- Two Days in Yosemite in Summertime – Part 1
- One Day in Mammoth, California in Summertime – Part 2
- Three Days in Tahoe in Summertime – Part 3
This trip started as an addition of a few days in Yosemite during a business trip to San Jose. But, once we started researching the area, we kept adding new attractions and days. So all in all, we spent 6 days in three unbelievably distinct spots – each with its own beauty. We started in Yosemite National Park, then spent a day in Mammoth and finally three days in Lake Tahoe area. While Yosemite is still my favorite out of these, the other two are really close behind. While you could spend a week in Yosemite easily, here is a two day Yosemite roadtrip for you.
Day 1 | Lower Yosemite
Total drive time: 3 hours and 30 minutes (plus bus rides)*
We flew into Fresno the evening before and stayed our first night close to Yosemite, so that we could get started on our roadtrip early the next day. Our six day itinerary was fully packed and we didn’t want to waste any time. We spent our first day in the Yosemite Valley. The Valley was formed between 2 and 3 million years ago when a series of glaciers molded the Sierra Nevada mountain range into a vast U-shaped valley. You can drive through, hike the meadows, admire waterfalls, swim in the creek and have a picnic pretty much anywhere.
Glacier Point – our first adventure was to drive up to Glacier Point for some amazing views of the valley and peaks. Make sure to stop along the way at the various vistas, you’ll get different views at each one. Yosemite has more domes than any other place on the planet. Its most famous, Half Dome can be seen from Glacier Point. The 8,842-foot towering granite rock is a world-known icon. If you have a lens with good zoom, you can usually spot people climbing Half Dome. If you’re going outside of summer months, make sure to check if the road is open, it remains closed in snow or ice conditions.
Tunnel View – this was my friend’s favorite spot, because you can see the various peaks, such as El Capitan, Clouds Rest and Sentinel Rock. It’s exactly what the name says, it’s a vista that allows you to see a natural tunnel valley in between the various peaks. Greens of the tree tops in the valley against the gray of the granite rocks and blue skies create a dramatic landscape worthy of taking your breath away.
Bridalveil Falls – after viewing the peaks we took a drive through the valley, our first stop was Briadalveil Falls. Plunging 620 feet, Bridalveil Falls is often the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley. It’s a seasonal waterfall that is at its fullest in late spring, it was pretty sparse at the end of July. It’s really easy to get to with a short hike from the parking lot, and on a hot day you can hang out on shaded rocks by the creek.
Swinging Bridge and Cook Meadow – we stopped here and hiked a little bit, but be warned that if you’re here when it’s hot, there is very little shade on this trail as you’re walking through the middle of meadows. We hiked and admired some flowers and then headed to Mirror Lake for a real hike. On our way back, toward the evening, we came back to Cook Meadow and hiked through it looking for mule deer feasting at dusk. We weren’t disappointed. The best time of year to see the meadow in its full glory is late spring to early summer.
The Mist Trail – this is one of park’s most popular trails that leads up to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls. You will climb 600-step granite staircase that goes around the mountain and goes so close to the waterfalls that the mist from the falls sprays the trail and hikers giving this trail its name. This hike is mostly uphill and a 2.5 mile roundtrip (about 3 hours), so be prepared with water and proper footwear.
Mirror Lake Trail – Mirror Lake is a pool created by a seasonal stream, it’s the fullest in late spring from all of the snowmelt, especially is years with heavy winter snowfall. As its name states, it’s know for the surrounding gray granite rock reflections you can see in the water. The trail is 2 miles to the lake and back, you can also hike around the lake. You have to take the shuttle bus to the trailhead (stop 17).
After the bus dropped us off at the Visitor Center, it was getting late and we were exhausted from a full day of adventures, so we thought we’d take a shortcut to our car. We went the wrong way, got lost and had to cut across Cook Meadow to finally find our lot. In the meadow we saw a family of five mule deer feeding at dusk… mistake or meant to be?
Yosemite Village – this is worth a very quick stop, there is not much there. Honestly, we only went to the Visitor Center store, which is well stocked. But you can also check out the Yosemite Valley Chapel, Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center, gallery and museum. You’ll also find the only dining options in the park here.
Day 2 | Upper Yosemite – Tioga Pass
Total drive time: 3 hours
On our second day we took the Tioga pass through Yosemite to Bridgeport. Tioga Pass is a mountain pass north of Yosemite Valley. It was named after Tioga Mine, whose name originated in New York: Tioga is named for an Iroquois and Mohawk term meaning “where it forks.” If you’re going outside of June through October, make sure to check if the road is open, it remains closed in snow or ice conditions.
Tuolumne Grove – a forest of Giant Sequoias. This is a 2.5-mile roundtrip hike with a 400ft elevation change (down first and up on the way back). The grove itself has a couple dozen mature Giant Sequoias, including one you can walk through.
Siesta Lake – calling this a lake is a big stretch. Siesta Lake is more like a marshy pond, but it is beautiful and deserves a quick stop. The lake is really close to the parking lot and doesn’t require a hike. You can also hike around the lake, but the trail is usually marshy and wet.
Olmstead Point – a viewing area off of Tioga Road, which offers a view into Tenaya Canyon. This view looks southwest into the valley, giving a view of the northern side of Half Dome, and Tenaya Lake to the east. This turnout was named in honor of famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted and his son, Frederick, Jr. Olmsted Senior was considered the father of American landscape architecture and best known for his design of New York’s Central Park. They were both involved with Yosemite.
Tenaya Lake –we stopped by Tenaya Lake and found a great little spot for a picnic. In the summer time you can go kayaking, boating, swimming or sunbathing. Tenaya Lake is located in the alpine region of the park at a surface elevation of 8,150 feet.
Tuolumne Meadows hike – this is an easy flat route 2-mile hike at 8,600-ft elevation that leads to Toulumne River, Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs. It’s one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevadas.
Soda Springs – “Soda Springs are cool, the water tastes great, I drink it all the time.” words from the Park Ranger. So, we went… There is no way we would ever drink this water – it’s orange and full of rust. Also, calling this springs is very generous, it’s more like puddles of rusty carbonated water. And yes, we pretended to drink for pics. You’ll find Soda Springs as you hike through Tuolumne Meadow.
Elery Lake – about two miles from the park exist Elery Lake was our last stop in the mountains. Note the snow still present pretty close to us – this was in August.
Mono Lake – nestled at the edge of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, Mono Lake is an ancient saline lake that covers over 70 square miles and supports a unique ecosystem. The lake has no fish; instead it is home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies. Along the lakeshore, scenic limestone formations known as tufa towers rise from the water’s surface. When driving from Yosemite, there are some great viewing points along the road, but to see tufa, go to South Tufa Trail. At sunrise and sunset, when the sky and tufa light up in shades of orange and the lake reflects it all.
Bridgeport – we stayed the night in a small California town of Bridgeport. It’s a cute little gold rush town, not much to do there, but it’s quaint. We had dinner at the Bridgeport Inn, built in 1877 for Hiram Leavitt. We stayed in Bridgeport for two nights and ventured out to Mammoth on the second day.
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