6 Things to do in Yosemite National Park in One Day

Last year, I finally got my chance to explore Yosemite National Park and while I only had one day to do it, I was able to cover a lot of things in that short period which I will share with you in this post that made my stay there very satisfying.

Prelude to my trip to Yosemite National Park:

This one day trip to Yosemite was actually my third attempt at visiting the national park. For 2 years prior to that, each year I tried to visit this park during the winter, and both times failed miserably. Here’s what went down (and it’s important you know this if you want to visit Yosemite during winter time):

The first attempt I made to visit Yosemite was in mid February 2019 which was during my Pacific Northwest road trip. My whole goal was to see the famous “Firefall” event there which actually happens around that time. I failed because the roads in the entire park closed the very same I wanted to go, and so I had to adjust my trip and instead traveled to Big Sur (which ended up being a great alternative).

My second attempt to visit Yosemite came a year later closer to the end of February, around the same period Firefall was supposed to happen. This took place during my western US road trip and on this occasion, I was coming up to the park from the eastern end of it (from Nevada). And again, the roads ended up being closed, which forced me to go around the park and skip it once again.

When the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park came up again, it was many months after, during the crazy fires and other events that took place and needless to say, I wasn’t very optimistic about getting a chance to see the park. But I lucked out, reserved a visit to it beforehand and finally got in!

And this is where I want to share the following: 

If you want to visit Yosemite National Park in one day, you have 2 options:

Option 1: If you visit it during the winter, don’t count on getting in because roads do close often when it snows, so maybe plan a trip after March there.

Option 2: If you visit it between Spring and Fall, that’s your best chance of getting in, and this will allow you to explore and hike through much of the park, even for one day, but on the flipside, the crowds will be large.

But because I finally got my shot to explore Yosemite, I did everything I could to explore as much of it as possible!

Here are the 6 things you can do in Yosemite National Park in one day:

  1. Do the scenic drive outside the park (eastern end).6 things to do in Yosemite national park in one day
  2. Hike around Lembert Dome.
  3. Explore Teyana lake (off Tioga road).
  4. Do the scenic drive down to Yosemite Valley.
  5. Hike up lower Yosemite Falls (and upper if you have time).
  6. Take a dip in Merced river (Yosemite Valley).

These 6 activities will give you a great one day exploration of Yosemite National Park.

And in a moment, I’ll be describing each activity in detail so you can see how beautiful and adventurous it is to do it!

1) Do the 120 scenic drive outside the park (on the eastern side of Yosemite):

road 120 scenic drive yosemite national park

120 is the main road that goes through Yosemite National Park and if you enter (or exit) out of the eastern end of it, let me tell you, the scenery that you see there is breathtaking!

When my friends and I first hit the 120 road and made our way into Yosemite, we didn’t know we were actually outside of the park.

What happens is that if you enter Yosemite from the eastern end, you’ll first drive through road 120, before hitting the ranger welcome station and from there, the 120 turns into Tioga road, but before it does, you’ll have about 10-15 miles of beautiful wilderness and an unforgettable scenic drive with mountain views, stops and waterfalls to check out and I highly recommend you do it!

2) Hike Lembert Dome:

yosemite national park lembert dome

Lembert Dome is the first major dome mountain we saw in Yosemite and after noticing how uniquely shaped it was, we decided to stop and hiked it a bit. The dome in some ways resembles a stunt skateboard tamp, but just a 1,000 times larger and there is a trail that goes around the dome and then on top of it you wish to hike it.

In our case, we went up the dome itself as high as we could and imagined how cool and deadly it would be if it rained and could slide down it.

But either way, this particular area was a great first stop for us.

3) Check out Teyana Lake:

teyana lake yosemite national park

As soon as we did out short hike at Lembert Dome, we continued west to see what else Yosemite had to offer and I have to be honest, aside from other dome mountains and some beautiful scenic overlooks, the road didn’t really offer much else for us.

Up until our visit to this park, we’d been traveling from Utah, and visiting the Mighty 5 National Parks and doing some of the many scenic drives in Utah, and so our expectations were quite high.

But in this case, we didn’t really feel the stunning beauty of Yosemite’s scenic drive until we hit Teyana Lake which was right off the road and impossible to miss. It’s a very large and beautiful lake with Emerald green water that reminded me of the Emerald Lake my buddy and I saw in the Canadian Rockies when we did our western Canada road trip and this would turn out to be a nice spot to stop and rest at.

Unfortunately, the water was a bit too cold for us to swim in, but it is possible there, as is camping, nearby hiking, kayaking and more. And if neither of those things interest you, then just enjoy the views at Teyana Lake because they are very beautiful!

4) Absolutely do the scenic drive down and through Yosemite Valley:

yosemite national park overlook of valley

Folks, let me tell you that any bit of doubt I had about Yosemite’s beauty was put to rest once we made our way down to and through Yosemite Valley. This is the place that nearly everyone brags about when they visit this place and for obvious reasons like the photo you see to the right:

This was the famous overlook area people take pictures at and when we saw it, we had to stop! But continuing down into Yosemite Valley would prove to be an even bigger treat, as the scenic drive through this spot was quite possibly one of the most beautiful scenic drives I’d ever done in my life! In fact, this ranks as one of my top scenic drives to do in northern California, which I highly recommend.

The good news is that this particular drive is a loop and without stopping, takes you about 30 minutes to complete. But be sure to stop because almost all of the fun activities you can do in Yosemite start in the valley area.

yosemite valley picture

5) Hike up lower Yosemite Falls (and upper if you have time):

One of the most famous waterfalls and photogenic spots in all of Yosemite National Park is lower and upper Yosemite Falls which is located right in the valley area. There is a very large parking area and hike available to tourists to climb the over 2,400 foot waterfall which is divided into a lower and upper area.

In our case, as we entered the trail, it was so dry that there wasn’t a single drop on the waterfall and the weather was so hot that we figured it wasn’t worth hiking up this spot. This is why there is no picture to show here (there literally was no waterfall to photograph).

But I can tell you that when there is an actual waterfall to see, there is a great hiking experience awaiting anyone who chooses to do it. Sadly for us, the opportunity to do it just wasn’t there on the day we visited, but it will be in the future when we go to this park again.

6) Swim in Merced river (if it’s possible):

merced river yosemite national park

As it turned out, during the time we’d visited Yosemite National Park, there was a huge drought, so much so that not only was lower and upper Yosemite completely dry, but we couldn’t even see a single waterfall in Yosemite Valley and while that was a major downer, it didn’t stop us from wanting to take a dip in the river that runs through Yosemite Valley: Merced River, where there was plenty of water available to us!

Not only is this river a really awesome rest stop to swim, camp and rest at, but the views of the giant mountains of Yosemite that surround you adds to the scenery (as you can see above).

The dip we took in Merced river was a refreshing way to end our one day trip to Yosemite as we made our way further east then towards San Francisco.

And this is how we explored Yosemite National Park in one day.

Considering the very unusual circumstances that we encountered (droughts, fires, and no waterfalls to see), we still made the most of our trip to this place! And I have to say that I will be coming back to it as soon as I can. Overall:

Yosemite Valley is where you’re going to want to spend most of your day if you decide to go to this park too. It’s where the most beautiful scenery, the best hikes and the best sights in all of Yosemite National Park are.

The scenic drive through Yosemite:

Other national parks (and similar sights) you can explore in one day:

Yosemite isn’t the only national park I’ve explored throughout my road trip adventures and here are some notable national parks I’ve checked out in which I also had only one day to explore them:

  1. Zion National Park. There’s a lot to do there in one day!
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park. Also doable in a single day.
  3. Canyonlands National Park. Another major national park in Utah to explore in a day.
  4. Arches National Park. Everything is so close together that it’s easy to explore a lot of stuff here.
  5. Catskill Mountains. Not a national park but it’s a major place I visit (for one day hikes).
  6. Big Sur. A major beauty on the California Coast (national forest).
  7. Green Mountain National Forest. An awesome place to explore in Vermont.
  8. Cannon Mountain. This is in New Hampshire state and has many beautiful spots to see.
  9. Coyote Gulch. One of my favorite hiking spots in Utah, which can also be done in one day.

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