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Itineraries Yosemite In A Day - Spring

Yosemite in a Day - Spring

Spring is an ideal time to be in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. The waterfalls are flowing, dogwoods are in bloom and the river is rushing. Get an early start! This is a full day’s worth of activities.

Changes for 2023 * 

Visitors to Yosemite will experience some changes from normal operations for the 2023 season.  Some of these changes include:

  • Glacier Point Road will re-open to vehicular traffic in the spring (timing is largely dependent upon weather conditions). Note - there will be 30-minute delays. More info can be found here.
  • Bridalveil Fall (trail, viewing area and parking lot) will remain closed until the summer of 2023 as the park finishes the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project.  More information on the project including the anticipated improvements can be found here.
  • The Ahwahnee will be closed due to a seismic improvement project until March 3rd.

Yosemite has projects continuing throughout the year (e.g. completion of the new Valley Visitor Center). These may impact travel times and access to specific areas and services. We strongly encourage all visitors to travel responsibly and Know Before You Go.  One of the best ways to do that is to check the park's current conditions webpage.  You can also give us a call here at the Visitor Center (559) 683-4636.

Also note - Rangers and volunteers are staffing an outdoor visitor information kiosk near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

From the Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitor Center in Oakhurst: Go northbound 15 miles on Hwy 41 till you get to the South Gate entrance.  The Park entry fee is $35 per car, good for 7 days; if you are 62 or older and a US citizen or permanent resident, you can obtain a Senior Pass for $80, good for life at all National Parks.  After passing through the South Gate, you can take a quick right to head over to the Mariposa Grove Welcome Center, or go through the small roundabout and continue on Hwy 41 (Wawona Road) for roughly another 25 miles till get to all the way to Yosemite Valley.  

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

A walk through the giants...

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias sits right inside the South Gate of Yosemite. Here you can stroll or hike among the gentle monarchs, the largest living things on earth. The some of the giant sequoias of the Mariposa Grove approach 2,000 years old and provided one of the main reasons for the creation of Yosemite National Park. The Native Americans stepped here first, followed by adventurers such as Galen Clark, John Muir, and Teddy Roosevelt. 

To get to the grove, park at the Welcome Plaza area just inside the South Gate entrance and take the free shuttle up to the Arrival Area. (Note - the road is typically closed through the winter into early spring due to snow. Visitors can take a 2-mile hike up the Mariposa Grove Road or  along the Washburn trail up to the grove. Depending on conditions, you can also either cross country ski or snowshoe up to and in the grove).

Walking/hiking is required to see most of the trees in the grove. Go prepared with a hat, good hiking shoes, and plenty of water. In early Spring, be prepared for some lingering snow, patches of ice, as well as melting snow along the trails.  Take refillable water bottles (there are no single use water bottles available in the park). There are drinking fountains to fill/re-fill your bottles at the Welcome Center and at the Arrival Station.

Once in the grove:

  • Take a short stroll to the Fallen Monarch, about 0.3 mile loop - EASY. 
  • Hike to the Grizzly Giant, the largest tree accessible to the public, two miles round trip - MODERATE
  • Journey to the Upper Grove cabin and Wawona Point, seven miles round trip – STRENUOUS (check to make sure this trail is open – may be closed due to snow)

For those with a handicap placard, you can drive to the parking area near the Grizzly Giant to enjoy a short, accessible walk to the Griz. Seven handicap spaces are available in that lot, along with restrooms.

Looking for the most up-to-date status for the Mariposa Grove? You can be find it here. 

Historic Wawona Hotel

The historic Wawona Hotel at dusk

There's a lot to do and see in one of the park's historic centers: 

  • Visit the Wawona Hotel - this National Historic Landmark and one of California's original mountain resort hotels.
  • Visit the Yosemite History Center (formerly known as The Pioneer History Center)
  • Walk the Meadow Loop (easy, 3.5-mile loop, flat) - one of the very few dog-friendly trails in the park
  • Hike Chilnualna Falls (moderately easy to the first cascade— 2-mile round trip. Strenuous to the upper cascades, 8 mi round trip, 2,300 ft elevation gain, possible snow still on the trail in early spring). 
  • Play Golf (you can choose the traditional ball or disc variety) at the Wawona Golf Course.  Reservations required.
  • Have dinner in the Wawona Hotel and listen to Tom Bopp (musician/Yosemite historian) Tuesday through Friday 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Travel to next Point of Interest:

Take Glacier Point Road out 16 miles to the point; return the way you came (seasonal road). Glacier Point Road closes during winter months and inclement weather events. The Park Service tries to have Glacier Point Road open by Memorial Day weekend.

Glacier Point Panoramic

Stunning views of Half Dome from Glacier Point

  • Hike McGurk Meadow – spectacular wildflowers in late summer - easy 2 miles. If you hike to the creek crossing, you may find head-high wildflowers in bloom.
  • Hike to Dewey Point – moderate, 8 miles round trip, stunning views.
  • Hike to Sentinel Dome - moderate, 2.2 miles round trip, best 360-degrees views of the valley and high country.
  • View Nevada and Vernal Falls from Washburn Point and Glacier Point.
  • Birds’-eye view of Yosemite Valley from 3,200 ft above the valley floor.

Travel to next Point of Interest:  From Glacier Point, return back along Glacier Point Road, and turn right on Wawona Road at Chinquapin. Continue 7.7 miles towards Yosemite Valley. You will go through the almost mile-long Wawona Tunnel immediately before your next stop at Tunnel View.

  • Tunnel View – Immediately after exiting the tunnel, park on either the right or left. Please watch for traffic! From here you get a spectacular view of Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and El Capitan. It's a quintessential photo opportunity!
  • El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall - about two miles from Tunnel View shortly after reaching the valley floor itself, you'll park and take in inspiring views of both El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall.  You will see signs of construction on the south side of the road due to the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project which, when completed in summer 2023, will provide a renewed visitor experience for this major park landmark.  While here - make sure to look for other Yosemite waterfalls such as Ribbon Fall, a seasonal waterfall just to the left of El Capitan that at 1634ft is the largest single drop in the park. 
  • Swinging Bridge Picnic Area - 3 miles further into the valley you will find this iconic family picnic area.  From Swinging Bridge (a previous version used to actually swing - you can find out more in this Travel Story) are great views of Yosemite Falls. In early spring, the river's water level can get very high, and large vernal pools can form. This can make for some great photo opportunities.
  • Continue along the road (Southside Drive) a little more than a 1/2 mile to the Yosemite Chapel.  The chapel is the oldest building still in use in Yosemite Valley, dating back to 1879, and there's a spectacular view of Yosemite Falls from the outside of the chapel. 

  • From the Yosemite Chapel continue east to Sentinel Bridge. Turn left, over Sentinel Bridge, and park at Shuttle Stop 11.  Walk back to the middle of the bridge. This is one of the best-known photo locations in Yosemite with Half Dome over, and sometimes reflected in, the Merced River (while here also make sure to take in the view from the other side of the bridge). 

Stoneman Bridge and Half Dome

Half Dome over Stoneman Bridge

There's much to see in the heart of Yosemite Valley, and a great way to get around is to take advantage of the Yosemite Valley Shuttle. You park once and can get around, free, to several of the valley's key destinations. Shuttle service changes seasonally so we highly recommend that all visitors practice "Know Before You Go".  For the shuttles, this means checking which routes and stops are in service.  A map is provided below but you can find the most up-to-date information here

Yosemite Valley Map

View or Download the Yosemite Valley map, complete with shuttle route and stops.  

Learn More

Shuttle Stop 1

  • DAY PARKING:  – Park your car and forget it for the rest of your visit to Yosemite Valley, until you’re ready to leave.
  • Take the free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus to all the major spots in the valley 

Shuttle Stop 6

  • Yosemite Falls – ½ mile walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls

Shuttle Stop 5/9

  • Valley Visitors Center
  • Visitors Center & Bookstore - watch "The Spirit of Yosemite" in Theater
  • Ansel Adams Gallery
  • Yosemite Museum 
  • Indian Village of the Ahwahnee
  • Yosemite Cemetery

Shuttle Stop 3

  • The Ahwahnee Hotel. Great place to stop for lunch, or for dinner (reservations and dress code required for dinner).  Call to make reservations (209) 372-1489

Shuttle Stop 8

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge - Valley/Glacier Point tours depart from here – info and reservations (209) 372-4386 

Shuttle Stop 16

  • Happy Isles - See the Fen and the Happy Isles Nature Center
  • Hike to Vernal Falls Footbridge - 0.8 miles UP
  • Hike to Nevada Falls – 1 mile to top of Vernal Falls (very steep stone steps; you will get quite wet in spring/early summer) – another 2 miles to the top of Nevada Fall.

Shuttle Stop 17

  • Mirror Lake – walk out about 1 mile to Mirror Lake for an up-close view of the face of Half Dome. It’s an easy walk for a big payoff. 
  • Those are just a few of the adventures you can have in Yosemite Valley. One more awaits you as you’re leaving the valley via Northside Drive.
Valley View

A perfect place to watch as the late afternoon sunshine lights up the surrounding granite walls.

You've spent most of a wonderful day in Yosemite and seen many, many wonderful sights. What's left as you wrap up your day and continue your journey through Yosemite Valley?

  • El Capitan Meadow - it may be too early in the season to catch climbers tackling the 3000-foot face of this granite monolith but even so, the views of the towering El Cap to the north, and the Cathedral Rocks formations to the south, are quite impressive.
  • Bridalveil Fall turnout - this is a small turnout on the left side of Northside Drive where you can take in some great views of Bridalveil Fall off in the distance, framed in the foreground by the Merced River and, if the timing is right, some flowering Dogwoods too. 
  • Valley View (also known as Gates of the Valley) - similar to Tunnel View offering a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley but with the immediacy of the Merced River flowing right in front of you and the granite walls towering above you. To find it, watch for the big pullout on the left as you approach the Pohono Bridge (it's roughly 0.2 miles past the Bridalveil Fall turnout and 0.2 miles before the stop sign and turn off to go left over the Pohono Bridge). This can be a busy stop; you'll often find many parked cars and "green dragon" tram tours there when they are in operation.
  • Fern Spring and Bridalveil Meadow - two short, separate stops between the Pohono Bridge and your return to Wawona Road where you can first see "the smallest waterfall in Yosemite" and then visit the last, and most pivotal, stop on Present Teddy Roosevelt's 1903 visit to Yosemite with John Muir.

A Pair of Parting Gifts

If you have time and the road is open, don't miss the opportunity to view the Yosemite high country up-close-and-personal by traversing the Tioga Road, which goes across the park to the east side of the Sierra Nevada. A beautiful and spectacular region of Yosemite National Park. Another option we'd highly recommend is a visit to an often overlooked, but similarly amazing part of the park - Hetch Hetchy.


Like what you see? Save any (or all) of these pins to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other itineraries and blog posts for more ideas and pins!

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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