**UPDATED March 2024**

How Many Days to Spend in Yosemite

Half Dome! Yosemite National Park. California

We decided to spend spring break in Yosemite which fell at the end of March/early April. To avoid as many crowds as possible, we traveled during the week (arriving on Monday and leaving on Friday) which gave us essentially three days in Yosemite.

It’s possible to see Yosemite in one day, over a weekend, or even spend a week exploring the park. Three days was a perfect amount of time to see some highlights, explore a few areas a little deeper, and not feel too rushed.

Planning a Trip to Yosemite: Things to Know

Here are some things you should know when planning a trip to Yosemite.

Yosemite Entrance Reservations

Important!! Check to see if a park reservation is required when you plan to visit.

2024 Entrance Reservations

January 1 – February 9No reservation required
February 10 – February 25A reservation is required 24 hours per day on Saturdays, Sundays, and on Washington’s Birthday (Monday, February 19)
February 26 – April 12No reservation required
April 13 – June 30A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and on holidays (May 27 and June 19)
July 1 – August 16A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm every day
August 17 – October 27A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and on holidays (September 2 and October 14)

Reservations are put in place to control the number of visitors in the park at any given time. Reservations were NOT required when we went in the spring, but are typically required during the busier months (May – September). Permits go quickly once they are released so check here for great tips on securing a permit. NOTE: Even if you have an annual America the Beautiful or lifetime pass you still need a park entrance reservation to enter!

How to Visit Yosemite Without a Permit

There are a few ways to visit the park without a reservation.

  • If you stay at lodging within Yosemite you do not need a reservation.
  • If you book a day trip through a tour operator this will most likely include your entrance to the park.
  • If you already have a wilderness reservation (for backpacking) or a permit for Half Dome, you do not need a separate reservation.

Yosemite Seasonal Closures

If you are traveling to Yosemite in the winter or spring, be aware that there are some seasonal trail, road & activity closures.

Check out the current conditions in Yosemite here.

Yosemite Seasonal Trail Closures

Many of the trails, especially at higher elevations, have snow even in early April. In March/April, some were open for use with caution and others were closed. For trails open for use with caution, do your research beforehand to assess whether they are doable for your hiking skillset. I like Alltrails, but there are a lot of review sites out there.

Yosemite Seasonal Road Closures

  • Glacier Point Road – usually closed due to snow from mid-November through late May/early June
  • Tioga Road – usually closed due to snow from mid-November through late May/early June
  • Mariposa Grove Road – closed from around November 30 through at least March 15, but often until sometime in April

Yosemite Seasonal Activity Closures

Additionally, certain activities are not available until late-May/June like bike rentals, rock climbing classes, rafting, etc.

America the Beautiful Parks Pass

If you plan to visit a National Park more than 3 times in one year, then consider purchasing an America the Beautiful Annual Pass.

America the Beautiful Parks Pass Cost as of January 2024:

  • Annual Pass (Everyone): $80
  • Annual Pass (Senior 62+): $20
  • Lifetime Pass (Senior 62+): $80
  • Annual Pass (Active US Military): $0
  • 4th-Grade Pass (US 4th Graders): $0. Valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September thru August). Find detailed information here: Every Kid Outdoors

The pass is good for more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

How to Spend 3 Days in Yosemite

Below is our 3-day Yosemite itinerary. We balanced our time between seeing a lot of sites in Yosemite Valley with some off-the-beaten-path hikes to see Yosemite a bit deeper.

I recommend choosing some hikes or activities where you may only see one small area of Yosemite, but you see it closely and truly experience it. This is how we came up with our Yosemite plan and it’s typically how we travel everywhere.

Our itinerary focused on seeing waterfalls. The great thing about visiting Yosemite in March and April is the waterfalls are generally at their fullest! Even if you just plan to view the falls from a distance they are spectacular. Up close, they are even better!

Day 1: Hike to Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy Valley

On the other side of the tunnel! Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Yosemite National Park
Admiring the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Wapama Falls in the distance

About Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy is a lesser known area of Yosemite National Park and has fewer crowds than Yosemite Valley. The hike to Wapama Falls is spectacular and absolutely worth a visit.

Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valley are similar as they were both formed by the same sequence of geological activity. The Tuolomne River, which runs through the Hetch Hetchy Valley, was dammed in 1923 to create a reliable water source for the San Francisco Bay Area.

The surface of the reservoir hides 300 feet of granite cliffs and a valley floor that once was home to bears, bobcats, eagles, flowered meadows, and ancient forests. This is why Hetch Hetchy is often referred to as “Lost Yosemite”.

Wapama Falls Hike Details

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation: 200’ gain
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • No dogs; no strollers
  • Parking: Free
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Location: trailhead begins at the O’Shaughnessy Dam
  • Be Aware: Hetch Hetchy Road has operating hours and the trailhead is inaccessible when the road is closed. Check here for details.

The hike starts across the top of O’Shaughnessy Dam, through a tunnel, and then along the edge of the reservoir until you reach Wapama Falls. The views of the reservoir, towering granite cliffs, and waterfalls along the way are truly spectacular.

"Lost Yosemite" - Wapama Falls Hike. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Some call this “Lost Yosemite” as these massive granite rocks would be even more impressive and a lush valley would be revealed without the reservoir.

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls are an impressive 1080 feet tall and were roaring when we were there in late March. We stopped and had lunch while admiring the falls and then turned back around.

The trail continues to Rancheria Falls which adds another 7 miles roundtrip to the hike. This part of the trail has an amazing wildflower display in spring. However, it can be impassable during the winter/early spring with water & snow so we did not even attempt to go past Wapama Falls. Would be a great option for the summer months though!

Looking at Wapama Falls from the bridge. Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy.
Looking at Wapama Falls from the bridge
Wapama Falls gushing! Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy.
Wapama Falls gushing!

Our Rating:

My 11-year-old and I loved this hike! This trail hugs the edge of the reservoir and has unobstructed views of the valley the entire way. The granite cliffs and massive waterfall left me feeling very small!

I loved learning about the history and was amazed by the beauty of this area. My 11-year-old loved the rocky trail for hopping, climbing, and testing his parkour skills. In spring, there were lots of small waterfalls along the way, many of which ran across the trail. He also loved testing his “water resistant” hiking boots by walking through puddles and streams.

We both rated this hike 10/10.

More details on our hike to Wapama Falls here.

Day 2: Yosemite Valley

Hiking the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. California.
Hiking the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

Our plan was originally to break up two hiking days with bike riding through Yosemite Valley. My son was SO looking forward to this, but unfortunately, even with lots of planning, I failed to confirm that bike rentals would be available when we were there (See Seasonal Closures Above – lol!).

Other options to view the valley are by walking or driving.

Bike Yosemite Valley

Biking is the best way to get around Yosemite Valley – you can cover more ground faster than walking, you’re outside, and everyone gets exercise! Bike rentals are typically available beginning in early April at Curry Village or Yosemite Village.

Or bring your own bike! I wish we had done this as we had driven from the Bay Area and could have easily brought them with us. We will do this next time!

We spotted a bear along the river! Yosemite National Park. California
We spotted a bear along the river!

Hike Yosemite Loop Trail

This trail starts along the road, but veers into the meadow, along the Merced River, and to the base of El Capitan. We started at Yosemite Village and spent the first mile and a half walking along the road, through parking lots and lots of crowds which we did not like. Starting at Lower Yosemite Falls will cut some of this out.

Once we veered into the meadow, the crowds dissipated and we saw very few people – we even saw a bear along the river (see above!). We ate lunch on the bank of the Merced River with El Cap in the background. Although it wasn’t the day we planned it was still a great way to see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and experience the tranquility of the Merced River.

  • Distance: 11.5 miles (full loop); 7.2 miles (half-loop)
  • Elevation: Mostly Flat
  • Difficulty: Moderate (because of the length – minimal elevation gain/loss)
  • Trailhead: We started at Yosemite Village though it’s recommended to start at Lower Yosemite Falls (shuttle stop #6)
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. California
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail.

Drive Through Yosemite Valley

There is one main road that goes through Yosemite Valley and it is one-way.

One option is to identify the spots with good viewing areas and then stop and park at each location. The risk is that if there is no parking available, or you miss the spot, you have to keep going because it’s one way and you can’t turn around. The idea of doing this caused me great anxiety. I would much prefer to walk or bike and not deal with the hassle of repeatedly finding parking. In hindsight, the Valley was not that crowded in March/April and this likely would have been a feasible option. I would never try it in the summer.

Another option is to join a small tour group for the day. While I would prefer to be outside walking or biking, I wouldn’t mind riding around in a small van where someone else had to deal with parking. I do think this would be a great way to get an overview of the park, see the sites, learn some history & background, and then decide which areas to explore further on future days. Joining a group like this is also a great way to get around not having a day-use permit.

Day 3: The Mist Trail to Vernal & Nevada Falls

If you do one hike in Yosemite make it this one!

I had hiked to Vernal Falls as a kid and then had taken the Mist Trail past Nevada Falls to Half Dome in high school. I had vague memories of the trail, but vividly remembered hiking up steep stone steps alongside a waterfall. And I remembered it being hard!

Admiring Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail. Yosemite National Park, California
Admiring Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail

Hike Details

  • Mileage: 8-9 miles to the top of Nevada Falls, depending on whether you take the John Muir Trail or winter routes back down.
  • Elevation: 2,000’ gain
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • No dogs; No strollers
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Location: trailhead begins at Happy Isles
  • Parking: We parked at the day-use lot off Happy Isles Loop. There was plenty of parking available when we arrived at 9am in early April. When we left around 2pm the road to the lot was closed to traffic. So arrive early if you want to use this lot.

Vernal Falls

The Mist Trail is an amazing hike that I highly recommend! But it’s important know what to expect before hiking this one.

The hike to Vernal Falls is pretty much an uphill climb the entire way and some parts are quite steep. While we saw a lot of kids on this trail, I would only take kids who are experienced hikers, good listeners, and know to stay away from the edge. It starts as an uphill path and transitions to stairs after about a mile.

Depending on the time of year, the stairs may be quite slippery from the mist from the falls or they may be covered in snow. We hiked this on April 1st and there was only minimal snow with only one spot where we actually had to hike through it.

Beginning the stairs to Vernal Falls. The Mist Trail. Yosemite National Park, California
Beginning the stairs to Vernal Falls

There are parts of the trail that are extremely steep and there is not always a guardrail. We saw people getting extremely close to the edge (even posing their kids there) and it made me SO NERVOUS.

The trail hugs the edge overlooking the falls from this point of the trail to the top of Vernal Falls. It is spectacular and a good distraction from all the stairs. The trail is quite narrow in places and we had to pull over to let hikers heading down pass (partly to be nice and partly because it was a welcome break!)

Mist Trail to Vernal & Nevada Falls. Yosemite National Park, California
So. Many. Stairs. And, yes, it IS as steep as it looks!

There is a large area at the top to relax with a snack or picnic and enjoy the view of the falls.

Nevada Falls

We had read in some recent reviews that many hikers were turning around at the top of Vernal Falls because of the snow. We had decided before beginning the hike that we would play it by ear because we weren’t sure what the trail conditions would be like. At the top of Vernal Falls, my son was ready to head back, but I wanted to keep going because the trail was in good condition.

This is where things got dicey.

Heading up the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. Yosemite National Park, California
Heading up the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls

As I mentioned, this hike is tough and we were both pushing ourselves. My son was pushing himself farther than he ever had and doubted whether he could do it. I knew he could.

The Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. Yosemite National Park, California
Deciding whether he wanted to keep going or turn around

There was a lot of back & forth about him being able to do hard things and when he got up from this rock above he decided he would make it to the top.

The trail to Nevada Falls starts as walking on rocky granite, transitions to a dirt path through the trees, and then the final stretch is more stairs that zigzag up to the top. We measured our progress by how far we had come up alongside the falls. It was also great because as we got closer, the people coming down would tell us we were almost there and it was SO worth it! That motivated us to the top.

Almost to the top of Nevada Falls! The Mist Trail. Yosemite National Park. California
Almost to the top of Nevada Falls!

Once we reached the “top” the trail veered left towards the top of Half Dome or right towards Nevada Falls. We walked the last flat stretch to the top of the falls!

Finally reached the top! Making our way over to Nevada Falls. Yosemite National Park, California. Mist Trail
Finally reached the top! Making our way over to the falls.

It was pretty amazing to be at the top!

Overlooking the top of Nevada Falls. Yosemite National Park. California. Mist Trail
Overlooking the top of Nevada Falls

We ate lunch overlooking the falls and enjoyed the views. My son said he was so happy he went to the top and it was absolutely worth it!

View from the top! Yosemite National Park. California. The Mist Trail
View from the top!

The hike back down was much quicker, but by the time we got back to Vernal Falls my legs were done!

It was the most amazing feeling to complete the hike: challenging ourselves physically, enjoying the incredible views and the sense of accomplishment!

Our Rating

This is another hike we both rated 10/10. It’s just stunning. The only negative was the number of people on the trail. Going up it wasn’t too bad. On the way back down from Vernal Falls it was extremely crowded especially with hikers coming up the trail. Getting an early start on this trail is best!

More details on our hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail here.

What to Pack for Yosemite in Spring

** I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. This means I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Wondering what to pack for Yosemite in the spring?

We had cool mornings & nights in the 40s and warm days (75-80 degrees). It was unseasonably warm in California the week we were there, but spring temperatures can be unpredictable (it snowed the week after we were there!). So check the weather forecast before you travel and be prepared for warm, cold, snow & rain!

Yosemite Spring Packing List:

Check out this complete list of the Best Hiking Gear for Kids

  • Layers:
    • Base Layer: Since we knew it would be hot, we hiked with a short sleeve shirt for my 11yo and a lycra/nylon tank for me
    • Then as needed, we added a non-cotton long-sleeve shirt
    • Fleece
    • Insulated jacket (we love these Nano Puff jackets from Patagonia)
    • Rain/waterproof jacket (we had no rain, but these came in handy hiking on The Mist Trail). I bought the Rainwall jacket from REI for my son right before our trip
  • Hiking pants – we have a variety from Columbia, REI & Prana
  • Hat: baseball hat, warm beanie
  • Hiking boots – A good pair of hiking boots is key. In spring the rocky trails can be wet & slippery or even covered in snow. Good traction and a waterproof/resistant material are key to prevent slipping and keep feet from getting cold/wet. We both hiked in Merrell. I’ve had mine for over 5 years and am due for a new pair because the traction is wearing. My son’s new Merrell Moabs stood up to the test of him walking through running water & deep puddles.
  • Wool socks
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking Poles – We don’t have any, and the Mist Trail was the first time I wished I had some!
  • Backpack & Water Bladder – Mike & I almost always carry our Camelbaks and when we go on long hikes we make the kids carry them too. I recommend at least 1.5 liter bladder for kids like this one and 2 liters for adults like this one.
  • Essentials: First Aid kit, Compass, Flashlight/Headlamps

Where to Stay in Yosemite

There are many lodging and camping options in Yosemite both in the park and outside of the park. Here are the places in Yosemite where we’ve either stayed or want to stay!

Rushcreek Lodge

Roasting s'mores at one of the many firepits around the property at Rushcreek Lodge. Yosemite National Park. California
Roasting s’mores at one of the many fire pits around the property at Rushcreek Lodge

For this trip, we stayed at Rushcreek Lodge just outside the main entrance to the park on Highway 120. Here’s what we loved about it:

  • Restaurant that offers 3 meals a day
  • General store that offers grab & go meals, snacks, drinks, and coffee (plus a gift shop)
  • A large heated pool plus two hot tubs 
  • A huge park area with 3 ziplines, a tall & fast slide, a large tire-rope swing, climbing area & a tunnel. PLUS bocce ball, horseshoes, enormous outdoor checkers & connect four boards.
  • Game area with pool, foosball, pinball, shuffleboard, and an indoor playhouse.
  • Nightly s’mores to roast around one of the many firepits.
  • Hiking trails right on the property
  • Activity Center for kids
  • Gym
  • Spa
  • Bike & equipment rentals 
  • Seasonal excursions to the Valley & surrounding areas for hiking, biking, rafting, snowshoeing, sight-seeing, etc.

Evergreen Lodge

Evergreen Lodge is the sister lodge to Rushcreek Lodge. We briefly drove by the property on our way to Hetch Hetchy and it looked like another good option with many of the same amenities & excursions available, as well as a frisbee golf course!

Other Yosemite Lodging Options

Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel is located in Yosemite Valley – it was built in the 1920’s to attract well-to-do clientele and is simply stunning! Stay here if you can – it is a special experience. There are cottages and rooms in the main hotel. Don’t miss the spectacular Dining Room with 34 foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows! We stayed here for a friend’s wedding and had to book our room exactly one-year in advance.

Curry Village

In the park, there are quite a few campgrounds as well as Curry Village where I’ve stayed twice. They have heated & unheated tented cabins as well as wooden cabins. I’ve only stayed in the tented cabins which is basically like camping, in my opinion.

Tenaya Lodge

Another option outside the park is Tenaya Lodge. Located near Yosemite’s south entrance, this is another great family friendly option. They have family cabins, a pool, a spa, kids adventure course, excursions, etc. It’s also dog friendly.

We haven’t stayed here (yet) but tried to book twice. The first time our reservation was canceled due to wildfires and the second time it was canceled due to the pandemic.

Seasonal Activities in Yosemite

Depending on when you visit in the spring, some of these seasonal activities may be available!

Mountain Biking in Yosemite

Biking around Yosemite Valley is one of the best ways to get around. To explore by bike even further, try mountain biking on the hundreds of trails around Yosemite. Check out a company that offers family friendly to advanced guided tours, like Pedal Forward.

Or try Exchequer Mountain Bike Park with 700 acres of terrain dedicated to mountain biking and open to all ages and levels of mountain biking.

Rock Climbing in Yosemite

Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service is the only company authorized to lead & teach rock climbing in Yosemite. They offer beginning to advanced classes and recommend a multi-day approach with each day building upon the skills learned the previous day.

Class sizes are limited so sign up early to avoid disappointment. Kids ages 12+ can join a class independently, kids 10-11 can join with parental supervision, and kids under 10 can sign up for a private lesson with an adult.

Rock climbing in Krabi Thailand
Learning to rock climb

Whitewater Rafting in Yosemite

For a fun action-packed family adventure, go white water rafting in Yosemite! Whitewater rafting varies year by year and is highly dependent on water levels, water temperature, and seasonal snowmelt. This activity is available anywhere between April & September.

There are two locations for rafting in Yosemite:

  1. Yosemite Valley where the river is calmer. Pick up a raft at Curry Village and float gently 3 miles down the Merced River.
  2. Merced River where you can find class 2-4 rapids. Multiple companies offer half day to multi-day rafting options on the Merced River. Be sure to check out any age minimums set by each company based on rapid class & water level.
  • Zephyr – located just minutes away from Yosemite Valley, they are the largest whitewater rafting outfitter on the Merced River.
  • Sierra Mac – This locally-based & family-owned company has been operating since 1965 and specializes in Yosemite rafting trips.
  • Oars – Running trips down the Merced River beginning in April/May
  • Whitewater Excitement – Offers a rafting day trip down Class IV rapids. Springtime is typically the best for this section of the river as the rapids are virtually nonstop. The minimum age for this course is 14 years.

Horseback Riding in Yosemite

Horseback riding in Yosemite is generally offered from May through late fall. Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures offers 1, 2, and 5-hour trail rides through towering pines and lush meadows. The 5-hour ride takes you by one of the largest sequoia trees in the world (2000 years old!).

No previous riding experience is required. Riders must be at least 7 years old.

Fishing in Yosemite

The stream and river fishing season begins in Yosemite National Park on the last Saturday in April and runs through November 15. All other lakes & reservoirs are open for fishing year-round.

Some outfitters, like Yosemite Fly Fishing Guide, guide fishing trips within Yosemite. If you choose to go without a guide, be sure you’re aware of all the regulations for fishing within a National Park as well as licensing requirements.

Ski, Snowboard and Tube at Badger Pass Ski Area

Badger Pass Ski Area is a family friendly full-service ski area located close to Yosemite Valley. The operating season generally runs until mid-to-late March

Activities included at Badger Pass:

  • Skiing and snowboarding – they offer 10 ski runs (most are beginner to intermediate runs), a challenging terrain park, equipment rentals, lessons, backcountry ski tours, and a free shuttle service to many locations in Yosemite Valley.
  • Cross country skiing – they offer 90 miles of marked trails, equipment rentals, lessons, and guided backcountry tours.
  • Snowshoeing – snowshoers can use all the same trails as cross country skiers. They offer equipment rentals and guided snowshoe walks.
  • Snow Tubing – there is a family friendly hill for tubing (no sledding)

Ice Skating in Yosemite

The family friendly outdoor ice skating rink at Curry Village is open during the winter months (typically late-November through early March). The rink is located right in the heart of Yosemite Valley. There are typically several sessions available daily, equipment rentals, fire pits, and amazing views of Half Dome. Check here for current prices and availability.

Snowshoeing in Yosemite

If the trails are covered in snow making hiking challenging, consider snowshoeing! Whether you want to take a guided tour or head out on your own, there are many snowshoeing opportunities in Yosemite.

  • Yosemite Valley – Any of the flat trails in Yosemite Valley are perfect for snowshoeing!
  • Badger Pass (above) – is a great place to begin if you’re new to snowshoeing.
  • Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias – Follow the 2-mile Grizzly Giant Loop Trail to see the Grizzly Giant (3,000 years old), the Fallen Monarch, and the California Tree Tunnel.
  • Dewey Point/ Glacier Point Road – More experienced snowshoers can try the 7-mile hike to Dewey Point via Glacier Point Road. The road is closed to traffic during the winter, but open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
  • YExplore Yosemite Adventures – Offers beginner and extended guided snowshoeing tours on both popular and lesser-known trails. They provide all the equipment and cover basic snowshoeing techniques.

Yosemite Half Marathon

Are you a runner? The Yosemite Half Marathon in May is a great way to see the Sierra National Forest just outside Yosemite National Park! This is a downhill point-to-point course finishing at Bass Lake. Find more information and race details here.

Museums, Galleries and Indoor Activities in Yosemite

Ansel Adams Gallery

Ansel Adams, brilliant black & white landscape photographer and ardent conservationist, took many instantly recognizable photos of Yosemite. Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village to see a comprehensive display of his original photographs, from his earliest work to his most world-renowned.

Yosemite Museum

Visit the Yosemite Museum to learn about the geological beginnings of Yosemite Valley to the arrival of the first visitors.

Yosemite Valley Chapel

Check out the Yosemite Valley Chapel located in the heart of Yosemite Valley. It’s gorgeous to just look at – or plan to attend a service while you’re there.

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