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This is a plan for visitors who prefer extensive hiking adventures and fewer crowds and who are interested in camping or staying in accommodations in YNP.
Upon entering the park on Hwy 41, immediately stop at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Either take the $$ tram tour, or hike the grove, or both. The view from Wawona Point is great. Plan to spend all morning here. Stop at the Wawona Hotel or the Wawona General Store for lunch.
Continue driving toward Yosemite Valley and plan to stop at Glacier Point only if you are not interested in hiking down from there another day. Daily buses run from the valley back up to Glacier Point where there are two trails leading down to the valley. These hikes, while almost all downhill, are strenuous and should only be attempted by those who are physically up to the challenge. Information on the specific trails can be found at nps.gov. If you do not want to hike down from Glacier Point later on, go ahead and take the cut off to Glacier Point and spend the afternoon enjoying the view. The hike to Sentinel Dome and/or Taft Point is a favorite. There is a small gift shop and snacks are available at Glacier Point. It will take you around an hour to drive down to Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point.
If you skipped Glacier Point, you should have all afternoon to either hike up to either the base or the top of Vernal Fall, the base of Yosemite Falls or Bridalveil Fall, or explore the river's edge and maybe do some swimming or rent a raft to drift down the Merced River. (If the water level is not too high or not too low, rafts can be rented for a nominal fee. A shuttle bus will return you back to the rental location at the "end" of your river trip.)
First night in the Valley.
Get reservations as soon as possible, beginning 366 days in advance of your trip. Options vary from the high end Ahwahnee Hotel to the motel-like Yosemite Lodge at the Falls to the tent cabins at Curry Village.
Get campground reservations within the first ten minutes of becoming available for a visit in the busy summer season.
Take this day to do a long, physically challenging hike up to the top of Nevada Fall or Yosemite Falls. Allow all day. You can also climb to the top of Half Dome (if you are very fit) in one day. Or take the shuttle back up to Glacier Point and hike down from there. Be prepared! Be sure you have good hiking shoes and survival gear. The weather, especially at higher elevations, can change unexpectedly in a short period of time. Night 2 in the Valley.
Day three will be spent driving to the Yosemite high country and doing some hikes along the way. It takes about 2 hours to get from the valley to Tuolumne Meadows without stops. The amount of time you can spend on a hike will depend on what time you are able to pull out of the valley and how often you choose to stop at some of the fabulous viewpoints along this road.
Great hikes to do from Tioga Road are the trail to May Lake (7 miles each way or 1 mile from alternate trailhead), the trail to Lukens Lake (easy), and several trails near Olmstead Point. There are also numerous trails all around Tenaya Lake to explore. After you set up camp at TM (or check into the lodge), explore the area near the river at the base of Lembert Dome and go to the visitor center. A word of caution - You will be increasing altitude from 4500 feet to over 7500 feet today. Some people experience extreme problems with high-altitude conditions. It often takes at least a day for the body to adjust to this altitude. Pace yourself, drink plenty of water (can't stress this enough), and be very careful. If you experience any dizziness or fatigue, stop and rest immediately. First night in Tuolumne Meadows.
Be sure to go to the visitor center (if you already have not gone) because they can help you find the hikes that are appropriate to your fitness level and time allotments. They are very helpful and most of the NPS personnel have been on all the hikes themselves, so they will give you accurate and realistic information. If you are having no altitude-related problems, go ahead and take a hike to Cathedral Lake (moderate-7 miles, 7 hours) today. Allow most of the day. Some people can hike there and back again in just a few hours, others may take all day. At any rate, bring water filtration equipment and food, etc. And spend some time kicking back on the huge rocks soaking in the scenery and sun. If you have any altitude issues, put this off until tomorrow and instead go on short hikes around the meadow area. Second night at TM
Either Cathedral Lake or Glen Aulin. Glen Aulin is an all-day hike (5.3 miles each way) but the scenery is gorgeous the whole way there, so you don't necessarily have to walk the entire way. This is a hike where the journey is as nice as the destination. Or hike to the top of Lembert Dome or go to Dog Lake (1.5 miles). The hiking opportunities are seemingly endless in this area of the park. Third night at TM.
Hike to either Elizabeth Lake (2.5 miles) or along the river in Lyell Canyon or to Vogelsang (6.8 miles each way). Or you can continue out of the park and drive down to Mono Lake and Lee Vining for the day. Allow about an hour and a half each way from the park exit. Last night at TM.
TA member Loganbear2 wrote this as a Traveler Article in 2006. It has been revised a few times and now is also a Traveler List.