Ready to take that big California road trip with the family, but not sure which US national parks to include? I get it. After all, there are 9 US National Parks in California. Visiting Yosemite with kids should definitely be on the top of your list. The awe inspiring vistas and easy to access waterfalls make Yosemite seem as though it was created with kids and kids at heart in mind.
Don’t let the stories about scaling a narrow pathway up the side of half-dome cause you to shy away from Yosemite with the kids. As with any travel with kids, preparation is key, but no matter how old your children are, there’s something for every kid and kid at heart Yosemite National Park.
In this Yosemite Travel Guide, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about visiting Yosemite National Park with kids and give you some ideas for planning things to do with the kids at Yosemite so you can simply relax and enjoy the majesty and wonder of God’s creation with your family.
Don’t miss Yosemite’s neighboring national parks to the south while you are in California. Read our guide to Sequoia National Park with the kids to plan your adventures through the giant trees of the west.
Learning In Yosemite With Kids
As a homeschooling mom, I love combining adventure and education in our travels and Yosemite offers plenty of opportunities to do both.
I recommend at least 2 days in Yosemite National Park with kids.
“The book of nature lies closed before us. We look around, and everything seems more or less incomprehensible. At least that is my experience. I have come to the stage when, awake at last to the actual existence of the visible world, I also realize the shortness of life, and hasten to acquaint myself with a few of the facts before it is too late and I am dead before I have ever been alive.” –The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Collis
Yosemite National Park Wildlife
On Day 1 Explore the south end of the park at Glacier Point and the Pioneer History Center and on Day 2 drive into Yosemite Valley to hike and see the amazing waterfalls.
My favorite part of taking my kids to national parks is the fun we have learning about the parks before we go and the excitement they have when they talk to the park rangers.
I seek to provide my kids with a living education. We read living books with living ideas and stories as opposed to textbooks and rote facts and we have real life experiences during our travels, nature hikes, and local field trips to enhance the learning we receive from living books.
This means that learning about the wildlife in each national park is a huge part of our experience.
An exhaustive treatment of everything we do to prepare to learn about wildlife in the national parks is a topic for another day, but here are a few great books and ideas you can add to your travel plans for visiting Yosemite with your kids.
Books To Read About Wildlife Found In Yosemite National Park
- Black Bear Baby
- Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story
- Seasons of the Bear: A Yosemite Story
- Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids
Books To Read About Yosemite and Other US National Parks
- The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks
- The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures
- The Yosemite: Illustrated Edition
- National Parks of the USA
Additional Resources on Yosemite Wildlife & Safety
Pioneer Yosemite History Center
If you want a little education and history along with your adventure, while you are on the southside of Yosemite, spend an hour exploring the Pioneer Yosemite History Center.
Your family will enjoy the historic buildings and beautiful scenery.
We happened upon a school function when visiting and enjoyed some living history. This greatly satisfied my homeschooler’s heart.
Things To Do In Yosemite With Kids
Yosemite Hikes With Kids
Glacier Point Loop
300 yards one way. 5 minutes
Glacier Point is a must do in Yosemite for your family. You will need to drive to the area, but once you arrive at the Glacier Point parking lot, take the short 0.6 mile trail to the mind blowing Glacier Point View of Half-Dome Village and the a view of the floor of Yosemite Valley.
The Glacier Point Amphitheater on your right is a feast for your eyes with awe inspiring views of Yosemite Valley, Half-Dome, and three major waterfalls: Yosemite Falls, Nevada, and Vernal Falls.
For yet another vantage point, walk on up the trail toward the actual Glacier Point. It’s fun to look down into the valley and tell the kids, “Tomorrow, we will be those ants.” Of course, seeing all the cars lined up to get into the valley wasn’t all that great.
Lower Yosemite Falls
1.1 miles/1.7 km loop trail; 30 minutes
This hike is so easy for families that I’m not really sure you can call it a hike. We actually spent a great deal of time here letting the kids run around and have snacks while we captured some stunning photos.
Bridalveil Fall Trail
0.5 miles/0.8 km round-trip; 20 minutes
This is another very kid friendly hike in Yosemite. From the parking area, the paved trail leads to the base of the waterfall which does flow year round. The kids will love this one in the Spring and Summer as there should be lots of spray from the waterfall while standing at the base.
Cook’s Meadow Loop
1 mile (1.6 km) loop-easy 30 minutes
Easy walk from the visitor center that offers views of Yosemite FAlls, Half dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock.
Hike Around Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake is beautiful, but since it’s quite removed from Yosemite Valley it is often much less crowded and more tranquil. It’s an easy 2.5 mile trail with little to no elevation gain. Be warned, however, mosquitos can be prolific here so pack your spray.
Attend a Ranger Led Hike or Talk
Be sure to also check the NPS website about the wildlife and ranger led programs available. Rangers are always happy to talk with the kids as well.
Earn A Yosemite Junior Ranger Badge
You have to get those badges mom. The kids love the Junior Ranger programs in the national parks. I recommend, however, you consider picking up your Junior Ranger book at the visitor center right way so the kids have something to work on while they are in the car during your auto touring.
Visiting Yosemite With Kids Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to get into Yosemite National Park?
There is a park entrance fee at Yosemite National Park. For Non-commercial cars, pickup trucks, RVs, or vans with fewer than 15 passengers the fee is $35 and is valid for 7 days.
INSIDER TIP: To avoid being charged twice if towing a vehicle behind a class A motorhome, do not unhook your tow vehicle until you have entered the park, otherwise you will be charged two entrance fees for each motorized vehicle.
If you live in California, a Yosemite annual pass is $70, but we recommend every family that loves the outdoors to invest in the America The Beautiful Pass for $80.
This annual pass grants you entry into all 61 US National Parks as well as over 400 other US National Park service units, National Monuments, and National Forest Service parks. The pass more than pays for itself if your family enjoys the outdoors and since you are here, I suspect you do.
P.S. If you purchase your America The Beautiful US National Park pass through REI using my link, they will donate 10% of the proceeds to the National Park Foundation at no extra cost to you.
Is Yosemite stroller friendly?
Yes. There are plenty of stroller friendly trails and easy hikes for families in Yosemite. There are several trails and easy paved walks for families with strollers throughout the valley.
In addition to several kid friendly hiking trails in Yosemite already mentioned, auto touring at Yosemite National Park is also easy and one of the best ways to see much of its beauty.
If you are visiting Yosemite from late May or early June through November, you should definitely plan to drive on Tioga Road. Be sure to check the NPS website for latest road conditions.
Depending on the nature of your trip, you could spend anywhere from one day to one week in Yosemite and have a great vacation. Since we are worldschoolers (aka traveling homeschoolers), we chose to do 2 days to allow time to hike and explore Yosemite Valley as well as another day to enjoy Glacier Point, The Pioneer History Center, and some ranger led programs.
However, I definitely have plans to return to Yosemite National Park for some longer RV camping in the future.
What is the best month to visit Yosemite National Park?
YOSEMITE IN SPRING: The best time to visit Yosemite National park is in the spring. This is when the waterfalls will be at their peak, the wildflowers will be coming into bloom, and the crowds will be lighter.
INSIDER TIP: Unfortunately, we did learn the hard way, however, that the tram to take you up to El Capitan doesn’t begin running until after Memorial Day so if that’s a deal breaker for you, you may wish to wait until early June to plan your visit.
We were very fortunate to visit Yosemite National Park in late May in 2017. California had experienced a record amount of rain and snow the previous winter and, while this had caused us to have to skip Big Sur due to mudslides, the resulting waterfalls in Yosemite National Park definitely helped to ease the disappointment.
These waterfalls were absolutely insane. Several people told us there were waterfalls in the park at the time that had never been there before and all the major waterfalls in Yosemite were bursting forth in majestic wonder.
You just have to see it to believe it.
Watch our Youtube video below and you will see what I mean. (Try not to laugh too hard at my Northeast Tennessee accent. If you don’t already know, I’m an Appalachian Tennessee Smoky Mountains girl through and through and here’s the proof.)
YOSEMITE IN FALL: If you can’t make it to Yosemite in the Spring, the second best time to visit Yosemite National Park is in the Fall. October and November are great times to visit Yosemite because all of the park is generally still accessible, but the crowds have died down.
If you can’t make it to Yosemite in the Spring, the second best time to visit Yosemite National Park is in the Fall. October and November are great times to visit Yosemite because all of the park is generally still accessible, but the crowds have died down.
Again, one of the perks of being homeschoolers who travel is that we can take advantage of the shoulder seasons when we travel.
We love traveling in October and visiting the national parks in the fall when everyone else is in school is definitely a perk.
YOSEMITE IN WINTER: Visiting Yosemite in Winter, of course, is going to be a bit trickier as many of the roads do close and access to many areas is not allowed. However, for the brave of heart, winter in Yosemite can be a beautiful time to visit. Here’s a very interesting historical piece about the magic of winter in Yosemite.
YOSEMITE IN SUMMER: Summer is the busiest time of the year to visit Yosemite National Park, but it can still be an enjoyable time. You definitely need to arrive EARLY in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. Yosemite Valley can be at a 2 hour standstill by mid morning in the summer so plan accordingly.
How do you get around Yosemite?
The free Yosemite Valley shuttle provides service throughout the valley and to nearby accomodations and stores all year from 7am to 10pm.
The El Capitan shuttle only operates from mid-June through early October from 9am to 5pm.
The Mariposa Grove Shuttle provides service from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (near South Entrance) to the Mariposa Grove. This is the primary way to get to the Mariposa Grove.
Hours of Operation for the Mariposa Grove Shuttle are as follows (according to the latest on the NPS website)
- March 15 through May 14: 8 am to 5 pm (last bus leaves Mariposa Grove at 5 pm)
- May 15 through October 14: 8 am to 8 pm (last bus leaves Mariposa Grove at 8 pm)
- October 15 through November 30: 8 am to 5 pm (last bus leaves Mariposa Grove at 5 pm)
There is also limited shuttle service for those staying in the Wawona Hotel from mid-June through early September between 9 am and 5 pm, with pick-ups/drop-offs about every two hours. This service is available to visitors staying overnight in Wawona.
The Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus provides access throughout the Tuolumne Meadows area between the Tioga Pass and Olmsted Point (including Tenaya Lake) during the summer (typically mid-June through early September). See the complete schedule.
You will need a car if you would like to visit Glacier Point or take a guided tour. I highly recommend you include Glacier Point and the southern side of the park into your plans. I have more details below about our time there. You don’t want to miss it.
For more details on the Yosemite Shuttle system and other modes of transportation and road conditions in the park, visit the Yosemite NPS site.
What To Pack For a National Park Trip
What you pack for a Yosemite National Park trip will, in large part, depend upon the season you choose to visit. However, here are a few essentials you should always pack for any National Park vacation with kids.
- Navigation- Trail maps and a compass are always essential, even on the so called shortest trails, sometimes signs and trail markers have been moved or damaged.
- Water, water, and more water! I can’t stress this enough. Your kids will not make it without enough water, and frankly, neither will you. I don’t care how short the trail is. The absolute BEST INVESTMENT I have made in hiking gear was when we purchased kids hydration packs. I also purchased an Osprey Hydration Pack for myself and love it. This single purchase was the difference between the quarter mile hike and the 7 mile hike I mentioned previously. The great thing about the Camelbak Mini Mule and Scout is that they come with age appropriate storage space for those all important snacks. You will be surprised what a kid will do to earn a handful of skittles!
- Merino Wool Socks! Trust me, you will thank me for introducing you to these. Before we began hiking with the kids, I had NO IDEA HOW GREAT WOOL SOCKS are! I’ll be honest, after we began wearing wool socks to hike, I came home and replaced all my daily wear socks with wool. Yes, they are that great. Don’t believe me? Well, try them for yourself. DarnTough (made in America…yay!) or SmartWool are great options.
- Great Hiking Shoes- It’s no secret that my favorite hiking shoes of all time are CS Ultra Salomon shoes. I have also fallen in love with my Keen Rose sandals. You can read more about my recommendations for hiking shoes for men, women, and children in my Wide Toe Box Shoes post.
- Hiking Clothes- I am in favor of simplifying my packing on all my trips whether they be National Parks vacations, beach trips, or camping. Here are a few of my favorites. I generally just search for similar items for the kids as well. You can shop my Amazon store to get a better idea of all my favorites.
- Snacks-Okay, I know this is no brainer, but just trying to be complete here. My kids have nut allergies so I have to be creative, but we always bring Skittles for that added incentive of going when we can’t go any more. Of course, we bring healthy snacks too like Quest protein bars for the non-nut allergic crew, and Enjoy Life Trail Mix for the others.
- National Park Specific Essentials-You simply have to pack a Your Passport To The National Parks book. I also recommend trail maps, national park guides, and outdoor nature pocket guides for birds and plants specific to the region.Finally,don’t forget your National Park Pass. (Yes, sadly we have done this…smacking head against dashboard as we pull up to the gate and pay AGAIN 🙁 ) They are $80 per year and will get you and
all passengers in a personal vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas or up to 4 adults at sites that charge per person (kids 15 & under get in free). REI will donate 10% of sale proceeds through 2019 to the National Park Foundation!