Words don’t give it justice. Taking a trip to Yosemite with kids will be an experience the’ll never forget. It’s simply one of the most captivating and inspiring places in the world. The valley the ultimate place to take your kids to experience the awe of it all. With granite walls rising over 3,000 feet in the sky, massive waterfalls, and peaceful meadows, it’s impossible to not get swept up in it’s beauty. It has plenty of natural streams, meadows, history, and culture, making it a wonderful place for kids to explore in the outdoors.
Lay of the Land:
Yosemite Valley is the main part of the park and most traveled by the crowds, for good reason. From the park entrance, it’s about a 45min drive to the Valley. 99% of tourists only visit the Valley. Other areas of the park include Tuolumne Meadows, where you’ll find more serene meadows and creeks, where the air is thinner and has a more of an alpine feel. Hetch Hetchy is another less-travelled area in Yosemite which has some fantastic hikes and minimal crowds. This has sweeping granite cliffs on a slightly smaller scale than the Valley, but it is also a water reservoir. Towards the southern end is Wawona, home to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequioa, where some of the largest and oldest trees still live today.
Mariposa Grove and Giant Sequoias
Lower Yosemite Falls
Hiking: With over 800 miles of trails and world renowned vistas, no wonder it’s the 3rd oldest National Park and draws in 3.5 million visitors annually. No where else will you find soaring granite walls, waterfalls, and meadows. Although hiking any distance in Yosemite with kids may sound like a tall order, there are a few easy trails that are paved and good for strollers. Check out Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, or the Mist Trail for the easiest paved (and most crowded) trails in the Valley. Mirror Lake in particular is a great place to play in the water, since there’s easy access and no currents.
Floating: One of my favorite activities when I’m in Yosemite Valley (besides climbing) is floating the Merced River during the heat of Summer. It does get popular since you can rent large rafts at Half Dome Villiage (aka Curry Village). I just like to bring some inner tubes from the dollar store, grab toddler’s life vest and jump in the water. There’s hardly a better place to take in the grandness of Yosemite. Note that this is very seasonal, which means the water flow, current, and temperature all vary greatly season to season and year to year. It’s best in July/August in a low rain year.
Rock Climbing: As the birthplace of American rock climbing, this sport cannot go unmentioned. If your baby climbs rocks already, I’m impressed. If they are old enough to understand, take them for a peaceful picnic in the middle of El Capitan meadow and see if you can spot climbers scaling the granite, thousands of feet off the ground.
Cultural Education: Most people don’t think of culture when visiting Yosemite. This was a place inhabited by a Native American tribe centuries ago, which is where the Park’s name is derived from. Check out the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka. Ahwahnee), which is the luxury hotel worth visiting, and still has many historical Indian accents. Don’t miss the massive fireplaces in the great room and the lawn out back to run around. Yosemite has a Junior Ranger program where kids 7 – 13 can get a Jr Ranger badge and kids 3 – 6 can get a Little Cub button. These are the perfect opportunity to learn about preservation for Yosemite with kids. In regards to rock climbing, this culture’s home base is Camp 4, the only first-come-first-served campground in the Valley. In addition, the Rangers do regularly scheduled talks about the climbing history in Yosemite. See program schedule for more info.
Down time: For naps, avoid having your baby nap in the tent, unless it’s shaded and ventilated, because otherwise it can get hot. You could venture to one of the many meadows to lay a blanket down for a nap or enjoy a serene picnic. In Half Dome Village, there is a nice game room across from the Pizza Pavilion. They have rocking chairs on the porch, couches inside and a nice selection of games floating around.
As toddlers do, especially boys, playing with pinecones, sticks, and rocks that they find around camp is always entertaining. He absolutely loved splashing and jumping around in Mirror Lake, or any stream of water for that matter. Upon arriving at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, I think he was both in awe and a little frightful, since he had never seen a waterful of this scale before. Natually we did a lot of walking around with the stroller, although many times he did want to get out and explore on his own.
Yosemite is a real special place, and we continue to return at least once a year. If you go during the summer months (June, July, August), prepare yourself for a massive amount of people, traffic, and full campgrounds. Don’t plan on driving anywhere past 9am because parking gets limited. The best strategy in the summer months is to reserve a campsite 5 months in advance online and then walk around with the stroller to a couple points of interest. They have a free shuttle bus system, which is great, but I’ve found it challenging with a stoller and not very flexible with it’s pre-defined route and stops. Bikes are also a fantastic and efficient way to get around the Valley and you can rent bikes by the hour/day, even ones with a bike trailer for kids. If you can go in the shoulder seasons, the crowds die down and it’s a lot more peaceful.
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