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Half Dome Reflection Fall on the Merced River with Sentinel Bridge
Yosemite in a Day
Itineraries Yosemite in a Day - Fall

Yosemite in a Day - Fall

Fall is an amazing time in Yosemite with the cooler weather, fewer people, and the much anticipated arrival of bursts of color throughout the park. The Dogwoods, Big Leaf Maples, and the Black Oaks are but just a few of the species that put on a nice showy display of autumnal color. Fall colors can usually be seen throughout the month of October, but have been known to start in September and run into November.  More tips on what these colors are and where to them can be found HERE.

To reach Yosemite from the Visitor Center in Oakhurst (40343 Highway 41): From our parking lot turn right and go northbound on Hwy 41. The Yosemite Park south entrance is 15 miles straight ahead. Continue on Highway 41, which becomes Wawona Road inside the park, all the way to Yosemite Valley (about 1 hour from the south entrance).

  • $35 per vehicle, good for up to 7 days
  • For those 62 and older and U S citizens or permanent residents, a Senior Pass is available for $80, good for life.
  • An America the Beautiful pass is available for $80, good for 1 year for all National Parks and federal fee areas.

The drive from the South Entrance to the stop at Tunnel View is doable in 1 hour, traveling safely at a speed of  35 mph. Be considerate of others by pulling over at turnouts to let vehicles go by.  Please watch for animals darting into the roadway.

From the Visitors Bureau, below is the “logical progression” of stops. If the traffic is heavy, or if you get a late start, consider reversing the order.

Just inside the southern gate to Yosemite, is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.  Park in the parking area and head to the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza where you can shop, learn, and catch the free shuttle into the Grove. The Shuttle runs daily from approximately April through mid-November (weather dependent) and takes you along the 2 mile roadway to the Grove Arrival Area (trailhead).  

Popular trail options:

Big Trees Loop Trail (easy, .3 mile loop, 1-2 hours): you will see many Giant Sequoias including the Fallen Monarch and interpretive panels on the life and ecology of Giant Sequoias.

Grizzly Giant Loop Trail (moderate, 2 mile loop, 2-3 hours):  you will add many more Giant Sequoia trees including the Bachelor and Three Graces, the Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree.

Mariposa Grove Trail (strenuous, 7 mile loop, 4-6 hours):  Other notable trees that are included in this loop are the Faithful Couple and Clothespin Tree.  You can also visit Wawona Point and the Mariposa Grove Cabin along this route.

Mariposa Grove, Map, Trails

Things to see and do in Wawona:

  • Visit the Wawona Hotel and walk among it's history 
  • See the Yosemite History Center – great place for children to run off some energy
  • Walk the Meadow Loop (easy, 3.5-mile loop, flat) – one of the only trails in the park where dogs are allowed

Hike Chilnualna Falls (moderate to first cascade – 2-mile round trip. A strenuous to upper cascades, 8 mi round trip, 2,400 ft. elevation gain) 

Have dinner in the Wawona Hotel and listen to Tom Bopp (long-time Yosemite musician and historian) Tuesday through Saturday. 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm

Note: The Wawona closes in winter after Thanksgiving, reopens for the Christmas holidays and then closes again until early spring.

Glacier Point is a highly recommended stop on any visit to Yosemite and the journey along Glacier Point Road actually offers many wonderful points of interest and great views along it's almost 16 mile distance.  Glacier Point Road does close for the winter after the first significant snowfall. Badger Pass Ski Area opens when there is sufficient snow for winter activities. 

  • Hike McGurk Meadow – spectacular wildflowers in late summer – easy 2 miles round-trip
  • Hike to Dewey Point – moderate, 8 miles round trip
  • Hike to Sentinel Dome – moderate, 2.2 miles round trip, best 360 degree views of valley and high country.
  • Continue the Sentinel Dome Hike on a 5-mile loop to include Taft Point and the Fissures
  • View Nevada, Vernal and Illilouette Fall from Washburn Point and Glacier Point
  • Birds’-eye view of Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls from 3,200 ft. above valley floor
  • Views of Mt Hoffman (approximate geographical center of the park), Cathedral Peak, Mt Starr King, Mt Clark and other landmarks of the Yosemite high country
  • Glacier Point is well known for the beauty of its sunsets and full moons.

Tunnel View is a "Must See" stop for any new visitor to Yosemite (it is also a favorite for many return visitors too). From here you can enjoy the same view that Ansel Adams made famous which includes many key valley landmarks like El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.

To get Tunnel View from Glacier Point re-trace your journey back along Glacier Point Road and once you reach the junction at Chinquapin, turn right onto Wawona Road; continue down to Yosemite Valley. You will go through the nearly mile-long Wawona Tunnel. Immediately after exiting tunnel, park in the lots on the right or left. Go slow and please watch for traffic!

The Yosemite Chapel is the oldest building still in continuous use in Yosemite Valley. Built in 1879, the chapel was granted National Historic Building status by the Park Service in 1965 and is it still an active, non-denominational place of worship today. A spectacular view of Yosemite Falls can be seen from outside the chapel.

Yosemite's Half Dome surrounded in fall colors and reflected in the Merced River with Sentinel Bridge in the foreground

Half Dome and Sentinel Bridge surrounded with the colors of Fall foliage 

From Yosemite Chapel continue to Sentinel Bridge (the first stop sign you’ll come to in Yosemite Valley). Turn left over Sentinel Bridge and park at Shuttle Stop 11. Walk back to middle of bridge. This is a quintessential PHOTO OPP of Half Dome over the Merced River.

Yosemite Valley Shuttle

Yosemite's Valley Shuttle system, is a great and free way to get around the Valley.

Hop on the Shuttle - Click here for the Yosemite Valley Shuttle Map.

DAY PARKING: Continue to next stop sign, turn right and follow signs to the Day Parking area or the new parking area west of Yosemite Lodge. Leave your car for the rest of your visit to Yosemite Valley, until you’re ready to depart. Take the free Yosemite Valley shuttle to all the major spots in the valley. The shuttle runs every 10 to 20 minutes from 7 am to 10 pm.

Start your adventure at Shuttle Stop 1

(makes it easy to remember where you parked). The Yosemite Lodge Day Use parking is Shuttle Stop 7.

Shuttle Stop 6

  • Yosemite Falls – ½ mile (one-way) walk to base of Yosemite Falls

Shuttle Stop 5/9

  • Valley Visitor Center
  • Visitor Center & Bookstore – watch “Spirit of Yosemite” and “A Gathering of Spirit” film in Yosemite Valley Theatre
  • Ansel Adams Gallery
  • Indian Museum and Village - be sure to observe cultural demonstrations in the museum
  • Evening presentations in Yosemite Valley Theatre; 7 pm night

Shuttle Stop 3

  • Ahwahnee Hotel – great for LUNCH – 209/372-1489 for dinner reservations. Allow about 2 hours for lunch. (Less expensive, no dress code for lunch, great views out of the 34-foot-high windows)

Shuttle Stop 8

  • Yosemite Lodge – Bike rentals here, in season. Guided tours depart from here – info and reservations for Yosemite tours, call 209/372-4386

Shuttle Stop 13a

  • Curry Village Bike rentals in summer and fall, ice skating rentals in winter.

Shuttle Stop 14

  • Curry Village dining, shops and lodging. (Some are seasonal.)

Shuttle Stop 16

  • Happy Isles - See the Happy Isles Nature Center – great for kids!
  • Hike to Vernal Falls Footbridge - .8 mile uphill “both ways”
  • 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 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.
Valley View in Yosemite Valley by Breeze Turner

A stop at Valley View, aka Gates of the Valley, is a highly recommended way to end any visit to Yosemite Valley.

Watch for the big pullout on the left as you approach the Pohono Bridge. You'll often find tour buses and the Valley Open Air Tram there. The view here is one of a wonderful panorama of the western end Yosemite Valley from a whole different perspective. Similar to, but yet distinct from Tunnel View, it is recommended experience this scene before you end your stay in Yosemite Valley.

If you turn left over Pohono Bridge (going back to Oakhurst/Fresno) after your visit to Valley View, you will pass the smallest waterfall in Yosemite at Fern Spring.  There is a small turnout just 0.1 mile after the bridge where you can park and enjoy this nice, quiet place of respite.

If you have the time and the road is still open, don't miss the opportunity to view the Yosemite high country up-close-and-personal by traversing Tioga Road, which goes across the park to the east side of the Sierra Nevada (for many this will require an extra day to make the most of it). For some of us, this is the most beautiful, most spectacular part of the park. This road closes with the first major snowfall and remains closed through winter and early spring.


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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