I’ve traveled all over the US and I’ve seen my share of national parks. I love them all—for different reasons. But if I had to say which is my most favorite national park—it would be Yosemite. Yosemite Valley is one of the most breathtaking, dramatic views on earth. It is the heart of the park and some of the most famous landmarks in the world are there:
El Capitan—a massive granite monolith, stands 3,593 feet from base to summit
Yosemite Falls gives the Valley an extra touch of life when it’s flowing with spring runoff. You can walk to its base or take the strenuous trail to its top
Bridalveil Falls—not as tall as Yosemite Falls but a short, easy hike to a spectacular waterfall. (Standing at the base of this waterfall is one of the most serene experiences I have ever had.)
Happy Isles—a place to see dramatic natural processes at work. Cross the footbridges onto the isles or wander through outdoor and indoor exhibits detailing Yosemite’s geologic story.
Tunnel View—one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View has captivated visitors for over 75 years.
I live 3 and a half hours from Yosemite and auto touring is one of my favorite activities in the park. All of the roads in Yosemite National Park are scenic.
PBS made an incredible documentary about the National Parks. One of the things it talks about is how the roads in the National Parks were designed by artists first and then civil engineers second—Yosemite is a beautiful example!
There is more to do in Yosemite than just ogle the magnificent landscape. Here are some of my suggestions for things to do with kids in Yosemite:
1. Take a hike. Nothing brings a family together more than hiking and enjoying nature. There is gorgeous scenery to appreciate every step of the way on the many hiking trails perfect for families in Yosemite. Check out hiking trails in Yosemite here. You will find the perfect hike for everyone from toddlers to teens.
2. Take a tour. A great introduction to Yosemite is the Valley Floor Tour. It’s a 26-mile, two-hour open-air tram tour narrated by a park ranger (weather permitting). The tour departs Yosemite Valley Lodge several times daily. For something a little bit different try a Moonlight Tours!)
3. Visit the Yosemite Museum. Learn about Yosemite Indians by exploring a museum collection that includes authentic, hand-woven Miwok and Paiute Native American basketry and traditional dress. Tour the outdoor Indian Village and see live cultural demonstrations. There are several other interesting museums to enjoy.
4. Swimming—add water and you have a recipe for a good time. Swimming is a great family activity to do anywhere in the world, but in Yosemite, it is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. The lakes and swimming holes are surrounded by spectacular natural views as far as the eyes can see.
5. Ride a bike. Biking is a fun activity for all types of families. Several miles of bicycle paths wind through Yosemite Valley. You can use your own bicycle or rent one from Yosemite Valley Lodge or Half Dome Village (open 9am to 7pm). Bikes are only allowed on paved bicycle paths.
6. Rock Climbing. Did you know Yosemite Valley is known the world over as THE destination for big wall climbing? Athletes come from all over the world to test their strength. Yosemite Mountaineering School provides outdoor adventures for people of all experience levels. And you will learn how to climb with qualified instructors on real granite walls!
7. Horseback Riding. Horseback riding is also a very popular activity in Yosemite. Even the little ones can tag along on a smaller horse just for them on an easier trail.
8. Kid’s Programs. Yosemite is a natural playground for all ages. From Wild Wee Ones (ages 6 and under) to the Junior Ranger Program (ages 4 – 14), kids will learn and have fun with interpretive programs designed just for them.
9. Float on a raft. Rafting is a great way to see Yosemite Valley. Children and adults can engage in this activity and will have an exciting adventure! Multiple rafting trips occur daily in spring and early summer. For a ride that is more suitable for young children and that provides the most stunning views, rent a raft in Yosemite Valley. Rafts can be rented at Half Dome Village (open 10am to 4pm, conditions permitting).
10. Catch (and release) a fish. There are a ton of places to fish in Yosemite. The season for stream and river fishing begins on the last Saturday in April and continues through November 15. All lakes and reservoirs are open to fishing year-round. Remember to get a fishing license and pay attention to any restrictions.
11. Create your own Yosemite art! One way to really stop and enjoy the park as a family is by engaging in a Yosemite Art Workshop. Taking place daily throughout the summer, Yosemite Art workshops are led by different artists every week and focus on a variety of subjects, from watercolor to silk painting!
12. Attend the theater. After a day filled with exploring, relax and enjoy a show at the Yosemite Theater. Yosemite Theater presents a variety of performances, including plays based on some of the park’s most colorful characters, inspiring films, and celebrations of Yosemite’s culture and history. Yosemite Theater features live shows seven nights a week from May-October.
13. Take stroll with a Ranger. Learn about the wonders of the park on a ranger-guided stroll. Programs are offered daily throughout the park on a variety of topics including waterfalls, trees, bears, geology, Yosemite Indians and more.
14. Take a Photography Class. Learn how to best capture the landscape of Yosemite by joining a photography expert from The Ansel Adams Gallery. Several classes are offered each week. Some have fees, some are free. Learn more and sign up at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village.
15. Volunteer. Be part of the solution and keep Yosemite beautiful! Join park staff to help protect Yosemite’s habitat through ecological restoration and litter cleanup projects. Volunteers of all ages are welcome to work one to three hours. Volunteers must wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. A hat and sun protection are recommended, and volunteers are encourages to bring water and snacks. All tools are provided.
The best resource for finding the schedules for these various programs is the Yosemite Guide. The Yosemite Guide contains information about trip planning, activities, scheduled events, and hours of operations for different facilities and services.
Another great park for families is the Grand Canyon National Park. My Best Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim with Kids