Planning a trip to California? Yosemite National Park should be on your itinerary. Stunning valleys resplendent with waterfalls, granite cliffs, and coniferous trees everywhere you look. It makes for a great getaway with kids. But also requires a bit of planning due to its sheer size and popularity in summers.
We were a large group comprising 4 families – 8 adults and 6 kids of varying ages – and we decided to spend 4 days at the Yosemite National Park. We drove down after 4 days in San Francisco to the park. The first thing that one needs to adjust at Yosemite park is the sheer size. 1200 sq miles, wow, that’s a large area of land. Here, based on my personal account, I detail the top experiences at Yosemite Park for families.
Top experiences at Yosemite National Park with kids
View the stunning panorama at the Glacier Point
There are many points in Yosemite that offer spectacular views without any need for hiking. You can up to these points and take in the panorama on offer. But the best ‘easy’ view has to be the Glacier Point.
Standing at 3,214 feet above the valley floor, you truly get a chance to soak in this vista. The panoramic view from Glacier Point takes in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and 2 waterfalls. We had driven to Yosemite Park and loaded everyone in the van to drive to the Glacier Point. This is a popular point so we tried to have an early breakfast to reach the venue before tourist buses arrived.
If you want to avoid people making funny postures trying to outdo the Half Dome in photos, climb down a bit from the main road with the Half Dome in front of you.
Yes, this came with a bit of stress and shouting at 6 kids to keep following the trail and no, you cannot climb down any further! The short climb ensured we left all the people behind. And then I took a few steps further (with dire warnings to 2 frisky kids to NOT follow) and then it was just me and nature and nothing in between.
Glacier Point road is open from spring until fall. You need to visit the official website to check exact dates depending on the snowfall that year. The distance from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point is about 32 miles long and normally takes an hour. Most visitors drive up to Glacier Point. There is a large parking area close to the point and the paved road should make it easy for a wheelchair-ridden person to access it. There are a small snack and souvenir store at the point but don’t expect a full meal.
Do the Sentinel Dome Hike
After enjoying the views from Glacier Point, our large group did the Sentinel Dome Hike. The Half Dome was to be seen at various viewpoints from the hike to Sentinel Dome. This hike is easy until the final stretch up to the dome itself, which is short but quite steep.
The adventurous should climb the top of the granite dome and you will understand what a true 360 view means. Valleys and granite cliffs and beautiful vistas wherever you look!
The kids were exhausted by the time we reached the top of Sentinel Dome, but the scenic vistas of the Half Dome and Yosemite Falls were so worth the climb. To the north, you’ll see Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. To the east, you’ll see Nevada Fall, Half Dome and Clouds Rest, and an assortment of High Sierra peaks. To the south, the views are not that stunning as the north side.
You definitely need to carry a jacket for this trek. The winds were chilly once we reached the top of the Sentinel Dome. We also had to make sure the kids don’t wander off and were careful on the steep slopes.
Another hike – in fact, Yosemite’s signature hike is The Mist Trail – with scenic views scattered all over this trek that takes you close to Vernal and Nevada Falls. But this trek is moderately challenging and cannot be done with young kids.
Taft point: If you want to do something even more adventurous, you can continue to the Taft Point. The trail is easy although Taft Point itself gives you an edgy view of the mountains without any encumbrances. This looks down at El Capitan and Yosemite Falls.
Enjoy the Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls in one of the tallest falls in the US, with a height of more than 2400 ft. It is made up of 3 parts – Upper Yosemite Falls, the middle cascades, and the Lower Yosemite Falls. Even if you don’t go specifically to see the falls, you will end up viewing it from different parts of the national park.
Hiking to the top of the Yosemite Falls is tricky and adventurous, and not something that can be done with kids. But an easy walk gets you to the Lower Yosemite Falls. This is something to be enjoyed by everyone, large groups, families, couples, and solo travelers. It is a hugely popular point, so expect crowds. but even with the crowds, we enjoyed the misty spray of the Falls. Be careful about kids jumping from one rock to another, though.
Sunday brunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Old world charm. High level of service. Grand common rooms. That’s the Majestic Yosemite Hotel for you. And if you can splurge on the rooms and book well in advance, the stay makes for a luxurious and memorable option. We had booked Sunday brunch at this hotel. The lavish spread and the attentive staff made it a worthy visit for an afternoon. The hotel has extensive grounds in the back, which we enjoyed post the brunch.
Another great experience with kids would be a visit to the Mariposa Grove. This has about 500 giant Sequoia Trees, perhaps the largest living things on Earth. Unfortunately, when we visited, the Mariposa Grove was closed for a massive restoration project. We also did the easy walk to the Mirror lake with kids. The scenery factor, in my opinion, was not that high on this trek. Mirror Lake is one of the popular swimming spots at Yosemite park though.
Stay and food options at Yosemite Park
We opted to rent a mountain lodge away from the valley. This mountain lodge was large and spacious for our group. If you are looking for lodge options inside the park, make sure you plan at least 5-6 months before the trip, especially for peak summer months. So glad we are staying at a beautiful mountain retreat at Yosemite and not in the valley. Crazy summer crowds had already started and the valley was choked with cars. Although camping is extremely popular in Yosemite Valley, it is not for us.
Yosemite Valley gets super-crowded in summers especially on weekends and we saw the worst of it while driving up to it on a Saturday evening. The amazing part for me was the stunning beauty on offer even in the over-crowded valley. All you have to do is look up! But the summer crowds also mean that you should plan your lodging, food options, and activities well in advance. The Valley has several restaurants, although the standard fare of burger – pizzas – pasta – meat options get boring after a couple of days at the Village Grill. The Loft at Degnan’s served tasty fare.
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