Daniele Reda

How to get the most out of Yosemite National park in one weekend

Last week I did a weekend trip in Yosemite National Park with some friends. Since it was their first (and only, at least for a while) visit in this amazing national park, I wanted to plan a day hike that would have managed to carefully present the immense and fascinating granite monolithes and views inside the valley. After some reading and planning, I have to say that the hike that turned out was pretty intense from both panoramas and sporty perspectives. I’ll share it with you since I believe it’s a perfect way to get the most out of the valley in one day. The full hike is composed of the four mile trail up to Glacier Point, from there to the peek of Sentinel Dome and then the Panorama Trail down to the Nevada Falls. It’s a 34-35 kms hike but it’s completely feasible if you are a healthy person.

Four-mile trail

I would suggest leaving early mornings. We did it on a mid-October Saturday and we started walking at 7am but if you are doing it in summer I would suggest starting walking at 5.30am-6am at most since this part would get pretty warm when the sun is up.

Park the car at the Swinging Bridge or at Camp 4 campground parking lot and walk a few hundred meters back to the starting point of the four mile trail. I would like to precise that after many readings about this trail, I expected an extreme and agonizing hike but it’s not that bad. Maybe cause it was at the beginning of the hike, maybe cause doing it early morning we didn’t have the sun hitting on our heads or more probably cause the views are stunning, but I definitely suggest people to not be afraid when they read about this hike and to consider doing it.

After finding the starting point, pictured above, the path is straightforward since it’s the only way up.

The total length is, you-don’t-say, four miles and, even though it never flattens out until the end, the views get more stunning as you hike through. At the end of the four miles, you end up at Glacier Point, where you can rest, fill up water bottles, have stunning views of the Half Dome and even make use of restrooms and bars.

Sentinel Dome

From Glacier Point, walk on the other side of the area and take the Pohono trail for the Sentinel Dome hike. It’s just 1 mile and a half, 30-40 minutes uphill and 20 minutes downhill doing it slowly but you reach a peak that allows you to be as high as the Half Dome with better views: it’s much less crowded and being in an optimal position, you can take awesome pictures of both the Half Dome and El Capitan. We managed to reach Sentinel Dome for lunch and we stopped there for 30 minutes. Since it’s a giant granite block, probably in the summer it gets pretty hot up there so be prepared.

The way down is the same as the way up and you should get in the same starting point as before.

Panorama Trail

From here, instead of going back right for the Sentinel Dome, go left following the Panorama Trail. It will be a 5.2 miles hike (almost fully downhill) down to the Nevada Falls and from there down to Vernall Falls and the Happy Isles bus stop.

In general, it’s difficult to get lost thanks to the many indications along the route. We did this hike mid-autumn and the colors were beautiful. I had already done the Panorama Trail up to the Half Dome in summer but I have to say it’s a completely different experience. Less people, less sun and more nature-immersive trails. The only thing that disappointed me was to find both Nevada and Vernall Falls way less powerful than this summer.

The second day, everyone was tired and had heavy legs so we decided to walk in Tuolumne Grove between some giant sequoias (Mariposa Grove is closed at the time of writing, but definitely that would have been nicier).