Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley is where you'll find those majestic landmarks, Half Dome and El Captain, green meadows, and Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in United States. Because Yosemite Valley is so beautiful (and famous), it's especially crowded in summer. If you want to stay in the valley itself, make your hotel or campground reservations months in advance.
: There are free shuttle buses that drive in a loop around Yosemite Valley. There are 22 stops, and the buses stop at 15-20 minute intervals. This is perfect for kids - hike till the kids are ready to drop and then take the shuttle bus back. If you're staying outside the valley, park your car at the free day-use parking, and take the shuttle.
Rafting on the Merced River
- At Half Dome Village, rent a raft and float down the smooth-flowing Merced River. The emerald-green river meanders through the meadows, past mini-islands and sandy beaches. You'll want to stop along the way, pull the raft up out of the river and go exploring or have a swim, so wear water shoes or sandals and swim suits. Don't forget to bring hats, light cover-ups and sunscreen, and lots of water to drink for the kids.
Although this is a gentle river, you will be asked to wear life jackets, and kids must weigh at least 50 lbs. (yes, they weigh them if there's any doubt.) Last time we rode the river, we overheard a mother say, "Together my kids weigh 100 lbs.," to which the rental guy replied, "And can they wear one life jacket?"
: Rafting tops our list of fun things to do in Yosemite in summer. We have childhood memories of floating down the Merced River and our kids can still do the same.
- One of the best things to do in Yosemite is ride the 12 miles of (mostly level) bike paths around the valley: the scenery is just boggling! Rent bikes at Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge. Rental shops have kids' bikes, kid size-helmets and child trailers for toddlers. Bike only the paved paths (dirt paths are for hikers).
Yosemite Village -
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
- Your first stop for orientation (stop #5 on the shuttle bus). In the center you'll find a colorful model of Yosemite Valley with all the different layers of rocks - it's a lot more than just granite. Check out the exhibits about the geology, wildlife, and ancient peoples of Yosemite. Get hiking maps and information about day and evening programs at the desk.
Yosemite Museum & Miwok Village
- Next the Visitor Center is a museum and replica of a Miwok village, the Indian Village of Ahwahnee.
In the museum are beautiful Native American baskets, clothing, bows and arrows, diorama of Miwok way of life. In summer are live demonstrations of music and crafts.
The village represents the way of life for the Southern Sierra Miwok who lived in Yosemite Valley since the 18th century (although the valley was inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans.) The heart of the village is a "roundhouse," a bark covered ceremonial building, still used today by Native Americans. There's lots to see: a sweathouse, Miwok cabin, chief's house and granary for storing black acorns, one of their staple foods, and a diorama of a bear hunt.
- Pick up picnic supplies (sandwiches, snacks, cold drinks) at Degnan's or the Village Store. After hikes, an ice cream bar or soft ice cream tastes delicious.
Happy Isles Nature Center
- This excellent nature center is geared toward kids, with dioramas of animals After Dark (nocturnal animals such as flying squirrels, owls, gray foxes, ringtails, porcupines) and hands-on exhibits of plants, trees and rocks in Yosemite. At the "scat" (poop) exhibit, in between giggles, kids learn how to spot deer droppings, owl pellets, and bear, bobcat and coyote scat, along with animal tracks and sounds. The gift shop also has an excellent collection of kids' books of Miwok tales, nature in Yosemite and stories about John Muir.
The nature center is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Yosemite Valley Stables
- If your kids are at least seven years old and 44" tall, head out to the high country! The Stables offers greenhorns a two-hour ride and for more adventurous souls there are half day and all day rides as well. Helmets are provided.
- Whether you're here for a day or a week, the best way to see Yosemite Valley is on the great trails - few places on earth have so many stunning views. Yosemite has miles of hiking trails, from paved paths perfect for strollers to more ambitious hikes on rocky trails. Pick up hiking maps at the Visitor Center.
Short hikes to spectacular locations:
Lower Yosemite Fall
- What's taller than the CN Tower in Toronto or the Eiffel Tower in Paris? At 2,425 ft. (739m), Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in United States. It's an easy walk (one quarter mile) on a paved path to Lower Yosemite Fall.
- Bridalveil Fall (620 ft.) is nowhere near as high as Yosemite Falls, but is a graceful, elegant waterfall, where the water is constantly changing patterns as it falls over the cliff into the valley below. It's a short walk (half mile) on a paved path to the base of the falls.
- Looking for a less crowded trail in summer, and a great spot to picnic by the river? Happy Isles is a not a long trail, but it's an especially nice one that winds through along the cascading Merced River, through the trees. Pick up the Happy Isles trail next to the Happy Isles Nature Center.
Mist Trail - Vernal Fall -
The hike from Happy Isles to Vernal Fall is a longer hike, it's about three miles round trip (no strollers on this trail). The trail starts at Happy Isles and goes to the footbridge over the Merced River. From the bridge, the Mist Trail winds up the rocky hillside next to the river to the top of Vernal Fall. The spray from the waterfall makes glowing rainbows in the sunshine. From the top, you can look over the edge of the waterfall (there are kid-friendly railings).
No wading or swimming in the river!
- Walk from the shuttle stop or bike to Mirror Lake on the paved road (about a mile). In another few hundred years, this pristine lake will fill up with silt and become a meadow with Tenaya Creek flowing down the middle, so catch it now ... You can walk on the road all the way to the lake, or take the self-guided interpretive trail.
When hiking, stick together, don't get separated. Even young kids may want to charge up the trail faster than their slowpoke parents. Kids should always have one adult (in your group) in sight.
- On hot days in Yosemite,
on the Merced River is a favorite for families: it's a wide sandy beach with shallow waters that's nice for younger kids.
, there's a
where your entrance fee includes the use of towels and showers. Make an afternoon of it, stopping for snacks or ice cream at the grocery store and kid-friendly restaurants.
Day and evening Programs
- There are plenty of day and evening programs for families in Yosemite, such as "Wild Wee Ones," an evening program of stories for kids under 6, Junior Ranger talks at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, "Starry Skies over Yosemite Valley," Great Yosemite Family Adventure 2 1/2 hour treasure hunt led by a naturalist.
for the current schedule.
Yosemite Valley in winter
- Yosemite Valley is open year round, and winter is a great time to visit. Imagine Half Dome dusted with snow, glistening in pale winter sunshine and moderate temperatures in the valley. Have an impromptu snowball fight in the meadows, or pull a toddler around in a sled. Bring jackets, hats and gloves and you're ready to play!
Curry Village Ice Rink
- November to March this outdoor rink is popular, both for skating in the winter sunshine or under starry skies. Skate rentals available.