The best of Yosemite spans guided valley tours, a pleasantly easy bike ride or two, stargazing, visiting at least one waterfall via a good hike, and some of the most amazing panoramic views in the world. If you have only three days to dedicate to this amazing park, here’s how to make the most of your visit.
Take a ride on an open-air tram through Yosemite Valley. The two-hour Valley Floor Tour is educational, interesting, and fun, and you can feel good about not destroying the ozone layer by driving your own car. Buy tickets and start the tour at Yosemite Valley Lodge. In the busy summer months, it is best to show up right after breakfast to see if you can get tickets for that day.
In the heat of summer, head for one of Yosemite’s great swimming holes.Afterward, rent bikes at Yosemite Valley Lodge or Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and cruise around Yosemite Valley on its 12 miles of paved bike paths. The Valley’s bike paths are so flat that the rental bikes don’t even have gears—you spend much of your time coasting. Make reservations in advance to spend the evening at the park’s Glacier Point Stargazing Tour. The tour bus leaves Yosemite Valley around 5:30pm and arrives at Glacier Point before darkness falls, so you have a chance to take in the spectacular view. After dark, enjoy a one-hour astronomy program before being chauffeured back down to the Valley.
No visit to Yosemite is complete without hitting at least one trail. Shuttle stop 6 drops you at the short, 0.25-mile trail to Lower Yosemite Fall; the falls roar in spring, but are nonexistent by midsummer. The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall won’t disappoint, though. The three-mile round-trip hike ascends a granite staircase to the top of Vernal Fall. If you want more, keep going to the top of Nevada Fall for a 7-mile round-trip hike.
In the heat of summer, head for one of Yosemite’s great swimming holes. Relax in the soft sand alongside the Merced River at Sentinel Beach or Cathedral Rock picnic areas and gaze at Yosemite Valley’s spectacular scenery. At day’s end, head over to the Majestic Yosemite Bar—unlike the restaurant, there’s no dress code here.
Take a drive or ride the tour bus to Glacier Point. This is world-class Sierra scenery that you’d expect to have to backpack for several days to find, but it’s completely accessible by car. Order an ice cream at the Glacier Point snack stand while you gaze at the view of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and the crest of Yosemite’s high country. If you start in the morning, you can ride the bus to Glacier Point and then hike back to the Valley via the Panorama Trail. Shorter hikes from Glacier Point Road lead to spectacular viewpoints at Sentinel Dome and Taft Point.
At the end of the day, head back to Yosemite Valley and attend the evening program at the Yosemite Valley Theater or Yosemite Valley Lodge’s amphitheater.
If You Have More Time
Drive your own car or get tickets for the tour bus to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Wawona, the south part of the park. Some of the best and biggest giant trees are near the parking lot, so you won’t have to walk more than a few hundred feet to get a look at them. If you want to see more, hike the entire 6-mile loop through the grove, or ride the open-air tram one-way, then disembark and walk back downhill. You can buy your tickets and broad the tram right at the parking lot. Afterward, stop by the historic Big Trees Lodge for some refreshing libations.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon.