It has been a dream of ours to travel to Yosemite National Park for years. We had it on multiple bucket lists of places we wanted to see. So when we decided to move out of California, it was bumped up to the top of the list of places we had to visit before we move.
We wanted to provide you with an Ultimate Guide to a short visit to Yosemite National Park. We wanted to answer any questions you have for what to do in Yosemite, or how to acquire Yosemite Reservations, etc. This is our personal experience, and we really hope that it blesses you for if/when you make the trip up the mountain to Yosemite Valley.
Stefanie got up one morning and said, “Do you want to drive up to Yosemite today?”
**We took our dog Honey Bear with us. Dogs are not allowed in certain parts of the park so make sure to keep an eye out for signs and you can always ask rangers questions if needed.
**If you happen to run into any wildlife while in the park make sure to keep your distance. Bears and deer might be friendly, but interacting with them can be detrimental to you and the life of the animal. Plus, you will be fined heavily for that interaction.
Yosemite National Park Reservations
One of the things that you have to remember to do before you book your trip is going to the Yosemite National Park Reservation website and book a time for you and your family/friends to visit the park. We happened to get lucky and visit before the reservation system started (literally two days before). Make sure that you don’t book your hotel until you have done this. They are booked solid for at least a month and a half out, so keep that in mind when trying to plan your trip.
Best Hikes In Yosemite National Park
We love hiking. However, we are not necessarily inclined to do the 15-18 mile hikes that some people are willing to do (ya’ll are savage!) but we love a 2-6 mile hike that gets us to an awesome destination. For us, we had a few favorites.
Sentinel & Cook’s Meadows: EASY
Sentinel and Cook’s Meadows in Yosemite are a clear favorite of ours when coming into the park. You have views of Lower Yosemite Falls as well as El Capitan and Half Dome. With panoramic views of the scaling walls of the valley, this is an absolute must-see and could very well take an entire day of exploring to fully take it all in. We had fun picnicking by the water, then heading up towards Lower Yosemite Falls. The meadow is peaceful, tranquil, and quite breath-taking. We highly recommend!
We had fun picnicking by the water, then heading up towards Lower Yosemite Falls.
How to find it:
Once you reach the one way loop in the park, you have to pass swimming bridge before you reach parking for the meadow which will be on the left hand side. A good marker for knowing if you are in the right place is the chapel which will be towards the end of the meadow on the right hand side.
Lower Yosemite Falls: EASY
Lower Yosemite Falls is a great short hike if you are looking to view a beautiful waterfall and if you don’t mind crowds. With parking along the side of the road, or if you parked at Cook’s meadow, it is a short walk over. The falls are very epic, and can be seen from many of the meadows in the valley. This short hike is well worth the short walk if you are trying to get close to a waterfall without having to put in a multi-mile day.
Glacier Point: EASY
Making the trip to Glacier Point is an absolute must if you are staying near the valley. The drive is around 45 minutes from the main area, but it is so worth it. Make sure you check the weather because the road will be closed if there's a chance of snow. You will get panoramic views of the entire park and all of the major peaks. A breath-taking and magic experience and totally doable for anyone of any ability. For us, (we went in may) The parking was open, and we could walk around with ease to take in all of the beauty. On your way out from Glacier Point, make sure to stop by Taft Point if you are looking for a short 2 mile round trip hike.
These are easy to couple together, so if you are planning to go up to Glacier Point, make sure to plan to stop by Taft as well.
Mirror Lake: MEDIUM
Mirror lake is on the north east side of the valley and is a 1-3 mile (each way) hike depending on where you are parking and hiking from. Mirror lake is a mostly flat trail, with a slight incline at the very end, which leads to a very pretty lake nestled next to the sprawling cliffs of Half Dome and the other beautiful mountainous cliffs of Yosemite valley. You can enjoy partially mirrored images of the mountains over the lake. We have to admit, we were a little underwhelmed by the lake itself, but the views of the mountains were absolutely stunning. This is a very doable hike for people of all ages.
Taft Point: MEDIUM
Taft point had the most beautiful views out of any place in the park. A short 1 mile hike from the parking lot to the point is worth every second it takes. The trail is pretty easy besides the downhill to the point and uphill back out. We were mesmerized by taking in the sunset at Taft, the colors of the mountains, the beauty in the sky was truly life-changing. There were even some people slack-lining which was horrifying. It is hard to choose between this and Vernal falls for our absolute favorite, but this had to be one of the best views we have ever seen in all of our travels.
Vernal Falls: MEDIUM/HARD
Our favorite hike of the entire trip. This hike is 1.5 miles (both ways) there and back and is well worth the trip.
PRO TIP: Bring a rain jacket as you will most definitely get wet from the mist of the falls.
This hike had a great paved trail for most of the way, then once you get closer to the falls you have to go up steps. Take it slow close to the falls as the trail is a bit slippery, but well worth the trip. The falls are breath-taking and the views of the north part of the valley are absolutely stunning. We even caught a glimpse of a few rainbows from the mist, Stefanie was so excited! We could NOT bring our dog on this leg of the trip, so make sure that if you bring your furry friend, that you leave them at the hotel or with someone who is not making the hike with you.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
We had the pleasure of staying at Yosemite View Lodge. We cannot recommend this place more, this should absolutely be the place you stay. They updated their rooms during the pandemic, and you can have pets as well. The hotel store has everything you could possibly need for your hikes, and is a perfect place for a late-night snack. We also highly recommend their restaurant for food. They have a great menu and their staff is incredibly helpful for those with allergies, and they can make pretty much anything that you could possibly want.
Short reference guide:
Caleb and I love to do around 3 mile hikes (sometimes several a day). There are many beautiful hikes that are 10 miles or more (some of the longer ones require permits), but I’m sharing the shorter ones we got to see with our limited time we had.
⛰ 7 Mile Loop in the Valley:
This is where we spent most of our time. We loved watching the sunrise and set here. You can park and hike/walk to these points:
-Sentinel & Cook’s Meadows (this is where we saw a bear at sunrise!)
-Lower Yosemite Falls, EASY
-Mirror Lake, MEDIUM (3 mile hike)
-El Capitan Meadow, EASY
-Mist trail to Vernal Falls, MEDIUM/HARD (3 miles)
-Drive or bike around the loop
Parking gets crazy later in the day. So when we parked at sunrise we just walked to different points so we didn’t have to find a new spot to park. It made for longer walks/hikes but everything is so beautiful.
🏔 Driving up to Glacier Point:
This is about an hour drive from the main valley loop. It’s closed many parts of the year + if there’s snow or rain in the forecast. We drove up here our first night (thank God) because the road was closed the next day because of snow in the forecast (it was late May).
-Glacier Point is the furthest part we drove to. There’s short walks that are stunning overlooking the Vally and mountains.
-Taft Point, EASY/MEDIUM (2.3 miles) is the most epic place for sunset. If you check my story highlights you will see a crazy beam of light from the sun and breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys.
There’s so many more places we didn’t get to see that I didn’t mention, so I hope we can come back someday.
Thanks to my friend Emily Magers who gave us great suggestions!!
**FTC: This post is not sponsored. All things stated are from our own experiences and opinions.**