Last Updated on by Talita
Yosemite National Park is a stunning place that delights visitors of all kinds, but with a large amount of information online about it, planning your 3-day Yosemite trip can seem overwhelming. The park has plenty to offer with its historic landmarks and natural wonders. Through this blog post, we’ll show you how to get the fullest experience with just 3 days in Yosemite.
Where is Yosemite National Park?
Yosemite National Park is located in east-central California, less than 200 miles southeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. To get to Yosemite National Park by car, take Highway 120 West through Groveland, Highway 140 West through Mariposa, or Highway 41 through Fish Camp. If you’re flying in, the closest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
3 Days in Yosemite Itinerary
If you’ve got 3 days to spend at Yosemite, I recommend spending your time in the Yosemite Valley. The Yosemite Valley is filled with so many waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, and incredible views. Yosemite Valley is open throughout the year, unlike the attractions on Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass Road. Plus as the seasons change, the valley’s scenery changes providing seasonal beauty year-round. Here’s an itinerary on what to do for 3 days in Yosemite:
Day 1: Upper Yosemite Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, and Tunnel View
– Stop 1: Upper Yosemite Falls
On your first day, plan on visiting the big attractions at Yosemite especially the Yosemite Falls. Start the hike on the Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock for a view of Upper Yosemite Falls. You can hike to the top of Yosemite Falls but since you’ve only 3 days in Yosemite, it’s best to spend half a day or less for this hike. The hike to Columbia Rock and Upper Yosemite Falls is a challenging yet rewarding adventure. Here’s what you need to know about this hike:
Yosemite Fall Trail to Columbia Rock
- Views: Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Upper Yosemite Falls
- Trail Length: 3 miles
- Intensity: Intense
- Time: 5-6 hours
Even though this is an intense hike, it is recommended for its gorgeous aerial views of the park and a view of North America’s tallest waterfall. Plus you feel pretty accomplished after finishing the hike! Rest your feet during lunch before walking to or driving to the Lower Yosemite Falls trail and park roadside near the trailhead.
– Stop 2: Lower Yosemite Falls
One of the least strenuous ways for seeing Yosemite Falls is taking the Lower Yosemite Fall trail. This trail is not strenuous and is wheelchair accessible. The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is an easy hike with minimal elevation. While you will be met with a beautiful view of the Lower Yosemite Falls at Vista Point, the walk to the falls is calming as you walk among tall trees and views of Yosemite Creek. Here’s what you need to know about this hike:
Lower Yosemite Fall Trail
- Views: Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Creek
- Trail Length: 1 mile
- Intensity: Easy
- Time: 1 hour
– Stop 3: Sunset on Tunnel View
Finish off the day by watching the sunset at Tunnel View. Tunnel View is one of the best spots to watch the sunset because of how it highlights some of the iconic landmarks of Yosemite National Park: El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. Watching the sunlight fall on the El Capitan, Half Dome, and the Cathedral Rocks and then change colors from yellow to purple is a view that makes you smile.
Day 2: Beaches, Bridges, Yosemite Chapel and Mirror Lake
On the second day, you’ll most likely be very sore because of the Yosemite Falls hikes so take it a little easy this day. For the first half of the day before lunch, drive to the turnouts on Southside Dr. to check out beaches, bridges, the Yosemite Chapel. Then after lunch, head to Mirror Lake. Southside Dr. is a one-way street so the below stops are in the order of what you to visit first.
– Stop 1: Cathedral Beach
Your first turnout would be the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area. On Cathedral Beach, you get views of the Eastern side of El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks East while being able to dip your feet in the Merced River.
– Stop 2: Sentinel Beach
For views of Upper Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock, and Eagle Peak of the Three Brothers, head to Sentinel Beach.
– Stop 3: Swinging Bridge
Stop by at the Swinging Bridge for the reflection view of the Upper Yosemite Falls on the Merced River.
– Stop 4: Yosemite Chapel
Drop by the Yosemite Chapel, the oldest building in the valley. One of the most popular destinations in the park, the chapel is a wonderful example of how certain areas are preserved. The small chapel building was built in 1879 and is still an active place of worship for visitors and residents of the park. Not only that, but it is also a registered historical landmark.
– Stop 5: Stoneman Bridge
This was one of our favorite views of North Dome. You can see the North Dome centered among trees with the Merced River below.
– Stop 6: Mirror Lake
For the latter half of the day, check out Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is a large, seasonal lake in Yosemite Valley, located directly across from Half Dome. In the spring and early summer, when water flow is greatest, it’s a beautiful lake surrounded by trees and other greenery. By late summer, the water level drops considerably, revealing a meadow where the lake once was. Here’s what you need to know about this hike:
Mirror Lake Trail
- Views: Mirror Lake, Tenaya Creek, North Dome, Half Dome, and Washington Column
- Trail Length: 2-mile loop
- Intensity: Easy for the paved trail; Moderate for the unpaved trail
- Time: Around 2 hours
– Stop 7: Sunset on Sentinel Bridge
Head to the Sentinel Bridge to watch the sunset behind the Half Dome with its reflections on the Merced River. Slowly watching the golden light on the Half Dome appear and disappear while viewing its reflections in the water is one of the most beautiful sights you’d see in the Yosemite Valley!
Day 3: More Views Including El Capitan and Valley View
So spend the last day of the trip exploring the beautiful views on the turnouts on Big Oak Flat Road and Northside Dr. There is no walking involved, just parking at these turnouts and enjoying these views for the last time!
After the intersection of Yosemite National Park Rd and Big Oak Flat Road, there are 3 turnouts that you’ll see labeled as B3, B2, and B1 in that order when driving to the Yosemite Valley. The ‘B’ stands for ‘Big’ in Big Oak Flat Road.
– Stop 1: Half Dome View (B3)
B3 is the first turnout you’ll see on Big Oak Flat Road (after the side road: Yosemite National Park Rd). It’s called the ‘Half Dome View’ turnout on Google Maps and there’s also a small carving of the Half Dome on a rock at the turnout so you can’t miss it. Witness the Half Dome view among granite cliffs and pine trees.
– Stop 2: Merced River View (B2)
B2 is where you’ll see an aerial view of the Merced River. The Merced River runs through Yosemite National Park, where it is the central feature of the valley. If you look closer, you can see the famous Bridalveil falls and the Clouds Rest peak.
– Stop 3: Cascade Creek Waterfalls (B3)
B1 is where you’ll see the Cascade Creek waterfalls when you walk to the middle of the Cascade Creek bridge. What’s great about this stop is that you can see the waterfalls flowing through on either side of the bridge.
– Stop 4: El Capitan
The granite monolith of El Capitan rises to a height of 3,000 feet, making it one of the largest exposed piece of rock. It has long been a popular choice for rock climbers who want to test their skills on its vertical walls. You can view it on the El Capitan Bridge for a close-up view or walk further up to the El Capitan Meadow for a wider view of the El Capitan.
– Stop 5: Hanging Valley Viewpoint
You can see the Bridalveil Falls at the ‘Hanging Valley’ viewpoint. Hanging valleys, like Yosemite Valley, are common in glaciated areas. When glaciers retreat, they leave behind large depressions where they once were. These depressions are typically U-shaped and very deep.
– Stop 6: Valley View
The Valley View in Yosemite National Park is the most famous perspective of the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as the Merced River. It is one of the greatest landscape panoramas in the United States.
The best 3-day itinerary to explore Yosemite California is:
- Day 1: Upper Yosemite Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls and Tunnel View
- Day 2: Beaches, Bridges, Yosemite Chapel and Lake of Mirrors
- Day 3: More views including El Capitan and Valley View
As one of the world’s most visited national parks, Yosemite is an unparalleled oasis and is unlike any other place in the world. From its towering granite cliffs to its shimmering lakes, no description can truly capture all that is Yosemite. But with 3 days in Yosemite, you’re sure to see the best views with this guide.
Planning your next trip?