The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park with Babies and Toddlers
Yosemite National Park is a dream destination. My love affair with this paradise-on-Earth started when I visited with my mother as a preteen, now decades later, I've been lucky to return on several occasions, each time Yosemite still managed to take my breath away.
On our most recent visit, we traveled with our six-month-old baby and our two-year-old toddler. Sure, visiting Yosemite National Park with young kids limits the range of activities we can do, but take a look at this guide to see how you can make the most out of this Yosemite family trip with babies, toddlers, and families of all ages.
Before you go, check the official website for current conditions and alerts at Yosemite National Park. This is very important because some roads may be closed, there may be controlled forest fires in certain areas, and camp sites may even be closed due to falling rocks.
If you plan to stay in Yosemite Valley inside the National Park, which I highly recommend if you're visiting with young kids, you will need to reserve lodging on the Travel Yosemite website. If you prefer camping, reserve on the Recreation.gov website. Yosemite National Park is a highly popular destination, so it's best to reserve several months in advance. However, in my experience there are always last minute cancellations around 2 weeks before the trip. But it's always safer to book in advance.
Another thing I find helpful is to prepare the kids for the trip by learning about Yosemite through picture books. It's an amazing feeling when things they read about in books come to life. Here are some cute books about Yosemite for kids:
Visit Yosemite Village and Learn About Native American Culture
Years ago, before Yosemite became a National Park, and before Apple decided to name their operating systems Yosemite landmarks, this beautiful land was home of the Ahwahnechee people. Learn about their culture, their art, and their way of life at the Yosemite Museum and Yosemite Valley Visitor Center in Yosemite Village. This is great for history buffs and kids alike.
Also in Yosemite Village, the Village Store is a full-sized supermarket that sells food, souvenirs, and camping supplies. You don't have to worry about forgetting anything at home, the Village Store has the answer for you.
Observe the Animals of Yosemite
Yosemite is the home of many indigenous animals of California. You will most certainly see some lovely Californian blue jays, deers, and squirrels. We've even seen a rattle snake during one of the hikes! Make sure that kids don't try to touch squirrels or their droppings, there are cases of plague and hantavirus pulmonary disease outbreaks in the park each year, and rodents are the principle carriers of these diseases.
During your stay in Yosemite, you will hear time and again about the importance of keeping the wild animals wild. This means don't feed the wild animals, don't leave food or perfumed items in your cars or tents, and only leave them in bear lockers (don't forget to bring your own lock).
Tour the Yosemite Valley Floor by Bus
There are two ways to tour the Yosemite Vally Floor by bus. The first one is the free Yosemite Valley shuttle that goes around the Valley in a loop and that takes you to the Village, the main lodgings, and the hiking trail heads. Take advantage of the shuttle, since parking in the Valley can be difficult.
The other is the guided Yosemite Valley Floor Tour, which I recommend when you travel with babies and toddlers. It may feel like a Disneyland ride instead of adventuring in the wild, but the babies get to nap and feed, and the toddlers get to relax and rest on the ride, while you see the major landmarks of Yosemite Valley including the Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and Tunnel View all with the commentaries of the park rangers. Furthermore, kids under five ride for free.
Hike the Easy Trails: Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, Bridalveil Fall Trail, and Mirror Lake Trail
Our favorite easy hikes are Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, Bridalveil Fall Trail, and Mirror Lake Trail. All three trails are under 2 miles/3 kilometers, have low elevation gain, and have some bodies of water as the compensation of the hike. These hikes are easy for baby-wearing adults, toddlers, and grandparents, and the sceneries can be just as rewarding as some of the more strenuous hikes.
Mirror "Lake" can be a misnomer. In spring, it is indeed Mirror "Lake", in summer, like in the pictures below, it becomes Mirror Puddle, and in autumn, it becomes Mirror Meadow. It's really one of the easier hikes, and the paved roads make it stroller-friendly.
If you are an experienced and competent baby-carrier hiker and you want to take on the challenge of carrying babies and toddlers on your back while stepping on slippery granite steps, try hiking the Misty Trail to Vernal Fall and Emerald Lake. The sensations of standing under the fall and jumping into the ice-cold Emerald Pool are invigorating to say the least.
We hiked this trail as a couple before, but did not feel confident enough to do so with our young kids. If you have decent hiking shoes and a good trekking pole, this hike is achievable with babies and toddlers.
Picture Time at Tunnel View
Some years ago, we visited as a young couple, and we had a picture taken of us in front of the iconic Tunnel View, with a camera that just couldn't handle low-light setting.
Several years later, we were back with two happy campers. This time around we got a better camera and went at an earlier time in the day. My hope is that, next time we return, we will pack a decent camera, go during golden hour, make sure that everyone is well-fed and well-rested, and then have another shot at that iconic Tunnel View picture. Maybe even matching outfits or something. Stay tuned for that one!
Relax in Merced River
One of my favorite activities when visiting Yosemite National Park is rafting down Merced River. It is pure magic. As you drift down the river, you see amazing views along the riverbed, feel the ice-cold water under your feet, smell the crips, fresh pines, and hear laughters and songs all around you. Sometimes you'd even have to pause to let a deer cross the river in front of you.
With babies and toddlers, rafting is unfortunately not on our list of things to do in Yosemite. Depending on the time of year of your visit, rafting may not be an option due to low water levels. However, you can always just relax on a log in Merced River, admire the view of Half Dome, and refresh your spirits in this amazing setting. Tip: Best place for that Half Dome view on the river? By Sentinel Bridge.
Visit the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove (Reopens in Spring/Summer 2017)
Mariposa Grove has been going through a restoration project since Summer 2015, it will reopen in Spring/Summer 2017. It's an one-hour-drive South of Yosemite Village down on highway 41, but it's really worth a detour. Walking beneath some of the world's largest living plants is a humbling experience; some have stood their grounds here over 2,000 years. Thanks to the preservation efforts over the last century, instead of being reduced to mere timber, these trees are still here, and people from all around the world can still admire them today.
Other Activities for Families with Babies and Toddlers
Junior Ranger Little Cubs Program
Children aged 3 to 6 can join the Junior Ranger "Little Cubs" program with a self-guided booklet, and they get to earn Little Cubs buttons as souvenirs. The booklets can be purchased in visitor centers.
Bike Around Yosemite Valley
Bikes and trailers can be rented at Yosemite Valley Lodge (previously Yosemite Lodge at the Falls) and at Half Dome Village (previously Curry Village), and there are paved roads all around Yosemite Valley for biking.
Swimming in Pools
Open-water swimming is not allowed in many parts of the park, so if you're craving some splashing fun, you can pay a small fee to use the pools at Yosemite Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village even if you're not staying at these places.
When to Go
Spring is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park. In spring, the river flows with fresh water from the just-melted snow caps, the waterfalls are robust and splendid, the flowers are in full bloom, and the lakes are full of new life and reflect the handsome granite mountains. The Valley is less crowded, and you can really savor your stay there in Nature.
Summer in Yosemite feels like a fun, big summer camp. Fall in Yosemite has its flairs with the warm colors of falling leaves. Winter is pristine with snow-related fun. There's never a bad time to visit, I suppose.
Where to Stay
If you've visited Yosemite National Park in the past, be alerted that since the beginning of 2016, many places in Yosemite are going through a "the place previously known as..." moment. Read this article for the detailed explanation of the situation, but it's basically an on-going trademark battle. I recommend staying at the following places inside Yosemite Valley, you can get easy shuttle access around the Valley instead of having to drive around with the young kids.
This luxury hotel inside Yosemite National Park is a historical landmark that has hosted royalties and celebrities over the years. This is the option if you want swank and pampering while visiting Yosemite. But even if you're not staying at the hotel, a meal at the granite and pines Dining Room can be a lovely experience.
This is a simple hotel experience that's nice and easy for families with young children. The hotel is the departure point for the Valley Floor Tour, has a pool, and has a bike rental station.
This is probably my favorite stay in Yosemite National Park, because it feels like you're staying in a national park instead of a mountain resort town. You don't sleep in hotel rooms, you sleep in cabins or canvas tent "rooms", and at night you'd have to lock up your toiletries and food in the bear locker. But that's really part of the Yosemite experience. The only down side is that they don't provide cribs, so you'd have to bring your own. Staying at Curry Village (excuse me, but I'm also rooting for the old names to come back) is an authentic experience, you are right beneath Half Dome, and you'll feel that warm pioneer village atmosphere like back in the days.
My Yosemite National Park Map:
It has all the main points of interest mentioned in this article. Don't hesitate to save the map on your Google Maps for future use.
Pin for your future reference:
Stay Wild and Travel On,