Yosemite National Park
Tioga Road (Route 120) crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains, going from redwood groves at the western entrance, through Tuolumne Meadows, over Tioga Pass down into the sage-brush desert and Mono Lake. Tuolumne Meadows is truly Sierra alpine "high country," with wide open meadows and clear streams, surrounded by rugged mountains, but it's very accessible for kids.
- The meadows at Tuolumne are perfect for kids! The Tuolumne River flows over moss-covered pebbles and sandy stream bottoms. Kids can play for hours, wading and splashing in shallow pools, building dams or moss gardens in little side streams that meander off the main river, or just running through the soft grasses in the meadows.
- Park at the Soda Springs trailhead on Tioga Road and head out on the trail through the meadows. On the way you'll cross the Tuolumne River - stop off to play by the water. At the Soda Springs, watch fizzy water bubbling out of the orange-colored ground (don't drink the water).
Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River
- Take the trail (Pacific Coast Trail and John Muir Trail) from the Dog Lake parking lot to the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. At the bridge are wonderful shallow rock pools and sandy beaches where kids can play, while the panorama of the surrounding mountains is just glorious. The trail continues along the river - follow it as long as you like. Bring a picnic and spend the day.
Climb Pothole Dome
- You can see Pothole Dome from Tioga Road, poking up at the western edge of Tuolumne Meadows. Follow the trail from the road around to the eastern side of the dome. From there, climb up the gentle rock slope to the top (200 ft.). The southeastern side is a big wide flat expanse of rock, some with glacial polish, and easy for kids to walk up. From the top, you'll have a bird's eye view all around - the meadows to the east, high mountains to the north and another rock dome, Fairview Dome, right across the way.
Hike to Elizabeth Lake
One of our favorite hikes at Tuolumne, the trail winds up through a shady pine forest, goes along green meadows next to a sparkling creek, arriving at a spectacular lake, nestled at the base of Unicorn Peak. Kids will want to explore the paths around the lake, and may even find a little snow at the eastern shore. The hike is 4.6 miles round trip, the trailhead is located at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground.
- The Visitor Center has exhibits about the plants and wildlife in Tuolumne, a 3-D relief map of the meadows and mountains, and a good selection of kids books and maps for sale.
Tuolumne Meadows Stables
- Explore the high country on horseback. The stable offers two hour, half day, and full day rides. Kids need to be 7 years old and 44 inches tall.
Bennettville Trail (Tioga Rd)
- On Tioga Rd. 2 miles past Tioga Pass, turn off at Saddlebag Lakes to take a short hike to Bennettville, all that remains of an unsuccessful 19th century silver mine. The trail begins at Junction Meadow Campground, and follows up Mine Creek cascading through colorful colorful rocks and meadows.
At Bennettville are two weathered pine buildings, a tall bunkhouse, and old assay office, surrounded by weather-worn pine trees.
Continue up the trail to lovely Shell Lake, the perfect spot to have a picnic lunch on grassy meadows.
- Tenaya Lake is a sparkling high mountain lake, deep blue and icy cold. The eastern shore of Tenaya Lake has a sandy beach where kids can wade and swim. Or, go out on the water in an inflatable kayak or raft. Pitch your beach umbrella, spread out a picnic (there are
) and spend the afternoon playing by the lake.
- Stop at Olmsted Point for a gorgeous view of that swirly, scooped-out granite mountain called Cloud Rest and the back side of Half Dome. This is also a great spot to see slabs of rock neatly polished by the glaciers, and huge boulders left in the aftermath.
- Take a short hike (one mile each way) through the giant sequoias to the "Tunnel Tree," a huge redwood that was tunneled out in 1878. As you walk through the softly-shaded, carpeted forest, light gently filters down through the tree branches high above - it's simply magical.
Staying in Tuolumne Meadows - Five campgrounds at Tuolumne Meadows are on a first-come, first serve basis, except Tuolumne Meadows campground, half the campground sites can be reserved in advance online. Cabins and tent camping are available at White Wolf Lodge and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, June to Sept.
Tip: Camping and tent cabins, remember Tuolumne Meadows is at high elevation (8,000 ft) and it's cold at night - bring warm clothing. One June we stayed in a tent cabin (with a wood stove) at White Wolf Lodge, in the morning there was frost on the meadow and it was below freezing
- Tuolumne Meadows Store is a grocery, cafe, and very importantly, where you get ice cream (after hikes ice cream is a "must have" for our family). At Crane Flat, west entrance of Tioga Rd., there's also a store and gas station.