Yosemite National Park. One of the most visited National Parks in the United States. 4 million people visit each year! The mountains, rivers and valleys astound everyone who visits from around the world.
So how do you possibly see it in 3 days? Let me share with you how we did it!
Yosemite National Park has always been a wonder to me. In April 2017. My mind was burning with ideas of where B and I could go camping. I have lived my whole life in Southern California, and because of that, I have visited Yosemite National Park a couple of times. We always come through the East side, and we rarely venture into the valley because of traffic. A couple of years ago, my family went to Yosemite National Park for a day and hiked the Mist Trail. It was fantastic! I had been wanting to go back and explore more of Yosemite Valley Floor. Especially since we had never been able to camp there.
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In 2017, Yosemite National Park and most of California, had record snowfall and precipitation. The amount of snow that was still in the mountains in April was amazing. Mammoth’s ski season usually ends in the beginning of June. In 2017, it stayed open until August 6th! And it actually opened again in the beginning of November 2017! So when I was researching camping spots for a long weekend in June, I knew we had to go to Yosemite National Park! The amount of water from the melting snow would have Yosemite’s waterfalls roaring! Yes, the river would be roaring too, and we were hoping we wouldn’t get flooded out! So we scheduled our trip for the middle of June to be safe. Hopefully there wouldn’t be flooding then.
My biggest problem was finding somewhere to camp! Last minute camping is very difficult in Yosemite National Park. You have to reserve camp sites when reservations open throughout the year. The 15th of every month at 7am PST opens a new month of reservations. However, we were trying to reserve only a couple of weeks before going. It seemed like every spot was filled up until September! We couldn’t get a first-come, first-served camp ground because we didn’t want to tent camp. I was nervous all of the spots would be taken by the time we got there. I was really trying to reserve Housekeeping camp or Half Dome Village, but they were all booked.
Then, I found a cool tip! People can cancel reservations up to 7 days before their trip and receive their full refund. Within 7 days, however, they lose all the money they paid. So 3 weeks before we were heading out, I scoured the reservations every day waiting for someone to cancel! And guess what?! Someone cancelled their whole week about 2 weeks before we were going to go. So I snatched it up! We were going to Yosemite National Park!
Yosemite National Park Day 1: Welcome to Yosemite!
So we left on Friday morning at around 8am. (We had to wait for B to get home from his night shift!) Travelling from the Inland Empire, we took the I-5 North to Fresno. We entered through El Portal Road as the quickest way to get to Yosemite Valley. Plus, we had to go through the tunnel to get Tunnel View! It was a looong 7 hour drive to get up there! The stop in Fresno to get In-N-Out is always a treat, though.
FIRST STOP: TUNNEL VIEW
The first stop we took in Yosemite National Park was Tunnel View! It is a MUST SEE & STOP! If you don’t have time to stop now, catch it on Day 3 when you leave. From here you can see El Capitan (left) and Half Dome (right). The best place to take a picture is in between both rocks!
SECOND STOP: HOUSEKEEPING CAMP
From tunnel view, we went straight to Housekeeping Camp to check in. We wanted to make sure we got a spot that wasn’t too close to the river so we would avoid getting flooded out and evacuated. I kept a very close eye on the water levels on their website before we left so we could be prepared. We got to Housekeeping Camp and checked out the campsite. Let me tell you…. if I could have stayed there for a week, this is where I would stay! From one side of the camp, looking right, you can see Half Dome through the trees for a gorgeous sunrise in the morning.
If you look left while standing at the river, you will see Upper Yosemite Falls in all it’s glory! In a year without a lot of flooding, staying close to the river would be ideal. There is so much beauty on this side of the camp. We walked around a little and saw a couple of deer very close to our campsite. We also found an awesome bike path (that was a little flooded).
Once we explored our campsite and set up, we set off in the truck to drive the valley floor loop. We stopped after Curry Village at a little meadow where we saw cars pulled off the side of the road. If you ever see people pulled off the road, (make sure it’s legal) but definitely stop. They are usually looking at wildlife. We found some more deer. The best time to see them is dawn and dusk.
We saw our hiking spots for the next day, the Yosemite lodge, Yosemite Village, and other camping sites. On our drive, we drove under El Capitan and saw people finishing up their rock climbs.
Next, we passed Valley View and drove over Pohono Bridge.
We skipped Bridalveil falls, because my parents had not yet arrived, and we planned on seeing it on Day 3 on our way out of the park. However, we did stop at Swinging Bridge to walk around and take pictures of the beautiful Yosemite Falls. It was gorgeous at sunset!
THIRD STOP: SWINGING BRIDGE
From Swinging Bridge, we drove back along the valley floor loop to our campsite. The sun was setting and the deer were out. Right next to our campsite!
PSA: Do Not Feed the Deer! Keep them wild and do not try to touch them!
After the sun set, we started a campfire and cooked yummy food. Honestly, sitting around a campfire is one of my favorite things about camping! It’s fantastic!
A little about Housekeeping camp, it is pretty rustic camping. You do have a double bed and 2 bunk beds. The canvas tent top goes over 3 walls and there is a tie opening in the front onto a little patio. There are electrical outlets, and one light. We added 2 cots, but they would not fit inside the walls of the “tent,” so 2 people on the cots slept under the stars in the “open part” of the tent. They were still covered with canvas in case it rained. It would be perfect for 4 people. The 6 people we had maybe was a little crowded. However, we all slept well and were up in the morning for a full day!
Yosemite National Park Day 2: Hiking!
So like I said before, we went after a record snow year. During the night, the river definitely rose. We were furthest away from the river and closest to the road, but there was water creeping up everywhere around us! That bike path we found was now pretty flooded! See the picture below! So we took off in the morning after breakfast to walk/hike
a little. (We ended up hiking 10 miles!)
FIRST STOP: LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS
We took the shuttle all day to get to our destinations. The Yosemite National Park shuttle service is very easy to use and understand. We did not want to have to worry about parking a car since we were going a bunch of different places. It worked very nicely.
We took Valley Shuttle to stop 6, Lower Yosemite Falls. There is a very nice, almost level walking path that takes you straight to Lower Yosemite Falls. Even my father in law with an injured knee didn’t find it difficult. It was pretty crowded because of how easy the path is though. So be prepared if you go on the weekends to fight some crowds. The path goes by many different views of the waterfall. However, in order to see it the best, you have to walk all the way up to it.
I love that Camelbak backpack that you see in these pictures. It holds 3L of water and all my snacks for a long hiking day. Spoiler: We ended up hiking 10 miles this day! Insanity! If I didn’t have my backpack with me, I definitely would have been super dehydrated. This pack allows me to drink water through the straw so it’s easier to stay hydrated. Always bring water when you’re hiking!
As you can see the trail is pretty paved. It is easy access for most people. Continue to walk until you get to a huge bridge. There, you can get some great pictures with the waterfall in the background.
Once you finish basking in the amazingness that isn the Lower Yosemite Falls, continue down the trail to finish the loop. Make sure you turn around once you get down to the end of the loop because there is a gorgeous view of the waterfall! Look at this view!
It is a gorgeous waterfall though!
SECOND STOP: COLUMBIA ROCK via Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Right next to the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. We walked from the end of the Lower trail to the trail head of the Upper. It isn’t too far. It was a little difficult to find based on the map. But we found it and started to head up! If you find yourself at the end of the Lower loop, turn and face the waterfall, and start walking to the left next to the road. You’ll find it.
Now let me tell you. I knew this hike was going to be difficult. I knew there were switchbacks and there was a substantial incline between where we started and Columbia Rock. But WOW! This is NOT and easy hike! It was a little warm while we were hiking up and we were sweating. Plus, that incline is no joke! Haha.
PSA: If you go on ANY hike in Yosemite National Park, BRING WATER! And lots of it! We saw so many people walking up with no water, no food and no packs. Even if you are just going up to Columbia Rock and not all the way to Upper Yosemite Falls, please be smart and pack appropriately. Bring a day pack and lots of water. We barely had enough and we each brought 3 Liter Camelbak backpacks filled with water. (You can find one like mine here!)
I have this Camelbak. It’s fantastic for day hikes! I literally use it every time we go hiking. It holds 3L of water, lunch, snacks, my GoPro Hero5 Black, my Canon Camera with the lens, as well as all the little things you need for day hiking! When we hike, I don’t go anywhere without my GoPro. All of these pictures on this post are from that tiny camera and my Canon. I’m telling you, I take my GoPro on every trip and every hike! This sleeve and lanyard make it extremely easy to carry with you on a hike. Just snap pictures as you go from the super tiny, lightweight camera hanging from your neck or bag. How easy is that?
So we started up the trail. There were many beautiful views throughout the trail. But the most shocking view was at Columbia Rock. It’s a small, not shaded area that overlooks Yosemite Valley. It’s gorgeous!
We were somewhat disappointed because I thought we could see the waterfall from this part. We couldn’t see any close ones. But the view was worth it. I mean look at that!
I’m sure if you hiked up further you would be able to see amazing views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. But we turned back at this point because it was a hot day and we were already exhausted. We ate lunch on the trail. I always pack sandwiches and snacks! We got to the bottom and were super excited! We loaded onto the shuttle to head back to Housekeeping Camp for a little rest. While we were hiking, my in-laws were bike riding all around the valley floor! They said it was beautiful and so much fun! They saw a lot of cool stuff as well. Like the Merced River!
THIRD STOP: NAPS!!!
We had time to take a nap in the middle of the day. We sat around for about 30-45 min and chatted with family.
FOURTH STOP: THE MIST TRAIL via Happy Isles
After naps and relaxing, my parents and I headed out to the Mist Trail in a place called Happy Isles. It’s next to Curry Village. Once again we took the shuttle over because there would be a lot of traffic at this time of day and probably no parking. We took the Valley Shuttle and got off at stop 16. If you walk down the road a little and across the bridge, you will come to the Mist Trail trail-head.
This is probably my favorite hike I have done in Yosemite National Park. It is difficult but absolutely worth it! A couple of years ago, my family and I hiked the whole trail up to the top of Vernal Falls. Due to time constraints and the amount of water coming from the falls, this time we hiked to the Vernal Falls Footbridge. This is where we stopped to take pictures of Vernal Falls.
See the blue Camelbak?! I literally took it with me everywhere! We could have hiked farther, but the water was rushing and roaring. It was the most water I have seen coming from this specific fall. We went early in the season, and a hiker had already slipped and fallen into the river. He did not survive. Because this river is so dangerous, we decided to just take pictures this time. Please be aware of the river and trail conditions. The river is very dangerous.
Look at that though! SO. MUCH. WATER. (Melted snow really. Haha)
So by this time we were walking back and the traffic to get back to the campground was horrendous. My in-laws and husband were planning on meeting us in Curry Village for a pizza dinner. There was so much traffic, they could not even get that far! The shuttles at this point weren’t moving at all. It would be faster for us to walk. It added a couple of miles to our already tired feet, but it wasn’t bad. We walked to Curry Village, ordered pizza and eventually walked back to camp at sunset.
We found some deer in the meadows at sunset. They were just chillin and looking awesome!
So we got back to camp, shared pizza with the hungry people who got stuck in traffic and sat by our campfire. Did I mention campfires and s’mores are like my favorite things?!
Yosemite National Park Day 3: Fit it ALL in!
We woke up on Sunday to a ton of water all around the campsites! Luckily we were so far away from the river, that we didn’t get flooded out. However, many campsites seemed to have packed up overnight and taken off. It was a pretty crazy site to see! The bike path next to our campground was definitely flooded now! You could barely tell where it used to be!
So a note of caution! If you’re going to camp on the Valley Floor, you need to watch the river levels and flood levels. Luckily for us, we knew it was going to be a flood year, so we took precautions. But it would not have been fun to be evacuated in the middle of the night! So we packed up, checked out, and took off to Bridalveil Falls. Ooooo!!!
FIRST STOP: BRIDALVEIL FALLS
It’s so pretty! We were able to find parking in the lot since we were driving here on our way out of the park.
However, there is a shuttle that goes to this waterfall. There is a short path up to the waterfall. It is pretty steep, so be careful with people who have problems walking up steep hills. It follows the waterfall run off path.
Once you get to the top, it’s a beautiful site.
After stopping and saying goodbye to my parents who were taking their own car home, we decided last minute that we had to stop at Glacier Point! We just couldn’t miss it when we had the whole day left. So off we went.
EXTRA STOP: TUNNEL VIEW
Remember at the beginning when I said you can stop on the way out of Yosemite National Park for another change to see Tunnel View? Well this would be the time! We actually saw my parents getting their picture at Tunnel View since they came into Yosemite in the dark! Haha!
SECOND STOP: GLACIER POINT
The drive to Glacier Point starts pretty far out of the valley. It’s almost to the entrance of Yosemite National Park. This is why we decided to do it on the way home. It was already on the way, and if we got there early enough, we could skip the crowds. Glacier Point basically gives you a bird’s eye view of all of Yosemite National Park. There are many different areas to stop and take in the beauty. It’s absolutely amazing and you can’t miss it!
All of the pictures from Glacier Point were taken on my GoPro! There is no way I could have gotten that amount of space and landscape in a picture with my Canon camera. I love my Canon, but there is no way it can take pictures like these beauties!
I mean look at that view! This picture shows you all the snow that was still up there in June! Crazy amounts of snow.
There are a bunch of places to walk around up here. Different trails to take to find different views.
From this view, you can see Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in the distance. We found Housekeeping camp in that horseshoe looking area on the valley floor down there somewhere.
There is a snack shop and restrooms up here. So don’t worry about it being a pretty long ways away from the valley floor. It was just such fantastic views.
LAST STOP: IN-N-OUT
Once we got back to the car, we drove the 7 hours back home! Of course, we stopped for In-N-Out on the way back. It was a crazy and exhausting weekend, but it was so worth it! Yosemite National Park is a must see! Even if you only have one weekend to see it, just get up and go! Life an adventurous life. Get outdoors. You will thank yourself later and never regret it!
Anyone have any awesome places that you have squeezed into a 3 day trip to Yosemite? Any MUST SEE places that I missed on my trip? Let me know in the comments below.