Yosemite for Kids: A Five-Day Itinerary

You may be enthralled by Yosemite’s scenery—waterfalls leaping thousands of feet over granite cliffs, giant sequoias as wide as your living room, delicate wildflowers painting grassy meadows with a kaleidoscope of color—but your kids may be a tougher audience. Let’s face it, children like different stuff than adults like. And as much as we try to expose our kids to grown-up fun, sometimes it’s a good idea to cater to a kid’s idea of a good time. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities in Yosemite for kids to enjoy. Here’s a five-day itinerary that includes lots of fun kid stuff.

a family wading in the Merced River in Yosemite
Enjoy a dip in the Merced River. Photo © c-photo/iStock.

Day 1

In the morning, rent bikes at the Yosemite Valley Lodge or Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and ride around Yosemite Valley. With 12 miles of smooth, level paths to pedal, bikes are a great equalizer between children and adults. If your kids are too young to ride on their own, parents can rent bikes with kid trailers attached. When you return the bikes, trade them in for an inflatable raft, life jackets, and paddles. You’ll put in to the Merced River near Half Dome Village, then float three miles downstream, where a shuttle bus returns you to your starting point. For dinner, get an extra-large pizza at Half Dome Village and sit outside on the patio. (Bike rentals are available most of the year; rafting is usually only possible in June and July when the river is at a safe level and flow.)

Day 2

Go for a hike. But forego the crowded trails on the valley floor and instead head to the quieter trails off Glacier Point Road. The easy trails to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome make good family hikes; each one is only 2.2 miles round-trip. After your hike, get a bite to eat at the Glacier Point Snack Stand to replenish the kids’ calorie stores, then hang around and gaze at the view from Glacier Point. If you pack along a picnic, you can have dinner at Glacier Point, then stay for the sunset and evening ranger talk. On many nights, amateur astronomers set up telescopes for stargazing.

Day 3

Experience the ultimate in family bonding by signing up the whole brood for an introduction to rock climbing class. Yosemite Mountaineering School guides offer instruction suitable for beginners of all ages. After an exhausting but fun day learning the basics of climbing, go see a live show at the Yosemite Valley Theater (kids’ tickets are discounted).

child hugging a redwood in Yosemite
Kids will marvel at the giant sequoias. Photo © noblige/iStock.

Day 4

Take a drive to the south end of the park, where even the most jaded kids will be duly impressed by the size of the giant sequoias in the Mariposa Grove. If your kids don’t want to hike, buy tickets for the open-air tram that tours through the big trees (again, kids’ tickets are discounted). After being suitably awed by the sequoias, take a trip through history at the Pioneer Yosemite History Museum in Wawona. Kids will love the carriage rides in horse-drawn wagons. Finish out the afternoon with a swim in the South Fork Merced River. If it’s a Saturday, head to the Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) for the weekly barbecue dinner and dance outside on the lawn. Kids of all ages will want to take part in the square dance; even novice “do-sidoers” will figure out the basics in no time.

Day 5

Sign up for a two-hour morning mule ride at the Yosemite Valley Stables, the largest public stable in the western United States. Then, head for the Miwok Indian Village near the Valley’s Visitor Center to see the daily demonstrations of traditional Miwok and Paiute basket weaving, beadworking, acorn grinding, and games. If your kids have an artistic bent, stop in at the Yosemite Art and Education Center in Yosemite Valley to take part in free children’s watercolor classes. Finish out the day by heading to El Capitan Meadow, where with a pair of binoculars your kids can watch the rock climbers on El Cap.

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