Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States and for good reason! With its towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, giant sequoias, diverse wildlife, and iconic peaks, it is one of our favorite national parks. You could easily spend weeks exploring the park and always find another new adventure. But for those with more limited time, we have put together a jam-packed Yosemite 2 day itinerary! Be warned, this itinerary will keep you busy, but when you are in Yosemite, there is too much to do!

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Overview | Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary

Below is an overview of the plans for each day exploring Yosemite, including an epic hike to Half Dome on day one, several of the best viewpoints in the park, and a hike up to the tallest waterfall in North America!

About Yosemite National Park

Protected as a national park in 1890, largely due to the efforts of John Muir, the father of the conservation movement, Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest and most visited national parks in the United States.

From the thundering Yosemite Falls, to the iconic Half Dome, to the indescribably massive El Capitan and the 360-degree views from the top of Cloud’s Rest, there is a new adventure around every corner of the park!

Across Yosemite’s nearly 750,000 acres, you can find more than 400 different species of animals and thousands of unique plants. With 95% of the park designated as wilderness, it is one of the most geologically and biologically diverse places you can visit!

Located in northern California, just west of the Easter Sierra, most of the notable sites in the park are located near Yosemite Valley, or more simply, the “Valley.” But interestingly, the “Valley” only makes up 1% of the total area of the park!

This itinerary focus on many of the popular sites in and around the “Valley” so if you are looking for a more remote or isolated experience, be sure to check out other areas of the park.

Details | Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary

In this section, we will detail how to spend 2 busy days exploring Yosemite! We think this itinerary hits on a few of the park’s biggest highlights, and is how we would want to spend 2 days in the park. However, keep in mind that there is so much more to do in Yosemite than you could possibly squeeze into a 2 day itinerary!

Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary map

The map below displays the campgrounds, viewpoints and trailheads for the hikes recommended in this article:

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

Day One

The focal point of day one is a long hike – either to Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest, depending on whether or not you were lucky enough to get a Half Dome permit.

The climb to the top of Half Dome is one of the most popular and iconic hikes in America, so if you are one of the select few allotted a permit, you cannot pass it up!

However, if you aren’t able to get a Half Dome permit, don’t worry – we’ve got a great alternative for you! The hike to the top of Cloud’s Rest actually has better views (including an awesome view of Half Dome), even if the hike isn’t quite as thrilling.

After a long hike, you won’t have a lot of energy, but you only have two days and time is short, so we’d recommend a quick stop at one of the El Capitan viewpoints. In one day, you will check off two bucket list Yosemite experiences!

Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls & Half Dome

  • Hiking distance | 15 miles
  • Elevation gain | 5200 feet
  • Total time | 9 – 11 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 10
  • Difficulty | Hard
  • Trailhead | Happy Isles

Find this hike on AllTrails: Half Dome via John Muir Trail

To give you a sense of what it’s like to climb to the top of Half Dome, a report from 1865 described the peak as:

perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.

Luckily, whoever wrote that report was very wrong, as the mountain was first summited in 1875 and is now climbed by thousands of adventurous spirits ever year. But there is a bit of truth to the quote. When you reach Subdome (the peak at the base of Half Dome) and look up at the final stretch, you will definitely be thinking, “How in the world am I going to get up there!?”

Sitting 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, hiking to the top of Half Dome is the ultimate bucket list experience! Sure, it’s a little scary, but what fun is anything without a little adventure!

In all of our travels, climbing to the top of Half Dome was definitely one of the most fun things that I (Matt) did! Sarah, might have a different opinion….more on that later.

sunrise hike to Half Dome
Hike to the Subdome

The hike to the top of Half Dome is a difficult, 15-mile trek with almost 5,200 feet of elevation gain. It’s a leg-burner! The trail starts from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.

For the majority of the hike, you will be on a well-trodden and well-marked trail that is steep, but otherwise fairly safe. You will be treated to awesome views along the way, including overlooks of both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

If you don’t want to hike all the way to Half Dome, you can also turn back after Nevada Falls and complete the loop trail back to the valley floor, which still makes for a pretty incredible hike!

What it’s like to climb Half Dome

The final push to the top of Half Dome climbs 400 feet up the side of the peak and is very steep and very exposed. The Park Service installs cables to assist hikers on this section of the trail. The cables are typically in place from the Friday before Memorial Day to the day after Columbus Day (subject to change based on weather conditions).

How scary is the climb?

You are probably wondering, “Well how hard and scary is the final push?” That depends on who you ask but to give you a sense, probably about a third of people who attempt the climb do not reach the summit.

If you lose your grip of the cables and your footing at the same time, you will likely fall. And let’s just say it wouldn’t be a short fall. I took my time, made sure I had solid footing with every step, and was white-knuckling the cable the entire time. But man, it was exhilarating!

When accidents do occur, they are typically the result of people acting irresponsibly. Be smart, take your time, and if you aren’t having fun, don’t push yourself and turn around.

The views from Subdome are incredible, so even if you don’t make it to the top of Half Dome, you will still have experienced an epic day of hiking.

view of the Half Dome summit from Subdome
Half Dome cables
Getting permits for Half Dome

The other complicating factor with hiking to the top of Half Dome is that you will need to get advance permits, which are very limited. There are 225 daily permits available for day hikers and 75 permits reserved for backpackers. There are two ways to get permits:

  • Preseason lottery | The application period for the preseason lottery is from March 1-March 31, and you will be notified in mid-April if you have been selected for a permit.
  • Daily lottery | The park also offers daily lottery permits based on the estimated rate of under-use and cancellation of preseason permits. The daily lottery is open two days in advance from midnight to 4pm Pacific Time, with a notification later that same night.

You can learn more about the permitting system here. If you have flexibility with your dates, the park publishes very helpful data on prior season permit applications here.

Weather conditions

The hike will take you most of the day, so plan to be moving for at least 10 hours. We strongly suggest starting as early as possible.

Not only will this ensure you have enough time to reach the summit and get back to you car in the daylight, but you also do not (I repeat DO NOT) want to be on or near the summit if there is rain or a thunderstorm in the forecast. Storms are much more frequent during the afternoon, so do your best to summit in the morning.

The rock will become very slippery in the rain and the peak is extremely exposed. People have died due to lightning on the summit of Half Dome. Be sure to check the weather before you depart and keep an eye out for any storm clouds!

Other Helpful Tips for Climbing Half Dome
  • The cables are narrow and it is a two-way street (there are people going up and down). It can get tight. Be sure to safely move out of the way of other hikers.
  • Do not go outside the cables. This is how people lose their grip and get hurt.
  • Make sure your shoes have good traction. If you have approach shoes or climbing shoes, it wouldn’t hurt to bring them.
  • Many people bring gloves to help grip the cables. I personally found a pair of sticky gloves useful. Some people will leave their gloves at the start of the cables for other hikers. Please do not do this. The Park ends up having to clean up hundreds of pairs of old, wet gloves.

Alternative | Cloud’s Rest Hike

  • Hiking distance | 14 miles
  • Elevation gain | 3200 feet
  • Total time | 7 – 9 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 9
  • Difficulty | hard
  • Trailhead | Tenaya Lake (Tuolumne Meadows)

Find this hike on AllTrails: Cloud’s Rest Trail

If you aren’t able to secure Half Dome permits or the prospect of scaling a 400-foot granite wall with nothing to keep you stable but wire and rickety, wooden rungs makes you feel sick to your stomach, we’ve got you covered! Instead of hiking to Half Dome, you can hike to Cloud’s Rest, which has better views than Half Dome (in our opinion).

The hike to Clouds Rest is less intense than Half Dome but it’s still strenuous, covering 14 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The summit provides unimpeded, 360-degree views of the entire park. In the distance, you will be able to see Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, Sentinel Dome, and parts of El Capitan.

In fact, the peak of Cloud’s Rest sits at an elevation of 9,926 feet meaning you will be looking down on Half Dome.

The trailhead for Cloud’s Rest is located along Tioga Road, about 1 hour and 15 minutes from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

El Capitan viewpoints

Hiking to either Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest will take the majority of the day, but with only two days in the park, you need to maximize every minute! Don’t worry, we aren’t recommending another hike…

El Capitan is a massive wall that rises over 3,000 feet straight up from the floor of Yosemite Valley. More recently, it has entered the mainstream conversation as a result of the famous documentary, Free Solo, which chronicles Alex Honnold’s harrowing and insane climb up El Cap without ropes or anchors.

There are several awesome viewpoints featuring El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan Meadow and Yosemite Valley View. At the end of day one, we highly recommend stopping by one of the El Capitan viewpoints to appreciate the granite monstrosity and snap a few pictures. No hiking necessary!

Day Two

After getting some well-earned rest after a busy first day, day 2 of the perfect Yosemite itinerary brings even more adventure! It starts with watching the sunrise at Tunnel View, followed by a hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, and a final stop at Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome for one last epic view of Yosemite Valley.

Sunrise at Tunnel View

One of the great things about Yosemite is that there are plenty of amazing viewpoints throughout the park that are easily accessible. One of our favorite stops is Tunnel View, located just before the Wawona Tunnel.

From this spot, you can see El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, and Half Dome peaking out in the distance. If the view looks familiar, that may be because it is one of Ansel Adams’ most famous photographs!

We’d highly recommend watching the sunrise from Tunnel View if you are willing to start your day early!

Yosemite Falls Hike

  • Hiking distance | 7.6 miles
  • Elevation gain | 3,218 feet
  • Total time | 4 – 6 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | hard
  • Trailhead | Camp 4 Area

Find this hike on AllTrails: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America, cascading 2,425 feet onto the valley floor below. Accordingly, the hike up to the top of the falls is no joke! There are multiple viewpoints along the way up including Columbia Rock, which provides views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Sentinel Dome.

Continuing up the trail, switchback after switchback, is tough but the view from the top of the falls is epic! To experience the water rushing over the cliff is insane. If you are feeling even more adventurous, there is a short trail that leads down to a ledge by the falls, providing unimpeded views of the Valley below.

From the top of Yosemite Falls, you can continue your hike to Yosemite Point by following the signs for North Dome. This adds another 1.6 miles round trip to the hike but the views are even better!

Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome

By this point, you are probably going to be pretty tired after hiking all the way to the top of Yosemite Falls, but, with your last bit of energy, we recommend heading over to Glacier Point to see one last viewpoint, and if your legs aren’t dead, a short hike to the top of Sentinel Dome.

Glacier Point

Glacier Point is a popular viewpoint located about 30 miles (1 hour drive) from Yosemite Valley. From the overlook, you can see Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding high country above the valley. We enjoyed driving over to Glacier Point because it gives a different perspective and view than the sites inside Yosemite Valley.

Even better – there is no hiking involved!

Note: The road to Glacier Point will be closed in 2022 to improve the road.

Sentinel Dome

  • Hiking distance | 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain | 450 feet
  • Total time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 9
  • Difficulty | Easy
  • Trailhead | Glacier Point

Find this hike on AllTrails: Sentinel Dome Trail

The trailhead for the hike to Sentinel Dome is located just up the road from Glacier Point. The hike to the top of Sentinel Dome is the shortest and easiest way to see sweeping panoramic views of the park. To be honest, of everything we did in Yosemite, Sentinel Dome surprised us the most!

Is it as iconic as Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest? No, of course not. But the views are right on par! You can see for miles in every direction! From the top, you’ll be treated with views of the Yosemite highlights – Cloud’s Rest, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and more.

Sitting on the top Sentinel Dome, reminiscing on all the places you have seen in the last 48 hours is the perfect way to finish your Yosemite 2 day itinerary!

views from Sentinal Dome in Yosemite

Logistics | Planning your Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary

In the section below, we’ll help you plan when to visit, where to stay and what to pack for your 2 day trip to Yosemite!

Getting to and around Yosemite

Yosemite is located in northern California, about 4 hours from San Francisco, 3.5 hours from Sacramento, 4 hours from San Jose, 3.5 hours from Oakland, 3 hours from Merced, and 2.5 hours from Fresno. There are airports located in all of these cities. 

The easiest way to get around in Yosemite is by driving or renting a car. However, it’s also possible to get around with public transportation:

  • Amtrak offers a train to Merced with a connecting bus to Yosemite Valley.
  • YARTS also offers bus service from multiple nearby towns, including Sonora, Merced and Fresno, to Yosemite Valley.
  • To get around in Yosemite Valley, the park service offers a free shuttle to (or at least near) most of the trailheads and major viewpoints. 

Yosemite Entrance Fees

Entrance to Yosemite National Park costs $35 per vehicle or $20 per person traveling by bike, motorcycle or commercial bus and is good for 7 days. Alternatively, you can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass for $80, which gives you entrance to all U.S. National Parks for 1 year. 

When is the best time to visit Yosemite?

Because the Sierras experience heavy snowfall during the winter, many parts of the park are closed from November through March.

Therefore, the best time to visit Yosemite is April through October. To avoid the heaviest crowds, visit during the shoulder seasons (April-early May and late September-October) and avoid holiday weekends. 

We haven’t visited during winter and your travel options will be much more limited, but we have heard the park is even more beautiful with a layer of snow (obviously!) and you will basically have the place to yourself.

Where to Stay in Yosemite

The most convenient place to stay for this Yosemite 2 day itinerary is in Yosemite Valley, where there are several campground and lodging options available.

Campgrounds in Yosemite

There are four campgrounds located in Yosemite Valley: 

  • Upper Pines Campground | The closest campground to Happy Isles Trailhead with 238 sites for $36 per night. Advance reservations are required year round. 
  • Lower Pines Campground | Another great option near the Happy Isles Trailhead with 60 sites. Open April through October by reservation only.
  • North Campground | Located just across the street from Lower Pines, with 81 available spots. Open April through October by reservation only
  • Camp 4 | 61 tent-only campsites that cost $10 per night. During peak season (mid-May through mid-October), sites are available via daily lottery one day in advance. During the rest of the year, sites are first-come-first-serve

Yosemite Valley campsites are in high demand and typically book up within minutes (or seconds) of being released, so be sure to plan ahead. Reservations are released on recreation.gov starting five months in advance, on the 15th of every month at 7:00am Pacific.

For visiting Glacier Point, Tunnel View and Sentinel Dome, campgrounds south of Yosemite Valley are also convenient options:

  • Bridalveil Creek Campground (closed until 2023) | 97 campsites located about 20 minutes from Glacier Point. Open April through October and requires advance reservations from June 15 through October 15.
  • Wawona Campground | 110 campsites located about 50 minutes from Glacier Point. Advanced reservations required from June 15 through October 15.

If you aren’t able to secure a campground reservation, there are a few first-come-first-serve campsites, including Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek and Porcupine Flat. Typically first-come-first-serve campgrounds fill up by noon during peak season. Note that Tuolumne Meadows and Crane Flat are closed for the 2022 season. 

Hotels/lodging in Yosemite

There is a wide range of hotel and lodging options available in Yosemite, although they will typically come at a cost. Below are a few options:

  • The Awhwahnee | Yosemite’s luxury hotel offering fine dining with standard room rates running over $500 per night!
  • Yosemite Valley Lodge | Located in the heart of Yosemite Valley, this lodge is a perfect home base for exploring Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls and Half Dome.
  • Curry Village | Offers canvas tents, cabins and standard lodge rooms, conveniently located in Yosemite Valley
  • Housekeeping Camp | These concrete structures with 3 walls and a canvas roof and door sit on the shores of the Merced River, giving you the experience of camping without having to set up a tent.
  • High Sierra Camps | Rustic cabins that are only accessible by hiking, allowing you to explore the backcountry carrying only a day pack.

For more lodging options in Yosemite, visit the NPS website. 

Towns near Yosemite

Because lodging and campgrounds inside Yosemite National Park are in high demand, it will likely be easier to find hotels, airbnbs, and campgrounds in the smaller towns surrounding the park. A few good options include:

  • Sonora: A small historic mining town located 1 hour from the entrance to Yosemite.
  • Groveland: A cute, tiny town about 30 minutes from the entrance to Yosemite.
  • Fresno: Closest large city to Yosemite, located about 1.5 hours from the entrance. 

Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary packing list

Below are a few essentials we’d recommend packing for hiking in Yosemite:

Other useful resources

Planning a trip to California? You may find the following resources helpful in planning your trip:

For all things California: California Travel Guide

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Have you been to Yosemite? Questions about this jam-packed Yosemite 2-day itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!

Sarah Vaughan

Hello! I'm Sarah, one half of the couple behind Two Outliers! In 2023, I quit my job as a Data Scientist to travel around the world on an epic 15-month journey in search of the world's greatest hikes and outdoor adventures. Matt and I started Two Outliers in 2021 as a place for visitors to find concise, accurate, and honest information to plan their own adventures. We hope our experiences inspire you to hit the trail! Happy Hiking! Sarah


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