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  • Writer's pictureMarie Williams

Yosemite National Park - Places to visit with a family

Check out my blog post on What to Bring When Visiting A National Park here.

There's nothing quite like telling your teenage children that they are going on a seven hour road trip to a national park for their spring break. They know that they are in for a lot of walking, no cellular service, and too much quality time with their favorite people in the world, mom and dad. My viewpoint is that they will yearn for the great outdoors someday in their life. They will one day think to themselves "I'm so glad mom planned a trip to a national park for our family vacation." While that may never happen, I at least have fond memories of visiting this beautiful national park with my teenage children in tow.

Planning Your Visit & Where to Stay

When visiting a national park always begin by viewing the National Park Service webpage for that particular park. Many parks are extremely packed during peak times (summer) and may only offer shuttle services or one may need a timed entry ticket to enter a park. Visit to check if the park you are visiting requires a timed entry ticket. At this time Yosemite National Park does require a timed entry ticket on weekends only so please visit this site prior to visiting any national parks.

First things first..... you'll need a place to stay. I usually begin planning our trip by pulling up google maps and searching for the city nearest to the national park we are visiting. I advise searching for a map of the national park to see how many entrances there are and which closest location you would like to stay. Since we were living in Southern California at the time of our visit to Yosemite I chose the southernmost entrance to the park. Every national park has their own web page with a variety of information for one to peruse. Also, Yosemite National Park does have lodging within the park , however, one needs to plan far in advance and make a reservation at one of these locations. In addition, they tend to be a little more expensive. My frugal self always searches for a more affordable place in the nearest town. Initially I'll look for a local Marriott property. My husband travels a lot for work and one can take advantage of Marriott's benefits. We have stayed at many Marriott properties free on points. However, not all national parks have a Marriott property nearby, therefore, I do frequent for a variety of lodging in the price point I'm looking for. I have found Marriott properties to always be clean and inexpensive, therefore I tend to make reservations at a Marriott property. For this trip I booked a couple of nights at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Oakhurst Yosemite. I love the fact that they provide a continental style and hot breakfast so my family can get an early start to the day, eat a hearty breakfast and even snag a few items ( fruit, nuts, raisins, peanut butter & jelly, bread, granola bars) to put in your backpack and you are set for snack time or a small lunch in the park. Plan on staying as long as you would like, personally, I like to plan one - two days in each national park I visit which gives one plenty of time to see the main features of the park.

Five Yosemite NP entrances

Since we are staying in the city of Oakhurst, California, we will be about 25 minutes from the entrance to Yosemite National Park and an extra one hour drive to the main visitor centre, Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, which is also nearby the most visited places in Yosemite NP. At the entrance one will need to pay the entrance fee of $35 per vehicle. If you are U.S. Military or a U.S. Veteran you can ask about getting in free. Always request a map and visitor guide at the entrance. Remember there is usually no cellular service in national parks. Plan to have the address of the visitor centre in your phone's maps prior to entering the park. I have found that even without cellular service our phones gps will still provide directions to your destination. If you don't want to use your phone's map for directions simply follow the handy map provided at the entrance gate. There are signs along the way giving directions to all of the main features of the park.

Tunnel View

Visit the Visitor Center First

Upon arriving at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center one can make use of the rangers knowledge of the park. I normally will visit the website of the national park I am visiting to get an idea of the main attractions to visit along with some easy to moderate hikes that my family might enjoy, however, the park rangers will go over your itinerary, make suggestions and provide alternative places to visit and give you a personalised map with a drawn out route to take. Easy peasy lemon squeeze!!!!!! What could be easier? While at the visitor centre make use of the facilities, check out the gift shop for that cool t-shirt or sweatshirt that say's "I've been here!", refill your water bottle and set out for your adventure. Our itinerary includes Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, Bridalveil Falls Trail, Tunnel View, Half Dome Overlook, Hite Cove Trail, El Capitan, and a walk along the Merced River which we packed into an astonishing one day visit. We didn't want to overwhelm our kids with too much fun.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls Trail

Our first stop was Bridalveil Falls Trail. With only a 16 minute drive from the visitor centre we entered the parking lot, found a spot to park, and packed a few essentials since this trail is an easy and short 20 minute walk (.5 mile round trip). We visited in the spring and while it was going to be a warm day in the 60° F that day it was only around 40° F when we visited early in the morning. With the water spray from the waterfall the paved road became icy and very slippery. Be prepared for all types of weather in California. Dressing in layers are always the best option. Proper shoes are a must while walking/hiking in any national parks. Shoes with a rubber bottom work great for traction. Tennis shoes or sneakers are fine, however, If you would like to spend a little money on shoes, I have found that hiking shoes really do provide great traction and comfort. Bridalveil Falls was a beautiful waterfall that plunges 620 feet and is very close to the the parking lot making it perfect for a quick look at a waterfall if one doesn't want to visit one of the other waterfalls in Yosemite.

Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead

Next on my list was the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead, which was just a short 13 minute drive away. The Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead is a 1 mile loop and an easy hike that takes only 30 minutes to hike. We found a parking space, packed our backpacks with our water, phones and wallets and began our trek. You will enter a lovely pine grove upon entering this trail which leads to the Lower Yosemite Falls. After only a 15 minute walk you will begin to hear the spray of the falls and only moments later will witness a dramatic 320 foot waterfall, which is part of North America's tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls (2,425 feet). The national park service built a bridge that allows one to walk over the bottom of the falls to witness the beautiful cascade of water gushing from above. The best part is the loud burble deafens the sounds of teenagers asking how much longer do we need to stay here. To be honest they enjoyed it, just not as long as I did.

Continuing onto the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead you will distance yourself from the waterfall which provides stunning views of the upper and lower falls combined. One can enjoy the peacefulness, stillness and beauty that surrounds you. Vistas of waterfalls cascading thousands of feet in the distance with fragrant conifer trees surrounding you can certainly bring relaxation and tranquility. Take your time and enjoy your surroundings. Towards the end of this trail, which is highlighted in yellow in the map below, one can find another easy trail to continue on. This trail is called Cook's Meadow Loop.

Cook's Meadow Loop

Cook's Meadow Loop is a short and easy 1 mile / 30 minute walk along a beautiful path with spectacular views of Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome and Sentinel Rock. In all, combined with the Yosemite Lower Falls Trail these two hikes together make a perfect prelude to our next destination.

Water near the Cook's Meadow Loop

Heading west towards the entrance fo the park about 20 minutes from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail are a few short turnouts where one can get stunning photos and soak in spectacular views. We stopped at Yosemite Valley View first to have a picnic lunch and relax a bit. I highly recommend packing and bringing your lunch into the park. It will take a lot of time out of one's day to leave the park to eat lunch and return, however, if you would like to break up your visit one can always plan a two day visit and return the next day. Park passes are good for up to 7 days. In addition, many parks offer dining services, at Yosemite National Park there are a variety of dining areas. Personally, I just love being outside and eating a picnic lunch. As a child our family enjoyed many picnics and it's very nostalgic for me. For ideas, I normally like to pack Starkist tuna or chicken packets, hummus and veggies, fruit, bread/crackers and a few chocolates for dessert.

Tunnel View and Viewpoint

After our little siesta we packed up all of our trash (leave no trace behind) and got back on the road to head towards Tunnel View. You will take a couple of turns to get on Wawona Road to reach Tunnel View. (see map above) Tunnel View is exactly what the name states "a tunnel with a view" (see photo below). Literally, when you exit the tunnel prepare to turn left into a parking lot where you can park and witness amazing vistas of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. There is also another parking lot further up on the right hand side if the first parking lot is full. This is only a viewpoint, therefore, no hiking. Trust me, your kids will love viewpoints.

Tunnel View

Vista from Tunnel View (El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall)

Hite Cove Trail

While there is so much more to visit in Yosemite National Park, I chose to visit Hite Cove Trail just on the outskirts of Yosemite NP. Hite Cove Trail can be found off of State Highway 140 near Savages Trading Post. If you pass the trading post you've gone too far. Park alongside the road and you will see a trail sign. From March - May wildflowers are at their peak and are found at Hite Cove. The wildflowers are a wondrous carpet of color to hike alongside the South Fork Merced River. This hike has a spectacular view, however, the drop-off near the trail is very steep, therefore I would not bring young children on this hike. The trail is 3.6 miles one way, 7.2 miles roundtrip. When a trail is this long roundtrip I will have a family discussion to see how long we would like to explore this trail. Normally around 45 minutes is a good time limit, therefore we set a timer for 22 minutes and at that point turn around and head back. When we discuss the timeframe ahead of time everyone is happy. This trail did not disappoint with its scenic views, wildflowers everywhere and rushing river below. I highly recommend this trail if you are visiting in the spring months when the flowers are in bloom.

A one day visit to Yosemite National Park was a sheer delight. While I would have loved to visit for one more day, my teenagers were longing to visit Six Flags. Variety is the spice of life, right? I plan on revisiting this beautiful park one day and my hope is that you are inspired to visit it as well.

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