There is a famous story about a Yosemite visitor who goes up to a park ranger and asks, “I’m only visiting the park for one day. How should I spend my time?”
And the ranger replies, “If I only had one day in Yosemite, I would sit right down and have myself a good cry.”
Certainly it’s not ideal to spend only one day in Yosemite, but if that’s the way your vacation is scheduled, you better dry your tears and get busy.
First, you’ll need to limit your travels to one small portion of the park. For most visitors, the portion of choice is Yosemite Valley. During the busy season, it’s smart to park your car in the Valley as soon as possible after your arrival and choose from these transportation options: (1) Pay for a guided tour on the open-air tram that leaves from Yosemite Lodge. (2) Rent a bicycle at Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village and ride the paved bike paths in the Valley. (3) Design your own tour of the Valley by walking and riding the free Valley shuttle bus. The option you choose will determine your itinerary.
The open-air tram tours travel all over the Valley and are narrated by an interpreter. You’re not stuck in an enclosed bus; you’re out in the open, smelling the Valley air and getting a much better view than you’d have from your car windshield. Tours last about two hours and are highly informative.
The ideal time to be at Glacier Point is at sunset, when Half Dome turns pink from the bottom up, but the view from the point will knock your socks off at any time of day.On a bicycle, you can easily visit Lower Yosemite Fall and Mirror Lake (you’ll park your bike at the trailheads for both destinations and walk a short distance). You can also tour a large expanse of the Valley, including stops at the visitors center and Yosemite Village or Curry Village for water and snacks.
On foot, and by taking short hops on the free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus, you can see all of the Valley’s famous sights. However, this requires a little more map reading and planning than the other options.
If possible, leave enough time in your one Yosemite day to take a drive to Glacier Point. You can do so in your own car, or ride the tour bus that leaves from Yosemite Lodge. The ideal time to be at Glacier Point is at sunset, when Half Dome turns pink from the bottom up, but the view from the point will knock your socks off at any time of day.
To capture the essence of Yosemite, try to squeeze in at least one hike during your stay. A few easy-to-moderate hikes recommended for short-stay visitors are the trails to May Lake and Lembert Dome on Tioga Pass Road and the trails to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point on Glacier Point Road. In Yosemite Valley, make sure you take the short walks to Lower Yosemite Fall and Bridalveil Fall (each walk is less than a half mile). If you have a little more time in the Valley and don’t mind hiking with a crowd, take the spectacular Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Yosemite.