If you only have a few days for exploring, pair hiking in Yosemite National Park with rafting on the wild and scenic Tuolumne River for the ultimate long weekend adventure.
Just a short drive from San Francisco, you’ll enjoy iconic park views away from the crowds, tackle thrilling whitewater, and be able to savor one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.
Day One: May Lake & Mount Hoffmann, Carlon Falls, and Evergreen Lodge
Hit the road early enough and you can be at the entrance gate to Yosemite National Park by late morning. Rather than head into the valley right away, head to Tioga Road for incredible access to Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra.
You have to work for it, but the Mount Hoffmann hike at the geographic center of Yosemite doesn’t disappoint. From the May Lake Trailhead, this 6-mile round-trip hike takes you past one of the park’s most scenic lakes, before ascending 2,000 feet to the top of Mount Hoffmann for mind-blowing panoramic views. John DeGrazio of YExplore, which offers custom-guided Yosemite hiking adventures, says that it’s not on anyone’s radar, but every time he takes people on this hike they can’t believe how spectacular it is.
Plan ahead and pack lunch to enjoy at May Lake. From here, you can leisurely explore other sites along Tioga Road before heading to Hetch Hetchy, where visitors enjoy year-round fishing spots and one of the longest hiking seasons in the park.
Ambitious hikers can stop at the Carlon Falls trailhead on Evergreen Road for a relatively flat 1.9-mile hike along the South Fork of the Tuolumne River. The trail leads to a scenic waterfall and swimming hole where you can enjoy a refreshing dip after conquering that 10,000-foot peak. It can get crowded in the heat of the summer, but later in the day you might luck out and have it all to yourself.
Yosemite offers a variety of lodging options, from simple tent cabins to deluxe rooms. Book your reservations 366 days in advance–spots go very quickly!
Day Two: Sentinel Dome/Taft Point, Merced River, and El Capitan
Get an early start and make your way to the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead parking lot on Glacier Point Road for a 4.9-mile loop hike that combines two of Yosemite’s underrated hikes into one spectacular experience. At one end of the trail you can climb to the top of Sentinel Dome with little effort for stunning views of the park’s most prominent landmarks including El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome. At Taft Point, you can look out over the edge of a cliff a mile above Yosemite Valley.
After spending the morning staring into the valley, it’s time to finally spend some time in the heart of the park. Make your way to Yosemite Village to stock up on picnic supplies in their full-service grocery store and then find your own personal picnic spot along the Merced River to enjoy a relaxing afternoon in the shadows of El Capitan.
If you need to walk off your lunch, the short jaunt to the base of Yosemite Falls is worth the visit. You certainly won’t have it to yourself, but this iconic sight will delight any park visitor.
If you can’t pull yourself away the majestic views of the valley just yet, head to one of the park’s iconic lodges for dinner before making your way back to Evergreen to enjoy a cozy evening next to the outdoor fireplace.
Day Three: Tuolumne River Rafting
Most people don’t realize there’s world-class whitewater rafting right at the doorstep of Yosemite National Park. To cap off your adventure, book a Tuolumne River Rafting trip for a complete wilderness immersion. The Tuolumne roars down from the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada into a spectacular river canyon, providing 18-miles of thrilling Class III-IV+ whitewater – the best in California.
You can experience the entire trip in a day (early season only), but to savor your time on this scenic river, enjoy its hidden swimming holes and brilliant star-filled skies, you’ll want to opt for a two-day adventure. Rafting outfitters can provide the camping gear, so all you have to do is show up ready for big fun.
Whether you make it a one-day trip or opt for the two-day experience, after big thrills on the river, you’ll want to fuel up for your trip back to the Bay Area. On your way out of town, grab dinner in Groveland at the Iron Door Saloon – the oldest saloon in California. A hamburger has never tasted better than after a day on the river.
Looking for other long weekend ideas in the Bay Area? Check out this Travel Idea, featuring other must-see parks in or near San Francisco.
Travel Idea and images provided by O.A.R.S. — an authorized concessioner of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and Grand Teton National Parks, an authorized concessioner in Dinosaur National Monument and special permit holder in Crater Lake, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
Photos credits: Steve Markle and Picture This.