Yosemite National Park is one of California’s treasures. Its majestic waterfalls, giant trees and iconic mountains make it worth the journey from San Francisco. Let us help you plan the perfect Yosemite day trip!
There are many sights, hiking trails and photo opportunities in the 761,266 acres of Yosemite. These include Half Dome and El Capitan, two of the park’s most well known climbing peaks, as well as Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.
There’s so much to explore for those who love the outdoors, and it’s a great trip for anyone interested in seeing some of California’s most iconic landscapes. Here we’ve outlined the best activities to make the most of a Yosemite day trip as well as tips for how to travel to and from Yosemite and San Francisco.
Tackling Yosemite in one day is a lot to take on. The park is about 4 hours from San Francisco, so you’re going to need an early start if you want to see the highlights of the area.
Muir Woods and Alcatraz are also famous national park sites located right in the Bay Area! Once you get back from Yosemite, be sure to check out our A Day in the Bay tour to discover these parks at their best.
How to get from San Francisco to Yosemite
If you are comfortable planning a trip to Yosemite on your own, the easiest option is to get a rental car and make it into a mini road trip!
On the scenic drive you’ll pass through beautiful redwood trees and wind along mountain roads. With the right playlist and good snacks, those four hours will fly by!
If you want someone else to do the driving and even plan your day for you, consider one of the many Yosemite tours from San Francisco.
With convenient pickup at many hotels in Downtown San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf, this is a great option!
Yosemite one day tours
1-Day Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Tour
This tour is great if you want a packed day and to experience of all the most popular sights. With a stop at the Giant Sequoia Tree Grove and a short 2 mile hike, this is one of the most accessible Yosemite bus tours available.
Yosemite National Park Day Trip From San Francisco
This tour is perfect for visitors who want to avoid figuring out transportation but want more flexibility when they arrive at the park. This tour has the option of a guided hike starting at Yosemite Falls, or about 4 hours to explore on your own.
Yosemite Full-Day Private Tour from San Francisco
For a more private experience without the hassle of driving yourself, consider this Yosemite one day tour that’s perfect for families or small groups of friends. You’ll be picked up by car in San Francisco and taken to the best sights in the park at your own pace.
For even more great tours check out our write up of the Best Yosemite Tours from San Francisco!
Hikes for your Yosemite itinerary
You might be asking: how can I possibly choose what to do in just one day in Yosemite? We’re here to help by narrowing down the options to our favorite activities!
The most popular activity in Yosemite is hiking. There are many options for Yosemite day hikes but for a one day trip we recommend sticking to the shorter ones. These are our two favorite hikes for short trips to Yosemite!
Yosemite Falls towers over 2,400 feet and flows strong from November to July. One of the best and most accessible hikes is a 1 mile loop at the base of this landmark. Great for beginners, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the waterfall.
If you have some hiking experience and you’re feeling adventurous, try out the Lembert Dome Hike. This 2.8 mile round trip hike (about 2 hours), includes some elevation and is rated as “moderate.” Once you reach the top of Lembert Dome you’ll have glorious views of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding peaks.
Tuolumne Grove Nature Trail
If you are curious about the famous giant sequoia trees then this hike is for you. This easy hike is 2.5 miles and takes you straight into one of the largest groves of sequoias. There are many great photo opportunities along this hike, and a picnic area if you decide to pack lunch.
Visit the official park website for information about more of the best day hikes in Yosemite!
Tours and Attractions
Valley Floor Tour
If your goal is to get the best pictures of Yosemite Valley and all of the surrounding sights, consider a tour led by an expert. This tour is available year-round and takes about 2 hours. One highlight is the Tunnel View, probably the most famous place to take pictures from and get an iconic shot.
To get the best view of Half Dome make your way to this iconic lookout. Open seasonally from April to November, this should be on the top of you list for a day trip to Yosemite. There is the option of a 2 mile hike that results in similar views with fewer people in the way.
If you are interested in the history of Yosemite and the people who originally occupied the land, visit the historic Yosemite Museum. It features a collection of American Indian baskets, other artifacts, and rotating special exhibits, and provides a deeper understanding of the park and its roots.
Ansel Adams Gallery
Ansel Adams was a famous landscape photographer and conservationist, who’s iconic images of Yosemite National Park hold an important place in American culture. The gallery dedicated to him is the perfect stop for art lovers, and has some of the best souvenirs. It features the artist’s photographs as well as rotating exhibitions of contemporary photographers.
Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch
If you want a memorable day and you aren’t afraid of heights, consider a 2 hour zipline tour! This is perfect for an adventurous group of friends or families with older children (kids must weight 60+ pounds to zip). For younger kids, try your luck panning for gold! You’ll learn something about California history and you just might go home rich.
Ideally you would have a few days to truly soak in the beauty of this amazing national park. But whether you decide to do it on your own or with a tour company, a Yosemite day trip from San Francisco is possible.
To save time, skip the restaurant and pack a picnic lunch! Eating on a hiking trail will be much more rewarding. Be sure to check the weather and road conditions before setting off on your journey, and come prepared with layers and water.