From jaw-dropping waterfalls and epic rock formations to giant sequoias and boundless wildlife, Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places in America. Yosemite in 3 Days certainly isn’t enough time to fully experience this extraordinary national park, but it will give you a solid taste and a reason to return!
Located in the Sierra Nevadas of Northern California, Yosemite National Park is a destination every nature lover should add to their bucket list. It’s best known for its mighty granite peaks and raging waterfalls that tower over Yosemite Valley. But beyond the iconic sights, this park is home to some 1,200 square miles of wilderness and meadows that you can explore any time of year.
I explored Yosemite as part of a 9-day Northern California tour with Globus Journeys, which also covered San Francisco, Sonoma Valley, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, and Mammoth Lakes. Though the tour was quite relaxed and slow paced, I found it to be an excellent way to get my feet wet in the region. Having a tour guide made things super easy and simple, and we also learned a lot of interesting things about Yosemite National Park that made the experience that much more enriching.
If you’re looking for a guide to spending a long weekend at Yosemite National Park, you’ve come to the right place. Here is the ultimate itinerary of Yosemite in 3 days, which includes the highlights and lesser-known parts of the park.
Curious what group touring is like? Read next: Globus Choice Touring Review
Exploring Yosemite on a guided Globus tour
I’m usually someone who likes to rent a car and explore places on my own. However, there is certainly a time and place when guided tours are more convenient and practical, and I believe Yosemite and Northern California (in general) are prime for this way of traveling.
Not only do organized tours take care of the hassles of logistics and trip planning, but they also ensure the safety of all travelers, which is especially important during these Covid times. In the fall, wildfires are another concern in California. So, doing a guided tour with a local guide will help keep you out of harm’s way.
When you’re exploring a vast park like Yosemite, internet reception is non-existent, so advanced preparation is needed. Additionally, Yosemite now has a reservation system, meaning that visitors cannot access the park unless they receive entry tickets well ahead of time. These hurdles alone can justify doing a guided tour of Yosemite, but for me, the main benefit is having a knowledgeable tour guide who can show you the best spots and provide insightful information about the park.
With Globus Journeys, I felt totally at ease the whole trip. I also cultivated a deep connection with Yosemite National Park that I likely wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Sure, the gentle pace of the guided tour meant that I didn’t get to cover all the spots, but when I return, I’ll know where to go and what to do!
Now, without further ado, here is the 3-day Yosemite National Park itinerary that I did on the California Dreaming: Northern California by Design tour. It gave me an awesome high-level overview of the park, and I’m confident it will for you, too!
First stop on the Yosemite itinerary: Tioga Pass
Driving from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite, we entered the park’s eastern entrance through a mountain road called Tioga Pass. At an elevation of 9,943 ft., this is the highest highway pass in California, offering some of the most breathtaking views of the park.
Located in Yosemite’s high country, Tioga Pass is filled with beautiful meadows and lakes, all enveloped by magnificent granite peaks. From here, you’ll have access to many popular hiking trails, as well as Tuolumne Meadows, the largest high-altitude meadow in the Sierra Nevadas.
Tioga Road is typically open from late May until early November, but it depends on the snowfall. Refer to the official National Park Service website for more the most up-to-date information on road closures.
As you drive deeper into the park through Tioga Pass, you can’t miss Olmsted Point. It’s about 10 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows and the parking lot is always bustling with visitors. This viewpoint offers epic vistas of Tenaya Canyon, including iconic sights such as Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, and Clouds Rest. The parking lot offers a decent vantage point, however, if you can brave a five-minute hike, do that for even better views.
Take in the magnificent valley views, dense forests, and lofty glacial rocks. It’s easy to see why Olmsted Point is among the best places to visit during 3 days in Yosemite.
Located in Yosemite’s high country, Tenaya Lake is a must-see on the Tioga Pass. It’s not nearly as crowded as other places in the park, but it’s certainly no less breathtaking.
Tenaya Lake is about a mile long and it’s surrounded by large granite peaks and domes. It’s a great place for kayaking, swimming, and boating during the warm summer months. Enjoy a picnic here at a table or on the beach with stunning alpine views, or go hiking around the lake. Whether you’re looking for exciting outdoor adventures or a scenic photo stop, Tenaya Lake shouldn’t be overlooked during a trip to Yosemite in 3 days.
If you only have a long weekend in Yosemite, you won’t want to miss the star of the show, Yosemite Valley. It’s home to the park’s most famous waterfalls and rock formations, all visible from this gorgeous pine-covered meadow.
There are several notable hiking trails crisscrossing Yosemite Valley, including Bridalveil Fall Trail, Yosemite Falls Trail, Mirror Lake Loop, Half Dome Trail, and more. Given that the valley is super flat, it’s perfect for hiking and bike riding. From June to November, bikes are available for rent at Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village, and the Village Store. You can also bring your own!
If you’re into photography, be sure to check out the Ansel Adams Art Gallery in Yosemite Village. The Globus tour arranged an Ansel Adams photography tour, which was one of the highlights of the trip. More on that further below. The valley is also home to several shops and eateries where you can recuperate after a long hike.
Know before you go: If you wish to see the waterfalls in full action, visit Yosemite in late spring and early summer. My visit was in the late fall, so the waterfalls were all dried up.
Tunnel View is a must-see on a 3 day Yosemite itinerary
For outstanding views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls, make a photo stop at Tunnel View. This scenic overlook is located right outside of the Wawona Tunnel on Highway 41. The best vantage point is from the parking lot, so no hiking is required.
From the viewpoint, you’ll see El Capitan on your left and Bridalveil Falls on your right. In the center, there’s a massive canyon with a lush, forested valley and Half Dome in the distance.
The best time to visit Tunnel View is late spring, when the weather is warming up and the waterfalls are at their peak. Is this one of the coolest things to see on a Yosemite National Park itinerary? Absolutely!
Ansel Adams Black and White Photography Tour
This was one of the highlights of my Northern California tour with Globus Journeys, hands down. A Kaleidoscope in Black and White is a private guided photography tour that gives you insightful tips, commentary, and photo spots in Yosemite Valley.
As one of the country’s most acclaimed landscape photographers of the 20th century, Ansel Adams was crucial in promoting conservation efforts at Yosemite National Park. He is credited with taking iconic images of the American West in black and white. Though technology has significantly improved since his time, the basics of photography remain the same, which made this a very informative and enriching tour.
Our tour guide from the Ansel Adams Gallery, Blake, eagerly shared the story of Ansel Adams and his commitment to wilderness preservation in Yosemite National Park. He also provided us with helpful photography techniques that we could use to take stunning photos, including composition and scale.
One of the most unique features of the tour was watching Blake take photos on a classic 4×4 View Camera. This is the type of camera Ansel Adams used when capturing the beauty of Yosemite.
Blake set up this primitive piece of equipment on Wawona Swinging Bridge, where he explained to us the various photography techniques and patience required to use it. Interestingly, it costs $5 to produce a single photo. So, if you plan to own one of these cameras in the future, be selective in what you shoot!
During a 3 day Yosemite itinerary, you’ll want to take as many photos as possible. A photography tour is a great way to do just that!
El Capitan is the highlight of a Yosemite 3 day tour
Soaring 3,500 ft. over Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the most memorable sight in the park. This granite monolith is a favorite amongst professional rock climbers, who scale this steep rock all the way to the summit.
To put things in perspective, El Capitan is 2.5 times taller than the Empire State Building. It’s also 3 times higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Our Globus bus driver, Ron, pulled over next to El Cap Meadow with an excellent vantage point of El Cap. It was also a great angle to see Bridalveil Falls; however, due to the dry fall weather, there was no water flowing. From the meadow, you’ll have a great view of climbers, though you should use binoculars to see them properly.
For rock climbers, El Capitan is one of the most challenging climbs in the world. Very few people have made it to the top of these sheer cliffs, but when they do, it typically takes a couple of days and lots of equipment. However, back in 2017, renowned rock climber Alex Honnold was able to free climb El Cap without any equipment in 3 hours and 56 minutes. Quite the feat!
This incredible free-solo ascent was one of the many interesting things I learned on my Globus tour. Another great reason to do a guided tour over DIY!
Yosemite Valley View
Looking for more stunning views of El Capitan and the rest of the valley? Yosemite Valley View is a top lookout spot.
This is my favorite place to take photos in Yosemite. I love the reflections on the water and the towering cliffs hanging over the creek. El Capitan is on the left and Bridalveil Fall is on the right, making this one of the top places to see on a Yosemite 3 day tour.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Home to over 500 giant sequoias, Mariposa Grove is a must-see on a Yosemite National Park itinerary. Large tour buses can’t access this part of the park and Yosemite’s shuttle system isn’t currently running. So, you’ll have to drive a small vehicle or hire a private guide to get you there.
A group of us on the Globus tour organized a private tour with Discover Yosemite, which was an unforgettable experience. Not only did we get to hike around Mariposa Grove, but we also were able to visit Glacier Point.
One of the best overlooks of Yosemite Valley is at Glacier Point. At an elevation of 7,214 feet, Glacier Point towers over the park and provides commanding views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the rest of high country.
Know before you go: The road leading up to Glacier Point is closed for repairs in 2022. As such, the only way to reach this viewpoint is by hiking trails (Four Mile and Pohono Trails).
Where to stay during a 3 day Yosemite itinerary
Given that time is of the essence, you’ll want to find a hotel near the top sights at Yosemite. There are very limited lodging options inside the park, which are typically booked out several months in advance.
I stayed at the Tenaya Lodge, located right at the entrance of the park. It’s about an hour from Yosemite Valley, but it’s one of the best accommodations in the area. It’s decked out with a beautiful outdoor swimming pool, spa services, onsite dining, and other rustic amenities/fixtures that perfectly embody Yosemite.
Some highlights of staying at the Tenaya Lodge include the breakfast buffet, guided nature hike, horseback riding, and mountain biking for rent on the property. The spa is excellent, and there are even archery lessons that you can take at the hotel.
I found the Tenaya Lodge to be super cozy and comfortable, and the location, while not perfect, is better than most other Yosemite lodging options. A big thank you to Globus for always finding the best accommodations in a destination!
What to pack for Yosemite in 3 days
Heading to Yosemite National Park and curious what to bring? Here are some ideas:
– Sturdy waterproof boots for hiking. Many popular hiking trails crisscross rivers, waterfalls, and creeks. So, it’s a good idea to bring a good pair of boots or hiking shoes that you won’t mind getting wet.
– Rain jacket. This will not only keep you warm and dry from the rain, but also from the mist from the waterfalls throughout the park.
– Reusable water bottles. In the summer, Yosemite can get very hot. But even if the park isn’t hot during the time of your 3 day visit to Yosemite, you’ll still want to bring plenty of water. Long hikes can certainly dehydrate you, especially when taking into account the high elevation throughout the park.
– Binoculars. If you’re like me and don’t have 20-20 vision, binoculars are a great idea to see the top sights in the park. Binoculars are also excellent for spotting wildlife such as bears, and even for watching rock climbers scaling El Capitan.
– Extra clothing layers. Regardless of the time of year, you should plan to bring extra layers on your long weekend trip in Yosemite National Park. The temperatures can be quite different between Yosemite Valley and the higher elevations in the park. In addition, it can get hot at Yosemite during the day and very cold at night.
– Sunglasses and sunscreen. When you’re strolling through the meadows of Yosemite Valley, you’ll quickly realize how strong the sun is. That, along with the high elevation, can make your skin burn quite easily. Don’t make the mistake of going out for a long day hike without wearing sunscreen (and/or sunglasses and a hat).
– Bug spray. Like other national parks around the US, Yosemite is filled with mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. Be sure to protect yourself by bringing insect repellant.
Frequently asked questions about how to see Yosemite in 3 days
Is 3 days in Yosemite enough?
3 days is sufficient to cover the highlights of Yosemite as well as some hidden gems. You could easily spend weeks or even months exploring Yosemite National Park, but 72 hours will give you a decent taste of it.
What is the best time of year to visit Yosemite National Park?
The best time of year to visit Yosemite is in late spring. If you plan on coming between mid May and early June, you won’t encounter any crowds. With the snow melting off the mountains, you’ll find that the waterfalls are at peak flow during this time. Wildflowers are also in full bloom in May. For an even quieter trip to Yosemite, consider visiting in late fall after wildfire season is over. Yosemite National Park is also incredibly breathtaking in the winter.
Is Yosemite National Park open?
Yosemite is open year-round: 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Though there are winter road closures, particularly on Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road. Refer to the official Yosemite National Park website for current conditions in the park.
How to get Yosemite day pass?
To visit Yosemite National Park, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. The price varies depending on the type of transportation used to enter the park (i.e. car, RV, motorcycle, bicycle, etc.). At the time of my visit, there was a timed reservation system in effect at Yosemite, however, it has since been discontinued during the offseason. Refer to the National Park Service website for more details regarding fees and passes.
Three day itinerary Yosemite: What to do in Yosemite for 3 days
Hope you enjoyed reading about how to spend a long weekend in Yosemite National Park. Though three days is only enough to scratch the surface, you’ll find plenty of reasons to fall in love with the park and of course, come back for more! Have you been to this park before?
How many days do you need in Yosemite? Feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram or drop a comment below!
Want to learn more about taking a guided Globus tour through Northern California? Read next: Choice Touring with Globus Journeys