How to spend a weekend in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park has quickly become one of my favorite places on the planet. Such an statement, I know! But people who have been there would definitely agree. We recently spent 2 full days exploring and hiking Yosemite Valley and fell in love with the views, the fresh air and the magical atmosphere of this place.

I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Yosemite besides the famous “El Capitan” rock. So when we confirmed our trip I had to spend a decent amount of time doing some pre-travel research. Visiting such overwhelming beautiful and HUGE park can be a bit daunting. I certainly struggled to pick places to see – I obviously wanted to see it all!

On this post, I thought I’d share our itinerary and a few tips that will hopefully help those of you who are planning to visit Yosemite in the future.

Just for some context, we visited Yosemite in winter (mid-February) from Berkeley. We spent 2 full days at the park (Saturday & Sunday) and stayed at an AirBnb in Mariposa, which is 40min-1hr away from the park.

Our Itinerary

In a nutshell:
Day 1: Mist Trail to Vernal Fall (moderate hike) and Nevada Fall (strenuous)
Day 2: Mirror Lake Loop Trail (easy hike) and Tunnel View

Day 1: Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall

On our first day, we got up very early and entered the park by 9am. We headed directly to Trailhead Parking where we parked our car for the day. By 9am half of the parking space was taken, so you can get the idea of how important it is to start the day early! From Trailhead Parking, we walked to Happy Isles, the starting point for the Mist Trail, which takes you to Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and John Muir Trail. From there we made our way towards Vernal Fall, which took us about 1 hour (mind you, we spent a lot of time taking pictures so it could be done in much less time with no breaks). Vernal Fall was absolutely stunning!

Once you arrive to the top of the fall, there’s an area where you can take a break among all the other hikers. If you pack your lunch (which I highly recommend you do), this is a good place to sit down and enjoy it.

We continued walking pass Silver Apron and towards Nevada Fall. The path up to Nevada Fall was probably the most strenuous of them all. It’s basically rocky and steep steps for the most part but you’re rewarded with magnificent views along the way, especially Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick.

After Nevada Fall, we wanted to return to our starting point via John Muir Trail, but it was closed during winter so we hiked back down the Mist Trail again. It was interesting to see the same landscape from a different angle (read: I took A LOT of pictures).

Tip: Check which routes are closed in advance when you plan your hiking route to avoid surprises!

By the time we got back to the parking lot it was around 3pm and we were exhausted so we had some snacks and slowly headed back to Mariposa. On the way back we made a stop near majestic El Capitan for the last photo session of the day.

Day 2: Mirror Lake Loop Trail and Tunnel View

We left the mild hikes for day 2 as we thought we would feel the pain from day 1 – and how right we were! The itinerary for the day was Tunnel View, Mirror Lake and a quick stop at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

We managed to enter the park even earlier on our 2nd day. We arrived to Tunnel View by 8:30am! With very few people around (mostly photography enthusiasts), we could thoroughly enjoy the impressive views of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background – basically this is THE VIEW you don’t want to miss!

Tip: we loved this viewpoint so much that we came back again for more photos in the afternoon, only to find that a huge bus had just dropped off 30+ tourists so there was barely any space to take a decent photo. If you want to get a good picture with no people in the background, go early!

Our second activity of the day was Mirror Lake. The Mirror Lake Loop Trail was such a spectacular hike, mostly because of the diverse landscapes that it offers. From some of the highest redwoods and pines to white rock formations, it was one of the most photogenic paths we’ve been to. Mirror Lake itself is beyond gorgeous and the reflections on the water make you wonder if you’re inside a dream. We spent about 30min around the lake, and then we continued further up along the Tenaya Creek, making a loop back to our starting point. Half way through we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the views of the untouched and unruly forest in front of us. Most tourists don’t do the loop beyond Mirror Lake so it felt like the whole area was just for ourselves.

Tip: For a better experience, take the unpaved trail that goes the south side of the lake instead of the popular Mirror Lake Trailhead as the latter is a one-mile paved walkway (and not as interesting!). To hike the southern half of Mirror Lake Loop Trail to Mirror Lake, walk a quarter mile on the main paved trail from the Mirror Lake Shuttle Stop. Just before the stone bridge, turn right and pick up the dirt and rock trail to remain on the south side of the creek. 



We planned this trip on a whim so by the time we checked accommodations inside the park, everything was booked out. We then opted to stay at an Airbnb in Mariposa, which is 1h away by car. It sounds far, but the reality is that the park is very large so unless you’re staying inside, anywhere in the peripheral area will be 1 hour away.  My advice is if you want to camp or stay inside the park, book in advance! Otherwise, there’s plenty of family houses in Mariposa to choose from.

We use Airbnb to stay at cozy homes around the world! Here’s $40 USD free credit to get you started:

Good to know

  • You might not get phone reception in the park (which can be a blessing!) so make sure that you bring your itinerary (sightseeing spots, parking spots, etc) with you on paper. The park provides free maps but it’s useful to note down a few places before you go
  • Bring lunch and snacks! There’s plenty of areas where you can do a quick picnic. What’s better than a meal with a view?
  • Bring lots of water with you for the hikes – there’s very few water refilling spots

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and found some tips for your Yosemite National Park visit! It is a place that deserves more than one visit, so I look forward to visiting again in the near future.

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How to spend a weekend in Yosemite

(1) Comment

  1. I’ve never been to Yosemite but it’s on my must visit list so thanks for sharing!

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