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Itineraries The Ultimate 3-Day Spring Itinerary to Yosemite National Park Hiking with Friends

The Ultimate 3-Day Spring Itinerary to Yosemite National Park Hiking with Friends

Spring is arguably one of the best times to visit Yosemite National Park. Fresh snow melt, cooler weather, colorful wildflowers, glorious rushing waterfalls, and less crowds — anyone else falling more in love with the park? Equally these are some of the biggest reasons both tourists and locals flock to the Sierra Nevada Mountains during spring. 

Yosemite stretches over 759,620 acres and has four main entrances with the Southern Gate being the most popular gate for LA tourism and SoCal visitors. (Editors note - the Tioga Pass entrance, and Tioga Road which provides direct access to much of the park's high country, typically don't open till late Spring or Summer). With three days to explore this massive park, you may be curious to know what are the best attractions to see. Trust me, I definitely was. Each season highlights different natural wonders within the park. So, this spring I headed out in search the best itinerary for other fellow outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. 

Read along to find the top hikes, experiences, and restaurants to try this spring.

Did you already start planning your trip? If so, the first thing you’ll want to do is make a park reservation. Reservations for summer 2022 are crucial since the park is repairing its infrastructure at main attractions like Bridalveil Fall and Glacier Point Road. 

These booking reservations will be required starting late May thru September 2022. Note that reservations are only required during peak hours from 6 am to 4 pm. That means if you forgot to make your reservation (or prefer to live on the dangerous side), feel free to show up at the gate at 5:59 am or 4:01 pm, as the park rangers will gladly let you in. (Editors note - expect long(er) waits at the gates right around 6am and 4pm, especially on weekends, as many guest attempt to get access.  So we recommend going in even earlier than 6am and later than 4pm to avoid the wait).

The fee for peak-hours reservation is $2 USD. Keep in mind, this fee is on top of any park pass (i.e. Yosemite park pass, America the Beautiful pass, etc.) and it’s non-refundable.

Whenever you plan to arrive, stop by Glow Cafe in the southern gateway town of Oakhurst to grab a mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up. This smoothie shop recently expanded its menu to include even more savory options such as breakfast sandwiches, smoked tri-tip chili, and more. 

No matter the season, a stop at the iconic Tunnel View is a must. Take a peek at Half Dome, soak up the lush greenery and enjoy the distant waterfalls as they fall into the abyss of the forest. 

Make your way to Curry Village, where you’ll park and start your first hike of the day — Mirror Lake.

Starting at the trailhead (Shuttle stop #17), the hike is 2 miles out and back to the lake. If you wish to extend your hike and loop around the lake, expect to add 5 miles. While the lake is a great hiking trail year-round, spring is special due to the blooming meadow and the water level of the lake. This seasonal lake is at its fullest as the snowmelt from Tenaya Creek flows generously into this area. 

If you’re a fan of beautiful wildflowers such as lavender lupine, next you’ll want to head to Wawona Meadow Loop. This off-the-beaten-path trail is bustling with brightly colored pockets of wildflowers. 

During my hike, I also saw golden yellow monkeyflowers and possibly alpine buttercups. The trail begins right across the street from the Wawona Hotel, and it’s a very easy 3.6-mile loop. It’s also a great trail for mountain biking and running as it is very wide and well-maintained. 

After the hike, start the trek toward your hotel in Oakhurst and along the way take a small detour to Bass Lake and grab dinner at Ducey’s Bar and Grill. This restaurant is perched high over Bass Lake, featuring spectacular lakeside views and yummy dishes like fried Brussel sprouts, decadent pasta, and more. 

Tip: Not sure where to stay? Check out the Yosemite Southgate Hotel & Suite as it’s rated four stars on TripAdvisor. On top of the spacious rooms, we absolutely loved the jacuzzi and sauna since they were the perfect post-hiking recovery aids.

Wake up bright and early to grab breakfast at the hotel. Pack snacks and lunch, and bring lots of water to explore one of the best waterfall trails in Yosemite — Hetch Hetchy's Wapama Falls. 

There are a couple of ways to access Wapama Falls, but the most scenic route (and easiest) is to enter through the South Gate. Along the route, you’ll witness another cascading waterfall called Cascade Falls (pun intended). This waterfall is hard to miss, but the signage isn’t the best. My advice is to drive slow, then pull off to witness the beauty of the rushing water.

Hop back on Big Oak Flat Road, also known as Highway 120, and continue onward till you exit the park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Follow the road and re-enter Yosemite through the Hetch Hetchy Entrance for another 17 minutes to reach the trailhead. 

Once you reach the trailhead, you’ll find restrooms and parking, which can be scarce as backpacking in this area is extremely popular. We arrived around 10 am and snagged a great spot, but the lot filled up quickly.

Slather on sunblock, grab a cap, and head towards the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Here you can immerse yourself in the history of the dam which provides water to San Francisco and the scenic views of the enormous Hetch Hetchy valley. 

After crossing the dam, the trailhead begins right after passing through a dark tunnel lit up sparingly by mining lights. Begin your slow ascent up the mountainside and along the dam towards Wapama Falls. The trail is 5.5 miles out and back, zigzagging through various biomes to reach the ultimate reward — being drenched by a colossal waterfall. It’s basically a giant outdoor shower! (So, do us a favor and leave your clothes on till you shower back at the hotel.) 

After being soaked by the waterfall, you’re bound to be hungry for dinner! Stop by the Wawona Hotel Dining Room to grab a bite to eat at a historic location. Enjoy the view of the Wawona Meadow from the restaurant, relax on the patio, and tour the grounds to spot more colorful patches of wildflowers.

After two beautiful days of trekking through Yosemite, day three is about exploring the park via bicycles. Yup, that’s right, you’ll be biking to gain a new perspective on the intricacies of the wilderness in Yosemite. After breakfast, you’ll want to head to the best bike shop in town — Pedal Forward Bikes And Adventure. Located on Highway 41, a couple of blocks from the tourist information and visitor center is the one-stop shop for all your bike woes and joys. We rented our bikes from here and were impressed by the mountain bikes. Feel free to bring your bike to get a tune-up before heading up the mountain, rent a mountain bike, or pop in to get some recreational tips before your cycling excursion. 

Inside the park, you’ll find over 12 miles of well-maintained paved paths for bicyclists and pedestrians (so share the road). If that’s not your jam, feel free to cycle on the roads as long as you follow the traffic rules. 

Tour around the Valley, starting at Yosemite Village. Here you’ll find rustic shops, eateries, a museum, art galleries, and more explaining the rich history and cultures behind Yosemite National Pack. Admire the stunning views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, then pedal forward (pun intended) following the marked signs to head to the next stop — Yosemite Falls.

Ride past the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead entrance and gaze up at cascading waterfall - the largest in North America. Feel free to park your bike here and hike up to explore the mighty falls up close. 

After your leisurely hike, continue pedaling to grab some lunch at the food court, Base Camp Eatery, at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Here you’ll find many options ranging from black bean burgers to rice bowls.

Now that your tummy is satisfied, explore the bike paths near Curry Village. Follow the paths along the Valley Loop, or journey through Cooks Meadow to take in the falls from further away. Make a stop at the historic Yosemite Chapel, then continue back towards the village. Stop by the stables to wave hello to the mules and horses, then continue towards Mirror Lake or veer off any trail that calls to you. 

Make your way back to the car (stopping to grab ice cream at Curry Village), then wave goodbye to this glorious park. Don’t forget to return your bikes after which I highly recommend grabbing dinner at South Gate Brewing Company, a tasty American-style restaurant.

Ciara is a travel writer, health & wellness writer, certified wellness & transformative travel coach, and a world traveler who’s visited over 30 countries. Her work has been seen in USA Today, Essence, Travel Noire, and many other publications. When she’s not writing for publications or coaching, Ciara is traveling the world with her amazing husband, eating chocolate chip cookies, and writing for a wellness travel blog she founded, Wellness Travel Diaries. On her blog, you’ll find adrenaline-seeking inspiration, outdoorsy adventures, drool-worthy allergy-friendly eats, and tried and true wellness hacks.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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