We finally made our way to Yosemite National Park, and it was spectacular! We couldn’t have asked for a better vacation. We’ve written about several of the kid-friendly hikes we found in Yosemite, but we also wanted to let you in on a few things that we discovered as we explored the park.
We explored three sections of the park: Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows & Tioga Pass, and Glacier Point. Each area has different things to do, so we will give you some tips on what to see in each spot.
The first part of the park that you must see is Yosemite Valley. This is the place where there are ten thousand tourists, but even though we visited during the busy season, we found that the shuttle system worked quite well. This is where you will find all of the famous landmarks from Yosemite including Half Dome, and Lower Yosemite Falls.
We recommend that you arrive at the park early and find a parking spot at a shuttle stop. We arrived about 20 minutes before the shuttle started running, so that we could finish packing our backpacks and be ready to catch the first shuttle. We parked in the large parking area by Shuttle Stop 1. Then we rode the shuttle as it passed ascending numbered stops. Watch your map closely as several of the stops are within yards of one another. This means that stop 2 and 10 are almost across the street from one another, which can be useful. There are 21 stops on the Yosemite Shuttle, but here are the shuttle stops that we used.
- Stop 1: Visitor Parking. This is where we parked, but you can park anywhere near a shuttle stop.
- Stop 2: Yosemite Village (lodging, restaurants, medical center)
- Stop 5: Valley Visitor Center: A large Visitor Center, the Junior Ranger programs start here. Stop at this spot for information.
- Stop 6: Lower Yosemite Fall A must do hike! You can also hike Cook’s Meadow from here. It leads you back to Stop 5 & the Visitor Center.
- Stop 9: Valley Visitor Center: This stop is across the street from Stop 5. A large Visitor Center, the Junior Ranger programs start here. Stop for information at this spot.
- Stop 13: Half Dome Village. We stopped and grabbed ice cream. There is a little ice cream shop in the Village as well as a pizza place, a market grill, and a coffee shop.
- Stop 16: Happy Isles: This is a popular spot for many waterfall hikes, especially the Mist Trail. We hiked to Vernal Falls, which was strenuous, but amazing.
- Stop 17: Mirror Lake: This is a great family hike. We walked one mile out to the lake, which is really a wide river and enjoyed cooling off in the river before heading back.
Yosemite Valley is the main part of the park because there are fabulous hikes, gorgeous waterfalls, the famous mountain called Half-Dome, and many other amenities. We even saw bears and bobcats in this part of the park, so keep your eyes open. One thing we would recommend is treating yourself to ice cream at Half Dome Village. They also have a special Junior Ranger program that our boys enjoyed. They went for a one hour walk with the ranger to earn their badges. Ask in the Visitor Center for information about the Junior Ranger Program.
Glacier Point Road
The next section of the park that you can’t miss is Glacier Point Road. Do this drive after you have explore Yosemite Valley because it is a great end to your visit. At Glacier Point, you can look down on the entirety of Yosemite Valley. You’ll see Upper and Lower Falls, Nevada and Vernal Falls, Half Dome, the Visitor Center, and all the parking lots and tiny cars clustered below. Our boys loved looking down at the places we’d explored the previous day. It is definitely worth the walk out to the point. There is also a small gift shop with ice cream treats.
If it is a busy day, the rangers will have you park your car and ride a shuttle out to the end of the road. We arrived when we could drive out on our own, but don’t worry. The shuttle stops at all the overlooks along the way if you want to get out for pictures.
Another spot to visit is the Tioga Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. This area is located in the north section of the park and transverses the park from east to west. It is a bit of an escape from the busier part of the park near Yosemite Valley. We drove Tioga Road west to Yosemite Valley. The road takes about an hour to drive each way and there are crystal clear lakes, soaring granite peaks, and deep pine forests. If you’re looking for a peaceful drive away from the hubbub, we recommend driving over the Tioga Pass to the meadows. Be aware that Tioga Road is closed from November to May because of snow.
There is a beautiful lake on this drive. We stopped one evening on the way back to our hotel and walked along the edge of Tenaya Lake. We fell in love with the beauty of this spot. Our boys threw rocks, and we enjoyed the peacefulness of the lake. There were picnic tables, so this would be a great spot to have lunch or dinner when in Yosemite.
Tuolumne Meadows is located in the northeast corner of Yosemite and you have to drive Tioga Road from Yosemite Valley to get there. Tuolumne has a small Visitor Center and some fun hikes, though. We walked the Soda Springs trail that runs right through the meadow. We saw several large bucks while hiking, and even when along the road.
This is the one part of the park that we didn’t visit because it was closed for restoration the year we were there. It reopens in April 2018. The Mariposa Grove is a huge grove of Giant Sequoia trees, and it has the famous tunnel tree you can walk through. The hike through the lower loop, which leads to the tunnel tree as well as the Grizzly Giant (1,800 years old), is 2.2 miles and does climb, but is said to be fairly easy. We can’t wait to visit again and walk through this area of Yosemite. We did visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which is a few hours away, so that we could see the Giant Sequoias.
Our boys declared Yosemite to be their favorite national park next to Yellowstone, which is high praise as they’ve visited one fourth of our 59 national parks. If you’re interested in reading about another park, just search for it in our search box.