Yosemite National Park is one of the best National Parks on earth. That is not an opinion, it is a fact. When hiking Yosemite National Park you can go from a lush valley beneath enormous cliffs, to a stroll beneath 100 foot waterfalls, and end the day with a walk along those very cliffs you hiked beneath! And if you can have all that adventure in just a day, imagine what you can do with more! Half Dome, the Mist Trail, El Capitan, Glacier Point & Sentinel Dome are just a few of the ridiculously awesome things you can see in Yosemite. We are going to take you on a two day itinerary to seeing the best things to see in all of Yosemite.
A 2 day itinerary in Yosemite is going to be completely full of action and adventure. It you would rather see Yosemite at a more leisurely pace, that is 100% great, we recommend breaking all of these awesome sites that we will talk about into a 3 or 4 day trip.
Yosemite National Park was created back in 1890, and is one of the oldest and most cherished National Parks in the entire world. When you get to the park’s central valley, you will see why. The beauty is almost beyond comprehension.
A few days in Yosemite can feel like forever. You’ll go back to your normal life feeling relaxed, refreshed, and you’ll have a handful of stories to share with friends and family back home.
If you’d like to read about Yosemite and watch our adventure, check out this video!
Hiking Yosemite Valley – Day 1
On Day 1, we are taking you to the most beautiful section of land in the park, Yosemite Valley. This will be a day full of sites, sounds, adventure, and beauty that you will never forget. Buckle your seat belts and get ready for the journey!
The Mist Trail was our favorite hike in all of Yosemite National Park. This hike has everything: waterfalls, rivers, a stunning view of the Yosemite Valley, and a picturesque view of the mountains that make up Yosemite.
Note: Half Dome would have been our favorite, but we didn’t score permits. More on that in a bit.
The Mist Trail starts from Curry Village AKA Half Dome Village, at the end of the road in Yosemite Valley. After a short walk through the forest you will come along the stream that upstream provides the waterfalls that make this hike special!
Hike up that stream along the trail and in almost no time you will come to the first waterfall on this hike: Vernal Falls. This waterfall is the reason this is called the Mist Trail.
The water flows so hard and falls so far that there is a mist you will have to hike through as you pass Vernal Falls! Well, at least if you are there during the peak flow seasons. If you go during Fall you may miss it, but in Spring or Summer you will be soaked as you pass Vernal Falls!
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If you’d like to, there is an off-trail route here that involves some bouldering over rocks. Do not take this trail if the rocks are wet and slippery, and if you feel unsafe at all. If everything is great, though, you can get an up-close-and-personal look at the beautiful pool at the base of Vernal Falls.
This pool is absolutely stunning, and the water is so clear you can see the bottom! If you care to, you can even dip your toes into the pool, but fair warning, the water is COLD!
Hiking further up the trail you will be able to see Vernal Falls from the top! At this point you will also get a stunning view at the hike you’ve done thus far and Yosemite Valley in the distance.
Continuing along the Mist Trail, you’ll come to the Silver Apron in Emerald Pool, which is a great place to stop for a quick snack break. Swimming isn’t allowed here, but the pool and mountain backdrop make for a stunning photo opportunity!
Finally, the last stop along the trail is the second waterfall: Nevada Falls. Nevada Falls is much bigger than Vernal Falls, and is equally beautiful in its own way.
Nevada Falls is a stunning 600 foot waterfall which you will see in the distance as you approach from the bottom. The falls grows larger and larger with each step you make, until it towers high above you!
The hike to the top is a set of switchbacks that doesn’t seem to end. Until of course, it ends, and you are treated with the best view along the entire trail!
Atop Nevada Falls you get a stunning panorama that embodies Yosemite National Park. This was our favorite place in the entire park, and we spent a good deal of time drinking in the view.
There is a large area to explore up here, including an overlook that takes you right to the cliff where the water flows over to create Nevada Falls! Additionally, this place is a trail intersection where the John Muir Trail and the Half Dome trail intersect with the Mist Trail! Do NOT miss the Mist Trail, it was our favorite hike in Yosemite National Park.
Mist Trail Hike Details:
- Distance: 8.8 miles out & back
- Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
- Trailhead: Curry Village
The Mist Trail was our favorite, however we are fairly confident that Half Dome would have beaten it. Half Dome is the most iconic hike in the park, perhaps in all of the US National Park system!
Hiking is our number 1 favorite activity. You get outside, get exercise, see amazing things, and don’t spend a lot of money. It is literally the perfect activity! You do need to have the right gear to go though. Here is all the best gear we use for our hikes.
Due to Half Dome’s popularity, a permit system was instituted to help control the number of people visiting on any given day. These permits are not particularly easy to come by, which we found out on our trip there.
The permit system works like this. There are two ways to get a permit:
- Way 1 – Preseason Lottery – Throughout March you can apply for a permit for any days you’d like to throughout the year. The preseason lottery hands out 225 permits for each day in the year.
- Way 2 – Daily Lottery – You can apply 2 days prior to your desired hiking date and attempt to get a permit as well. The daily lottery hands out 50 permits for each day, in addition to any cancellations from the preseason lottery.
Therefore, 275 people have permits for each day to hike Half Dome. For more info on permits, or to submit an application, check out the NPS website here.
We were not able to get permits for Half Dome, not since we lost the lottery, but since the rangers had pulled down the cables and closed the hike for the season before we’d arrived. Originally the plan was to go for the daily lottery, since our dates weren’t set in stone, but we ended up losing out. We were sad about it. We cried for 11 minutes. Then we strapped on our shoes and got to hiking the rest of the park!
Half Dome Hike Details
- Distance: 17 miles out & back
- Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
- Trailhead: Half Dome Trailhead
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are the wildly beautiful waterfalls that flow during the summer months over the north rim of Yosemite Valley. These falls are the ones you’ll see when you look up awesome sites in Yosemite, and as a result you’ll HAVE to see them!
Therefore, the 3rd must-hike trail in Yosemite Valley is to Lower Yosemite Falls! This is a pretty short hike, and is beautiful at the end. Low effort high reward, sounds like a great combination!
Lower Yosemite Falls Hike Details:
- Distance: 1 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: 50 feet
- Trailhead: Yosemite Valley Lodge
El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan AKA The Dawn Wall is the most famous structure in Yosemite, and it is incredible easy to see why. As you drive into Yosemite Valley, you literally can’t miss El Capitan.
This enormous 3,000 foot tall monstrosity is a flat wall that unofficially marks the entrance into Yosemite. You go from driving through California into the magical wild wonderland known as Yosemite National Park, an unmistakable feeling for anyone who has driven by El Capitan.
The 2 crazy parts about El Capitan that make it stand out from any other place on earth is the combination of height AND flatness. Is flatness a word? We’ll go with it.
Julie hilariously thought The Dawn Wall was called Don’s Wall. Who the heck is Don??
Strangely, the fact that El Capitan is SO HIGH and SO FLAT makes people WANT TO CLIMB IT! People are CRAZY. People are AWESOME! People who climb El Capitan are CRAZY AWESOME!
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When you visit Yosemite and set your eyes on El Capitan, bring some binoculars. Look along the wall, and I guarantee you’ll see some shapes moving along the wall. Those are people! Multiple groups of people are making the climb at any given time, and since the climb takes multiple days, you can even keep track of people making their way up the wall during your visit to Yosemite!
In some small way, you’ll have some sense of satisfaction watching a team of climbers make it all the way up El Capitan during your time in Yosemite. At the base of El Capitan is a valley where you can explore and walk to your heart’s content.
One awesome benefit to this area, in addition to the views of El Capitan, is the opportunity to see wildlife. While we were there, we saw 4 deer prancing around and saw a bunch of fish swimming up the creek that cuts through Yosemite Valley!
El Capitan Meadow Details
- Distance: As far as you want!
- Elevation Gain: Nothing
- Location: El Capitan Meadow
Hiking the South Rim – Day 2
Outside of Yosemite Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth, the South Rim is the next best place to go in Yosemite. You’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of Yosemite Valley and all of the wonderful surrounding landscape that makes Yosemite so stunning.
Glacier Point is the furthest point along the South Rim road in Yosemite National Park. We recommend driving the full length of the road right away, the working your way back slowly and stopping at hikes and overlooks on the return trip.
Glacier Point is the most popular place on the South Rim and with good reason. At Glacier Point is an awesome nature center and a wildly beautiful view of Yosemite from above.
One of the best parts of this view is seeing Half Dome in the distance. To be honest Half Dome looks so incredibly round and perfect, it is almost like someone molded it and placed it there!
Additionally, the separate valleys that make up the park are all visible from Glacier Point. You’ll be able to spend as much time as you want exploring the area 360 degrees, reading the history of Yosemite, and getting some awesome natural views.
Once you have your fill of Glacier Point, we are ready for a hike! An awesome loop to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point!
Glacier Point Hike Details
- Distance: 1 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: Nothing
- Trailhead: Glacier Point Trailhead
Sentinel Dome & Taft Point Loop
The number 1 best hike along the South Rim is a 5.5 mile loop with 2 incredible stops. The first stop, if you take the loop counterclockwise (which we recommend so that the hike up is first and the hike down is second) is Sentinel Dome.
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Sentinel Dome is unique in that it offers a view from above both Half Dome AND El Capitan! There is something special about getting the perspective of El Capitan from ABOVE after getting the view from BELOW.
Fun Fact: At over 8,100 feet, Sentinel Dome is the highest altitude we will get in our Yosemite itinerary!
Sentinel Dome itself is, as the name suggest, a huge dome! A huge dome of rock that you can walk up to get an awesome panoramic view of the park. You should NOT miss Sentinel Dome! And after you stay awhile on top of the world, it is time to head to Taft Point.
Stop number 2 on the South Rim hiking loop is Taft Point, which was personally our favorite viewpoint in the park. Yes, Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome are awesome, but Taft Point is next level.
First off, the view of El Capitan is the best in the park. Just like at the bottom, you should bring along some binoculars so you can spot climbers on their way up The Dawn Wall!
Secondly, at Taft point you are on top of a cliff. Legitimately, you can look over the railing and down thousands of feet to the base of Yosemite Valley. Taft Point gave us feelings and emotions that we didn’t get in the rest of the park, and as a result it was our favorite place.
Thirdly, Taft Point is not as busy as some other areas of the park. We love getting into a good hike, because usually the crowds that go to famous overlooks don’t take the time to hike.
Taft Point is a perfect picnic location. Pack along some food and enjoy a quiet lunch, taking in every single bite in front of a PERFECT view. After spending as much time as you can at Taft Point, it is time to head out of the South Rim, with a new perspective and a bunch of awesome photos.
Sentinel Dome Taft Point Hike Details
- Distance: 5.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
- Trailhead: Taft Point Trailhead
Camping in Yosemite is an incredibly cool experience. At least we would think so if we did it. We find free campsites at locations outside of every National Park we visit, and for us Yosemite was no different.
We found free camping at a small town just outside of the park, which we found using iOverlander. It wasn’t perfect, but it was extremely convenient AND it was free! So you take what you can get. If you would like a better spot, there are free camping options in Sierra National Forrest, which does come with a longer drive by a little.
If you do want to camp inside Yosemite National Park, click here to check out your options. The best sites in our opinion are in Yosemite Valley, the Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, and Camp 4 sites to be exact.
What is Harvest Hosts?
Harvest Hosts is a network of free camping locations all over the USA! Wineries, breweries, farms, museums, and even golf courses. You can camp free at all of them! And even better, if you click this link you’ll get 15% off!
Video – Yosemite National Park Vlog
Thank you so much for reading our 2 day itinerary hiking Yosemite National Park! We sincerely hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two along the way. Please use the below pictures to Pin the article and save it for later!
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