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A Perfect Day Exploring Yosemite Valley

If you do a quick search for the most amazing national parks in the world, Yosemite is on just about every list. It’s no wonder that Yosemite is a bucket list item for most people I know. My son Roland and I visited in spring. It was his first time experiencing the amazing landscapes, waterfalls, hikes, and photo opportunities.

Yosemite National Park, located in the western Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California covers over 750,000 acres and was established in 1890.  A visit to Yosemite is an opportunity to see topography that is millions of years old.

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The Best One Day Itinerary to Yosemite National Park

The Redwoods in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley

Our home away from home during our Yosemite visit was a cabin in the Redwoods in Yosemite. We stayed in unit 73, a two bedroom log cabin with a kitchen, dining room and large living room. The Redwoods in Yosemite is located inside the park in the town of Wawona near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park.

My favorite site for hotel reviews is TripAdvisor. To check current rates for Redwoods in Yosemite, I suggest visiting Hotels.com or Booking.com.

Redwoods in Yosemite Cabin.
The cabin we stayed at in Redwoods in Yosemite.

Our perfect day in Yosemite started off bright and early. We drove an hour from our log cabin in Wawona to the Yosemite valley floor. I had booked a 10am tour of the valley floor. We were there in early spring and while it was crowded, it was easy to drive into the park and find parking. I was told that traffic in the peak months of summer can cause delays and parking issues.

So, fair warning! Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to arrive if you have booked a tour. The other reason you will want plenty of time is there are so many amazing spots you’ll want to stop and photograph on the way through the valley floor.

Tunnel View

As you enter the valley floor from the south on Highway 41, you will head through a tunnel that opens up to a view of the most photographed landscape in the world. It’s called tunnel view and it will be your first glimpse of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall. As you can imagine, it was nearly impossible to pass by without stopping for a few photos.

Save Big on Your Yosemite Valley Vacation

Check out the Top Tours & Day Trips from Yosemite Valley

Read Reviews of the Best Hotels in Yosemite Valley on TripAdvisor 

Yosemite Valley Shuttle

We then headed to Yosemite Lodge at the Falls located at Shuttle Stop #8. The park offer a free Valley Shuttle that runs on a continuous loop through Yosemite Valley throughout the day all year-round. You can hop on and off or take the 1 hour full loop ride and enjoy the views.

The start and end time for the shuttle will depend on the time of year you visit and it’s the best way to explore the valley. Once you arrive in the valley and find a parking spot, you’ll want to use the shuttle for exploring. The shuttle stops at all lodging and camping spots as well as Yosemite Village, Happy Isles, Yosemite Valley Stable, Sentinel Bridge, Yosemite Falls, and LeConte Memorial Lodge and numerous hiking spots.

We were there in early spring and were lucky to find parking available at the lodge. We checked in for our two-hour tour led by guide Dan Grant. The one and only downside to visiting in early spring is the open air trams are not in service yet.

Our tour was in a motor coach and while Dan was a great guide and shared some of Yosemite’s most famous sightseeing points in Yosemite Valley and describe the history, geology, plant and animal life of the region, I can imagine how much more amazing the tour would have been with the open air tram.

El Capitan

The valley floor is seven miles long and only one mile wide. Our first stop was “Camp 4” and a closer look at El Capitan, which rises almost 3,000 feet vertically from Yosemite Valley and is the world’s largest granite monolith (mountain, consisting of a single massive stone or rock).

Camp 4 is where the rock climbers hang out and camp pre and post climb of El Capitan. The tour continues to Sentinel Rock, Three Brothers Rock, multiple waterfalls and beautiful viewpoints along the Merced river.


Ahwahnee Hotel for Lunch

After the tour, jump on the free shuttle to stop #3 at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Wander the grounds for a great view of glacier point. The interior of the hotel Lunch in the Ahwahnee dining room is a visual treat as well as culinary one. The 34-foot-high beamed ceiling and famous floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of are best experienced in daylight.


The menu offers gluten free options, which was a pleasant surprise. We tried the deviled eggs for an appetizer. Roland enjoyed a burger and fries and I enjoyed a Caesar salad.


Half Dome & Vernal Falls

After lunch, hop back on the free shuttle. If you are in the mood to hike, two easy options are Happy Isles for a walk across a bridge to Vernal Falls at stop 16 or a one mile walk to half dome
from stop 17.

Glacier Point

Roland and I then opted to drive to Glacier Point as it opened for the season the day we arrived.

Glacier Point is a viewpoint above Yosemite Valley, located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 7,214 feet which is about 3,200 feet above the valley floor. The drive took us about 45 minutes and winds up a beautiful thickly forested road.

Once you arrive, it is a short walk to the look out spot where you can see Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest. If you have the opportunity, heading to Glacier Point for stargazing or a full moon is supposed to be incredible!


Swinging Bridge Hike

After Glacier Point, we headed back to Wawona for a hike to Swinging bridge from the lower Chilnualna Falls trail. Heading back to our cabin at the Redwoods in Yosemite, if you continue down the main road you will run into the trailhead.

Swinging Bridge Trail Head, Wawona in Yosemite.
Swinging Bridge Trail Head in Wawona.

The hike in was a flat and easy 20 minutes walk to the bridge.


From either side of the bridge, you can access the river, which is the South Fork of the Merced River. When we visited the river was beautiful and calm. It was a bit too cold for swimming, but I bet it’s great in summer.

Merced River in Wawona inside Yosemite Park.

Wawona Hotel for Dinner

For dinner, we headed to the Wawona Hotel. The hotel is a classic Victorian resort that was built in 1876. It opened for the season the day we arrived and was just a two-minute drive from our cabin.

The restaurant is famous for their cheese biscuits with honey butter, which sadly neither Roland or I could taste (dang food allergies). The menu included many organic and sustainable items which impressed me. I had the organic chicken with cheese polenta and broccolini and Roland had a Caesar salad.


After dinner head to the lounge for some live music. The night we were at the Wawona Hotel, Tom Bopp was at the piano. He has been playing for 30 years at the Wawona and Ahwahnee. He’s a Yosemite historian and expert, so he’s just as entertaining during breaks as he is during his music sets.

After a long day exploring the beauty of Yosemite, two great meals, a tour, a hike, and views from Glacier Point we headed back to our cabin. We lounged in the living room and enjoyed a fire in their stone fireplace. It was a great way to end our day in one of the most famous national parks in the world.

Day Trips from Yosemite Valley Top Tours

I love to do a combination of exploring on my own as well as a few organized tours when I travel. I love to learn about the history and culture in a new location and tours with local experts is a great way to do this. I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages. 

A few Top Tours Yosemite Valley


Did you know there are national parks all over the world? How many national parks have you visited?

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