Home family travel Roundup: Yosemite Family Vacation Tips

Roundup: Yosemite Family Vacation Tips

by Shelly Rivoli
toddlers at Yosemite

Some of our favorite family vacations have been to the National Park in our own backyard. Here are my top tips for planning your own Yosemite family vacation.

I was working on something else for this week, but when I discovered it was Yosemite National Park’s birthday yesterday—and that Yosemite and all National Parks were ironically closed on the day (and still are) because of the government shut down, I thought Yosemite travel tips were the perfect theme for the first monthly roundup I’ll be featuring here. After all, Yosemite is one of my family’s favorite destinations in the world, and fall is one of the loveliest times to visit.

As for the current National Park and other government office closures, I’m optimistic this is going to be resolved. And when it is, I want to be sure everyone who can gets out and enjoys our National Parks. If you’re planning to visit Yosemite National Park with kids, here are my top Yosemite travel tips and recommendations to help plan the best family vacation in Yosemite possible.

Best Yosemite activities with kids, including babies, toddlers, and big kids

biking yosemite

Biking with kids in Yosemite is one of the best ways to explore the park.

Far and away one of our favorite activities when visiting Yosemite with kids is riding bikes through the valley. The near-level paths take you right along the water, through the forest, past enormous boulders, and to some of the prettiest picnicking spots you’ll find. If you can’t bring your own bikes from home, you will find bicycle rentals in Yosemite, including optional bike trailers and even baby bicycle helmets. I have more tips for biking Yosemite with kids in this post, with links to more helpful info on the topic.

horseback riding at Yosemite

Horseback riding is a great activity for Yosemite family vacations. Here we are on a ride with Yosemite Trails.

Depending on where you stay and the ages and interests of your kids, you might enjoy looking for foot-ball-size frogs, going on a horseback ride at Yosemite (ages 7 & older), or taking part in the Yosemite Junior Ranger Program (unfortunately the NPS web page I would link to here is disabled due to the current government shut down). 

steam engine at YOsemite

A steam engine prepares for another ride at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railway.

Just outside the south entrance to Yosemite, you can take a ride on an old steam train and even learn to pan for gold with a visit to Yosemite Mountain Sugarpine Railway (read all about our ride on the Yosemite Mountain steam train and gold-mining adventure here).

Of course, visiting waterfalls, hiking among the wildflowers, and taking a dip in the calmer waters are also good ways to round out your Yosemite family vacation. If you are staying at one of the Yosemite resorts or hotels, you may have additional activities to enjoy.

Where to stay with kids when visiting Yosemite National Park

We’ve had the good fortune to get reservations for camping right in Yosemite Valley, but these not only have to be made months in advance (count ‘em, six), they also fill up for peak camping season within an hour or two of first coming available in the reservations system. If you can’t camp right in the valley, one rustic alternative is to stay in a Curry Village Tent Cabin (click here to read my review of Curry Village tent cabins).

cabin at evergreen lodge

Our 2-bedroom deluxe cabin at Evergreen Lodge, Yosemite.

If you want a lodge setting with plenty of activities for the kids and a comfy modern cabin for your family, check out Evergreen Lodge right by the West Entrance to Yosemite (where you’ll enter the park if coming from the San Francisco Bay Area). They have an outdoor play area, indoor games room, nightly s’mores, fireside movies, and can also arrange for bike tours and other activities. Read more in my review of Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite here.

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is hard to beat for its convenience. Not only is it centrally located for the top valley attractions, in the heart of the biking paths and one of the main shuttle stops, but it has a cafeteria serving three meals a day with carry-out options for your picnic. Since it is the hub for many tour groups, some might favor it more in the shoulder seasons, when it is not so congested (as do we).

Wawona Hotel

At Wawona Hotel during our Yosemite family vacation.

If you’re inspired by Yosemite’s history, consider one of its National Historic Landmark Hotels. The Ahwanee, completed in 1927, with stunning views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point, was built with discerning travelers in mind, and still satisfies them with posh accommodations in the heart of the park today. If the Awhanee is out of your budget, consider the Wawona Hotel, a white-washed Victorian-era hotel just 4 miles from Yosemite National Park’s south entrance (be sure to read my review of the Wawona Hotel here).

Tenaya Lodge pool

The toddler-friendly splash pool at Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite.

If you want to visit Yosemite National Park with kids while enjoying all the perks of a AAA four-diamond resort, including a very kid-friendly pool with splash zone and nightly supervised kids camp (ages 4 & up), then look no further than Tenaya Lodge, located just outside of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance (see how we made the most of an evening with childcare at the lodge in this post). Tenaya offers many family-friendly activities right on site year round, including sledding and horse-drawn sleigh rides in winter.

More practical tips for your Yosemite family vacation

Yosemite is bear country and you will need to be bear aware during your visit, and careful not to leave ice chests, ham sandwiches(!), or energy bars in the car, nor mountains of goldfish crackers in your back seat. Camping sites and Curry Village tent cabins have bear-proof storage lockers where you will need to keep all of your food items including ice chest and your toiletries. If you are staying in a hotel, you will need to bring all of your food items into your room overnight as well.

bear-proof box Yosemite

Be prepared to take all food items and toiletries out of your car during your Yosemite family vacation.

So, what should you do with car seats at Yosemite? I’m glad you asked. Be sure to read this post before staying at Yosemite with car seats or (sticky) boosters.

Also, mosquitoes can be ferocious in certain parts of Yosemite depending on the season. If you’ll be visiting Yosemite with a baby, toddler, or young children, or you just prefer a proven DEET-free insect repellent, read this post for one I highly recommend, available in both spray and individual towelettes. I always keep a few towelettes in my day pack for touch-ups and surprises while we are out and about.

Here’s wishing you a great Yosemite family vacation. I’d love to know if these tips help you, or if you have another to share when you get back. With any luck, we’ll be back soon. 😉
Follow Shelly Rivoli’s board Yosemite National Park on Pinterest.

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby 

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13 comments

Michelle October 29, 2013 - 9:36 am

I wish we could go..looks amazing !!
thks for sharing

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Travelogged October 13, 2013 - 9:12 pm

That looks like so much fun — I’ve never been to Yosemite but hope to bring my family one day!

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Justin @ TrueNomads October 9, 2013 - 8:53 am

I’m from Colorado and have never been there. It’s weird how some people travel far away, but not within their own country. I need to get back!

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Elea October 8, 2013 - 10:58 am

Yosemite is definitely on my list of must see places. Love the photos!

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Dorian October 8, 2013 - 5:51 am

Nice post, love the pictures.
Thanks for sharing

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Michael October 8, 2013 - 2:35 am

Couldn’t recommend Yosemite higher for anyway (with kids or without). It ranks with Yellowstone as my favorite two national parks in the USA.

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Shelly Rivoli October 8, 2013 - 6:13 am

We haven’t made it to Yellowstone WITH the kids yet, but I agree and it’s definitely on the list. I remember collecting stinky buffalo fur there when I visited as a kid… I put in a ziploc bag and refused to give it up! 😉

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wanderingeducators October 7, 2013 - 1:16 pm

what great tips! I WANT TO GO!!

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Shelly Rivoli October 8, 2013 - 6:10 am

Meee tooo, Jessie! 😉

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Heidi Wagoner October 7, 2013 - 10:50 am

Wow, this brought back memories. I grew up just a couple of hours away from Yosemite and love love love it!

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Shelly Rivoli October 8, 2013 - 6:09 am

Lucky girl to grow up so close! I feel very lucky to live just a few hours away now – my kids get to go so often. 😉

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Patti October 2, 2013 - 9:14 pm

Yosemite is one of our most favorite places and the Tenaya Lodge is great! I’ve been trying to think that since the parks are closed at least the parks will get a rest, but very difficult for the employees.

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Shelly Rivoli October 8, 2013 - 6:08 am

DIfficult for the communities around the parks as well – esp. at Yosemite where they just had the rim fire last month that was such a challenge and set back. Thanks for stopping by!

Reply

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