View across valley and snow capped mountains with two waterfalls and large geological features

Hiking the Highlights – Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary

by Madam ZoZo

California’s Yosemite is one of the United States’ top 10 most visited National Parks—known for its dramatic glacier-sculpted valleys, Sierra Nevada peaks, towering Giant Sequoias and geological features that make rock climbers salivate. Hike the Park’s famous features and be blown away by incredible vistas on this Yosemite 2 day itinerary.

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Due to the colossal number of things to do and see in Yosemite, this 2-day itinerary does not include transit time to and from the National Park. Ideally, you would arrive the evening before or early morning of day 1 and depart after sunset on day 2. Lodging within the Park is preferred so you can get started early, especially in summer when queues to enter Yosemite are backed up for miles. Find a parking spot early and use the shuttle bus service as much as you can to get around.

Yosemite 2-day itinerary

Day 1

Kick-off day one in the Park by hiking the absolute must-sees of Yosemite Valley, which are tied together by the Valley Loop Trail. Sights include Lower Yosemite Fall, Mirror Lake, Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridal Veil Falls. Depending on your hiking stamina or interest, you can take the Full Loop at 18.5km (11.5mi) or the half loop at 11.6km (7.2mi). Both loops travel across mostly level terrain and are rated Moderate. Half Loop Hikers will miss out on close-ups with El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls, but these can be accessed separately using the shuttle bus service.

Note: There is no Loop Trail access to the base of El Capitan, if you really want to stand at the bottom of this awesome cliff, you’ll have to digress onto the climber’s trail. Also, Mirror Lake is mostly dried up in summer but still has a lovely view. Swimmers should check out the natural dam on Tenaya Creek, very close to Mirror Lake, which has water even in the summer months.

To close out day one, make your way to Tunnel View for sunset. There is not shuttle service to Tunnel View, so you’ll need to take your own vehicle. It is best to get there an hour or more before sunset for photos, because the mountains cast deep shadows on the Valley as the sun drops.

People in two green rafts floating down greenish river with large dome-shaped geological feature in background
Merced River with Half Dome in the background
Mirror Lake, mostly dried up over the summer but still a great outlook
Taking in the enormity of El Capitan, a granite monalith about 914m (3000ft) high
My terrible attempt at pretending to climb El Capitan
Image of tunnel through large boulders in forest
Rock tunnel on Valley Loop Trail

Day 2

Begin day two by hiking the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail, stitched together into a loop. The Mist Trail is incredibly popular, and justifiably so, therefore its best to get an early start to avoid the crowds. You can take the Mist Trail up and back, but I recommend going up via the Mist Trail and returning using the John Muir Trail to vary your route and avoid hiking traffic. There trails are rated as strenuous due to their length and steep terrain.

It’s 2km (1.2mi) to the top of Vernal Falls – be prepared for steep and slippery steps and soaking waterfall spray (“mist” is a severe understatement). Take a break at the top of Vernal Falls, with beautiful valley views. Continue up the steep switchbacks of the John Muir Trail, before you descend the other side and rejoin the Mist Trail to hike back to the trailhead near shuttle bus stop #16. From the John Muir Trail, you will have great views of Nevada Falls in the upper valley and find a great vantage point to look down upon Vernal Falls.

Note: Rain jackets and waterproof bags/cameras are recommended if you prefer to stay dry and warm on the Mist Trail. We hiked this on a warm, sunny, summer’s day and welcomed the drenching on the steep climb and found we had dried out by the time we finished the complete circuit.

Next, take your vehicle up to Glacier Point – you might like to watch sunset from here. However, be wary that during the height of summer, traffic leading to Glacier Point nearing sunset is horrendous. If you find yourself stuck in a long line of traffic, Wawona Point, also on Glacier Point Road, provides comparable views to Glacier Point.

If you are ready to hike a few more miles, I suggest snapping some pics from Glacier Point and then backtracking down Glacier Point Road to the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead. Walk the moderately rated 3.5km (2.2mi) round trip, taking time on the summit of the dome to watch the sun go down. It can get windy up there, so take warm clothes even on a warm day. Sentinel Dome is the perfect setting for a dinner picnic. Take a flashlight or headlamp for the dusk hike back to the carpark.

Waterfall viewed from distance between trees, with rock formation in background
Vernal Falls viewed from Vernal Fall Footbridge on the Mist Trail
It was impossible to keep the camera lens dry long enough to take a good photo on the way up the Mist Trail
Waterfall and Geological formation with forest and hiking trail in foreground
Nevada Falls viewed from the John Muir Trail
Waterfall viewed from above with surroundingforest and geological features
Vernal Falls viewed again from above on the John Muir Trail
Glacier Point view down Yosemite Valley with Yosemite Falls
Glacier Point view down Yosemite Valley with Yosemite Falls
View over Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon from Glacier Point above
View over Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon from Glacier Point above
Woman looking out over valleys and mountains in warm sunset light
Sunset from Sentinel Dome, lookin out at Half Dome and the Sierra Nevadas
Man sitting on rock watching sunset over Yosemite Valley
Sunset from Sentinel Dome looking over Yosemite Valley

What to take on your hikes in Yosemite

Most of the Valley Loop is within short range of the roads through Yosemite Valley, however on hikes such as the Mist Trial, or Sentinel Dome you will want to go fully prepared. Here’s what to put in your pack:

  • Map and compass, internet is practically non-existent so relying on Google is futile.
  • Plenty of food and water.
  • Rain gear and warm clothing.
  • Matches and/or a lighter.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Flashlight/headlamp.
  • Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Binoculars and camera.

Plan your Yosemite trip with these resources

Find flights to San Francisco (SFO) with Skyscanner.

Search for accommodation using Tripadvisor.

Rent a car with National Car Rental.

Don’t forget travel insurance, I recommend Seven Corners or World Nomads.

Remember… take only photos and leave only footprints. Leave me any questions in the comments below.

Peace, love & inspiring travel,

Madam ZoZo

Image of waterfall surrounded by pine forest, viewed from above with text overlay "Hiking the Highlights. Yosemite 2-Day Itinerary"

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