How to Plan the Perfect Weekend in Yosemite

I recently took a 4-day trip to one of my favorite national parks in the U.S.—Yosemite National Park. I hadn’t visited the park since I discovered my love for photography, so I was excited to see this place for the first time through my lens. I was able to hike some of my favorite trails, take way too many photos (see below!), and stay in the cutest cabin right inside the park with some of my closest friends.

For this trip, I teamed up with VacationRenter to find the best rental property (at an affordable price) to stay inside the national park close to all the main attractions. Being able to be within driving distance of Glacier Point was important to getting the photos I wanted to get with the best light. As much as I love camping, the winter months in Yosemite start to drop to the low 20’s during the day and at night, so having a cozy cabin with a fireplace was a huge plus and made our trip a lot more enjoyable.

As many of you know, traveling and being in nature is where I am most happy—so I wanted to put together an itinerary with some tips and tricks so that you can also visit Yosemite and have an amazing weekend. Yosemite truly is like no where else on this planet—waterfalls, valleys, granite walls that reach thousands of feet, and home to a lot of unique wildlife. It is a place I hope to visit time and time again—and you will too!

Step 1: Packing for your Adventure
Fall and winter trips can be amazing if you pack what you need! Being unprepared for the cold is never any fun. I have compiled a list of things I brought on my trip below: 😊

  • Warm clothing: Thermal shirts, down jackets, wool socks, gloves, and a raincoat. You won’t regret having these items if the weather conditions change!

  • Hiking boots: Some of the trails in Yosemite are dusty with a lot of rocks! It’s good to bring proper footwear so you can protect your feet and your ankles. It’s always a bonus if your boots happen to be waterproof as well.

  • External battery pack: This is important if you plan to have your phone charged all day. There won’t be many places in a national park to plug in if you need to!

  • Your camera: This one should be obvious! Who would come to Yosemite without snapping some photos?

  • Snacks/food from the local grocery store: Before entering the park, make sure to stop and get snacks and food from a grocery store. There aren’t many places to eat once you are inside the park—so make sure to stock up before entering!

 


Step 2: Finding the Perfect Cabin

If you’re anything like me—finding the perfect cabin nestled in the woods is like a dream come true. When I have visited Yosemite in the past, I have stayed in a couple different places including: hotels inside the national park, hotels an hour outside of the national park, and of course—camping! However, I usually visited Yosemite in the summer when the weather was much warmer. While the park is beautiful during this time—I found that the best time to visit Yosemite is in the fall/winter. With an average of 4.1 million visitors to the park each year—it’s a pretty popular spot! And most people like to visit when the weather is the nicest. The downside to visiting during the summer is more people and no fall colors—which added a lot of magic to this trip.

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Knowing that the weather was getting colder, I was lucky enough to team up with VacationRenter to book a 3-bedroom cabin that sleeps 9 people! And if you do the math, this can actually wind up being cheaper than booking a campsite (Just bring more friends 😊). For reference, the cabin I booked specifically is here, but the best thing about VacationRenter is that you can find the perfect rental to fit your needs while also staying within your budget.

Personally, I love staying in vacation rentals but have always hated how difficult it is to find the perfect rental that fits the needs of my trip. While using VacationRenter I didn’t have to search a bunch of different sites to find exactly what I needed at the price point I wanted to pay. VacationRenter groups together all the best rental properties in the area you want to stay in from across the web! They do the hard work so that you don’t have to. All you need to do is enter your dates, your destination (Yosemite National Park) and VacationRenter finds you the best options available so you don’t have to go to a bunch of different websites. We took advantage of the outdoor grill and patio area for dinner each night as places to eat in Yosemite are few and far between. Make sure to grab some snacks at the grocery store before entering the park! Yosemite is a large national park with not much cell phone service so it’s good to have some snacks lying around the cabin.

Outdoor balcony with a nice grill! Perfect spot to enjoy the fall colors.

Outdoor balcony with a nice grill! Perfect spot to enjoy the fall colors.

A fully loaded kitchen for all our cooking needs. This was nice to have as there are not many places to eat inside the park. Something you don’t get at a campsite or a hotel 😊.

A fully loaded kitchen for all our cooking needs. This was nice to have as there are not many places to eat inside the park. Something you don’t get at a campsite or a hotel 😊.


Step 3: Find the best spots for iconic photos. (Note—not difficult to do in such a beautiful place, but here were some of my favorites!)

Location 1: Merced River
When seeing photos of Yosemite on Instagram there are some photo perspectives that are easy to find because they have name and a trail (i.e. Taft Point, Glacier Point, Lower Yosemite Falls etc.) but a lot of my favorite photos were shot along the Merced River. Take some time on the first morning to drive/hike along the river to find some unique perspectives! Sharing a few of my favorites below:

In frame: Nicole Renard @nicole_thenomad in front of a view of Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is behind her to the left!

In frame: Nicole Renard @nicole_thenomad in front of a view of Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is behind her to the left!

Location 2: Glacier Point

Half Dome with alpine glow.

Half Dome with alpine glow.

To see the iconic view of Half Dome—Glacier Point is the place you want to be at sunset. If you get lucky like we did with the weather, be sure to hit up this spot for sunset. The way the sun hits half dome at this time of day is unlike anything I have ever seen before—the most beautiful red alpine glow.

The best part about this spot is that—there’s no hiking required! Just drive up and enjoy the view 😊. For some unique perspectives of this place, try featuring the winding road or explore some of the different view points to see half dome in all of its glory.

A an old ’98 Jeep in front of the iconic Half Dome. If you stay past sunset, watch the dome for twinkling lights of climbers trying to reach the summit.

A an old ’98 Jeep in front of the iconic Half Dome. If you stay past sunset, watch the dome for twinkling lights of climbers trying to reach the summit.


Location 3: Taft Point

Hiking required: Approximately 3 miles round trip

**Please note—Taft Point is a popular viewpoint high above the valley with sweeping views of El Capitan and the surrounding mountain peaks. Please take caution when visiting this location and taking photos here as people have died here in the past.

Nicole Renard watching the sunset over El Capitan

Nicole Renard watching the sunset over El Capitan

Quite possibly my favorite location in Yosemite is Taft Point. Like Glacier Point—this location is not accessible in the winter if there’s snow due to road closures, but we were lucky enough to come to Yosemite at the end of fall to witness some of the most spectacular sunset views. I would recommend visiting this location at sunset so you can see the sunlight hit El Capitan before it dips below the horizon. We got lucky and saw someone slacklining at the view point! A gut-wrenching but beautiful sight to see.

A brave man slacklining at Taft Point

A brave man slacklining at Taft Point

This spot is definitely a sunset spot—so If you only have a couple of nights, make sure to prioritize this one! Bring a headlamp to hike back in the dark after the sun goes down.

Standing on the ledge at Taft Point

Standing on the ledge at Taft Point


 

Location 4: Centennial Bridge

For a quick view of Half Dome from the valley floor, drive to Centennial Bridge. If you’re lucky enough to see the tail end of fall, the yellow leaves glisten in the morning sun at sunrise. A popular spot to see black bears getting a sip of water from the Merced River.

Half dome peaking behind some fall foliage at sunrise.

Half dome peaking behind some fall foliage at sunrise.


Location 5: Tunnel View

Tunnel View gets its name for an obvious reason—it’s the first view you see of Yosemite Valley when you drive through a long tunnel! If you plan on visiting this spot at a popular time of day (i.e. sunrise or sunset) make sure to get there early! People line up with their tripods to watch the sun hit El Capitan and Half Dome.

Hey Mac IOS wallpaper—is that you?

Hey Mac IOS wallpaper—is that you?

Let me know if you wind up visiting these places while in Yosemite! I would love to hear about your experiences and see your photos 😊. You can also check out VacationRenter’s blog about my Yosemite experience here.