Essential Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park

It can be a bit overwhelming if you’re trying to plan a visit to Yosemite National Park if you only have 1 day to explore.

I’m sharing tips for visiting Yosemite National Park and how to make the most of your day trip.

If you have extra days to spend at Yosemite National Park these tips can also help you prioritize and optimize your time in the park.

woman staring at El Capitan

Where is Yosemite National Park Located?

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Yosemite National Park is located on the west slope of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern central California.

Yosemite National Park

Driving Distances to Yosemite National Park

  • Sacramento, CA to Yosemite – 2hr 43 min – 141 miles
  • San Jose, CA to Yosemite – 3hr 9 min – 160 miles
  • San Fransisco, CA to Yosemite – 3hr 12 min – 167.3 miles
  • Reno, NV to Yosemite – 4hr 38 min – 227 miles
  • Los Angeles, CA to Yosemite – 4hr 41 min- 279.3 miles
  • San Diego, CA to Yosemite- 6 hr 54 min – 399 miles
  • Las Vegas, NV to Yosemite – 7 hr 13 min – 455.5 miles
drive to  Yosemite National Park before sunrise

Arrive at Yosemite National Park Before Sunrise

To maximize your time at Yosemite National Park, I would recommend arriving at the National Park BEFORE sunrise. You’ll beat the crowds and have an incredible start to your day with breathtaking views.

We stayed in Mariposa, CA the night before, conveniently located less than an hour from Yosemite.

I’d also recommend grabbing a cup of coffee or your caffeine of choice for the drive before you arrive at the park because it’s going to be a long day!

welcome to Yosemite sign

How Big is Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite National Park is 759,620 acres (1,187 square miles) with 704,624 acres (1,101 acres) of designated wilderness.

Yosemite National Park is much smaller than Yellowstone National Park (2.2 million acres) covering parts of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

The entire Yosemite Valley is about 7 miles long with rock formations in parts of the park reaching heights of 3000-4000 ft above the valley floor.

Happy Isles at Yosemite National Park

How Much is Admission to Yosemite National Park?

The park entrance fee for Yosemite National Park depends on your vehicle with the most common being a non-commercial vehicle for $35.

  • Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats – $35.00 (valid for 7 days)
  • Motorcycle – $30.00 (valid for 7 days and the cost is per motorcycle not per person)
  • Foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus or van with more than 15 passenger seats – $20.00 (valid for seven days. People 15 years and younger are free. * The cost is per person)
scenic view at Yosemite National Park

How Much is An Annual Pass to Yosemite National Park?

You can save on multiple visits to Yosemite National Park with a Yosemite Annual Pass for $70 or an America the Beautiful- National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass for $80.

If you plan on visiting multiple National Parks within 12 months the “America The Beautiful” Annual Pass is the best value.

Both of the annual passes are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

  • Senior Pass -Seniors 62 and up can save even more with a lifetime pass for US citizens for $80.
  • Access Pass – (FREE) for lifetime admission for US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
  • Annual Pass for US Military – (FREE) -Annual pass covering entrance and standard amenity fees for all active US military personnel and their dependents, valid for 12 months from the date of issuance. (For active duty military personnel and dependents with proper identification (CAC Card or DD Form 1173).)
  • Annual 4th Grade Pass – (FREE) Free pass valid for the duration of the 4th grader’s school year through the following summer (September-August) Who qualifies?: US 4th graders, including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age, with a valid Every Kid Outdoors paper voucher part of the Every Kid Outdoors Program.
Yosemite National Park

Do You Need a Reservation for Yosemite National Park?

Reservations are NOT required to visit Yosemite National Park during the summer of 2023.

chapel at Yosemite National Park

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Yosemite National Park?

May is an excellent time of year to visit in the spring and September/ early October is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park in the fall.

During both of those times, you’ll find great weather with more of the park accessible… without the big crowds.

Yosemite National Park is typically covered in snow from around November -May because of the higher elevation which can cause road and trail closures in the park.

If possible try to visit Yosemite National Park during midweek instead of the weekends.

Saturdays and holiday weekends are the busiest times at the park for traffic congestion and delays.

In the summer, park guests can expect delays of an hour or more at the park entrance stations and 2-3 hours in Yosemite Valley…which is another reason to try to visit outside of peak season.

sunrise at Tunnel View Yosemite National Park

Watch the Sunrise at Tunnel View

At the Tunnel View section of the park, you can see the sunlight move and illuminate areas of El Capitan, Half Dome, & Bridalveil Fall.

This is the best place for a photo stop to see three iconic natural features of Yosemite National Park in one location.

There is a large parking lot near the viewing area if you want to stay warm in your vehicle while you wait.

photographers at Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park

Waiting For Sunrise Tips at Yosemite National Park

If you are a photographer you’ll also want to get to the viewing area early enough to pick out your ideal spot to set up your tripod.

Tunnel View is a popular spot to watch the sunrise. You may also want to pack a portable camping chair and bring some travel blankets while you observe the natural beauty.

Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park

It took about an hour AFTER sunrise time for the sunlight to travel over the mountains of the entire Yosemite valley from our vantage point.

The photogenic moment we’d been waiting for was definitely a good reason to stick it out a little longer in the cold.

If you have kids with you make sure that you pack extra snacks and activities to help keep them occupied while you wait.

couple at Tunnel View Yosemite National Park

Dress in Layers for Yosemite National Park

It’s significantly colder at the park in the morning which is why you’ll want to dress in layers. You’ll definitely want to bundle up in the morning if you are going to watch the sunrise.

For example, we visited in early October and the morning temperature was 43 degrees with a high of 70 degrees later that day.

We were very cold in the morning with multiple layers and later peeled those layers off in the afternoon during our hike.

Tunnel at Yosemite National Park

Drive Though the Longest Highway Tunnel in California

Wawona Tunnel is 4,233 feet long and the project took almost two years to complete when it opened in April of 1933.

If you choose to drive through Wawona Tunnel next to Tunnel View I would recommend turning around soon after because Glacier Point Rd is closed for all of 2022.

*30-minute delays are possible on Glacier Point Road from spring-fall of 2023.

If you are visiting the ski area in the winter the portion of the road to Badger Pass Ski Resort will typically be open from mid-December- March.

inside Wawona Tunnel at Yosemite National Park

Of course, it’s fun to drive through the tunnel but you’ll also want to plan enough time to see and do more things in the park vs. spending so much time driving around the park.

walkway to Yosemite Village

Explore Yosemite Village

Yosemite Village is a great place to visit toward the beginning of your Yosemite day trip. It’s a short walk from the parking area and has restaurants, shops, and the Visitor Center.

pastry at Degnan's Bakery in Yosemite National Park

Breakfast to Go at Degnan’s Kitchen

If you’re hungry after watching the sunrise, Degnan’s Kitchen is located in Yosemite Village. This breakfast spot offers quick-service breakfast and coffee for a reasonable price.

We tried the sunrise roll (made with two eggs, two sausage patties, and cheddar on a sub roll) for our savory and split the bear claw pastry for our sweet treat.

Yosemite Visitor Center and Theater

Check Out The Yosemite Visitor Center and Theater

The Yosemite Visitor Center is located in Yosemite Village and is open all year.

Inside the Visitor Center, there is an exhibit hall that shares more about the park’s history, geology, animal, and plant life. There is also a bookstore and Spirit of Yosemite film.

exhibit inside Yosemite Visitor Center and Theater

Ask A Ranger For Their Yosemite National Park Recommendations

Check out the exhibits at the visitor center and then get tips from the park ranger at the information desk for the best use of your time while in the park.

Depending on when you visit Yosemite, the ranger may be outside the visitor center in a special booth. They can provide you will a park map with suggestions of where to go based on your interests and ability.

We asked the ranger for their opinion and insight into the specific order of what to prioritize during our visit before and after our scheduled tour.

The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park

Stop in The Ansel Adams Gallery

Inside The Ansel Adams Gallery, you can see original photographs by the famous photographer most known for his black and white photographs.

Ansel’s most famous image is “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” which was taken at Yosemite National Park.  

There are also books, prints, and other gifts that you can purchase to take home.

colorful bus parked at Yosemite National Park

How Many People Visit Yosemite National Park Annually?

Over 4 million people visit Yosemite National Park each year. This is why the National Park can have a LOT of traffic and delays during peak season.

Parking in Yosemite National Park

Finding an available parking space for the trailhead of a popular hike at Yosemite can be challenging and frustrating. It’s much easier to take the free shuttle.

sign for Yosemite Valley Shuttle System

Take Advantage of the Free Shuttle Service at Yosemite National Park

The National Park has free park shuttles that go to scenic areas and trailheads throughout the park.

If you are visiting during peak season you definitely need to take advantage of public transportation because otherwise, you’ll lose valuable time at the park searching for available parking.

shuttle bus at Yosemite National Park

The free Yosemite shuttle bus can take anywhere from 12-22 minutes to arrive at each stop so plan accordingly and budget your time if you want to go to multiple areas of the park.

You may also want to consider YARTS transportation into the National Park if you’re visiting during peak season.

people biking at Yosemite National Park

Bike Rentals in Yosemite National Park

You can bring your own bike, rent a bike or take advantage of the (2-hour) seasonal bike share program to explore over 12 miles of paved bike paths available in Yosemite Valley.

Where to rent bikes at Yosemite National Park

Bike rentals are on a first-come-first-serve basis at the following locations:

  • Yosemite Valley at Curry Village
  • Yosemite Village
  • Yosemite Valley Lodge

Park guests can make reservations for ADA bicycles. The park offers rentals for both hand-crank bicycles and tandem bicycles for visually impaired guests.

There are also rentals available for electric scooters, wheelchairs, strollers, helmets, and tag-a-long bikes.

hiking trail in Yosemite National Park

Go Hiking in Yosemite National Park

If you’re physically able I highly recommend going on a few hikes during your visit to Yosemite National Park.

There are several easy hikes in Yosemite National Park that are relatively flat.

During our visit, we hiked to Happy Isles and Mirror Lake.

If we had more time we would’ve also hiked Cook’s Meadow Loop.

The easy hike was highly recommended by the park ranger and takes you through a large open meadow to the center of Yosemite Valley with views of Yosemite Falls, Fall Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches.

sign for Happy Isles at Yosemite National Park

Hiking Trails in Yosemite National Park

There are plenty of hiking options in Yosemite National Park to choose from ranging from easy to strenuous based on your time and level of ability.

I would recommend at least doing at least one short hike during your visit if possible.

sign for Yosemite Valley Trails

Check the Trail Distance/ Level and Make Sure That You Have Plenty of Water

It’s important that you make sure that you stay hydrated while hiking in the park. You can fill up your water bottle at the main visitor areas of the park.

If you are going on a longer hike make sure that you pack protein bars for extra energy, insect repellant, collapsible trekking poles, and rechargeable headlamps.

You’ll also want to be mindful of the sunset times so that you aren’t on a trail in the dark.

Cell phone service can be limited in the park so bring a map. I would also recommend taking screenshots of trails before you go.

deer on hiking path at Yosemite National Park

What Types of Animals Are at Yosemite National Park?

There are several types of animals in Yosemite National Park including the following:

  • Black Bear (There are 300-500 black bears in the park)
  • Coyote
  • Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep (Can be seen at higher elevations of the park with binoculars)
  • Mule Deer
  • Birds (Over 262 species in the park)

Be on the lookout for deer and bear in the park. During our hike a saw a deer on the trail who didn’t mind us at all.

The deer are very accustomed to humans but it’s still important to make sure that you don’t touch or feed them.

Valley Floor tour at Yosemite National Park

Book the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour in Advance

If you only have 1 day in Yosemite National Park I HIGHLY recommend the Valley Floor tour narrated by a park ranger or Yosemite Hospitality naturalist. The tour is led by park rangers from mid-April through mid-October when operating on open-air trams.  

During tram season when it’s cold or wet weather the tours are on buses led by highly-knowledgeable drivers.

The 2-hour tour provides an overview of Yosemite and highlights some of Yosemite Valley’s most famous viewpoints in a relatively short amount of time, especially if you are planning a 1-day Yosemite itinerary.

On the scenic drive, you’ll see Yosemite Falls (North America’s tallest waterfall at 2,425 feet ), Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, and Bridalveil Fall.

The best time to see the water flow in the waterfalls is early summer in May and June.

mountains in Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite Valley Floor Tour is the best way for you to get an overview of the National Park including its history, flora, and fauna throughout the park.

You need to book the Valley Floor tour in advance especially if you are visiting Yosemite National Park during peak season during the warmer months.

Valley Floor Tour Yosemite National Park

Arrive Early for the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour

You need to be at Yosemite Lodge for your day tour at least 15 minutes before it starts and even earlier if you want to sit together with friends or family.

During the fall/winter/spring the departure times for the tours are 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.

If you are visiting during the summer you’ll need to allow extra time for traffic/parking before retrieving your tickets from the front desk at Yosemite Lodge.

Each row holds 5 people which means that you will be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the person next to you.

The Valley Floor Tour is available year-round. Guests ride in an open-air tram in the warmer months and a heated motor coach with panoramic windows during the winter months.

couple at Yosemite National Park

The open-air tram has 2 stops (Valley View and Tunnel View) where you can stop and take photos. Our ranger was a wonderful tour guide mixing humor and interesting facts about the park along the way.

Park Rangers aren’t allowed to receive gratuities but you can tip the driver if you’re inclined to do so.

Hold onto your hat during the ride…I speak from experience as someone who lost their favorite hat during a gust of wind during the ride.

Yosemite National Park

Day Tours at Yosemite National Park

The following Yosemite tours are great options depending on how many hours of free time you budget for your visit to the park.

Degnans Bakery at Yosemite National Park

Places to Eat Inside Yosemite National Park

You’ll find plenty of options for places to eat in Yosemite National Park ranging from groceries, fast casual, and fine dining.

There are plenty of various lunch opportunities to choose from if you don’t feel like packing a picnic lunch.

*Some of the dining options are seasonal. Check the park website dining section before you go.

Dining at Yosemite National Park:

Make a Dining Reservation in Advance at Yosemite National Park

If you plan on visiting the park during peak season you can take advantage of dining reservations that can be made 366 days in advance for the following restaurants:

  • The Ahwahnee Dining Room
  • The Mountain Room
  • Tuolumne Meadows Lodge
  • White Wolf Lodge

*Dining reservations are HIGHLY recommended during the spring-fall season and also during the holidays.

Base Camp Eatery at Yosemite National Park

Choose Dining Options That Work With Your Schedule

There are several dining options at the park that come down to your personal preferences.

We wanted to prioritize our time on the outdoor experiences vs. the additional time at restaurants with table service.

We found that the fast-casual options at the park had good food that exceeded our expectations for a reasonable price.

chicken sandwiches at Base Camp Eatery in Yosemite National Park

Base Camp Eatery is located next to Yosemite Lodge and has great chicken sandwiches. We grabbed a fast meal there before our Valley Floor Tour.

We were REALLY hungry and needed to eat quickly before our tour…which explains the images.

Yosemite National Park

Where You Can Swim at Yosemite National Park?

If you visit during the summer season there are several places in Yosemite National Park where you can cool off.

Swimming Areas at Yosemite National Park

These natural swimming locations are subject to conditions and water levels:

  • Housekeeping Camp Beach
  • Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
  • Cathedral Beach
  • The path across from El Capitan picnic area

Swimming Pools at Yosemite National Park

  • Curry Village Swimming Pool (Hotel guests are free – park guests for a fee)
  • Yosemite Valley Lodge (Hotel guests are free – park guests for a fee)
  • The Ahwahnee pool – (Ahwahnee overnight guests only)
  • Wawona Hotel Pool (Wawona overnight guests only )
El Capitan Yosemite National Park

Watch the Rock Climbers on El Capitan at Yosemite National Park

El Capitan is the world’s largest granite monolith at 3,000 feet high and typically takes climbers 4-6 days to reach the top.

woman in front of Yosemite National Park

El Capitan Meadow provides a viewing area located along the one-way Northside Drive. This is a great place to watch rock climbers in the late afternoon.

rock climber on El Capitan at Yosemite National Park

You’ll definitely want to bring binoculars to see glimpses of brave rock climbers as they scale El Capitan.

Yosemite Climbing Association Museum and Gallery
Image courtesy of Yosemite Climbing Association Museum and Gallery

I highly recommend stopping by the Yosemite Climbing Museum in Mariposa and watching the National Geographic documentary “Free Solo” before you visit Yosemite National Park.

The film follows free soloist climber Alex Honnold as he preps for his dream of climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

What’s AMAZING is that Alex makes the 3,000 ft climb WITHOUT a rope in 3 hours and 56 minutes!!!

This documentary will definitely get your heart pumping and give you an even greater appreciation of the perseverance and athleticism of the rock-climbing community.

Climbing at Yosemite National Park

There are climbing opportunities for all skill levels at Yosemite National Park.

You can take rock climbing lessons with Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service, the only authorized climbing guides in the park.

Advanced climbers need a wilderness climbing permit if they’re doing a big wall overnight climb.

Yosemite National Park 3

Check the Sunset Time For the Day of Your Visit

I would highly recommend paying attention to the sunset time if you staying outside of the National Park.

road in Yosemite National Park

Otherwise, it’s an hour-long drive in the DARK on winding roads.

lodging at Yosemite National Park

Lodging and Hotels In The Yosemite National Park

If you want to stay in Yosemite National Park there are several options for lodging:

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge (245 Traditional rooms) is open year-round
  • Ahwahnee Hotel ( 121 Rooms)
  • Curry Village – (14 Cabins With Central Bath, 18 Standard Motel Rooms, 403 Canvas Tent Cabins)
  • Wawona Hotel (104 Rooms)Open late March – Early December
  • Tuolumne Meadows Lodge: (69 units)
  • White Wolf Lodge: (28 units)
  • High Sierra Camps: (48 units)

You’ll definitely want to book in advance if you want to stay in the park.

camping at Yosemite National Park

Camping in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park has the following options for camping:

  • Yosemite Valley Family Sites – (459 sites for 2,754 people)
  • Tioga Road/Big Oak Flat/Hetch Hetchy – (856 sites for 5,136 people)
  • Glacier Point/Wawona – (206 sites for 1,236 people)
  • Group campsites – (14 group campsites for 420 people) and (9 horse campsites for 54 people)
  • Tuolumne Meadows Campground – *Closed until 2024 or 2025

Check the website for more information about restrictions on fires in Yosemite National Park.

hiking trail at Mariposa Grove of the Sequoias

Add a Day For Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoias

If possible I would recommend visiting Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoias on a separate day. If you like to hike you’ll want at least 2 full days in Yosemite National Park.

Mariposa Grove is located in the southern portion of Yosemite National Park 22.7 miles (40 minutes) from Tunnel View in the National Park.

As the home to over 500 mature giant sequoias, Mariposa Grove is truly a gem and a wonder to see up close.

One of the best things about the 2-mile Grizzly Giant Loop trail is that you can see a lot of iconic trees within an attainable distance.

Highlights include the Bachelor and Three Graces, the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree.

You’ll want to allow 1.5- 2 hours for this specific hike that’s considered to be a moderate hike.

It’s important to note that Mariposa Grove Road is closed to vehicles and the shuttle no longer operates from December through March.

giant sequoia tree at Fresno Yosemite International Airport

What is the Closest Airport to Yosemite National Park?

The Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the closest airport to Yosemite National Park (64.1 miles) around 90 minutes from the park.

How To Get to Yosemite National Park

If you are flying to Fresno Yosemite International Airport a rental car will provide you with the most flexibility.

Looking for More California Gold County Adventures?

Check out these destinations 1 hour+ away before or after a great experience viewing the wonders of Yosemite National Park:

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