There are few areas as stunning as Yosemite National Park in California. If you are looking for a family vacation filled with epic vistas and grandeur, look no further than Yosemite. A massive 1,200 square miles Yosemite is filled with waterfalls, meadows, and some famous rock faces like El Capitan and Half Dome. All that space and scenery lends itself to an endless amount of hiking and biking that could keep your family busy for weeks. We combined our trip to Yosemite with a conference and sightseeing in San Francisco and we left after 3 days knowing we needed to come back. Check out our list of where to stay and what to do.
Related Post: San Francisco, Baby: A guide to family friendly travel in the Bay Area
There’s a variety of options for accommodations inside the park from camping all the way to high end lodges depending on your budget and how adventurous you’re feeling. There’s two ways of breaking down accommodations: camping or not camping. This post focuses on the non campers since the campsites and getting a reservation could be a post of its own. If you want to make a campsite or RV reservation I would direct you to Yosemite’s official site. This post also focuses on hotels inside the park itself.
Curry Village (formerly Half Dome Village) offers a combination of cabins with private baths (46), shared baths (14), canvas tents (403), and motel rooms with a loft sleeping up to 6 (18). It’s well situated (below Glacier Point) and is a great value option. Several dining options are on site.
Yosemite Valley Lodge is a wonderful choice for families or larger groups. Standard rooms and family suites available (with a king bed and bunk beds) this lodge also boasts an amazing location– a short walk to Yosemite Falls. Amenities also include a pool, bar, and stunning views.
The The Ahwahnee Hotel is the creme de la creme in Yosemite Valley. Our trip to San Francisco was partially comped since we combined this trip with a conference and we splurged on this historic and absolutely incredible hotel. Considered a AAA 4 diamond resort it’s hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth and former Presidents. The location is stunning and to top off our whole trip a random stranger picked up the tab on our fancy dinner. If you’re looking for a special treat, this is it!
Wawona and Glacier Point Road
Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wawona Hotel) is a historic landmark, dating back to 1879. It’s about 27 miles from Yosemite Valley and has 104 Victorian styled rooms (half with a shared bath). It also has an outdoor swimming pool, horse stables and 9 hole golf course.
Top 6 Sights and Activities for Families
The sights in Yosemite are jaw-dropping. It’s such an amazing place for your kids to connect with nature and appreciate the outdoors. Our daughter was approaching 2 years old at the time and while she couldn’t really appreciate the grandeur of it all, she loved the hikes and playing near the streams. She ended up in our backpack most of the time along for the ride. Depending on the age of your kids and fitness level you can opt for easy hikes or some thigh burning longer circuits. There’s 800 miles of hiking trails to choose from so there’s something for everyone. Below are my Top 6 picks for families.
It’s amazing how granite can be so incredible. This 7 miles of meadow lined valley, with its views of Half Dome and El Capitan is the center point of Yosemite. Admire these beauties from the classic Valley View site or drive up route 41 for a great photo op from Tunnel View (there’s also a 2.6 mile hike to Inspiration Point from there).
Considered the tallest waterfall in North America these gorgeous Falls are an easy walk (wheelchair access as well) to the base of the cascade for all to enjoy. There’s also some more challenging trails that take you up to the top of the Falls if you’re game (3.4 miles on the Yosemite Falls Trail).
Become a Junior Ranger
Though aimed at kids from 7-13 years of age, anyone can become a Junior Ranger. Parents buy a self-guided activity booklet from a park visitor center or at the Nature Center at Happy Isles, complete the booklet, pick up a bag of trash and attend a ranger-guided program to earn their official ranger badge. It’s a great way to get your kids involved and help them understand the value of protecting our National Parks.
Check out the Happy Isles Nature Center
Mentioned above as a meeting place for the Junior Ranger Program, the Nature Center is a great place for families to visit with interactive exhibits on the animals and ecosystem unique to Yosemite. Located along the Merced River, it’s a popular place for picnics, swimming and walks.
For absolutely stunning vistas of the area drive up (you can also hike, yikes!) about 3200 feet to popular Glacier Point (about an hour drive). You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the Valley floor, Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon. Don’t look straight down if heights aren’t your thing!
Recently reopened in June 2018, this area houses an impressive grouping of giant sequoias including the famed Grizzly Giant, an 1800 year old tree. Mariposa Grove is in Wawona, 27 miles south of Yosemite Valley and is the historical center of Yosemite. 300 parking spaces at the Welcome center go fast so arrive by mid-morning to avoid the headache. There’s a free shuttle taking visitors from the Welcome Center to the entrance (varies in frequency by season).
Where to eat
There are plenty of dining options in Yosemite ranging from quick bites to formal swanky meals. Many options are centered in and around Curry Village including the Pizza Patio, Meadow Grill (burgers, hot dogs, salads), and the Dining Pavilion (cafeteria style breakfast and dinner buffet). All are decent quicker options.
The new and extensively renovated Yosemite Valley Base Camp Eatery (formerly the Food Court) located at Yosemite Lodge now offers breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a Starbucks.
For a majestic view with your dinner, check out the Mountain Room Restaurant in Yosemite Lodge where you can dine on locally caught trout with a killer view of Yosemite Falls. They also offer a kids menu.
If you’re looking for a legendary Sunday brunch, check out the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room. It’s a great way to take in this incredible hotel without splurging for a room. Reservations highly recommended.
Bike, self drive or take the Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus, a free service that stops at 21 numbered locations throughout the park. It’s also available to Glacier Point for a fee (one way or round trip).
Most visitors elect to self drive to get to Yosemite National Park (4 entrances located al all sides of the park) though there’s also access via Greyhound and Amtrak where they’re met by buses to transport you into the park. Gas stations are also located within the Park so there’s areas to fuel up.
- Yosemite is a natural and wild habitat. Always be mindful of your surroundings, follow signage and stay on the trail system. Yosemite’s site has some great tips on Wilderness Safety.
- The busiest time of year is the Summer from late June to September and is when the entire park is accessible. It’s dramatically less busy in the winter but some areas of the park are inaccessible due to road closures. Spring is a beautiful shoulder season to visit.
The National Park system is the US is a rare gem and Yosemite is a stunner! If you’re looking for a place to inspire your kids through nature put Yosemite National Park on your short list!