The Park in One Day
Take the self guided "grand tour":
Start your trip through the south entrance of Yosemite (approx. 30 minutes from the Inn). Take Hwy 49 for 10 minutes to the town of Oakhurst, the highway Ts at Highway 41, at the stop light turn left, continue straight through Oakhurst on Highway 41 for another 20 minutes. The south entrance has 3 pay booths to make it a quick entrance to the park even on busy summer days. After passing through the booth area you will come to a stop sign, turn left to continue to Yosemite Valley (approx. 1 hour from the entrance). Insider Information: The $30 entrance fee is good for 7 days, if you plan to visit Yosemite for multiple days be sure the hang onto your receipt. Or if you are visiting 4 or more National Parks during your travels you should consider purchasing a National Parks annual pass for $80, which will get you into all the National Parks, like Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, etc.
As you drive north on Highway 41, you will pass by the Big Trees (Wawona) Lodge (big white historic hotel), the turn off for Glacier Point (you'll come back to that later), and finally go through the Wawona Tunnel. There are lots of views before the tunnel, but wait to stop until the moment you come out of the tunnel, make an immediate left into the Tunnel View parking lot. I call this view the "awe" moment, because this is your first glimpse of the stunning Yosemite Valley in all its glory.
Continue your drive into the Valley, make Bridalveil Falls your first stop (on the right), hike the short ¼ mile (400m) paved trail to the base of the waterfalls, in the spring it can be very wet here, so protect your camera. Insider Information: You can see this waterfall from tunnel view on the right side of the valley. If there was no water in the falls you may choose to skip this stop to spend more time elsewhere during the day.
After Bridalveil Falls, continue on the road to the right following the signs to Yosemite Village Parking Lot. Park your car in the Village parking lot (Alternative parking can be found in the Half Dome (Curry) Village Parking lot) and catch the free Yosemite Shuttle to Happy Isles (Stop 16). Insider Information on the Shuttle system:Summer time- the shuttle comes every 5-10 minutes and is the best way to get around the valley with less hassle and less walking. It also helps the park manage road congestion and will give you a chance to look out the windows as you are chauffeured around Yosemite Valley. Winter time- the shuttle comes every 30-45 minutes and can sometimes slow you down unless you have perfect timing. You may want to consider driving to all the view areas, other than the Mist Trail and Mirror Lake as this road is closed to public traffic all year round.
At Happy Isles you are in for a grueling but worthwhile 1.6 mile (2.6km) round-trip hike to the bridge at the bottom of Vernal Falls. Keeping hiking to the top of the falls via the Mist Trail for more of a challenge and a view from the top of the falls, a 3 mile (4.8km) round-trip. Insider information: the trail after the bridge is mostly all stairs so be prepared to work your legs, and if you take the Mist Trail in spring or early summer make sure to bring an umbrella or rain coat, they don't call it the Mist Trail for no reason.
If Vernal Falls appears too strenuous or you want an additional hike, take the Free Shuttle to Mirror Lake (Stop 17) for an easy 2 mile (3.2km) round-trip stroll on a paved roadway to the lake that resides at the base of Half Dome for a humbling view of the dome giant. Insider information: Mirror Lake is small and sometime non-existent in the fall and winter, but the hike to the base of Half Dome is what makes this hike worth the easy stroll. When you reach the restrooms, make sure to keep going a little further to reach Mirror Lake.
After your hike, hop back on the Free Shuttle and take it to The Majestic Lodge (Awahanee Hotel) for a view of the grand old hotel. There is a small bar that offers a nice selection of alcoholic beverages, appetizers, and sandwiches, with outdoor seating, and also, a formal dinning room which serves lunch (informal dress is ok) and dinner (Reservations are required and formal dress is required). Insider information: Keep your eyes out for wildlife around the hotel, many deer like to graze in the meadow out back, and we have seen a black bear around this area several times during all times of the year and even a bob cat.
After the hotel, take the Free Shuttle to the General Store for great opportunity to stock up on souvenirs. From the General store, either walk or take the Free Shuttle to the visitor center for an educational display of the Valley and how it was formed, and a nice museum with information on the history of the people and places in Yosemite. Make sure to catch the videos in the theater out back called "The Spirit of Yosemite" and/or "Yosemite: A Gathering Place" and a ranger program while you're there. Insider information: If you have kids or are a kid at heart, out back next to the movie theater there is an Indian village showing the teepees and warming house that the native Ahwaneechee used while they lived here. It is a fascinating self guided walk that is enjoyable for people of all ages.
Finish off your loop around the park by taking the Free Shuttle to Yosemite Falls. Walk the short paved ¼ mile (400m) to the base of the tallest falls (2,425 feet / 739m) in the lower 48 states and marvel in its grandeur. Insider information: As you are walking from the shuttle stop to the falls make sure to be looking up, there is a point along the trail that you can see both the upper and lower falls at the same time, which is a great photo opportunity.
Grab the shuttle back to your car at Yosemite Village - Shuttle stop 10 and walk across the street (or Half Dome (Curry) Village - Shuttle stop 15) on your drive out of the Valley make sure to stop under El Capitan to see the climbers tackle the granite face, parking is on the left side of the road and is usually recognizable by the amount of cars, and people with binoculars. Also, before you leave the Valley look to the left side of the road for a small pull out along the Merced River, this is called Valley View, and offers great pictures of the Merced River and El Capitan.
Finish the loop by exiting following the signs towards the Highway 41 South. (If you only have 1 day in Yosemite this is the time to continue to number 12 and see Glacier Point, the turn off is 15 minutes south of the Tunnel View parking lot) From Oakhurst turn right on Highway 49 (the stop light past McDonalds and the movie theater) and drive approximately 8 miles (13km) to Silver Spur Trail, turn right on the road and then find the Inn on your left side. You have made it back to your home away from home.
If you are continuing straight back to the Inn, consider exiting through the west entrance of Yosemite, Highway 140. This will provide a nice loop and takes you through the town of Mariposa for a dinner stop or if you prefer dinner in Oakhurst shave off 10-15 minutes of your drive back by taking the Triangle Road short cut.
Insider information: Along Hwy 140 you will encounter a road detour, the wait should not be longer than 15 minutes. This detour is happened on May 28, 2006 when a major liquid rockslide covered approximately 600 feet (180m) of the highway. Because it was a liquid rockslide they were unable to move the rocks so they had to move the road. This summer you will start to see evidence of them beginning to move the rockslide to re-establish the road.
If you have 1.5 to 2 days to tour Yosemite, start your day here:
After entering the South Gate of Yosemite, turn left at the stop sign. From the entrance drive approximately 40 minutes on Hwy 41 then turn right to take the road to Glacier Point Road. Drive 16 miles (26km) one-way (approx. 30 minutes) to the end of the road and the Glacier Point Parking lot. Park and walk the ¼ mile (400m) paved trail to Glacier Point, which offers a sweeping areal view of Yosemite Valley, 3,200 feet (980m) below.
Shuttle Bus: In the summer a free shuttle service runs from Yosemite Ski Area to Glacier Point. Visitors will be directed to the Ski parking area between 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The 30-minute shuttle ride will include stops at Sentinel Dome/Taft Point Trailhead and Washburn Point with additional stops upon request at McGurk Meadow, Ostrander Lake, and Mono Meadow Trailheads. The last shuttle will depart Glacier Point at 5:30 p.m. The Yosemite Ski Area remains closed for the summer season. *If you don't want to take the shuttle bus make sure to get to Glacier Point early in the day, or after 4:30pm if you are aiming for sunset.
Insider information: If you have time the Innkeeper's favorite hike is Sentinel Dome, the trail head is located 2 miles (3.2km) before the Glacier Point parking lot. The easy 2 mile (3.2km) round-trip hike on a dirt trail (easy until you climb up the dome) offers 360 degree views from the top with no trees or mountains in the way of your view.
Insider information part 2: If you are able to time your visit well, Glacier Point is the best place for sunset photos of Yosemite Valley.
Two Ways to See Giant Sequoias:
Nelder Grove: From Glacier Point drive back to Highway 41, turn left, drive approximately 40 minutes back to the South entrance. When you reach the South Gate, turn right to exit the park. Drive 12 miles (19km) south of the entrance to Road 632/Sky Ranch Road and take a left. Drive approximately 8 miles (15 minutes / 13km) to the turn off for Nelder Grove. Drive 1 mile (1.6km) along a maintained dirt road. At the juncture turn right for the Shadow of the Giants hike. This easy 1 mile (1.6km) hike will take you around to see a small grove of mature trees. If you would like to do more hiking with the giant sequoias and are willing to brave the 1 lane dirt road, drive toward the campground and park at the trail head for the Chimney Tree and Bull Buck Tree. The loop for these 2 trees is approximately 2.2 miles (3.5km) of easy hiking. Please borrow the map in your room binder to help you with the trails.
Mariposa Grove: From Glacier Point drive back to Highway 41, turn left, drive approximately 40 minutes back to the South entrance to visit Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia for a look at the worlds largest and oldest trees. When you reach the South Gate area do not exit the park, follow the signs for Mariposa Grove Parking. We recommend to hike the easy-moderate 2 mile (3.2km) round-trip dirt trail to the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Insider information: if you have more time or make this part of a half day trip to Yosemite the moderate 6 mile (9.7km) dirt trail loop that goes up to the museum and beyond. It is 3 miles (4.8km) of all uphill to Wawona Point, and 3 miles (4.8km) of all downhill back past many giant sequoia trees, including the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. It is a worthwhile hike, as you leave most of the other tourist behind after the first mile (1.6km).
After craning your neck up at the trees hop back in your car and drive back to Highway 41. Turn left onto the highway heading back to Oakhurst where you can grab a good hearty dinner after your day of sight seeing. (See the menu book in your room binder). From Oakhurst turn right on Highway 49 (the stop light past McDonalds and the movie theater) and drive approximately 8 miles (12.9km) to Silver Spur Trail, turn right on the road and then find the Inn on your left side. You have made it back to your home away from home.