Best 2 Days in Yosemite National Park (with map)

Updated: February 25, 2020

Tunnel View is a favorite Yosemite attractionYosemite National Park is a hiker’s paradise. You can easily spend one week in Yosemite or even more. However, most people only have a few days to visit. So, come along with me as I show you my best way to spend 2 days in Yosemite National Park.

What You Need to Know about visiting Yosemite

Having only two days in Yosemite, you must plan your trip very well.  My suggestion is to spend the night close to the park and drive into the park early in the morning in order to beat the crowds and get started hiking early.

Map of best things to do in Yosemite Valley
Map of best things to do in Yosemite Valley
See my photos from Yosemite

Ordering your time in Yosemite really depends on which way you are entering the park.

If you are coming to Yosemite from Southern California you will enter the park via Highway 41 which will take you straight to Mariposa Grove.  Since I live near Los Angeles, this is my favorite way to come into the park.

You can also come in from the east through El Portal via Highway 140.  The advantage of this route is that you can find budget hotels very close to the park’s entrance in the villages of Midpines or El Portal.

If you are coming from the San Francisco area, you will most likely come on Highway 120.  This entrance into the park will put you in the same spot as coming through El Portal.

So, if you’re coming from the South, then follow my exact breakdown into days.  If you’re coming from the North, then do Day 2 first and Day 1 second.

DAY 1: Trees, Panorama and Waterfalls

Coming into the park from the South, start your 2 days in Yosemite with a beautiful stop at the Giant Sequoia Grove. Then continue driving to Yosemite Valley and stopping along the way in the most beautiful and impressive spots.

1. Mariposa Grove

Driving into Yosemite National Park from the south on Highway 41, right after passing the park entrance you will see signs towards the Mariposa grove of large sequoia trees. This is a must see attraction in the park because of the very old trees present there. Kids will enjoy walking through the grove just as much as the adults. The trail is very well kept and level.

Yosemite National Park, California - Large sequoia trees in the Sequoia Grove at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, California – Large sequoia trees in the Sequoia Grove at Yosemite National Park
See my photos from Yosemite

You should allow about 2 hours to visit the Mariposa Grove including time to park your car and hike. The path is very easy and fun for children as well.

2. Glacier Point

Following Wawona Road you are getting closer to Yosemite Valley. However, be on the lookout for signs pointing to the right toward Glacier Point. After about 30 minutes of driving, the twisty road ends  with a large parking area and an amazing view point: Glacier Point. Take your time, walk around the edge of the area and take in this amazing panoramic view of Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite’s Half Dome with Vernal and Nevada Falls seen from Glacier Point
Yosemite's Half Dome with Vernal and Nevada Falls seen from Glacier Point
See my photos from Yosemite

You should also allow 2 hours for stopping at Glacier Point. This includes driving, parking and walking around to take photos.

2. Tunnel View

Returning from Glacier Point Road back to Wawona Road, take a right and continue driving further down. As you pass through a short tunnel you will suddenly come to the famous Tunnel View (click for map location). This famous vista point shows you the Yosemite Valley surrounded by towering granite walls. You will see the mighty El Capitan, the iconic Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. It is well worth your time to pull into the parking lot, take some time and admire the view.

Yosemite National Park, California - The Yosemite Valley seen from Tunnel View in the summer
Yosemite National Park, California – The Yosemite Valley seen from Tunnel View in the summer
See my photos from Yosemite

Tunnel View is a short stop which will not take more than 30 minutes to enjoy. Just be mindful that during the summer you will have to wait to find a parking spot as the lot is fairly small.

3. Bridalveil Falls

As you pass Tunnel View you enter in Yosemite Valley and you will come to the first major waterfall on your right. This is Bridalveil Falls which is awesome to visit. Follow the signs to park your car and take the 10 minutes path to the bottom of the falls.

Bridalveil Falls is a very powerful waterfall when running at full capacity in the spring
Bridalveil Falls is a very powerful waterfall when running at full capacity in the spring
See my photos from Yosemite

Depending on the time of year you visit, you may get soaking wet when you come to end of the trail at the bottom of the falls. On the other hand, if you visit late in the summer you might be staring at a completely dry rock face.

Stopping to see Bridal veil Falls will take at most 1 hour and the trail is short and easy.

4. Lower Yosemite Falls

Since you are in Yosemite Valley, you must take the short loop trail to Lower Yosemite Falls. Especially in the spring, Lower Yosemite Falls is flowing with an impressive loud force.

Lower Yosemite Fall running full in early spring
Lower Yosemite Fall in early spring
See my photos from Yosemite

As you pick up the trail from the shuttle stop, pay attention for one particular spot that will allow you to see the entire Yosemite Falls from top to bottom. It comes up as you looks up through the trees. It is a beautiful site that I love seeing every time I visit Yosemite.

The entire Yosemite Falls running thin during a dry season
The entire Yosemite Falls running thin during a dry season
See my photos from Yosemite Valley

Seeing Lower Yosemite Falls takes about 1 hour of easy walking on a paved trail that loops back to the bus stop.

This is one intense first day from our 2 day in Yosemite itinerary. Now get some rest and be ready to start your second day early.

DAY 2: Iconic Yosemite

Now that you are rested and have started your second day in Yosemite early, you are ready to hit the iconic parts of Yosemite. The Mist Trail with its two waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada, leading to Half Dome represent the must-see things in Yosemite. Even if you only spend two days in Yosemite, you must hike at least part of the Mist Trail.

Your second day in Yosemite really depends if you plan to hike Half Dome or not.

1. The Mist Trail

This is by far the most popular trail in Yosemite. You get to see two of the most spectacular waterfalls (Vernal and Nevada) and if you’re strong enough, you can hike to the top of Half Dome.
Starting at the Happy Isles bus stop you pick up the Mist Trail as it quickly strays climbing. The trail is paved to the Vernal Falls foot bridge and it is suitable for children as well.

The last portion of the Mist Trail right before reaching Emerald Pool The last portion of the Mist Trail right before reaching Emerald Pool
See my photos from hiking the Mist Trail

Going past the Vernal footbridge requires some preparations. First of all, if you’re hiking in early Spring (April, May) make sure you take some rain gear on the trail. At least some large trash bag that can cover you head to toe is necessary. This is why they call it the Mist Trail…because there is a constant mist from the waterfalls. Believe it or not, you can get soaked when you hike the stairs from the Vernal Footbridge to the top of Vernal at Emerald Pool.

Secondly, the trail becomes strenuous and steep with a lot of stairs. It is a well maintained trail with some of the most beautiful scenery and intensity in Yosemite.

Hiking to the Vernal Fall bridge lookout would take about 1 hour and then 1 hour to get to the top of Vernal Fall at Emerald Pool.

The Mist Trail is my favorite day hike in Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park, California - Nevada Fall seen from the Panorama Trail
Yosemite National Park, California – Nevada Fall seen from the John Muir Trail
See my travel photos from Yosemite

You can take small kids to the Vernal Fall bridge overlook, but not further. If your kids are older they will definitely enjoy to hike further, but they’ll be very tired once they get to the top of Vernal Fall. Make sure you bring plenty of food and water with you. Continuing further on the trail for another hour you will come to Nevada Falls which is just as impressive as Vernal.

Read More:  Hiking the Mist Trail.

2. Half Dome

If you have a permit and are still early in the day at Nevada Falls (no later than 11 am), you can continue up the trail from Nevada Falls all the way to the iconic Half Dome. It takes about 3 hours from Nevada Falls to the top of Half Dome.

Yosemite National Park, California - Nevada Fall seen from the Panorama Trail
Yosemite National Park, California – Half Dome shadow seen from on top of Half Dome
See my travel photos from Yosemite

It takes about 6 hours of moderate to strenuous hiking to get to the top of Half Dome from the trail head in Yosemite Valley…but it’s well worth the effort.  So, if you really want to do Half Dome, you need to get started very early around 6 am so you can reach the top of Half Dome around 12 pm. After spending some time on the top, it will take you another 5 hours to come back down to Yosemite Valley.

3. Return on the John Muir Trail

On your way back to the Yosemite Valley floor (coming from Half Dome or just from Nevada Falls), go across Nevada Falls using the bridge. Then you can follow the John Muir trail down to the Yosemite Valley floor. You will intersect the Mist Trail again at the Vernal Falls bridge. This will give you beautiful views of the falls and a different perspective on your way down.

Nevada Fall seen from the John Muir trail
Nevada Fall seen from the John Muir trail
See my photos from Yosemite

Can you Visit Yosemite in 2 Days?

Yes you can! With proper planning and some determination to start each day early, you can see the best of Yosemite in 2 days. It is obvious that you will only be able to see the main things, but you will nevertheless experience the amazing beauty of Yosemite. Spending two days in Yosemite, while tiring, will uplift your spirit and connect you with the amazing natural beauty found here.

Plan Your 2 Days in Yosemite National Park

Finding good places to stay close to Yosemite is becoming more and more difficult as the park keeps getting busier. The best budget place close enough to Yosemite Valley is Yosemite Bug which is located in Midpines.

If I want to stay closest to the park entrance, then I like staying at Yosemite View Lodge. Another good option in between is Cedar Lodge in nearby El Portal.

If you have more time available read my Best 1 Week in Yosemite National Park article for more attractions.

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