Looking for what to do in Yosemite?
There are a lifetime of things to do in Yosemite. The park is the size of Rhode Island, and encompasses many different ecosystems within its borders, so it can be hard to figure out what to do. However, here is a 5-day itinerary that hits the best must-do sights and activities in the park.
Day #1: Settle in and Local Exploration
Welcome to Yosemite! After a long travel day, your private home away from home awaits in Wawona. Get acquainted with your rental, settle in, and then when you’re ready head for a walk around town to stretch your legs after your trip. There is a lot to see right in Wawona. Stop in at the Visitor Center and learn about Yosemite painter, Thomas Hill. Wander through some of Yosemite’s historic buildings at the nearby Pioneer History Center. If you have the energy, this is a great time to scope out Swinging Bridge for possible swimming later in your trip as well.
Enjoy dinner in your cabin and get packed up for your big hiking day in Yosemite Valley.
Day #2: Yosemite’s best and brightest
When people think of iconic Yosemite landmarks, they are almost always thinking of Yosemite Valley. With majestic cliffs like Half Dome and El Capitan towering above and waterfalls plunging over cliffs into plumes of mist, you will want to spend more than a single day in this part of the park if you can.
There are many walks to choose from. Easy strolls take you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls or out into one of the valley meadows, like Cook’s Meadow, with great views of the surrounding cliffs. Mirror Lake / Mirror Meadow is another popular easy hike with views straight up at Half Dome and across at Mount Watkins.
If you’re up for something more challenging, hike the Mist Trail. Although it’s steep, there are so many things to see along the way. By the time Vernal Fall first comes into view, you’ll already have passed views of Upper Yosemite Fall and Illilouette Fall (1.6 miles/2.6 km round trip). And if you have the energy, continue up through the mist of Vernal Fall to the top of the waterfall (a 2.4 mile/ 3.9 km round trip). Beyond that, the top of Nevada Fall is a 5.4-mile/8.7 km round trip.
On cool or cloudy days, the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls also beckons with promises of a warm, sun-filled hike.
Biking is another great activity to explore Yosemite Valley. Bike trails in the eastern end of the valley keep you out of the flow of traffic and allow you to cover more ground than you might on foot. But it’s still easy to stop at any point and admire the view without having to find a parking space. If you can’t bring your own, cruiser-style bikes are available for rent at Yosemite Valley Lodge and Curry Village. Or, you may want to rent a mountain bike at Pedal Forward in Oakhurst on your way in. You’ll find many uses for it during your visit.
Regardless of what you choose, be sure to leave plenty of time to appreciate the magical scenery and take photos.
Day #3: Walk Among the Giants
From Wawona, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is only a short drive (or a long walk) from your cabin. When the shuttle buses aren’t running, there is a 2-mile/3.2 km walk one-way from the parking lot at the Welcome Plaza to the lower grove of Giant Sequoias. The trail winds peacefully through the forest along the Washburn Trail. Though you can see some giants from the Arrival Area in the lower grove, most people continue on to marvel at the Grizzly Giant and walk through the California Tunnel Tree. This is an additional 1.5 miles/2.4 km round-trip. If you have the energy, keep going to become acquainted with other named giants like the Faithful Couple tree or the Clothespin Tree.
If you have a bike, you can ride up the road all the way to the parking lot for the Grizzly Giant, and start your walk from there. It is uphill on the way in, so you’ll enjoy coasting down at the end of the day.
Day #4: Rest Day Activities: Ride Don’t Walk
After a few days of hiking, it may be time to give your legs a break. Fortunately, there are many options for this as well.
Option 1: See something new – outside the park
Saddle up for a real western experience and let your trusty steed do the walking. The team at Yosemite Trails provides a top-notch riding experience through the scenic national forest and across mountain streams.
Spending time on the water is a great way to stay cool and rest weary legs in general. Combine that horseback ride with Yosemite Trails with a trip to Bass Lake where you can rent anything from jet skis and wakesurf boats to kayaks and stand up paddleboards at Millers Landing Watersport Rentals (Guests of The Redwoods In Yosemite get 15% off.) But you don’t have to go far for some relaxing time in the water. Wawona itself is well-known for its local swimming holes.
Ride a Steam Train
On the way back to Wawona from Bass Lake, climb aboard a vintage steam engine with Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. The soulful song of the steam whistle will take you back in time to another era. The 1-hour narrated tour is a delight. Also, consider treating yourself to the Moonlight Special. Close the day with a delicious dinner, the narrated tour, and entertainment during a stop in Lewis Creek Canyon.
Option 2: Relax in Wawona and Yosemite Valley
No matter how much you did on Day 1, I guarantee there is more to see in Yosemite Valley. Here are just a few ideas for what to do.
Shop for Gifts
Not everyone got to visit Yosemite like you did. Let them know you’re thinking of them with a few presents from one of the gift shops.
Express Yourself with Art
Pause for a few quick sketches of Yosemite Valley. You’ll notice more beauty when you take the time to observe and record the environment around you. The Yosemite Conservancy offers daily art classes during the summer months for a nominal fee. While you’re in the mood, stop by The Ansel Adams Gallery where you can see amazing photography and artwork exhibits, and pick up a few things for friends.
Lunch at The Ahwahnee
The beautiful history and decor of The Ahwahnee make the lodge a destination on its own. Order lunch and enjoy it on the back lawn, and don’t forget to stroll through the public area. See how many animals you can find in the Mural Room, and reminisce about the old days with historic photos of Yosemite’s winter activities in the Winter Club Room. The magnificent dining room gives Hogwarts a run for its money.
Return to Wawona for your western horseback riding experience. The Wawona Stables offers guided tours around Wawona Meadow / the golf course on horses and sure-footed mules.
The River Beckons
Wrap up the day with a dip in the South Fork of the Merced River or one of the nearby creeks. Wawona is well-known for its many swimming holes, such as the one near Swinging Bridge. (Crossing the bridge, which unlike the one in Yosemite Valley actually does swing, is an extra bonus for this short walk.)
Day #5: A Birds-Eye-View from the Glacier Point Road
Glacier Point Road provides access to the South rim of Yosemite Valley and there are several gorgeous hikes to get the bird’s eye view of the valley below. (Drones are not allowed in Yosemite National Park, but you can get drone-like photos from the edge looking down into the valley.)
NOTE: The Glacier Point road is scheduled to close for construction and renovation work in 2022, so be sure to take advantage of this corner of the park while you can.
Taft Point and Sentinel Dome
Either of these destinations is a short roughly 1-mile (one-way) hike from the parking area along Glacier Point Road. Standing at the railing at Taft Point provides a dizzying view down to the valley below. Keep your eye open for fissures that hint at the geological process that resulted in the steep Yosemite cliffs. Standing on the summit of Sentinel Dome gives you a 360-degree view of Yosemite’s high sierra, as well as Half Dome and other iconic Yosemite cliffs. Connect the two with a trail along the rim of Yosemite Valley for more extraordinary views. The full loop is about 5.5 miles.
End the day with a visit to Glacier Point’s famous overlooks for sunset. The broad side of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest catches the light from the setting sun and turns fiery oranges and reds as the sun goes down.
Bonus Day #6: High Country Sights
5 days in Yosemite, and you still haven’t seen one huge region of the park – Tuolumne Meadows! This area is the furthest away from your cabin in Wawona, and with so much to do nearby, it can be a hard sell. However, if you have the extra time, you might want to slide it in mid-itinerary as part of a rest day. It’s an incredibly scenic drive with many views worth stopping for along the way.
What to do:
- See the backside of Half Dome at Olmsted Point.
- Tenaya Lake is a jewel among granite domes. Stop for the view, and then take a swim or hang out on the sandy beach at the east end of the lake.
- Walk one of the trails through Tuolumne Meadows to admire Cathedral Peak and other huge granite domes.
- Check out the natural soda spring.
- A little internet research will lead you to a myriad of gorgeous hikes from the Tuolumne Meadows area.