some routes next to the falls for some added entertainment. If you have a little bit more time in the area, Stephen highly recommends following the full trail up through Upper Yosemite Falls for a great view!
Village Grill: Considering we had just been backpacking for a week before visiting Yosemite Valley, indulging in some food straight off the grill rather than our dehydrated backpacking food was a must. The place is packed, but if you can find a table they offer nice hot cooked meals. If you forget anything on your trip as well, they have a store attached on the other side of the grill. It basically has anything you could need for your campsite which is nice to have; just be prepared to wait in long lines at checkout.
Merced River: We hopped in the Yosemite River after lunch to cool off as it got pretty hot at the bottom of Yosemite Valley and it felt so refreshing. We skipped rocks, washed off, and swam around as other people passed by on floats and rafts. This definitely seemed like a fun and relaxing idea if we had the proper supplies with us. If you decide to go rafting on the river, try and bring your own equipment. You can probably save more money doing so rather than renting from stores in the valley!
More Amazing Sunset & Sunrise Spots
Sunset at Taft Point: BY FAR one of the MOST INCREDIBLE sunset spots we have ever visited. It’s no wonder people come here all the time for their engagement photoshoots. It is truly a SPECTACULAR view of the entire Yosemite Valley. This is truly such an awesome spot to bond with your significant other or friends because of its phenomenal view. It was also insane because we saw a group of people high-lining. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s similar to slack-lining but at crazy heights with harnesses and a 2000ft drop. We brought a few beers from the village store, played some music, and watched the sun go down from this epic spot.
Sunrise at Valley View: This was for sure one of the most serene sunrises we’ve experienced in a while. It was just us surrounded by a few ducks to keep us company. It was a bit chilly so make sure to bundle up. This spot offers a fantastic view of the sun hitting El Capitan as it rises. Valley View is a great, less populated spot if you are into practicing sunrise photography as well!
Breakfast at Tunnel View: We got the luxury of being able to experience two separate sunrises in the park due to the way the sun hid behind the giant slabs of rock around us. After we took in the beautiful reflection at Valley View, we drove up to Tunnel View. We took a short walk around some rocks to get to a less touristy area. This gives you the absolute best view of the Yosemite Valley floor. Bring your camping stove with you if you want a true breakfast with a view. This was the perfect place to close out our short Yosemite excursion and is definitely a must-have on your itinerary.
Overall, Yosemite National Park is yet another Bucket List worthy National Park in California! If you have any questions or other recommendations about planning a weekend getaway to Yosemite National Park feel free to comment below! We’ll be back later in 2020!