An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Yosemite National Park With Kids

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When it comes to spending time in Yosemite with kids, I’d like to think I’ve got you covered. After all, I hung out there every summer growing up as a kid and have continued the tradition since having my own kids.

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It turns out I’ve written quite a bit about the place. I thought it might be helpful to gather everything into one spot and give it a fancy title: An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Yosemite National Park with Kids. You’ll want to bookmark this one!

Where to Explore in Yosemite Valley

I’m glad no one has asked me to suggest a trip itinerary for a trip to Yosemite Valley. I’m still discovering new gems after nearly 40 years’ worth of visits if that tells you anything. Here are just a few of the things we especially enjoy now that we’re a family of four.

Lower Yosemite Falls
Even though this is one of the most popular hikes in all of Yosemite, it’s worth braving summer crowds to enjoy it. The half-mile stroll is almost entirely flat, paved and perfect for little explorers just learning to “hike.” Plus, the payoff is huge – an up-close view of one of the most well known waterfalls in the park.

Tips for Biking With Kids
Yosemite comes complete with some 12 miles of paved trails and offers an eco-friendly alternative to driving. Plus, you’ll experience an entirely new view of things from ground level.

The Indian Caves
I was thrilled to rediscover this seemingly long-forgotten boulder-filled section of the Valley. This might be my most top-secret recommendation yet – there’s not even signage to tell you how to find the place!

The Nature Center at Happy Isles
There aren’t too many places where you can visit a nature center nestled along a river in the forest beneath the face of sheer granite. We like this place because it’s designed with families in mind and offers plenty to explore inside and out.

Where to Explore in Wawona
If you’re wondering where the heck Wawona is, you’re not alone. If you enter Yosemite through the south entrance, you drive right on past it (and its iconic Wawona Hotel) on your way to the Valley floor. Too bad, because this place is full of surprises. Lucky for you, you’ve got me to share some of my favorites with you.

Chilnualna Falls
The first half-mile of the trail is great for kids because it’s short and offers a close-up view of not one, but two waterfall cascades. Bonus is a total lack of crowds.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
If I had to pick the thing I love most about Yosemite, it would be the trees. I am awestruck by their size, strength, perseverance and grace. If you’re like me, this spot must not be missed.

Swinging Bridge Trail
Another relatively crowd-free hike with a great destination – a wobbly bridge and a river with swimming holes. Bring a lunch and you can easily spend a few hours soaking it all in.

The Pioneer Yosemite History Center
Where else can you ride on a horse-drawn stagecoach driven by a guy who’s been doing this for more than 30 years?

Wawona Meadow Loop
This easy, 3.5-mile trail provides a view of one of Yosemite’s largest meadows – with wildflowers galore to see in spring and early summer, and changing leaves in the fall.

Even More Adventures Just Outside the Park
There are a few hidden gems worth checking out just outside the south entrance to the park (and just north of Oakhurst). Here are a couple we’ve enjoyed.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
The excursions aboard steam trains at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad take riders over tracks once used for logging trains at the turn of the century. There’s nothing remotely speedy or mighty about the ride, but it’s a fun way to see the Sierras. And kids love it.

Nelder Grove
Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias is by far the most secluded, off-the-beaten place on this list. But if you don’t mind a little adventuring, this place is worth a visit.

And Some Books, Too

6 Books For Kids About Yosemite
Before you head to one of the most famous places on the planet, get your kids in the mood with some pint-sized stories about the park.

Need a place to stay? Since I am fortunate enough to have a family cabin within the park (don’t hate me), I’m no expert on Yosemite’s housing options. I recommend you start your search with the National Park’s webpage for Yosemite accomodations. Oh, and book early.

There are lots of things to do with kids in Yosemite National Park. Get tips and advice on where to go and what to do in Yosemite Valley and beyond.

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  1. says

    That's the toughest question of them all! 🙂 I'd hope for at least 4 to 5 days, so you don't feel too rushed. One of the best ways to enjoy the park is to find a favorite place & just hang out for a while. If your family is active, there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy for several days (hike, climb, swim, horseback ride, ranger-led walks, and on and on …).

  2. Anonymous says

    How many days should you spend in the park to get a feeling for it, we were in yellowstone for 5 days and that was good for a first time visit.

  3. says

    Hi Robert! I haven't taken the kids backpacking yet, so I'm certainly no expert on the topic. But before kids, I hiked in Tuolumne Meadows (about an hour from Yosemite Valley). There are loads of sub-alpine lakes & there is camping. Perhaps a good place to start? Best of luck to you!

  4. says

    Hi. Can you recommend a short (under 10 miles round trip) backpacking hike that we can take with our 4 year old and 2 year old. Last year we went to Polidome lake out from a trailhead near Tenaya. We are looking for something in a different part of the park. But, hopefully with a lake to camp by.