My 72-hour Yosemite Travel Guide is a direct result of my first visit to Yosemite National Park. I’m not shy to rate it in the top 3 adventure destinations, running neck and neck with the Canadian Rockies and Patagonia.
While Yosemite National Park is best known as one of the planet’s top rock climbing destinations, there is no shortage of adventure for non-climbers like us. It would be possible to spend an entire summer exploring Yosemite National Park, but we found our 72-hours stopover provided more than enough opportunity to explore.
To begin with, I think it is essential to explore the Yosemite Valley. Do the easy trails to Lower Yosemite Falls, walk along the Merced River and gaze at upper Yosemite falls. Sit and watch climbers top out on El Capitan. Photograph sunset from Tunnel view. But don’t forget to have an adventure while taking in all of these quintessential Yosemite experiences.
72-Hour Yosemite Travel Guide Suggestions
Day Hiking in Yosemite National Park
Do These Day Hikes in Yosemite
Half-Dome: Half Dome is quite the sight. Its 2682 m (8800’) summit is one of the most breathtaking landmarks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and despite its sheer granite walls, it’s accessible by an exciting (and challenging) 25km hike. The last 150 m climb a metal cable route, which omit the need for rock climbing skill.
Sadly, the cable route wasn’t in place when we visited in early May, so we were not able to complete this hike. It’s probably one of the leading reasons I’d plan a return visit.
Panorama Ridge to Mist Trail – The Mist Trail is stunning; Views of Vernal and Nevada Falls are close enough that hikers get wet from the spray. It’s also really busy and hiker-jams can occur when the trail narrows. We opted to skip the out-and-back nature of this hike by setting out along the Panorama Ridge Trail from Glacier Point
Panorama Ridge connects to the Mist Trail above Nevada Falls, but avoids the crowds for half the hike. In total, this was a 14 km (8.5 mile) hike but it is practically all downhill.
Just remember, you must have a way to retrieve your vehicle from Glacier Point or start the morning with an expensive $25 shuttle to the trailhead.
Another option we considered was to climb the Mist Trail and descend the John Muir Trail to form a loop that starts and ends at the free Shuttle Stop 16 in the Yosemite Valley.
Avoid This Day Hikes in Yosemite
The Valley Loop – Swayed by Outside Magazine’s The Best Spring Hikes in Yosemite blog post that was published the day before we arrived, we wasted our first afternoon hiking the valley loop trail.
This 21-km (13 mile) trail does offer some spectacular opportunities to see wildlife; however, much of the trail is through thick forests that prevent views of iconic Yosemite landscapes like El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. The most scenic part of the hike occur almost roadside, with wicked views of Bridalveil Falls.
If I could redo the adventure, I’d have opted to save the energy spent on this hike for another of the classic hikes like 4-Mile Trail or Upper Yosemite Falls.
Road Cycling in Yosemite National Park
Do These Road Cycling Routes in Yosemite
There is absolutely no mountain biking in Yosemite. Park bylaws prohibit cycling anywhere except on paved roads and a single 20 km (12 mile) paved bike trail. Thankfully, the road cycling is beyond great. Although most of the roads are quite narrow, I only encountered courteous drivers who yielded until it was safe to pass.
Glacier Point – Glacier Point sits directly above the Yosemite Valley, but it’s a 51.6 (32 mile) climb up a beautifully scenic road to get there. Bears are often sighted in the series of roadside sub-alpine meadows and there is just enough traffic to eliminate any fear of an encounter. I rode up to retrieve our car after completing the Panorama Ridge to Mist Trail hike, so I never had the chance to enjoy what would be a hair-raisingly fun descent.
Check out what the road profile looks like:
Tioga Pass – It’s 116.5 km from the Yosemite Valley to the Mobil in Lee Vinning, California. The route tops out at 3030 m (9943’), making it the highest highway pass in both the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the state of California. The dramatic 13-km 914 m (8.5 mile, 3000’) descent into Lee Vinning would be the ultimate reward for the lengthy climb that passes stunning scenery like Tanaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows on its way to the summit; however, it gets even better as The Mobil is a legendary stop for any Yosemite adventure. Just check out the Dirtbag Diaries Podcast if you don’t believe me!
Avoid this Road Cycling Route
Hetch Hetchy – The road to Hetch Hetchy is beautiful and would make for an excellent road ride with far less climbing than either the Glacier Point or Tioga Pass rides; however, it has two big factors working against it.
The most tragic issue is the devastating forest fire ripped through much of the area in August 2013. While it is beautiful to see from a car, spending the afternoon riding among charred forest isn’t high on my priority list.
Another inconvenience is that this route leaves the national park and reenters it twice to reach Hetch Hetchy. For cyclists who arrived to the park by car (and paid the $20 entry fee) it isn’t possible to ride in and out of the park without purchasing another $10 cyclist park pass.
Camping in Yosemite
Camp 4 – Forget about planning ahead and making reservations at one of Yosemite’s main campgrounds. The first-come first-served Camp 4 campsite is the ultimate place to pitch a tent.
There are some limitations – arriving on a weekend is nigh on impossible and people are limited to 7 nights per season – but it’s worth waiting in line to claim a site.
Divided into 35-shared campsites, Camp 4 has the vibe of the best hostel that’s been taken over by true travelers. A quick look at the tents shows it’s a mountain persons’ campsite. There weren’t the $25 Wal-Mart pop tents. These were mountaineering tents, used by people who required their technical features. It was an opportunity to share a campfire with world class climbers, world travelers, and the dedicated dirt bags who are often obscured in even the most hardcore mountain town.
At $5 per person, per night, it’s the best value in the park, too!