I know what you're thinking, how could anyone visit Yosemite National Park in just 2 DAYS?
My dad frequently spoke about the grandeur of the surrounding cliff faces and peaks, commenting on how Yosemite Valley is almost too beautiful to be real. So naturally Yosemite had always been on my bucket list growing up. And despite the little time I did have I was so glad I got to experience the park in person rather than on the back of an old postcard.
I'm the type of traveller who wants to make the most out of every experience. I find it very difficult to sit still and take my time, often finding myself rushing from Point A to B. Because of this I knew I'd have to strategically plan out all the 'must-see' sites of the park if I was going to do them in 2 full days. I'm also an avid hiker, so I wanted to find adequate time to walk a few of the well known trails.
DAY 1 - HALF DAY
I woke up at 6am this morning and drove 5hrs to Yosemite from Lake Tahoe. The drive was fairly straightforward and went faster than anticipated - but I was tired - driving really does knock you around mentally (especially when you’re not used to driving on the other side of the road).
My aim was to make it to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre by midday.
I entered the park from the east side and was soon greeted by the purple hues of Half Dome. Driving slowly into the valley I was surrounded by lush green sequoia and pine trees, deers, squirrels, butterflies and birds, running waterfalls, and there in the backdrop was El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls (which unfortunately was not running this time of year). As I stopped to capture this Eden-like utopia the tranquil sounds of the Merced River soothed my ringing ears.
Once I reached the visitor centre I got a few hiking maps and did a quick tour of the nearby museum and boutique stores that sold local arts and crafts.
I started off with a short walk to Lower Yosemite Falls which took about 20-30mins. It was a nice way to get my bearings. After a few snaps of the wildlife and autumn coloured trees I hopped back in the car and drove an hour up Glacier Point Rd towards Glacier Point - a marvelous viewing spot of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.
You can walk up to Glacier Point via The Four-Mile Trail which usually takes about 6-8hrs roundtrip. Otherwise there is plenty of parking at the top if you’d rather save your energy. There are also trailheads at the top of Glacier Point including Panorama Trail and Pohono Trail.
I spent about an hour here, taking photos and then sitting against a boulder, admiring the scenery. Everything around me was so still, as though I was looking at a canvas struck with bold acrylic paints.
By the time I left Glacier Point it was around 3pm. I drove back down towards the valley, stopping at Tunnel View for more awe-inspiring scenery, then proceeded out of the park, as my accommodation was in Mariposa - another hour drive.
DAY 2 - FULL DAY
I woke up at 7am and drove to Mariposa Grove which is located in the southern portion of the park about 54km from Yosemite Valley. The Grove is the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite and home to over 500 mature giant sequoias.
A free shuttle bus, that leaves every 15 mins from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza, took me to the start of the trailheads. I walked the Grizzly Giant Loop (3.2kms), which did not take long at all - 1hr max. This trail passed notable trees such the Bachelor and Three Graces, the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, and the California Tunnel Tree.
After the short hike I drove an hour into Yosemite Valley. My goal was to do The Mist Trail which takes you along Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and leads onto the John Muir Trail before the decent back to Curry Village. All the waterfalls were still flowing as well, so this was pretty spectacular to see. However, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this hike or myself, especially as I had been living on a diet of Chipotle and Chick-fil-A for the past few weeks. Would I be able to conquer the roundtrip before sunset? As I began my ascent up the stairs to Vernal Falls, my fitness levels were not quite what I remembered. This part of the hike was very steep and it seemed as though the stairs would never end. It took me about 45-50mins to reach the top of Vernal Falls and I was totally pooped!
After resting for thirty minutes at the top I decided to proceed onto Nevada Falls. I made it halfway until I realised I probably wouldn't make it back before dark. It was about 3:30pm now and was getting skeptical, never having done this hike before. I didn’t want to risk it so I headed back down the Nevada Falls trail and diverged onto the Clark Point route - this would take me back down to Curry Village but went along the John Muir Trail not via the Vernal Falls route (I ascended). I much preferred this as it was less crowded and also stopped at Clark Point for a view of both falls. This was a worthwhile hike but I’d recommend starting early in the morning if planning on doing the full Mist Trail & John Muir Circuit Trail.
On the way out of the park I stopped on the side of the road to gaze up at El Capitan. You can really see just how insignificant we all are compared to this mighty granite wall. Bring binoculars and you might just catch a glimpse of the small ant-sized rock climbers setting up camp on the cliff face.
Day 3 - FULL DAY
Today was a Saturday and little did I know it was also a long weekend. As you can imagine the park was especially packed. I drove back up Glacier Point Rd, this time stopping at the Sentinel Dome trailhead. The 1.6km walk to Sentinel Dome was fairly easy. Although Sentinel Dome isn’t known for anything overly exciting it was still a great spot for panoramic views of the valley. You could see all the major points of interest; from El Capitan, to Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome.
I proceeded back towards the trailhead and went on to do the 1.6km walk in the opposite direction to Taft Point. Once I reached the top I could not believe that there were a group of people tightroping from one point to the other, on rope and equipment they had set up themselves - at an elevation of 7,500 feet! But don’t worry they had at least ONE rope attached to them in case they fell. Witnessing this was definitely the highlight of the day.
Afterwards I drove back into the valley and did a section of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail which passes through meadows, forests and beside the Merced River. Very relaxing. The half loop takes about 2½ hours to do. I saw the Yosemite Valley Chapel, walked across the Swinging Bridge and then sat and reflected at Sentinel Beach.
In Mariposa, about an hours drive from Yosemite Valley, I stayed at The Monarch Inn, which was definitely not the greatest motel but it was cheap, and all I really needed was a place to rest my head each night. The shower pressure barely worked and the free continental breakfast was ordinary. Regardless, I'd still recommend staying in Mariposa as there are plenty of restaurants, grocery stores, and gift shops you wouldn't find in the actual park itself. Mariposa also has a quaint country town vibe with the architecture much how it used to be in the early 1900s.
Overall, I loved my time spent at Yosemite National Park and two days gave me a glimpse into what it can offer. Next time I’ll plan a week to stay, bring good hiking shoes, hopefully have worked on my fitness, and perhaps set out to conquer the 12hr Half Dome hike.
Caitlin is a 20-something broad from Australia with a passion for filmmaking, writing and exploring the world.