Day in the Destination: Yosemite National Park, California


Kathryn Barry

An afternoon view of Yosemite Park

Kathryn Barry, Associate Editor

As an avid summer-time traveler, I have visited some very interesting places that are full of natural wonder. Yet, one of the hardest things when it comes to travel is picking out what to do when you only have a short period of time.  In this article, I will provide you with the “perfect day” at each destination I choose, to save you time and hassle when making day plans.

Our location today is Yosemite National Park.  It is located in the middle of California, on the eastern side.  For the best waterfall experiences (aka most crazy), go in mid to late spring or during the summer when the snow is still melting off from winter.  I went during the summer in early July.  Yosemite is most known for its raging waterfalls, towering granite monoliths, and the Yosemite Valley, which is surrounded by huge granite rock faces.  Most know Yosemite for El Capitan and Half Dome, yet there is so much more Yosemite has to offer.  Since we are given limited time, let’s hit the big sites!

Tunnel View in Late Afternoon
(Kathryn Barry)

To have the best day, you want to get up early, preferably around 6:00 a.m., pack two “lunches” and get on the road fast in order to beat the crowds.  From the entrance gate, you are going to want to drive to the Yosemite Valley loop, the most famous road in the park.  You will get a glimpse of “Tunnel View” and Bridalveil Falls as you drive along the right side of the loop.  Tunnel View is the most photographed place in the park because you can see a bunch of iconic sites from here.  It is looking down the valley.  To the right, you can see Bridalveil Falls, to the left is El Capital, and at the back is Half Dome.  

Vernal Falls is the first of the two waterfalls on the way up to the top of Nevada Falls
(Kathryn Barry)

You will drive along the right side of the loop until you get to the Mist Trail.  The Mist Trail is the most epic hike in the park because there are huge views throughout the entire trail.  Unless you have permits and are willing to spend the night on the trail, you will not want to go the whole way up to the top of Half Dome.  My recommendation is, since you only have one day, to just hike up to the top of Vernal Falls.  It is a 7 mile round trip trail that is moderate, but at times can get strenuous. 

Looking at Nevada Falls from a distance (Kathryn Barry)

The big sites along the trail include the wide, raging Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls at the top, and the panoramic views throughout.  Be sure to bring a raincoat because the mist from the waterfalls is pretty intense (hence called the Mist Trail). When you get to Nevada Falls, be sure to go to the lookout where you can look down directly over the waterfall and take in all of its power.  At the top is where to eat your early lunch and then head back down.  This is a truly awesome hike that speaks for itself.

Once you have completed that feat, I would recommend continuing around the rest of the Yosemite Valley road loop.  If you need snacks, bathroom breaks, or places to rest for a while, there are plenty of lodges around the loop.  

Walking up the path towards Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

Next, you will come across Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  If you are up for it, I would highly recommend taking the flat paved path that is only one mile round trip to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls.  As you walk down the path, you can see both upper and lower, but at the end, get to see Lower Yosemite Falls much better. 

Looking up from the Merced River at El Capitan (Kathryn Barry)

Now after all that walking, time for some relaxation.  On the loop, continue on and drive to near the base of El Capitan, where you will find a small parking pullout.  There is a little trail for rock climbers, but instead, cross the street to another trail going along Devil’s Elbow in the Merced River.  The trail is the Yosemite Valley trail.  We are only talking about 100 steps on this trail because our goal is to get out to the Merced River.  Here, in the middle of the river, there are small islands with beaches and trees where you will eat your second lunch under the shade.  (When you wade out, it only goes up to your knees, but the water is shockingly cold to a Floridian.)  This is a great place to spend the afternoon because of the up-close view of El Capitan.  If you have binoculars or really good eyes, you can see climbers on the face of El Capitan.  If you’re brave like me and want to cool off, take a daring full-body plunge into the river.  This spot is arguably my favorite in the park because it is so secluded and no one knows about it. 

By now, it is approaching late afternoon, so you want to get back on the road again and complete the Yosemite Valley loop.  If you want, go back and see Tunnel View again, because this time, it will be lit up from the nearly setting sun.

Looking out at Taft Point at sunset

Our last spot to end the day will be going to Taft Point and The Fissures at sunset.  Once you exit the loop, head back towards the entrance and take Glacier Point Road up to the trailhead.  This road is only open during the summer and autumn months, so keep that in mind if you are in Yosemite in the spring.  Taft Point shares a trail with Sentinel Dome, but once you get to the fork early on, take the left one.  It is only a 2.2-mile round trip that is decently easy with some elevation gain.  The payoff pitch is enormous.  Taft point is far above El Capitan (which is absolutely huge) and above Yosemite Falls.  It is one of the highest vantage points in the valley.  When you get to Taft Point and The Fissures, it is very extreme because you are so high up.  Let’s just say that if you dropped a large dresser from the point, you would not be able to see it hit the ground, and would most likely lose sight of it well before.  There are a couple of guard rails on the point, so you can lean your head over the edge and look down.  It is definitely a reframing experience.  The sunset makes it that much better.

Congratulations!  You made it through one very epic day in Yosemite.  Although these are my top choices, there is so much more to explore.  You would need much more time than just a day to explore the majority of Yosemite and all of its wonders.