El Capitan & Yosemite Valley Day Trip – 1 hour one-way drive from The Redwoods
Yosemite Valley’s seven square miles is the most visited area of the park, and for good reason. At every turn, you will be treated to one of the outstanding scenic wonders of the Park. Yosemite Valley is also the hub of the Park’s educational, recreational, shopping, and dining choices. In fact, you could make several day trips to the Valley, if you are inclined to spend time exploring or hiking. We’ve outlined below our suggestions for a one-day visit to the Valley, and then listed many of the other choices for you to customize your own day tripping plans.
One-Day Visit to Yosemite Valley
Start early, and take a backpack lunch with you.
Take your Yosemite Guide. The Yosemite Guide is published quarterly and you should receive one at the Park Entrance Station when you enter the Park. We have a small supply of Guides at our office, and one can also be obtained at the Park’s Valley Visitor Center. The Guide has a detailed map of the Park and Yosemite Valley, as well as current information about Park programs, guest services, operating hours, and the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus.
Stop at Tunnel View pullout for your first breathtaking view of Yosemite Valley.
Park your car at the day-use parking lot at Half Dome Village, and take the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus to the Valley Visitor Center (Shuttle Bus Stop #6).
The Valley Visitor center is a good place to start your visit. Park information, orientation programs, exhibits, and books are available.
Board the Shuttle Bus to Yosemite Falls (Shuttle Bus Stop #7). The walk to the base of the falls is easy and short.
Consider a two-hour Valley Floor Tour, which you can board from Yosemite Valley Lodge (Shuttle Bus Stop #8). A 2-hour, 26 mile tour on an open-air tram or enclosed motor coach (depending on weather) to see and photograph the beautiful landmarks and waterfalls in Yosemite Valley. Guides will share information about Yosemite’s animal and plant life, as well as the geology and history of the Park.
Board the Shuttle Bus to Happy Isles (Shuttle Bus Stop #16). Enjoy your backpack lunch soothed by the sounds of tumbling water near the Happy Isles Nature Center. A seasonal snack stand is nearby. The Happy Isles Nature Center is open late spring to early fall. Check the Yosemite Guide for operating hours of both the snack stand and Nature Center.
Happy Isles is the trail head for hikes to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Hike to the Vernal Falls footbridge (1.4 miles, 1-2 hours) for a stunning view of this cataract, or continue along the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls (3 miles round trip; 2-4 hours). This is considered a “moderate to strenuous” hike.
Board the shuttle bus to the Half Dome Village day-use parking lot (Shuttle Bus Stop 1).
Return to your cabin at The Redwoods for a great home-cooked dinner, or enjoy dinner before leaving Yosemite Valley. You can choose from a variety of dining experiences in various Valley locations, ranging from snack food to fine dining. Check the Yosemite Guide for your dining choices.
Customize Your Yosemite Valley Day Trip
Just a Few of Your Other Choices
Rent bicycles at Yosemite Valley or Half Dome Village and tour the Valley on more than 12 miles of surfaced bike paths.
Visit the Yosemite Museum Gallery, Indian Cultural Exhibit and Village, and Ansel Adams Gallery, all located in Yosemite Village near the Visitor Center.
Join a Park Service Ranger for a walk to explore Yosemite’s natural and cultural history. Check the Yosemite Guide for the current schedule.
Venture out on one or more of the many Yosemite Valley Day Hikes described in the Yosemite Guide.
Rent a raft at Half Dome Village and float along the Merced River soaking in the changing scenery of Yosemite Valley.
In winter, ice skate in the shadow of Half Dome at the Half Dome Village outdoor ice rink.
Attend an evening performance of the Yosemite Theater, which offers a variety of theatrical and musical presentations. Check the Yosemite Guide for the current schedule.
Enjoy an elegant dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel’s Dining Room or The Mountain Room at Yosemite Valley Lodge. Note that for dinner, a suit coat and tie for men, and dresses or evening pantsuits for women are preferred at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel’s Dining Room.
On any day trip, always take along a pack with water, snacks, camera, binoculars, insect repellant, and sunscreen. Most scheduled activities, such as ranger-led programs, are offered primarily during the summer months.