When visiting Yosemite National Park, there are plenty of day hikes that are worth the effort. In my opinion, every multi-day stay in the park should include at least one – with The Mist Trail being my absolute favorite. That said, your first day at the park is always bound to make someone miserable: either you wake up at an ungodly hour to beat the crowds OR you arrive late and lose an entire day.
So what if you want to be well-rested and still make the most of your stay? Well, then consider exploring Yosemite from the comfort of your rental car. Remember: travel smart, not hard. Especially on your first day.
Yosemite’s best viewpoints
The struggle is real when it comes to putting on hiking boots and conquering rugged trails. Sometimes you just want the epic views without the epic effort. And guess what? Yosemite National Park – the gem of California’s Sierra Nevada – has got you covered.
Forget the backpacks, trail mix and the sore quads. You don’t need to be a wilderness expert to soak in Yosemite’s beauty. So even if your idea of “roughing it” involves no Wi-Fi for a few hours, you’re in for an unforgettable experience.
Yosemite’s natural grandeur is just a road trip away, so let me introduce you to the park’s top three jaw-dropping, sweat-free vistas. It’s time to explore Yosemite the easy way. Here’s to sleeping in, arriving late and still getting max. value on that first day.
#1 – Tunnel View: the ultimate postcard moment
First up on our epic Yosemite road trip is the iconic Tunnel View. It’s like Mother Nature’s version of a postcard – you’ll be tempted to snap a selfie here before you even park the car.
As you approach this first stop, prepare for an awe-inspiring reveal: El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall all in one jaw-dropping panorama. I took my dad here on our first day at the park and he was so overwhelmed he started crying. And trust me, this man has seen the world.
Tunnel View is easily accessible from most major locations in the park. It’s a short 20 minutes away from Curry Village and El Portal, so it’s the perfect pit stop before checking in to your cabin or motel. (if you’re camping, you’re doing this millennial thing all wrong)
#2 – Glacier Point: peak beauty
Glacier Point offers one of the best vistas in the entire park. I used to skip this lookout because it’s such a detour from the main road. And how much better can it really get after Tunnel View, right? But boy, was I blown away when I finally decided to take this 1-hour drive to nowhere.
Glacier Point is not just a viewpoint – it’s the place where lazy travelers and Mother Nature finally get to have their meet-cute. At an elevation of 7,214 feet (2,199 m), the point offers a ridiculous view of the park’s well-known landmarks such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest.
If you do decide to drive up there, expect to spend at least few hours. There’s a charming little picnic area where you can enjoy a meal with a view and a souvenir shop offering snacks & ice cream. Is anyone really still thinking about hiking? Not me.
One caveat: the lookout is accessible by car from approximately late May through October or November.. Always check the NPS Park website for the latest update on road conditions & snow updates.
#3 – Washburn Point: intimate & epic
Last but certainly not least is Washburn Point, located just South of Glacier Point. From here, you’ll get another epic view of Half Dome but with a more intimate feel.
Admittedly, while the view of Half Dome may not be as spectacular as it is from Glacier Point, you get significantly fewer crowds and the added bonus of witnessing three stunning waterfalls: Vernall Falls, Nevada Falls, and Illilouette Falls.
PLUS, the views are literally just 20 stairs away from the parking lot, at an elevation of 7,500 feet.
Yosemite for the Lazy Explorer
All jokes aside, I don’t actually hate hiking. But I don’t want to wake up at 5AM in order to beat the crowds unless I absolutely have to. Who wants to start their trek exhausted? Hard pass.
If you’re not just a lazy explorer but also a lazy reader, here’s a recap of this post:
- Don’t arrive early (regardless of what everyone else will tell you)
- Skip the hike on day 1
- Visit these viewpoints accessible by car instead
PS: don’t drive an electric vehicle into Yosemite. I’ve seen too many Teslas run into charging issues.
Book one here instead: