What Are My Yosemite One-Day Tour Hiking Choices?

Private Yosemite Sunrise Hike

Many people have no idea what they are in for when they book a Yosemite one-day tour. The marketing machine in San Francisco is encouraging them to reserve, and time, their most valuable asset, is limited.

If you are in San Francisco for only three days, after all, how much time do you really have to tour Yosemite? So the one-day tours are quite popular. Oftentimes, they are booked before someone has the time to research where, when, and for how long he/she can hike in Yosemite during the tour.

How a Typical Yosemite One-Day Tour Operates

First things first: A typical Yosemite one-day tour from San Francisco involves several hours on the road, eight or more to be exact. True, the views are incredible, and at many stops along the way, you’ll be looking at some of the most beautiful sights on earth, such as Half Dome, along with driving across the state of California with its various scenes and sights. However, it’s still a long drive; there’s no getting around it. To make sure you make the most of your time, you need to pick the correct tour operator. Do you want a chauffeur or someone who knows the park (and the drive there) inside and out? That, or be ready to drive yourself, which means you’ll need to know where to go when you arrive, and how you will efficiently see the famous landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and the big trees once you get there.

Camouflage Yosemite Coyote

Bus Tour vs. Private Driver

We see the problem on a constant basis in San Francisco. Really, it’s the reason we began our company, to occupy a space that was missing. What is it?

When you visit Yosemite from San Francisco you have two choices. First, you can take a bus tour, which is not the ideal situation if you can afford a better option. Why would you cram onto a bus with other tourists (strangers) when you can afford not to?

Your other option, beyond renting a car and driving yourself, is to hire a private driver, and unfortunately, many of the private drivers from San Francisco know very little about Yosemite. And nor should they. Rarely does a private driver (besides us) spend most of their time in Yosemite. The drivers from San Francisco, instead, probably know a view or two but do not spend time in Yosemite on a regular basis and are unable to bring the park to life through background and stories, like a local inviting you into his backyard. Ideally, this is what you need to make the most of a one-day tour.

That’s where we come in. We provide private drivers who know how to hike you to the top of Half Dome if you so desire. But don’t count on it for a Yosemite one-day tour. Really, you’ll hear great stories and get a good overview of Yosemite to prep you for your next visit, which could be a camping retreat into the backcountry.

Where Do The Buses Drop You Off?

Unless there is a natural disaster in Yosemite such as a rock fall or fire blocking the roads from San Francisco, you’ll most likely be heading to the Valley on a one-day bus tour. And once there, there is only one spot a bus is allowed to drop off passengers: in the commercial parking lot near Lower Yosemite Falls.

This is where your hike will begin and end. You need to hurry, because you will only have a few hours (yet another reason to go private if you can afford it).

Luxury Blogger One Day Yosemite Tour

Yosemite’s Best One-Day Hikes

There is a big difference between a “best hike” and a “best hike in one day,” because as you know by now, one day of hiking in Yosemite is not the same as seeing Yosemite in one day from San Francisco because of how much time is spent on the road. That means your time will be limited to shorter, closer hikes, each of about 2-3 hours in length round trip. Below are the more popular hikes in the Valley, some you’ll have time for, and others you’ll need to skip until you can make a longer visit.

Lower Yosemite Fall

This is the trail that almost everyone sees on a one-day tour in Yosemite. It’s short, sweet, and it’s accessible to almost everyone, even those in wheelchairs. The only problem is it’s the closest hike to the buses and therefore the most crowded on busy summer days.

Bridalveil Fall

Here you’ll see the first waterfall as you enter the Valley (although in late summer it may be dry). Once parking near Bridalveil, you’ll enjoy a short hike to the waterfall on a mostly-paved path. But like Lower Yosemite Falls, this hike can become crowded in summer, with the parking lot filling around 11 a.m.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is a deceiving name when it comes to Yosemite. The mirror, really, is only here for a couple of months per year, and then it turns to sand dunes. The walk is mostly flat, but like Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail, is better suited if you are in Yosemite for more than one day or staying in the Ahwahnee Hotel. Mirror Lake is further away, so we suggest you give it a miss if you are only doing a one-day tour from San Francisco.

The Mist Trail

If you are driving from San Francisco, you probably will not have time for this trail, either, especially with the parking issues on crowded summer days. Unless you leave early in the morning from San Francisco (4 a.m.), you will most likely need to forgo this trail and save it for a time when you have more than one day here.

Valley Loop Trail

This will be the hike you do to avoid the crowds. There really is no best location for the trail, as it loops all the way around the Valley, but there are less and more popular spots. You might not see towering waterfalls or giant lakes on this trail, although you will experience the peace Yosemite exudes, even in the most popular summer months.

Parking and Traffic Troubles

You’ve probably read about the parking issues in Yosemite, and it’s become a bigger problem over the years. Obviously this is due to the popularity of the park in relation to the number of parking spaces available. This is especially true in the summertime, when kids are out of school and ready for their holiday. For you to avoid the parking difficulties, either expand your Yosemite visit to more than one day or arrive early, before 9:30 a.m., to guarantee a parking spot. And even then on the holidays, a parking spot is not always open.

Your Available Time

Making the most of your time depends mainly on who you go with. You can Google how long it takes to get from San Francisco to Yosemite. The answer, however, will not be accurate. For example, you Google and it says 3 hours, which is technically true (to the entrance.) But add in restroom breaks, a stop for lunch, pulling over for fantastic views when you first see the valley, and any number of other delays, and your trip to Yosemite Valley and your parking spot will typically take about five hours. So coming and going you’ll be on the road for 10 hours. That leaves only so much time and energy for hiking, and it will be limited to the smaller trails.

Stormy Sunset on Yosemite One Day Tour

What is The Correct Way to Do Yosemite in One Day?

Does reading all of this information give you a headache? Did you need to pull out a paper and pencil and scratch out notes just to understand it? Even writing it down in a logical way was confusing to us, and we’re experts on Yosemite! But whether you understood what we said or not, you know that you can’t remotely begin to truly see Yosemite in one day. You could spend a lifetime absorbing, experiencing, and learning about Yosemite, but given the realities of life, three days is more your answer. And if you have a chance to go backcountry, we wholeheartedly believe you should do so. We realize not everyone has time for Yosemite for longer than one day, and seeing the world-renowned national park is better than not seeing it. Just do yourself a favor and go with an expert tour guide so you know what you are getting into. When you are ready to do that, call us.