Yosemite National Park is one of the best family vacations we have ever taken. We took a 700 mile road trip from our home in Utah to Yosemite in California. I thought we had come a long way — until we began meeting people from all over the world who had literally driven across continents and flown across oceans just to be there. Yosemite is a special place that calls out to the adventurous spirit in everyone.
I have visited many national parks, and thought that nothing could dethrone Yellowstone as my favorite. Then I met Yosemite. There’s something magical about the Ponderosa Pine scented air in that place. Or maybe it’s the awe-inspiring natural beauty. It’s probably both.
My family (2 adults, 4 kids) spent a week camping inside the park, and would have loved to stay longer. I was not nearly finished doing and seeing everything. You could easily spend a lifetime exploring this amazing place. I want to share some of my favorite parts of our Yosemite trip, including 7 awesome things you must do with your family in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite is open year-round, but summer is the most popular season for tourists. My family’s first visit to Yosemite took place in August. That’s peak season so there are lots of people everywhere, but it really wasn’t too crazy. Our strategy was to park the car at camp, and travel around on our bikes all week. That was a good call on our part. I think it is much easier to bike around smaller sections of Yosemite than trying to drive around in a car. Plus, bikes have access to trails that cars do not.
We did use the car to take us places that were too far away for us to bike, like when we drove out to Glacier Point. It’s a 30 mile scenic drive that takes about an hour. The brief Glacier Point hike is a must (you can see why in the list below.)
Awesome Things To Do at Yosemite National Park
Go and See Yosemite waterfalls. Yosemite NP is home to several famous waterfalls, including one of the tallest waterfalls in the world (Yosemite Falls). Spring is the best time to see them in action. You can see waterfalls from various viewing points throughout the park, and get up close and personal with many of them if you are willing to hike a bit.
Where’s the waterfall?
The most surprising moment of our Yosemite vacation was when we pulled up to Yosemite Falls, and instead of a rushing waterfall, I saw a slight trickle of water falling from 2425 feet. My rookie mistake. It makes sense now that I think about it — the snow melt that feeds the waterfalls peaks in May or June, so waterfalls can be totally dry by late summer. Luckily, there are other amazing waterfalls at Yosemite that usually don’t dry out. They helped satisfy my waterfall craving, but I will have to go back and see Yosemite Falls in spring.
Hike, hike, hike. Yosemite has 800+ miles of hiking trails. There’s something for every level of hiker from baby beginner to the most extreme. I highly recommend getting a Yosemite hiking guide book to take with you so you know what to expect and to help you find trail heads. I am a fan of Falcon Guides Best Easy Day Hikes Yosemite and Top Trails: Yosemite: Must Do Hikes For Everyone
My Easy Day Hike Suggestions: Lower Yosemite Falls (.5 mile), Glacier Point (1 mile roundtrip)
My Moderate Day Hike Suggestion: The Mist Trail (Vernal and Nevada Falls) 6.5 miles roundtrip
Bike the Trails. The easy 12-mile loop is level, paved bike path in Yosemite Valley. It’s perfect for families with young children to bike. My kids love to ride bikes, so we spent a lot of time exploring Yosemite via this trail system. We stopped just about everywhere along the way. Popular stops for our crew included ice cream at Half Dome Village, The Ansel Adams Gallery, and the historic The Majestic Yosemite hotel (just to see what we were missing out on by tent camping!)
My Suggestion For an Easy Bike Ride/Short Hike to Mirror Lake:
Ride from the Half Dome Village to Mirror Lake. Park your bike before Mirror Lake in the designated bike stand and walk the rest of the way in.
This photo was taken along the paved bike path. A reminder Yosemite’s wildlife is never far away (and this includes bears):
Yosemite Camping. There are 13 Yosemite campgrounds. We stayed at North Pines, which is conveniently located Yosemite Valley, near Half Dome Village. We camped in tents, but there are spaces for RVs and trailers in the campgrounds. I liked that there were regular flush toilets in the community restrooms and tap water available. Showers were not available at this campground, but there are pay showers in Half Dome Village.
My Tip: Book a Yosemite campground MONTHS in advance. Campground reservations are available up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am PST. Reservations for the months of May through September are filled the first day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 am! This is no joke. Set your alarm for 7am PST on the first day your desired campground becomes available and be ready on the booking website or call in, with your credit card in hand to reserve it.
Stargaze. The views of the night sky in Yosemite are incredible! Have you ever seen the Milky Way? Our kids had us wake them up so they could get a good view. Don’t forget to watch for shooting stars. We didn’t intentionally plan our visit to Yosemite during the annual Perseid Meteor shower, but we were there. My husband and I even gave night photography our best shot (as you can tell, we have a lot to learn.)
See El Capitan. Bring binoculars, telescopes, and/or spotting scopes if you can. You will want them for this. El Capitan is a famous landmark. This 3,000 foot vertical granite rock formation is a mecca for rock climbers. One of the main roads goes right past it and you can pull over to watch rock climbers on their way up El Capitan. If you don’t have binoculars, people look like tiny little specks on the face of the mountain.
We happened to be at El Capitan during a helicopter rescue. One of the rock climbers had to be picked off the face of El Capitan. It was an incredible thing to see and everyone involved in the rescue turned out okay.
Horseback Riding. I love to ride horses, so of course horseback riding at Yosemite makes the list! The good thing is people of all ages and abilities can hit the trails in Yosemite. I don’t think there’s a need to book a horse ride too far ahead of time. We visited the stables and made a reservation one day in advance.
View Half Dome From Glacier Point. There are many viewing points for Half Dome, and this is the most famous. You get an unobstructed view of Half Dome, plus the beautiful valley landscape makes for amazing photos. It’s also a popular place for stargazing as you can see the outline of Half Dome below the stars. I recommend visiting at sunset so you can get photos of the last bit of sun hitting the top of Half Dome.
Something awesome I did not get to do on my first trip to Yosemite (and now I regret it, so I am telling you so you can do it!) is to go and see the Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove. The grove was closed during our visit, so I did not get the chance to see any of these ancient trees. It’s at the top of my list for next time.
Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? What is your favorite thing to do at Yosemite? I hope you’ll let us know in the comments section below.