Yosemite. The adventure seeker’s mecca. Towering granite monoliths, sheer rock faces that touch the sky, picturesque rivers that weave through golden meadows, and mighty waterfalls that cascade down mountainsides. It’s the stuff of dreams. This place is iconic, magnificent, knock-the-breath-outta-you, jaw-droppingly beautiful. For these reasons, we try to make the pilgrimage down south to California once a year, to drink in the beauty that is Yosemite National Park. This place, in all it’s splendour, is a must visit.
Our favourite time to head to Yosemite is mid to late autumn, when the leaves have turned. Bright red, orange and yellow hues dot the landscape, doubling the beauty by reflecting on the Merced River. It feels quieter in the park, summer has passed and the tourists have moved on. It remains warm in the sunshine, but a chill hits the air as soon as you pass into the shade. It’s literal magic. That being said, Yosemite is magical in any season, so you really can’t go wrong! With the park being a 4 hour drive from San Francisco, (give or take depending on traffic), many adventure seekers (including us!) try to make it there for a one day trip.
So here we are - how to spend one day in Yosemite!
6am - 8am: Sunrise at Tunnel View
The best way to start your day is waking up early enough to catch the sunrise from one of Yosemite’s most famous viewpoints, Tunnel View. Tunnel View is a scenic overlook that spans across Yosemite Valley. To the left, the face of El Capitan borders the edge of the valley, Half Dome sits regally in the distance, and Bridalveil Fall can be seen to the right. Standing in front of Tunnel View makes you feel as though you’ve entered the land before time - untouched and peaceful, the perfect place to watch the sun rise. It’s difficult to describe the feeling you get while watching the face of El Capitan illuminate with pink and orange light. Make sure you get to Tunnel View early enough to beat the crowd and get your tripod setup, sunrise can take up to an hour to fully rise above the peaks. If you can, spend the night in or around the park as it will make it easier on you, rather than having to wake up at 2am to drive from the closest major city. Here are a few options of where to stay around the valley.
9am - 11am: Fields of Yosemite
After sunrise, spend some time moseying along the riverside, which is flanked on both sides by golden meadows. Waterfalls pour steadily from above, and you’ll find wildlife in abundance. If you can make it back here for magic hour, the entire area is drenched in sunlight - the meadows turn into pure liquid gold.
11am - 12pm: Roads of Yosemite
Around every corner of Yosemite Valley there are spectacular sights to take in. Make sure that you leave enough time to pull over on your way to Glacier Point road whenever you see an opportunity to take a beautiful scenic road shot, or catch a an incredible view.
1pm - 4pm: Glacier Point
It's a 51km drive from the valley to the end of Glacier Point road. Take your time going up this scenic drive and remember that it is NOT open all year round. When you reach the lookout at Glacier Point Road, you’ll be treated with a mind-blowing, front row view of Half Dome. Bring a blanket some snacks and coffee in a thermos, Glacier Point makes the perfect spot for a afternoon picnic. Please see the Yosemite National Park current road conditions website for information on closures.
4pm - sunset: Taft Point
You gotta do sunset right when you’re in Yosemite. And doing it right, means hiking to Taft Point to watch the sun dip below the valley. It's approximately 10 minutes to drive from the Glacier Point Lookout to the trailhead for Taft Point (located close to the end of Glacier Point road), so make sure you give yourself enough time to get there. From the trailhead, it’s a 20 minute trek to one of the most dramatic and unforgettable views you’ll ever see! Once you reach the point, sheer cut offs on the side of the rock are the true test of whether or not you’re afraid of heights. You can walk towards the edge, but be careful, there are no guardrails to protect you from the vertical drop-offs. In fact, from this elevation, you actually look down on El Capitan. Spend as much time as you need here to truly take in the moment. Check current sunset times to make sure you arrive with enough time to get settled and enjoy the views. Also, don't forget to bring a headlamp with you for the walk back in the dark!