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Yosemite & San Fran - September 2021

My husband and I are planning a trip to Yosemite National Park and San Francisco the week of September 5th.

Our current plan is as follows:

Sunday, 9/5 - Depart Chicago for San Francisco, get rental car, drive to Yosemite, arrive around 4 pm approximately (overnight Yosemite)

Monday, 9/6 – Full day Yosemite (overnight Yosemite)

Tuesday, 9/7 – Full day Yosemite (overnight Yosemite)

Wednesday, 9/8 – check out of hotel, partial day in Yosemite, drive back to San Fran (overnight San Fran)

Thursday, 9/9 – Full day San Fran (overnight San Fran)

Friday, 9/10 – Full day San Fran (overnight San Fran)

Saturday, 9/11 – fly back to Chicago

Yosemite is our main focus but I've read that 3 or so days in the park is usually plenty. And since we've also never been to San Francisco and are flying in and out of there, we figured that it would be fun to spend a day or two there, as well.

Does that itinerary sound good/feasible? We do have the option to book another night in Yosemite, 9/8 - 9/9, if we should do that.
I know that the national parks are very busy this year, but does anyone have any experience with Yosemite recently? I know they are requiring reservations and also, with us going in September I am hoping that will help the crowds a bit.

Also, any recommended hikes/drives/activities in Yosemite would be appreciated.

Posted by
2330 posts

does anyone have any experience with Yosemite recently?

My friends, who live just south of the south entrance, went to Yosemite last week, during the week, with the necessary park entry reservation. Arriving at 730am there were just a few cars ahead of them to enter. There were minimal crowds and plenty of parking at each of their park stops.

Leaving the park mid afternoon (around 2 or 3) they told me the line of cars to enter was miles long, with entering visitors waiting for departures.

Posted by
5697 posts

Rental bicycles are available for the mostly-flat Valley floor -- might be easier than trying to find parking spaces at viewpoints like Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls.

Posted by
367 posts

Three days in Yosemite Valley is probably enough, but it probably isn't enough if you want to go up to the high country and hike near Tuolomne Meadows, which is at much higher elevation and has a different feel. It's hard to recommend hikes without knowing the difficulty level you'd prefer. The hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls from the valley is great (, and you can choose to only go part way if you want. Taking a shuttle to Glacier Point and walking down is also terrific (there are two ways to do that--a shorter steeper one called the Four-Mile Trail and the longer Panorama Trail that goes by the falls). See There are a number of easier hikes in the valley as well, which you can find on the nps website.

Posted by
159 posts

Where are you staying? Have you booked a hotel outside of the park or did you luck into a cancellation at a park hotel?

Head up (drive) to Glacier Point early in the am- parking can get difficult once the crowds arrive. OR take the bus up (if running?) and then hike down--basically a steep switchback trail down the side of a mountain. OR if your 20 and in superior shape you can hike up and back down. BRING water and snacks- I believe the little store at the top of Glacier Point closes the first weekend of Sept (but you can always check first). Keep your car CLEAN. Do not store food, lotion, make up (anything that smells, and no a cooler does not block smells) in it- bears can open a car door with one finger. This is not Yellowstone- no Grizzly Bears to worry about- but park bears know the smell of human food and their paws/claws will open a car like a can opener would to get to it. If a bear takes your food- do not try and take it back. That is a big no-no as they firmly believe in finders keepers....

From the NPS: "Glacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country, is accessible by car from approximately late May through October or November. From mid-December through March, cross-country skiers can experience this view after skiing 10.5 miles.

From the Glacier Point parking and tour unloading area, a short, paved, wheelchair-accessible trail takes you to an exhilarating (some might say unnerving) point 3,214 feet above Curry Village, on the floor of Yosemite Valley."

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you all for your replies.
We are staying 2 nights at Yosemite Lodge and 1 night at Curry Village. If we were to book a third night we could book at either of those, or it looks like additional park lodging has opened up, as well.
I've read that the park shuttles are not running currently, I guess due to Covid.

Posted by
6239 posts

A number of my thoughts:

1.) It’s high fire season in CA. Make certain to research news stories about CA fires before you leave. The state is dealing with drought conditions. The Dixie Fire which is approximately 4.5 hours North of Yosemite Valley has been raging since mid July. It is nowhere near contained. Air pollution is high in Plumas, Lassen and Butte counties.

2.) Waking early and walking along a path into Yosemite meadow to watch sunrise if not cloudy is something to consider. I Also, at night if it’s a clear sky standing in the meadow and looking up to see the stars can be memorable. Been visiting Yosemite for over 50 years. Never fails to impress. However, with the drought conditions don’t expect the various waterfalls to be as impressive as they could be.

3.) To appreciate CA’s Giant Sequoia trees, consider stopping to visit the Nelder Grove outside of Yosemite park on your drive back to SF. Less crowded.

In regards to San Francisco (The City by The Bay)

1.) Be prepared for the out of control homeless situation.

2.) Dress in layers.

3.) Don’t call it Frisco!

4.) The City by The Bay is more often cloudy and grey in the Fall.

5.) Walk along the foot path by Chrissy Field for stellar views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Follow the path all the way to the Wave Organ.

6.) From the Wave Organ you can walk up to Home Plate for breakfast or lunch. I like that entire SF neighborhood. Filmore Street, Steiner, Webster et al.

7.) Take the N Judah line to the Outer Sunset. Get off
Judah St and 9th Ave and walk to Perilla’s for garlic noodles.

8.) If looking for unique art visit Creativity Explored. It’s on 16th Ave close to Mission Dolores. Creativity Explored features art work by individuals with developmental disabilities. I visit each time I’m in The City and then head to Mission Dolores Park for the views or if in good weather, enjoying a picnic lunch. I’ve bought more than a few pieces of artwork there.

9.) For years I enjoyed staying at the Laurel Motor Inn when I drove into The City. However, it’s no longer cheap and haven’t stayed there for over 15 years. It was practical because of the car and I liked the neighborhood. Especially the nearby The Vogue movie theater. Not sure if The Vogue still exists.

10.) you want a good workout and stay at The Laurel Inn head out to the Lyon Street Steps. SF is about hills and interesting views. These steps provide both.

Posted by
2231 posts

My son was in Yosemite this past Sunday. He arrived at the Tioga Pass entrance at noon and had to wait an hour to get i to the park. Once in the park he drove on Tioga Road and to the Valley. He did not find it that crowded and had no trouble finding parking places.

The shuttles are not running.

The Dixie fire affected visibility in the park somewhat in that is was a little hazy. This was less so in the Valley than on Tioga Road. Apparently it varies by day.

Posted by
48 posts

I think you'll be glad you chose to stay in the park. It is so nice to walk out of your room in the morning and be in one of the most beautiful places. We visit every couple of years, but most recently in June. It was different due to Covid. Without the trams running, you will need to drive to some trailheads depending on which hikes you choose. For the most part we didn't find parking to be a problem, I'm sure due to the decrease in visitors allowed. We rented bikes one day and that was a lot of fun.

If your planned stay at Curry Village is in the tent cabins, I'd try to switch that night to the lodge also? The tent cabins are really close together, so you'll hear everything from neighbors all around you. I actually like to tent camp, but I don't enjoy the set up there. If your Curry Village stay is in the hard side cabins w/bath, or the Stoneman, those are nicer. Also, check-in isn't until 5pm so if you change rooms you'll be without your base most of the day, because you'll need to be out of your room by 10.

Not all of the dining has reopened, and we did see long lines many times at the different eateries. Something to consider is a stop at a grocery store for some picnic/snack type items on your drive to the park. The lodge has small refrigerators in the rooms, and there are so many wonderful places to picnic. So much better than sitting in a cafeteria, with food that is really mediocre.

If you stay on Chicago time, you will be up and out before most. The trails were busiest in the midday and afternoon.

Posted by
116 posts

Please respect the speed limit; speeding kills bears. Please, remember this. Remember that when traveling through Yosemite, we are all just visitors in the home of countless animals and it is up to us to protect them. Respect the speed limit, stay alert, and look out for wildlife.

Learn more at

Also, make sure you always keep all food (including drinks, trash, and other scented items like lip balm) stored properly. If your food is not within arm’s reach, it is too far away. People often leave food unattended while swimming and bears will take that opportunity to eat our high-calorie food. Once a bear starts seeing areas with people as a food source, it is hard to dissuade them from trying again and again to obtain it. Once this happens, there is an increased safety threat to both the bear and people.

You can save a bear's life: do your part to keep them safe! If a bear approaches you or your picnic, act immediately to scare it away. Yell as loudly and aggressively as possible while making yourself look big. American black bears—the only bears living in Yosemite—are innately scared of people and will typically run away if they see you as the bigger, more assertive animal. (If you see a bear away from development, like in a meadow or forest, enjoy it from a distance of at least 50 yards away.)

Posted by
1197 posts

Definitely check out the wildfire situation! We just returned from almost a week in Lake Tahoe (8/25) and it was smoky and hazy and getting worse. I realize Yosemite is south but if it's expected to be smoky and hazy you might want to push your trip back.

Posted by
3283 posts

If it works for your itinerary, I think one of the most spectacular views in S.F. is that from the road just outside the Palace of the Legion of Honor. You are outside the Golden Gate Bridge , looking back at it. Of course, if it’s foggy, don’t bother. I do think, however, that the fog tends to diminish as September rolls around. It’s more of a high summer phenomenon.
Being there is also an opportunity to partake in a local culinary treat, Asian food. Along Geary and Clement streets there innumerable restaurants with Chinese, Thai, Burmese, and probably other cuisines.

Posted by
8194 posts

Baker Beach, very near the Palace of the Legion of Honor, is also a spectacular place for an iconic Golden Gate Bridge photo.

You might also consider taking the ferry from The Ferry Bldg (fun place to visit) to Sausalito, a charming town on the Bay on the north side of the GG Bridge. It’s a 30 min ride with amazing views.