Adventure

How To Check Out Spectacular Yosemite National Park In A Day

Yosemite National Park is home to 1200 kilometres of hiking trails and 700,000 acres of wilderness, so you could easily spend a year exploring it without even scratching the surface. On the flip side, if you find yourself in California with a few spare days up your sleeve, you can still have an incredible Yosemite experience with minimal time and preparation.

Explore IRL the views that have been the background image on your Macbook for the last 10 years. Here’s how to make the most of 24 hours in Yosemite National Park.

Before you go

 

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The main thing to prepare yourself for isn’t the hiking, it’s the hikers. When everyone around you is decked out with camel packs, hiking boots, trekking poles, and colossal packs filled with ample emergency supplies for a small army, it’s easy to feel a little out of your depth.

The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to spend a fortune preparing for a short trip to Yosemite National Park. If you happen to have hiking gear, great. If not, fine. All you really need is comfortable clothes (not jeans), shoes with some decent grip and a small backpack for water and snacks.

Pack layered clothing as mornings will be cold, and remember to take swimmers and a towel if you’re going in warmer months.

Morning

The Mist Trail Hike to Nevada Falls 


Yosemite Valley is the main hub for all visitors to the park. There are various day hikes you can do from the Valley, but the Mist Trail Hike is a perfect intermediate hike for those who want to see a bit of everything.

The trail itself is 13km long and classified as moderate to strenuous, mostly due to the 2000ft incline. It’s definitely a leg burner, but it’s more than achievable if you’re reasonably fit and you give yourself around five to six hours to work with. Try to start your day as early as you can to avoid the crowds.

Start the trek at Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop #16), following the signs to Vernal Falls. It’s called the Mist Trail for a reason, so be prepared to get a little wet. From the viewing deck, keep heading up the Mist Trail past the Emerald Pool and its source flow the Silver Apron. This is where things start to get interesting. The trek to the top of Nevada Falls is 2.5kms of steep, rocky stairs where you’ll be periodically awestruck by fresh views of the thunderous waterfall crashing down into the valley. This is the hardest part of the hike so take your time, breathe, enjoy, and persevere. It’s worth it.

 

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The view at the top of Nevada Falls is why you just put your legs through the equivalent of an army-certified boot camp. Through the deafening roar of water you can almost hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ blaring in the distance as you gaze upon one of the grandest views you’re ever likely to see.

Once your eyes have popped back into place, you can do a little exploring off the marked trails. Follow the Merced River upstream for a few hundred metres until you find your perfect picnic spot beneath the formidable form of Liberty Cap. If you keep clambering along you’ll also find a small waterfall that you can swim underneath when the river isn’t raging.

Rather than descending the Mist Trail, take the John Muir trail back to Yosemite Valley as it offers better views of Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and Half Dome.

Afternoon

Yosemite Valley

 

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After 13kms of hiking, a tranquil afternoon in Yosemite Valley will definitely appeal to your poor, tired muscles. Start with a tour of the rustic Yosemite Museum to learn about the traditional lives and skills of the native Miwok and Paiute people; peek your head inside the adorable Yosemite Chapel; then take a stroll through Sentinel Meadow for wildlife sightings and incredible views of Yosemite Falls.

For sunset, head to Sentinel Bridge for the most iconic view of Half Dome in the Valley. 

Night

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Half Dome Village Bar

 

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Set beneath the sheer cliffs and waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of a storybook. If you’ve only got a day, it’s a must-see spectacle and the perfect place to enjoy an evening meal. Just to witness the enormous wooden beams that hold up the vast ceiling of the Dining Room is enough to make it worth the splurge (US$30–$40 / AU$42–57 per main meal).

The menu is pretty stock standard but the ambience is surreal and the warm cookie dessert is to die for. Pre-book your dinner table, and dress up a bit (ditch the hiking boots and guys should wear a collar).

After dinner you may find the nightlife in Yosemite Valley a little limited, and with more than 11,000 people visiting the park each day a lot of the smaller venues will be packed to the brim. Try the Half Dome Village Bar for a great selection of craft beer, strawberry margaritas and free pretzels. After a massive day of exploring, this vibey little bar does the job just fine.

Stay

 

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Unless you’ve already got your hands on some camping gear, staying at Half Dome Village is the most fuss-free and affordable option for one night in Yosemite. There are options of canvas tent cabins, cabins with bathrooms or standard motel rooms with pricing from around US$100–$250 (AU$141–$354) per night. The vibes are cheery and you’ll wake up to easy breakfast and coffee options.

If you’re going to Yosemite National Park in summertime or school holidays you may struggle to make a booking inside the park itself. Don’t be put off by this, as there are some great options within an hour’s drive of the Valley. Try the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort for great value accommodation (starting around US$60 / AU$85 per night) with good vibes, live music, plus spa and yoga facilities all year round.

How to get to Yosemite National Park

  • Fly Qantas to San Francisco
  • Take the 6610 Thruway Bus to Emeryville (30mins) and change to the 710 San Joaquins Amtrak train (3hrs) to Merced
  • Take a Yarts shuttle bus to Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre
  • Yosemite National Park, California, USA

(Lead image: Cam Adams / Unsplash)