Insider Guide: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Travel Guide By Mimi Slawoff
Yosemite National Park's famous Tunnel View (Credit: Mimi Slawoff)
Why go: Yosemite National Park’s thunderous waterfalls, flowing rivers, unique rock formations, cliffs, meadows, and ancient giant sequoias are sure to distract kids (and adults) from their electronics and turn any couch potato into a nature lover -- at least while in the park.
You might even see some of Yosemite’s wildlife, including black bears, mule deer, and coyotes. Actually, chances are good you’ll spot deer, especially in meadows. The park is also home to golden eagles and bighorn sheep.
Summer is peak tourist season, of course. But the best time to see cascading waterfalls and rushing creeks and rivers is late spring to early summer. Fall is also nice if you want to escape the crowds, but waterfalls will be trickling instead of gushing. Yosemite is open in winter but some roads will be closed.
No matter when you go, a visit to Yosemite will most likely become among your family’s top vacations.
Tip: Stop by the Valley Visitor Center for information, maps, and a short video about the area.
Good to know: Free shuttle service is available to top sightseeing places.
Campgrounds (from rustic to tent cabins) and hotels are available with advance reservations.
Most family-friendly hotel:
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls (Flickr: Rennett Stowe)
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, located at the base of Yosemite Falls, makes a comfortable home base for exploring the park. Stay in a traditional guestroom or book a spacious family room, equipped with a dining table, fridge and private bath. The property has an onsite swimming pool.
Most historic hotel:
The mountain-chic Ahwahnee Hotel is iconic, so even if you don’t stay there be sure to take a peek or enjoy a meal in the dining room (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Dress code applies for dinner.
Best value lodging:
Curry Village is a campground with cabins (some with private bath) and tent cabins. Cooking facilities and fire rings are not available. Amenities: Onsite restaurants, swimming pool.
Most Kid-Friendly Hikes
Exploring Yosemite on foot is the best way to experience this beautiful wilderness. Choose from a network of trails from easy to strenuous.
The paved, 0.5-mile Bridalveil Fall trail is accessed from a parking lot.
Most popular waterfall hike:
Vernal Fall (Flickr: Red Junasun)
Although a bit steep, it’s worth the 1.6-mile roundtrip trek to the Vernal Fall Footbridge to see the waterfall. There’s also a restroom. Hearty hikers can continue to the top of the fall, about another mile.
Tip: Wear sturdy shoes and carry drinking water.
Best kid-friendly waterfall hike:
The paved, one-mile roundtrip loop offers varying views of the Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Creek.
Tip: Walk the loop in a clockwise direction for best views of Yosemite Falls.
Best place to see massive trees:
Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove (Flickr: Faungg's Photo)
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias has about 500 of these ancient trees. Stroll along the 0.8-mile path to the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Trees.
Best panoramic views:
Glacier Point offers panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. Arrive early to find parking at this popular site.
From the Tunnel View Overlook enjoy breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome.
Feed Your Culture
Best kid-friendly interpretive center:
The Nature Center at Happy Isles has natural history exhibits and interactive displays. Outside are short trails through the area’s forest, river, and fen environments.
Best history site:
Take a self-guided walk through a pioneer village with vintage cabins and stagecoaches at the Pioneer Yosemite History Museum. In summer, kids can chop wood, pump water, and enjoy a wagon ride.
Soak Up The Local Scene
Sentinel Beach in Yosemite Valley (Flickr: Su-May)
You can swim at Sentinel Beach at the Merced River (no lifeguards) or at hotel swimming pools. No charge for overnight guests. Fees for visitors.
Best family meals:
Have a picnic (but don’t feed animals). Pick up supplies from the Village Store or buy sandwiches from Degnan’s Deli in the village. Casual restaurants serving burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and more can be found in Yosemite and Curry Villages.
Best family BBQ:
The Wawona Hotel serves a barbecue dinner from 5 – 7 pm Saturdays in summer. Choose from ribs, chicken, steak and veggie burgers plus sides. $24.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 ages 7 – 11, $5.75 ages 4 – 6.