Only have 24 hours? Make the most of it with this tour of the park’s must-see sites.
Watch a High Sierra Sunrise
Begin your big day in the park’s highest country with a 2-mile trek (round-trip) to a ridge overlooking granite peaks, snowfields, and meadows.
Enter at Tioga Pass at least 30 minutes before sunrise (road open in summer and early fall). Gaylor Lakes Trailhead parking is just inside the entrance. Climb steadily up switchbacks, gaining 500 feet to a 10,500-foot-high ridge. Catch your breath and wake up to the view that looks down onto Middle Gaylor Lake and offers a bird’s-eye vista of Sierra summits including Mt. Dana.
Alternative view: Olmsted Point is just a few miles down the road with an expansive view close to the road. Young children can easily walk the 0.2 mile trail to a second overlook.
Eat a Power Breakfast
Fuel up at Tuolumne Meadows Grill, which serves hearty meals from a canvas tent, or dine on outdoor picnic tables and watch Belding’s ground squirrels in the meadow. Breakfast menu items include buckwheat pancakes and scrambled eggs, hash browns, and fresh biscuits. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Order a sandwich to go for lunch or buy picnic supplies at the store next door. Open in summer and early fall.
Study Up at Parsons
Swing by Parsons Memorial Lodge, a 1915 stone building accessible via an easy, 1-mile walk from the Tuolumne Visitor Center parking lot on Tioga Road. Built by the Sierra Club, the building is one of the earliest stone structures constructed in a national park. The popular Summer Series presentations from scientists, naturalists, artists, poets, and philosophers take place here every summer. Visit yosemiteconservancy.org for this summer’s schedule.
Picnic on Tenaya Beach
Located just off Tioga Road, sparkling Tenaya Lake is impossible to miss as you descend from Tuolumne Meadows. The 150-acre snowmelt lake offers polar-bear swimming in summer and a great place to nap and picnic on sunny, white-sand beaches. Follow the 1-mile path around the lake’s south side to a shoreline away from the crowds.
Gawk at Giant Sequoias in the Tuolumne Grove
Walk among the giants in this quiet grove of about 25 200-foot-tall sequoias near the intersection of Big Oak Flat and Tioga Roads. A 1-mile trail drops 500 feet to the grove, which is less crowded than the larger Mariposa Grove. (Also, the Mariposa Grove is closed for renovations.) Follow the .5-mile interpretive path through the trees to learn about sequoia natural history, passing right through the hollowed-out Tunnel Tree as you go.
Soak up Yosemite Falls
Cool off on a steamy afternoon in Yosemite Valley by basking in the spray of Yosemite Falls, a three-tiered spectacle where water plunges a total of 2,400 feet. Flow peaks in June and tapers off by August. Reach the Lower Fall via a .5-mile path at Valley shuttle stop 6, or hike to the top of Upper Fall via a 7.2-mile, round-trip trail.
Dine at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Yosemite’s legendary Ahwahnee Hotel (now called Yosemite Majestic Hotel) serves upscale organic, local fare such as lamb shank, steelhead trout, and prime rib in a “resort casual” environment (read: Reservations and smart attire are a must). Dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For a more casual meal, head across the lobby to the Ahwahnee Bar.
Stargaze at Glacier Point
Enjoy the best seat in the house from this 7,200-foot-high perch, located a one-hour drive from the Valley via Glacier Point Road. Granite domes glow pink at dusk, and then stars fill the sky. Sign up for a guided program, or peek through public telescopes set up by amateur astronomers.
On summer weekends, several local astronomy clubs host free stargazing parties at the Glacier Point Amphitheater. Visitors can peer through public telescopes and learn more about the constellations shining over the park. Make a night of it by camping at nearby Bridalveil Creek Campground.