How to make the Most out of a Short Weekend in Yosemite

El Capitan on in Yosemite National Park in California on a clear day

As busy, working people, we need to get the most out of our vacations when we have them.   We could use a shortage of time as an excuse to not go at all, but that would be a huge mistake.  While having more time is always better, not having “enough time” to see a destination in it’s entirety is no reason to avoid the destination all together.

A few years ago, I was tied down by a job I hated, living a life that left me feeling exhausted for time.  Any chance I got to just stay home and relax was a day well spent.  One day while browsing Pinterest (while I was procrastinating doing work I did not enjoy…) I discovered a promotion that the folks at Half Dome Village (known as Curry Village at the time) once did to get visitors to stay in their canvas cabins in the wintertime.  The cost of your stay was dependent on the temperature.  The colder it was, the cheaper you could stay.

Since we were living in Los Angeles at the time, and half the money we made went immediately into paying our rent, we took any chance we got to save money.  Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to sleep in a canvas tent in the middle of the winter in Yosemite National Park.  But where would we find the time to do that?  We both worked full time jobs, and I was constantly working on the weekends.  We wouldn’t be able to carve time out of our schedule to get there.

But if we weren’t going to be able to get there that one, fateful winter in 2016, then when would we make it there?

We took what we could.  We had a weekend, and that would have to be enough.   We packed up our car Friday night (so we wouldn’t waste a single moment) and drove to our destination early the next morning.

With less than 48 hours to spend in the place that would quickly steal my heart, we needed to know exactly what we wanted to get done to make the most out of our time there.   Having a plan that you can stick to is the easiest way to get the most out of your short trip.

Tunnel View

The Tunnel View Lookout Point in Yosemite National Park in California
The Tunnel View Lookout Point in Yosemite National Park

The very first iconic place to stop at Yosemite is at Tunnel View lookout point.  You’ll catch your very first glimpse at the iconic destinations that will be your guiding lights for the rest of your trip.  This is the perfect place to take your “souvenir photo.” I set up the tripod, turned on the timer, sat on the retaining wall, and immediately had the most perfect photo to hang on our wall. 

Check In

Be prepared to stand in a little bit of a line when checking in.  Even in the off-season, we had to wait in a line to get our tent assignment.

A canvas tent available to reserve at Half Dome Village in Yosemite National Park in California
A Canvas tent in Half Dome Village in Yosemite National Park

Move In

Move everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) from your car into your tent.  We brought tons of extra blankets because it was going to be very cold.   That immediately went on the bed.  Valuables were locked into our safe that was provided for us, and everything else went immediately into the bear-proof box outside of our tent.  All food, supplies, and clothes went in here.  Keeping all these items locked up kept a bear from coming to look for them.  Even lingering perfume on clothes could be enough to spark a bear’s interest. 


When we visited, the only option available was the Pizza Patio.  The line to grab a bite to eat was long (over an hour long) but being the only hot food to eat, we waited with the rest of our fellow visitors.  While we stood in line, we had the amazing opportunity to watch the sun set on Half Dome and light it up to a beautiful shade of pink.   This is a view that is not to be missed!


When living in a city like Los Angeles, stars are something rarely seen.  While we didn’t find the most remote spot, we found some open space on the edge of our camp sight and looked up at the stars.  The numbers of stars in the sky that night were incredible. 


We had big plans to wake up mighty early the next morning, so we got to bed early, too.  We had opted to not have the added expense of the space heater in our tent (something that my more financially stable self would never do again) so getting to sleep was very difficult in the bitter cold.  We had the beds pushed together so we could huddle under the same blankets for warmth. We wore almost every piece of clothing we brought. Yet it seemed sleep would not come for a very long time, and when it did, it was short lived.  (The next day I bought sleeping pills from the gift shop and had much better luck the second night…)

Early Risers

It was still very dark when we woke the next morning.  We ran back and forth between our tent and the communal bathrooms to get ready.  We jumped in the car, and drove in the pitch black dark to mirror lake.  At this time of day, we had the lot completely to ourselves (something the late risers would not get to experience.) We began our trek just as the sun was starting to rise.

Mirror Lake

We spent our morning hiking around Mirror Lake.  The entire trail around the lake is just at 5 miles.  There is no water on the trail, but there are a few bathrooms along the way.  For the first hour or so, we didn’t see a single person on the trail.  It was just us and the reflecting views in the lake.

The trail was generally flat, with a few rocks or branches to climb over sporadically.   There was snow at one point along the trail in an area that rarely sees sunlight.  It was an easy trail that took little preparation or experience, but still offered breathtaking views of rivers, lakes, and of Half Dome. 

The Lodge

After our half-day hike, we went back to the gift shop to buy lunch.  We brought plenty of food with us, but with the cold temperatures, we really needed something to warm us up.  We opted for some Mac and Cheese and sandwiches.  We took all of this into the lodge where plenty of other visitors were playing games and relaxing.  We ate lunch and played cards.

Yosemite Valley Shuttle

After we got our energy back, we hopped on the free shuttle and went over to Yosemite Falls.  At this point in the day, there were lots of people out on these accessible trails.  Hundreds more than the handful of people we saw on the trail early in the morning.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park in California.  A fully flowing waterfall on a clear winter day.
Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park on a clear winter day

You can see Yosemite Falls pretty immediately after hoping off the shuttle (you’ll also have a view of half dome!) Here you’ll find a very short and very easy trail to the Falls.  About a half-mile in total, you can walk out to the Falls in a matter of minutes, snap some photos, take in the view, and then walk back.  We spent a while at the foot of the Falls just admiring it. 

At this point, the shuttles were very over crowded, there were people everywhere, and we would have probably been better off walking back to the campsite.  But the shuttle was free and, despite the fact that we had hiked two easy trails, we had been on our feet all day and we were tired. 

We grabbed dinner at the cafeteria again that night, and went to sleep shortly after the sun went down.


The next morning, we woke up early once again, this time to pack up our car and hit the road. 

El Capitan

We couldn’t leave Yosemite without visiting the iconic El Capitan.  Lucky for us, it was on the way as we left the park.  We stood in the shadow of El Capitan for a while, and made a few other stops at pretty destinations along the way.  We stopped at Valley View, and again at Tunnel View. 

Valley View Lookout Point in Yosemite National Park in California
Valley View in Yosemite National Park

Follow in our footsteps, and you’ll get to see as much of Yosemite as you could possibly see in such a short amount of time.  You’ll have time to see all of the iconic stops, get a few quick hikes in, and have a little bit of time to relax before heading home. 

Did we see all that Yosemite has to offer?  Of course not!  But we got a taste.  We can say that we’ve been there, but know that we will have to go back again some day.  I’m dying to get back as soon as the opportunity presents itself, but for now, I’m happy to say we made it work the best that we could. 

Until next time, Yosemite.

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