One Day in Yosemite

One Day in Yosemite

John Muir included a hike over the top of El Capitan and Ribbon Fall in one of his "one day" Yosemite itineraries published in The Yosemite (1912). Photo: Yosemite Conservancy

In his 1912 book The Yosemite, John Muir addresses a conundrum that arises for every park visitor: "How Best to Spend One's Yosemite Time." The park's 748,000 acres of forests, meadows, mountains and waterfalls could fuel weeks, months, even years of hikes, climbs and nights under the stars.

But what if you don't have a month, or a week, or even a weekend? What if you only have one day? Muir mulled over that question, and came up with a pair of itineraries. Here's the first:

If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite I should start at daybreak, say at three o'clock in midsummer, with a pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, the head of Illilouette Fall, Nevada Fall, the top of Liberty Cap, Vernal Fall and the wild boulder-choked River Cañon. 

His second suggestion directed readers to hike up the Yosemite Falls Trail, head west to Eagle Peak, El Capitan and Ribbon Fall (pictured above), and descend back to the Valley floor via what was then the Big Oak Flat wagon road.

Would Muir's top spots make your list? We asked our social media fans what they would do with one day in Yosemite. Their answers were all over the map, but we found some common themes...

  • Take a breather on your way up the Four Mile Trail to admire the view of Yosemite Falls. Photo: Keith Walklet.Scope out the south rim. The Four Mile Trail emerged as a crowd favorite: A 4.8-mile hike up the south side of Yosemite Valley offers steep switchbacks and views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome as you climb to Glacier Point. If you're up for double-digit miles, take the Panorama Trail down — as the name suggests, you'll end up with plenty of scenic fodder for your post-Yosemite daydreams.

  • Stay in the Valley. A few fans proposed jam-packed days on the Valley floor. One itinerary included guided tours, a riverside picnic, a spin through the museums and the Ansel Adams Gallery, and a hike to lower Yosemite Fall. Another ended the day at sunset, photographing Horsetail Fall as it spills down the east side of El Capitan.

  • Or leave it behind. Love the high country? Try a day hike from Lembert Dome to Glen Aulin. Turn around at the High Sierra Camp (11 miles round-trip), or continue to Waterwheel Falls. Want to head skyward? Make your way to the top of Clouds Rest from Tioga Road or Happy Isles, and see how many peaks you can identify in the 360-degree view from nearly 10,000 feet.

  • Savor a single spot. A number of fans chose one place for their one day: Taking in the views from Eagle Peak, the highest of the Valley's Three Brothers; watching the sunrise from the top of Half Dome; basking in Sierra scenery at Sunrise Meadow or Tenaya Lake; or tracing shifts in light and clouds as the hours tick by at Tunnel View. 

Our Outdoor Adventures team has spent a lot of time mulling over the "one-day" question. We know that many people have limited time in the park, so we offer hikes, bird-watching walks, and other activities that pack a rich experience into a few hours. You can join our naturalists to spend a day exploring the Valley, soaking up the majesty of waterfalls, exploring geology and ecology, hiking in the high country, and much more.

Getting outside with a guide can help you ensure that you make the most of your hours in Yosemite. Our scheduled group adventures and personalized trips let you immerse in scenic surroundings and soak up as much beauty (and naturalist knowledge) as possible, rather than spending precious park moments searching for a trailhead or paging through a guidebook.

While Muir’s itineraries, and our fans’ suggestions, focused primarily on hiking, there are plenty of things to do in Yosemite that don’t require lacing up your boots and hitting the trails. You could…

  • Take a four-hour workshop with a professional artist. Our seasonal art workshops, based at Happy Isles, let people of all artistic abilities delve into painting, nature journaling, scientific illustration and more.

  • See an evening show at the Yosemite Theater, where actors, rangers and rock-climbers bring real stories to life on stage: stories of 19th-century adventurers and modern-day Search and Rescue missions, of finding balance on and off the park’s famous walls, and of the Buffalo Soldiers who served as early Yosemite guardians.

  • Pick up some fresh reading material at one of our bookstores in the park, and find a peaceful spot to peruse the pages — maybe along banks of the Merced River, where you can listen to the soothing sounds of flowing water and seasonal songbirds, or on a sun-warmed boulder in Tuolumne Meadows, where you might look up from a sentence to find mule deer grazing nearby.

  • Earn a Junior Ranger badge. (Yosemite’s donor-supported Junior Ranger activities are great for kids, but there’s no age limit!) To get started, complete the self-guided booklet, participate in a ranger walk or talk, pitch in to keep the park clean – and then pledge to explore, learn about, and protect the natural world.

The view from Sentinel Dome, off Glacier Point Road — a short hike and big views makes this a great stop on a one-day Yosemite itinerary. Photo: Keith Walklet.

A few of our fans couldn't fathom the one-day-in-Yosemite situation, and responded with variations of "I'd sit on a rock and cry." Renowned naturalist Carl Sharsmith, who spent six decades as a seasonal ranger in Yosemite, is said to have reacted the same way when asked what he would do with a single day in the park.

Perhaps anticipating that sense of despair, Muir proffered two- and three-day itineraries, too, covering major summits such as Mount Dana; Cathedral, Red and Merced peaks; and Mount Hoffmann, which he recommended for its panoramic views, especially at sunrise:

No mountain top could be better placed for this most glorious of mountain views — to watch and see the deepening colors of the dawn and the sunbeams streaming through the snowy High Sierra passes, awakening the lakes and crystals, the chilled plant people and winged people, and making everything shine and sing in pure glory.

Yosemite's captivating beauty inspired Muir more than a century ago — and we bet it will inspire you, too, no matter how much time you get to spend in the park. With that, we'll leave you with one of the comments that caught our eye, from Yosemite fan Cindy G.:

Any time spent anywhere in Yosemite makes me happy. ❤

Yosemite Insider