Plan a Perfect Long Weekend in Yosemite

Plan a Perfect Long Weekend in Yosemite 0

Sure Yosemite is big and crowded, but with the right plan, you can see some of the best of Yosemite over a long weekend. Here's how to plan 3 perfect days in Yosemite, courtesy of Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor.

A Long Weekend in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States. This national park stretches across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and is home to age-old Sequoia trees, gushing waterfalls, and sheer granite cliffs that dwarf the passerby.

It takes more than one visit to enjoy everything the park has to offer. If you’re like most people and have to fit your outings between a 9-to-5 grind, there are 4 key destinations within the park you can hit on a 3 day weekend!

Plan Ahead

Securing a campsite is hands down the most difficult obstacle you'll face.  Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the US, right up there with Zion National Park.

On a recent trip there, campers next to us told tales of hitting ‘refresh’ on their computers over and over in a desperate attempt to confirm their spot. To their dismay, each time they selected one, the page would inform them that that spot had just been taken. And this was 5 months in advance of their desired dates!

Be Flexible

To avoid this hassle, don’t plan your trip on a heavily-trafficked week of the year AKA anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And be ready to settle for your second or third preferred campsite.

Remember, being in Yosemite in itself is a win! So take what campsite you can. Weekdays and the shoulder season months in late fall and early spring can be the least crowded and most opportune time to see the park covered in a picturesque layer of snow (if you can bear the cold).

Once you have secured a camping spot or are visiting just for the day, here are four spots you won’t want to miss.

1. Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America and the first destination to put on your “to-do” list. The falls is made of three sections (Upper, Lower, and Middle Cascades) totaling a whopping 2,425 feet and offering breathtaking views!

The waterfall typically peaks in waterflow between the months of May or June when most of the snowmelt comes running down. By August you may only catch a glimpse of the runoff, however, if this is the only time you can visit the valley, the height of the falls alone is still stunning.

I recommend starting your hike on Lower Yosemite Falls trail as early as possible to beat the sun and the crowds. After reaching Columbia Rock, take a moment to rest. Then push a little further to Yosemite Point across the creek. There you will find a south-facing, panoramic view of Half Dome.

2. Vernal Falls

Photographers especially love this waterfall, since it flows longer in the year than others. Also, rainbow reflections can often be seen and captured across its fall.

For the inexperienced or easily fatigued hiker, it is very approachable by paved trail. Hiking to the top of this fall is great for the day after you’ve climbed Yosemite Point, since it is shorter (though steeper).

I recommend you rise extra early for this hike since finding parking can be surprisingly difficult, even early in the morning. Trust me...waking at the crack of dawn sure beats sitting in traffic and competing for a parking spot with everybody else who decided to sleep in. The crowd will catch up to you eventually, but if you’re early enough, you’ll only face the crowds on your way back down.

3. Nevada Falls

Once you’ve reached the peak of Vernal Fall, the less-occupied (and just as gorgeous) Nevada Falls is only a 15-minute hike up stream. You can’t touch the falls without dipping in the water (which is not recommended and can be dangerous depending on the time of year you visit) but the spray blasting off the rocks will cool you off quickly and it is definitely a sight you do not want to miss!

4. Half Dome

If you travel beyond Vernal and Nevada Falls, you will be well on your way to Half Dome. Although it was deemed “perfectly inaccessible” by geologist Josiah Whitney in 1869, it was summited only six years later by a Scottish blacksmith named George Anderson.

With the use of a drill, a hammer, a rope and his bare feet, Anderson forged his way up the massive dome of granite. His brazen drills were later replaced, but the holes remain and can be seen from the current double-cable stanchion.  

Today, the monolith is open to the public, but a permit is required to use the sub dome and Half Dome cables. Gaining nearly 5,000 feet in elevation, the average person needs at least a gallon of water on this hike.

It takes about 7 hours to reach the top. You’ll need a pair of trusted boots with lots of support and traction. For more information on the lottery-based permit system, visit National Park’s website.

Cool Down

    After all the hiking, you may want to kick off your boots, crack open a beer, and relax. That’s where the Merced River is a lifesaver. The river extends 145 miles through Yosemite and into the San Joaquin Valley.

    You can find several places where it meanders into a stream to safely cool off. Photographers won’t want to put their camera down here either. The glimmering water, fallen logs and surrounding trees with a background of the Sierra Nevadas are incredibly picturesque.

    So there you have it—some tips to make the most of your next three-day weekend in Yosemite. If you can stay longer, some other spots to consider include Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Yosemite Meadows and Tuolumne Meadows. A quick search on the internet will yield information on these heavily visited areas.

    So book early, rise with the sun as much as you can, and plan your next visit as soon as this one comes to an end. Cheers!




    • Andy Somerville
    6 Must-See Outdoor Spots in California

    6 Must-See Outdoor Spots in California 0

    Feeling a little footloose? Kilimanjaro Gear expert Connor describes the ultimate Cali road trip to six incredible outdoor destinations. 

    Ahhh California – a land filled with booming cities, endless traffic, and crowded spaces.

    Sounds fantastic right?

    Actually, there is a lot more to California than people realize. If you are willing to take a few turns off the well-traveled road, you can easily find yourself alone in surreal and epic landscapes.

    I cover some of the better-known destinations in this post. Some are so famous that they can be quite crowded in high season and on weekends and holidays. California is a big state though, and the parks and spots covered here are big too. So with a little patience and planning, you can find some solitude anywhere you go.

    And if free time isn't an issue, consider putting these all together in one road trip. About 2,000 miles start to finish, it'll be as colossal and epic as the state itself!


    1. Joshua Tree National Park 

    If you like rock climbing, scrambling over car-sized boulders, playing the guitar by a fire, and the stark beauty of the high desert, Joshua Tree is the place for you.

    With stunning rock formations, numerous of the namesake Joshua Trees, plenty of hiking, and a stunning night sky, you won’t be disappointed. The busy times are during spring and fall since temperatures are relatively moderate. If you want the place to yourself, you won’t find too many people here in the middle of summer. There's a reason for that, chiefly 110 degree daytime temperatures.

    (Pro Tip: If you can visit on a weekday, try and snag one of the 124 campsites at Jumbo Rocks. Every campsite is surrounded by huge boulders for ultimate privacy and cool factor.)

    Find more info on Joshua Tree National Park here.


    2. Death Valley National Park 

    Our next stop is Death Valley National Park; the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park. Much more barren than Joshua Tree in my opinion, with vast, open spaces that make you feel incredibly small.

    Some of the most popular spots to visit are the Bad Water Basin, Artist’s Drive, Dante's View, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. I recommend going during the winter or spring for cooler temperatures and blooming flowers.

    Avoid the middle of summer however as one of the hottest temperatures on earth was recorded here at 134 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Find more info on Death Valley National Park here.


    3. Lake Tahoe

    Our next stop moves away from the deserts and up into the mountainous regions of Northern California. Lake Tahoe is a tourist destination year round.

    Fishing, mountain biking, camping, and boating are available during the summer, and skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding take over in winter months.

    Some popular destinations are Emerald Bay State Park and the Heavenly gondola ride that offers and expansive view of the entire lake.

    With epic solitude only a few miles away from a fun, ski town (complete with casinos), Tahoe has something for everyone to enjoy.

    Find more information on Lake Tahoe here.


    4. Redwood National Forest

    Moving even further north, we reach the Redwood National Forest. The Redwoods is an absolutely stunning place full of towering trees that cool and shade much of the ground below. 

    The trees create an amazing canopy, with beams of golden sunshine slipping through on sunny days, and quiet drops of rain during the not-so-sunny days.

    Camping, bike riding, kayaking, scenic drives, and backpacking reign in this coastal wonderland and the best part is, no matter what activity you choose, you will be surrounded by astounding beauty.

    Find more information on Redwood National Park here.


    5. Yosemite National Park 

    One of the most popular National Parks in the country, Yosemite is home to all things majestic. From towering granite walls, to epic waterfalls; no matter what you came to Yosemite for, you won’t be disappointed.

    Some of the most popular attractions in the park are Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley, Hiking Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.

    However, since it is a popular tourist destination be prepared for crowds during major holidays. To avoid the crowds, try to go during the winter and during the week, you may find the most popular locations completely empty.

    Find more information on Yosemite National Park here.


    6. Big Sur

    Our last stop on our California trip is Big Sur. Big Sur is an amazing coastal sanctuary complete with amazing scenery for kayaking, surfing, camping, hiking, and spearfishing. No matter what time of the year you decide to go, Big Sur is a special place.

    I personally recommend springtime, as the coastline will be lush, green, and blooming with flowers. Some of the main attractions in Big Sur are McWay Falls, Bixby Bridge, and Pfeiffer Beach.

    (Pro Tip: A section of the Pacific Coast Highway is closed in the Big Sur area. You can still access all the attractions, but some are reachable only by driving south to North, while others require driving down from the North. Check this website for updates.)

    Find more information on Big Sur here.

    Well, there you have it! California is a vast landscape full of many different environments. Whether you're a desert, forest, ocean, or mountain person, California has it all; and this trip will give you a piece of each.

    Our state motto is 'Eureka!". So go discover your own treasure and let us know what you find out there!

    Get ready for your trip - shop for Kilimanjaro Gear!