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5 Yosemite with Kids Adventures

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Yosemite National Park in California has a special place in my heart. I’m lucky enough to have spent at least of couple of weeks there almost every summer as a child thanks to a family cabin in the park. As an adult, I have now begun to relive some of my most cherished childhood experiences with my kids. Here are Yosemite with kids adventures not to be missed.

5 Yosemite Kid-Sized Adventures

5 Yosemite Kid-Sized Adventures (Photo credit: Debi Huang)

Whether you’ve never been before or have visited annually since you were a kid, there’s always something to discover in Yosemite. My husband and I are especially keen on low-cost, off-the-beaten-path activities that are fun for the little ones. Here’s how you can enjoy five of our favorite Yosemite adventures:

Enjoy a stagecoach ride in Wawona’s Pioneer Yosemite History Center

Enjoy a stagecoach ride in Wawona’s Pioneer Yosemite History Center (Photo credit: Debi Huang)

1. Take a Trip Back in Time

I admit I’m partial to Wawona– a tiny town located about 10 minutes from the South entrance. It’s home to the family cabin and is a quiet refuge from the crowds that Yosemite draws every summer. Here you can stop by the historic Wawona Hotel with its enormous grass lawn that beckons you to enjoy a picnic or an afternoon snack.

Another of Wawona’s gems is the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, complete with historic structures from different eras of Yosemite history including a jail cell, blacksmith shop, and covered bridge. For just a few dollars, you can take a ride (albeit, a rather bumpy one) on a horse-drawn stagecoach with a driver who’s been giving rides since he was 14 years old!

Insider tip: After roaming through the Pioneer History Center, cross the covered bridge and head down to the South Fork Merced River. Let the kids search for rocks to skip or dip their feet in the water. Pack a snack (or lunch) and plan to spend a few hours here.

Posing underneath the famous California Tunnel Tree at the Mariposa Grove

Posing underneath the famous California Tunnel Tree at the Mariposa Grove (Photo credit: Debi Huang)

2. Head to the Big Trees

The Mariposa Grove, located just two miles from the South Entrance to the park, is home to roughly 500 giant sequoias. These trees are some of the largest living things on the planet. They stand so tall you’ll have to strain your neck trying to see the tops. This place inspired my oldest to utter one of his first words: “trees.”

There are hiking trails to explore as well as a one-hour tram tour. The Grove is open from April through November, weather permitting. You can reach the entrance by car or, during the summer, take advantage of the free Wawona-Mariposa Grove shuttle.

Insider tip: Skip the pricey tram ride and scout out the surroundings on foot. We usually take the short hike to two of the more famous trees in the Grove: The Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree.

Dreaming of the day he’ll become a Yosemite junior ranger

Dreaming of the day he’ll become a Yosemite junior ranger (Photo credit: Debi Huang)

3. Become a Junior Ranger

Kids 7 through 13 can become a Yosemite Junior Ranger. This program allows kids to interact with the park at their own pace, then share their findings with a park ranger. To participate, simply buy and complete an inexpensive self-guided booklet at one of several locations throughout the park. To earn a patch, kids will also need to collect a bag of trash and attend a ranger-led program.

Insider tip: If your kids are too young to be junior rangers (like ours), you can still take advantage of ranger-led events. I always learn something new and I’ve got almost 40 years worth of visits to the park under my belt!

4. Visit the Nature Center

A visit to the Nature Center at Happy Isles is a great way to introduce kids to the plants and animals found in the park — and it’s free! There are plenty of hands-on, interactive displays, plus stuffed replicas of local wildlife. My kids love pressing the buttons to hear the sounds each animal makes.

Insider tip: Just outside the center are four short trails worth investigating. My 5-year-old likes to play follow-the-leader on the short “hike” to the center from the shuttle stop. Don’t forget to stop and admire the Merced River flowing right alongside the path.

Tyke hikes need rewards, like this great waterfall view

Tyke hikes need rewards, like this great waterfall view (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Enjoy a Hike in Yosemite with Kids

No trip to Yosemite is complete without a hike. There’s simply no better way to see the park than on foot.

When it comes to hiking with little ones, success comes with short trails that offer big payoffs. Our favorites are the Lower Yosemite Falls trail and the path to Bridalveil Falls. If you’ve got older kids, take the steeper three-mile trek to Vernal Falls.

Insider tip: For a quieter experience, check out the Chilnualna Falls Trail in Wawona. The complete hike is more than eight miles long, but kids will be content to stop about a quarter of a mile in, when you’re rewarded with two waterfall cascades.

Do you have a favorite spot or activity in Yosemite that’s great for kids? Let us know in the comments!

Debi Huang is a Los Angeles-based wife, mom and adventure guide for two young boys. Her blog at GoExploreNature.com is all about getting kids and families outdoors and connected to nature. You can follow her on Twitter at @goexplorenature.

Comments

  1. Mike Barlow says:

    Thanks for the tips! Yosemite is an amazing place, and I agree 100% that there is always something new to discover.

  2. Amy @ The Q Family says:

    Wonderful tips! I can’t wait to take my kids there one day.

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Thank you, Debi, for the great tips on Yosemite! I have always wanted to visit Yosemite & now I want to go more than ever!

  4. Loved putting this post together, Colleen, so thanks for the opportunity! You & Amy MUST go — Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on earth & a real treat to explore with kids.

  5. Carolina says:

    I like all these tips, and I managed to see at least 3 of them on our short trip last year. Both my son and I loved Yosemite, despite the crowds, it was one of our most memorable trips so far.

  6. There is a junior ranger program for very little kids at most parks. I was a volunteer ranger this summer. I’m surprised this isn’t mentioned here. That said, Yosemite is not really the best place for toddlers. They won’t remember it, and they probably won’t enjoy the scenery or swarms of tourists. Wait until the kids are a bit older. I started camping at age 7 (Yosemite was my first trip). I remember it all and I love camping to this day!

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