Yosemite National Park - Adventuring with Kids

Vacation planning can be hard work -- more so if you have a load of kids to make happy. The McAllisters can lighten your planning load with suggested itineraries in their new family guidebook for Yosemite National Park.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
March 13, 2019

The following is excerpted from the new family guidebook, Yosemite National Park: Adventuring with Kids, by Harley and Abby McAllister. This is sample itinerary for families who want to get the most from a short visit to the park. Their book also includes 5- and  7-day itineraries.

Planning a trip to a National Park can be challenging. For example, without having been there before, how can you get a true sense of how long it will take to visit various locations? Is it possible to drive from one side of the park to the other in a single day? Where should you stay, and how should you organize your hikes and adventures? To give you an idea of how you might plan your time in Yosemite, we have provided sample itineraries for various trip lengths ranging from one to seven days.

Because there are several entrance points to the park, rather than organizing the itineraries day by day, we simply state how much time you should spend in each region. That way you can arrange the days in a way that suits you and your family. Please use the itineraries as guides you can customize to fit your situation and the activities you are most looking forward to. The suggested itineraries below list “must-see-and-do” attractions as well as lodging options. For more detail on each of these attractions, consult the Yosemite Adventures by Region chapter. For overnight options, see Resources. These itineraries exclude travel time to Yosemite from your home or whichever airport you fly into.

 one to Two-Day Itineraries

Due to the considerable distance between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley, it is difficult for families to fully explore both regions in three days. To really experience Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, you’ll need to spend two days in each place and one day in Glacier Point. Mix and match these options or choose to focus two days on either the Valley or Tuolumne, and then spend one day in the other and skip Glacier Point. You won’t take it all in, but this is still a good compromise.

 Yosemite Valley: 2 Days

If you prefer a Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point itinerary, we suggest exploring the Valley first. From Glacier Point overlooks you will then be able to look across the Valley and see many of the locations you may have hiked to. Kids love being able to get a feel for the grand scale of the trails they hiked the previous day. They will enjoy the scenic value of Glacier Point so much more after they have a personal connection to all the sights they can take in.

Must-See-and-Do Attractions

These options may vary somewhat based on the ages of your children. For older children and teens, the Mist Trail tops the list, and for families with younger children, a morning devoted to Happy Isles is time well spent. See below for further recommendations, but be sure to check our detailed trip reports to assess whether they are appropriate for your children. Note that we suggest more activities than can possibly fit into two days, knowing that no family will choose all of the suggestions.

  • Mist Trail: Half day
  • Happy Isles: Half day
  • Bike or raft the Valley floor (Sentinel and Cook Meadow Trail or the Merced River): Half day
  • Mirror Lake: Half day

Camping and Lodging Options

The best option is to stay in the Yosemite Valley itself. If there are no campsites, canvas tents, or rooms available inside the Valley, consider outside campgrounds within an hour’s drive, which will increase your time in the car but still allow you daily access to the Valley.

  • Yosemite Valley campgrounds: Camp 4, North Pines Campground, Lower Pines Campground, Upper Pines Campground
  • Yosemite Valley lodging: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly The Ahwahnee Hotel), Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly Yosemite Lodge), Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), Housekeeping Camp
  • Camping near Yosemite Valley: Bridalveil Creek Campground in Glacier Point, about forty-five minutes south of the Valley; Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat Camp, and Tamarack Flat Campgrounds, about forty-five minutes north of the Valley

Glacier Point: 1 Day

This area is serviced by a long and twisting road that takes you to a high ridge overlooking the Yosemite Valley, providing a new perspective on its amazing features.

Must-See-and-Do Attractions

  • Taft Point: Half day
  • Washburn Point: 30 minutes
  • Glacier Point: 60 minutes
  • Four-Mile Trail: 4–6 hours, recommended for teens and adults

Campgrounds in Glacier Point Area

Bridalveil Creek Campground is the only option in this region, but if you already have a camping spot in the Valley, we recommend you keep it in order to prevent moving camp more than necessary. See options above.

Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road: 2 Days

To the north and east of the world-famous Yosemite Valley is Tuolumne Meadows. More remote and secluded than other parts ofthe park, this area was a favorite of esteemed visitors such as John Muir, Robert Underwood Johnson, and Edward Parsons, the Sierra Club’s first director. Here you will find high mountain lakes, shallow and crystal clear; granite domes, seemingly unaffected by the ages; and a little bit of breathing space to appreciate the thin but fresh cool air. In this region, we also include some hikes at different points along Tioga Road.

 Must-See-and-Do Attractions

  • Hang out at and swim or hike along the south side of Tenaya Lake: 2–4 hours or more
  • Climb Lembert or Pothole Dome: 2–4 hours
  • Lyell Canyon: 2–4 hours or longer
  • Tuolumne Meadows to Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge: 1–2 hours
  • Gaylor Lakes: 2–4 hours

Tioga Road: 1 Day


Must-See-and-Do Attractions

  • Lukens Lake: 2–3 hours
  • May Lake: 2–3 hours
  • Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias: 2 hours

 Camping and Lodging Options

Although you won’t find any grand lodging options in the region, two lodges offer comfortable canvas wall tents, and there are a lot of campgrounds spread along Tioga Road. There are also what are known as High Sierra Camps (HSC), which require some hiking to reach. We won’t detail all these options here, but if you are interested in them, you can learn more in the Yosemite Campgrounds and Lodging chapter later in the book.

Finally, we also recommend a few campgrounds outside the Tioga Pass Entrance that are on Forest Service land. Normally we try to limit our reviews to facilities within the parks, but due to the difficulty of ensuring yourself a spot in the NPS campgrounds in this popular park, we chose to expand our limits a bit to help you secure a camping spot for your family!

Campgrounds along Tioga Road (from the east in Tuolumne Meadows, heading west): Tuolumne Meadows Campground, Porcupine Flat Campground, Yosemite Creek Campground, White Wolf Campground, Tamarack Flat Campground

  • Campgrounds on Forest Service land to the east of the Tioga Pass Entrance station: Tioga Lake Campground, Junction Campground, Ellery Lake Campground, Saddlebag Lake Campground, Big Bend Campground
  • Lodging options: Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, White Wolf Lodge