This guest post was written by Liana Minassian for Travel-Wise.
As outdoor-oriented family trips go, Yosemite National Park consistently ranks as a top national park destination in the United States. The most popular national park within California, it’s often included and as the third most popular national park in the country, Yosemite has a wide array of outdoor activities, lodging and dining options.
California travel practically demands you make a stop here on your tour of the state, however the park really deserves a trip all on its own to explore everything it has to offer.
As a highly sought after vacation destination, many reservable activities can book up around six months in advance or more. However, with a little bit of planning and patience, you’re sure to have a trip full of memories that will last a lifetime.
Where to Stay
Yosemite offers accommodations across a broad spectrum, from budget-friendly to luxury.
13 different campgrounds are available within the Yosemite Valley and surrounding areas. Most are first-come, first-serve and cost between $12-26 per day.
Fire pits and picnic tables are the norm, making s’mores and finger food a must for the kiddos.
Be aware that only a handful of campsites are open year round, due to weather conditions and the availability of rangers and nearby facilities.
If roughing it isn’t your family’s style, there are canvas tent and wood cabins that are a slight step up from the traditional campgrounds. White Wolf Lodge, Half Dome Village, and Housekeeping Camp offer these kinds of facilities, where setting up a tent is one less thing you have to worry about.
Since the cabins here can accommodate four to six guests, they’re the perfect camping alternative for larger families.
Amenities at each location vary, but in general, each tent cabin at least has real beds with provided linens. Some wood cabins also have electricity, additional furniture and plumbing, but as these are not standard, cabins with these offerings will go fast.
As a general rule, cooking is not allowed in cabins, but boxed lunches and prepared dinners are available in addition to a variety of restaurants on location.
Hotel accommodations are also offered within Yosemite National Park and range from standard to upscale. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a national landmark, has rooms from around $400-$500 a night with views of some of the most stunning highlights in the park.
With a heated swimming pool, balcony rooms and pillow top mattresses, the hotel can act as a mini retreat, perfect for relaxing after a long day exploring the great outdoors.
If you’re looking for a hotel alternative with a lower price tag, both the Yosemite Valley Lodge and Big Trees Lodge have rooms for less than half the cost of The Majestic. Both lodges also have swimming pools and Yosemite Valley Lodge has family rooms with bunk beds, DVD players, and private bathrooms.
All of the hotels in Yosemite have in-room refrigerators where you can store your own groceries or keep leftovers from the fabulous food offered in one of their elegant dining rooms.
Things to Do
There are plenty of kid-friendly things to do in Yosemite ranging from hiking to arts and crafts.
One of the best hikes for families, especially if you have stroller-age children, happens to be the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, which loops around the giant rushing Yosemite Falls waterfall.
Kids will love getting sprayed with water on the footbridge and trying to yell above the roar of the falls. Other easy trails in the area are the Bridalveil Fall Trail, Cook’s Meadow Loop and Mirror Lake Loop.
Older kids will enjoy the rush of whitewater rafting, which is suitable for those weighing over 50lbs and who are at least nine-years-old during low water season. Many tour operators provide full and half day packages, which you can combine with your trip to Yosemite National Park.
For non-thrill-seeking families, regular rafting and kayaking rentals are also available down the Merced River.
Two of the lodging facilities at Yosemite, Yosemite Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village, offer bike rentals if you can’t bring your own. Adult and children’s bikes are available along with bike trailers to take the little ones for a ride.
Over 12 miles of bike paths are located inside the park, with many passing through the valley and along lakes, providing excellent views of the many natural wonders in the area.
Multiple learning facilities exist within Yosemite National Park that will keep the kids’ minds sharp even in the summer. At the Yosemite Art Center, kids can paint, draw and craft during their daily open studio hours, with many of the supplies provided for free.
Art classes are even offered for those 10 and up, with fees as little as $15 per person. Free camera walks are available too, beginning at the nearby Ansel Adams Gallery.
Staff photographers can advise your family on how to take better photographs, covering essentials like exposure and composition.
Kids can even go through Yosemite’s Junior Ranger (ages 7-13) or Little Cub (3-6) programs, at the Happy Isles Nature Center. A booklet for purchase will lead you and your children through various activities including participation in guided programs and conservation efforts.
Upon completion they’ll receive their very own badge and get to take the Junior Ranger oath!
Making the Most of Your Time
Rivaling the entire state of Rhode Island, the park’s size may seem like a challenge for families with children, but it’s entirely doable if you take your time and pay attention to the needs of your family members.
Even in peak season, there’s no need to rush from one location to another since most of the attractions are natural ones that aren’t going anywhere. Best of all, Yosemite National Park has a free shuttle system that stops at all major lodging locations, shops and sightseeing points, a welcome offering for tiny tired feet.
For this reason, it’s best to choose a lodging location that’s central to the main things you want to do. Yosemite’s hotels and lodges are usually preferable for families, because of the wide variety of amenities offered.
While you could potentially stay in your hotel room and the surrounding grounds all day at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a trip to one of the best and most visited national parks in America should focus on enjoying the outdoors.
To make the most of your stay, try to get up early at least once during your trip to watch the sunrise over one of the park’s bodies of water. It’s a perfect time to practice your photography skills as a family and enjoy all the beautiful colors reflected back in the smooth mirror-like water.
Before embarking on a day within the park, look at a map, preferably an illustrated one, and involve the kids in the decision making process. You may not even realize it, but they too will have preferences and interests in certain things.
Letting them pick activities will build anticipation and make the experience more fun (and less stressful) for everyone. When traveling with kids who may not remember the trip when they are older, this is an especially great way to ensure they still get value out of the experience.
But most of all, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Take a moment to just enjoy each other’s company and encourage your children to use all five senses to experience the beauty and wonder of Yosemite National Park.