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  • Writer's pictureCarly

Yosemite - 3 Day Itinerary

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Your Guide to an Unforgettable 3-Night Stay in Yosemite National Park

Escape to Beautiful Yosemite

Yosemite National Park stands as one of the most enchanting destinations I've ever experienced. Its landscapes are nothing short of majestic, with colossal granite mountain peaks, ancient sequoias, and mesmerizing waterfalls. The air is crisp and invigorating, the water is crystal clear, and the wilderness is an oasis of tranquility. It is in the heart of Yosemite that you truly comprehend the park's immense scale and the profound beauty it holds.

Let's Go!

For our adventure, we planned our stay at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. We had stayed here once before seven years prior, so we were excited to return. You need to book lodging well in advance since accommodations are very limited in Yosemite. I booked our September trip in January.

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We opted for the cozy tent cabins. These canvas tents have wood floors, beds with linens and a bear box to lock up your food. They also come with electricity and heaters, despite their site saying they don’t have electrical outlets and the heaters don’t work until after Labor Day. The heaters were not only operational but quite effective!

Curry Village has several well-maintained bathhouses, a variety of restaurants, a convenient market, and even a bike rental facility. Additionally, it's worth noting that there's virtually no cell service within the valley, and during our stay, the Wi-Fi at Curry Village was temporarily unavailable – a great opportunity to unplug and fully immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.

Day 1: Mariposa Sequoia Grove & Tunnel View & Housekeeping Beach

Our journey started on Thursday with a 6 hour drive from San Diego to Fresno to stay the night. Friday morning, we had about an hour drive to Yosemite's South Entrance, so we arrived at 9am and breezed right into the park. Timing is crucial here, as the entrance can become a bottleneck, leading to long traffic jams if you're not careful. You can sit for hours waiting to get in and/or out of the park, especially on holiday weekends.

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Once you get through the entrance, the Mariposa Sequoia Grove is immediately on your right. We parked and took a 10-minute shuttle ride to explore the colossal sequoias. Their immense size is jaw-dropping, with branches 8' in diameter and trunks so spacious you can stroll right through them.

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Afterward, we drove through the iconic Wawona Tunnel to Tunnel View, where we marveled at Yosemite's iconic landmarks – Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and the lush valley below. This is an amazing site to take in, the tranquility of the mountains surrounding us.

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Continuing our journey, we went on another 15 minutes into the valley and checked into our tent cabin a few hours early. We unloaded the car, grabbed some food from the nearby snack shack, and then strolled over to Housekeeping Beach. It's a great location right along the Merced River and offers breathtaking views in every direction that are mirrored by the water below.

Crossing the bridge at Housekeeping takes you to a wide sandy beach where you can unwind, surrounded by granite cliffs and the chilly waters of the Merced River. After hanging out for a bit, we headed back to camp and called it a night.

Day 2: Vernal Falls

We had initially intended to rent bikes on Saturday, but due to the possibility of rain, the rental facilities closed for the day. If you're within driving distance to Yosemite and have bikes, I highly recommend bringing them along. A scenic bike path spans the entire valley floor, allowing you to leisurely explore the sites at your own pace. Despite the change of plans, we took full advantage of the free shuttle service within the valley and also covered a lot of ground on foot.

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We set our sights on Vernal Falls, eager to test our limits now that the kids are seven years older than last time we were here! The initial leg of the hike is on a 1 mile paved walkway that has a pretty steady incline to the first viewpoint. From the bridge, you can see the falls is the distance, which makes us want to keep climbing so we could see more! Just passed the bridge there is a restroom, where we stopped and had a quick snack before continuing on.

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The incline becomes steeper as the path transitions into stairs. With each step, the view of the falls gets increasingly more magnificent. The sun peeking through the clouds created instant rainbows in the mist, and the powerful sound of the falls produced an almost therapeutic atmosphere. As we climbed, the energy of the falls heightened, delivering an enchanting and truly magical experience.

Post-falls, we made our way back to camp, indulged in a meal and a well-deserved rest. Later, we went back to Housekeeping Beach to fish and play in the water for the afternoon. Returning to camp, we spent the evening in hammocks suspended from trees, enjoying a game of flashlight tag, and ultimately winding down for the night.

Day 3: Ahwahnee & Lower Yosemite Falls

I booked reservations in advance for a 9am breakfast at the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in their charming Ahwahnee Dining Room. The Sunday morning breakfast buffet offered a warm meal served in a setting of unparalleled beauty. Our dining experience was further enhanced by a nice server who shared insights into year-round life in Yosemite. Learning about the nuances of each season and the unique lifestyles and shopping spots of the residents was so interesting!

Following breakfast and a little souvenir shopping, we hopped on the shuttle and headed to Lower Yosemite Falls. This scenic gem unfolds along a 1-mile loop on flat, paved walkway through a serene forest with substantial boulders and fallen trees, perfect for the kids to climb. The beauty and sheer magnitude of the cascading falls left us in awe.

Despite the persistent, heavy rain by this point, we brought umbrellas which allowed us to wander comfortably, staying rather dry. We walked through Yosemite Village and stopped at the Village Store, after which we made our way toward Curry Village along the Merced River. If the weather had been more more favorable, we would have gone to the Swinging Bridge beach—a past favorite. This spot is perfect for a picnic lunch, offers breathtaking views and shallow waters for playing.

Returning to camp, we headed to the cozy main dining room at Curry Village. There, we ate pizza and ice cream while playing cards, and staying warm and dry amidst the elements.

We spent the evening at our campsite, and packed up our car to get ready for an early departure the next morning. We left around 6 am and beat the holiday traffic out of the park. The drive back to San Diego took a little over 7 hours, so we had the afternoon to unpack and get settled back at home.

Until next time, Yosemite.

Yosemite is more than just a destination; it's a place where you can unplug, reconnect with nature, and immerse yourself in the beauty and grandeur of one of the world's greatest treasures. Experiencing Yosemite National Park is truly a gift, and we came home with hearts full of cherished memories.



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