Carl Sharsmith was a well-known Ranger-Naturalist in Yosemite for many long years. Like many rangers, he was once asked what he’d do if he only had one day to spend in Yosemite, to which he replied, “Madam, I’d sit by the Merced River and cry.”
Tears aren’t necessary if you only have one day to spend in Yosemite, but some insider tips are. The first thing to remember is that Yosemite is awesome, incredible, overwhelming in its beauty. You can’t go wrong no matter what you choose to do. But there are SO many sublime places to see, it’s easy to get caught up in the travel guides that have you packing in a 15 hour day to “see it all.”
When my husband (then boyfriend) and I were in college we lived and worked in Yosemite for two summers, and living in the park gave me a unique perspective. Almost every day after work we would go sit by the Merced River, watch people raft by, look up at Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock, and Half Dome, relax and enjoy the scenery.
TIP: The stretch of river between Yosemite Lodge and the Swinging Bridge, along the bike path, and the edge of Leidig Meadow is a superb place to spend 30min-1hr of your day.
So, what to do if you only have one day?
Eat a good breakfast and get an early start. Let’s start at Curry Village. Eat at the cafeteria and be ready to get going by 9am.
Now, it’s time to make a tough decision: either take the free and easy shuttle bus to Happy Isles for a hike to the Vernal Fall Footbridge OR rent a bike and do some sightseeing.
If you choose the Vernal Fall Footbridge option, take plenty of water and a snack and hop on the shuttle bus to Happy Isles. Allow 2 hours. You’ll hike .8 miles one way (1.6 miles round trip) and gain 400′ in elevation. It doesn’t sound that bad, but if you just came from sea level you will be taking a lot of breathing breaks (you can disguise them if you want to as photo ops)! There is a water fountain and toilet on the other side of the bridge and lots of great rocks to sit on and soak in the view of Vernal Fall.
DO NOT GET IN THE WATER NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE IS DOING. I cannot stress this enough. The Merced is a WILD river. It may have a few places that look mild, but IT WILL KILL YOU if you don’t take it seriously. In 2012 two young boys drowned in the river near this spot.
Enjoy the view, rest, then hike back to Happy Isles and take the shuttle bus to the trailhead for the base of Yosemite Falls. It’s a short walk and the falls are the star, but be sure to admire the rocks and trees too.
Take the shuttle bus to Yosemite Village and grab a to-go sandwich and snacks from Degnan’s Deli (tables and other great places to eat are outside). Spend a little time in the Ansel Adams Gallery and get back to your car by 1:30.
If you choose to rent a bike and do some sightseeing take water and snacks, rent a bike at Curry Village, and head out toward the Swinging Bridge on the bike path. Spend about 30-45min. enjoying the river and views then make your way along the bike path toward Yosemite Lodge. Linger along the path, as it skirts the edge of Leidig Meadow with excellent views of Sentinel Rock, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
Then head on to the trailhead for Yosemite Falls. Park your bike and walk to the base of the falls.
DO NOT CLIMB ON THE WET ROCKS NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE IS DOING! THEY ARE GRANITE, AND GRANITE IS HARDER THAN YOUR BONES!
Sit, explore the area, enjoy– you never know what you will see. On our trip in 2009, my daughter looked up and spotted a person highlining!
Meander back to your bike, and head over to Yosemite Village to do a little looking in the Ansel Adams Gallery, then grab a to-go sandwich and snacks from Degnan’s Deli. Hop on your bike and head back toward Curry Village, find a good spot for your picnic, stop and take pictures, then return your bake and get back to your car by 1:30.
Now it’s time for the very scenic and a little scary 1 1/2 hr. drive up to Tuolumne Meadows, an idyllic and stunning high-alpine feast for the soul . THIS IS MANDATORY.
Stop at Olmstead Point for a break and incredible views of Half Dome.
(There is a toilet not far past Olmstead Point at the Sunrise/Sunrise Lakes Trailhead.)
Head over to Tenaya Lake for a few minutes and a pit stop (toilets). Then you will will continue on to Tuolumne Meadows proper (by about 3 – 3:30). This is definitely one of my favorite places in Yosemite. Here, you will park and roam, spend 2-3 hours, maybe walk to the top of Pothole Dome, or along the short and scenic walk I have highlighted below in BLUE, sit by the river, take pictures, and be rejuvenated.
By now it will be around dinner time so grab something from the Grill or the little grocery store (LOTS of foods available– even fresh salad greens), find a good spot for a dinner picnic, and ENJOY!
Your day is done.
Originally posted on January 17, 2013.