Family Vacations to Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park (PhotoDisc)

Yosemite National Park Highlights

  • See El Capitan, the largest single granite rock in the world.
  • View Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America.
  • Crane your neck at ancient giant sequoia trees.
  • Horseback ride, rock-climb, and hike in the park.
  • Drive the scenic Tioga Road through the park.

Towering sequoias, huge granite boulders, cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes, and unspoiled forests draw over three million annual visitors to Yosemite National Park, one of the world's monumental parklands located in east-central California. Although the park's open year-round, because of snow, summer is the only time you can be guaranteed passage into the eastern high country, and that, naturally, brings the biggest crowds. Expect traffic on popular roads and book well ahead for lodging.

Start your exploration at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, Yosemite Village, where you can pick up information on scenic drives, hiking, and naturalist-led activities. Free shuttle buses service the more populated sections of the park, making it easy to get around.

The Yosemite Valley, seven miles long and one mile wide, includes Yosemite Village, the center of the park's activities with the pick of lodging, shops, and restaurants, as well as outfitters offering horseback rides (ages seven and older) and bike rentals. El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world, towers more than 3,000 feet above the valley floor. For a good view, complete with thundering waterfalls in spring (expect a smaller flow the rest of the year), head to Bridalveil Fall off Valley Road. From the parking lot, the 0.5-mile trail ascends 100 feet as it leads to the base of the cascade. The highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, drops in three tiers. The Upper Fall tumbles 1,430 feet, the Middle Cascades crash down another 675 feet, pouring into the Lower Fall, which has a 320-foot drop. See the falls up close via a 0.25-mile, one-way path beginning at the parking area near Yosemite Lodge.

Along with waterfalls and granite rocks, giant sequoias, also known as Sierra redwoods, star at Yosemite. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the park's largest stand of these majestic trees, is 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley. To get a true appreciation of these arboreal wonders, follow the 0.8-mile nature trail to the huge Grizzly Giant, thought to be 2,700 years old.

Tuolumne Meadows, a pristine alpine meadow on the park's eastern edge near Camp Mather and the Big Oak Flat entrance, features sparkling lakes, granite domes, and rolling grasslands dotted with wildflowers in summer.

With young kids, try the scenic drives interspersed with picnics and short leg-stretching strolls along the many park trails. The popular Tioga Road, a 39-mile route bisecting the park from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, winds through forests and past meadows, lakes, and granite domes. From Yosemite Valley, follow Glacier Point Road for 30 miles to Glacier Point, an overlook with dramatic views of the valley, the high country, and Half Dome, the 4,000-foot-high rock face that's also a park icon.

To get your kids out of the camper and actively involved, have them sign up for either the park's Junior Ranger (ages seven to 13) or Little Cubs (ages three to six) programs. Kids complete activities in a booklet, collect a bag of trash, and attend a guided program to earn a patch (older kids) or a button (younger ones).

Tip: Learn to rock-climb or go on a guided hiking adventure with the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service.

Recommended Side Trips: Sacramento, San Francisco's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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