Yosemite National Park had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and let me tell you….it did not disappoint! Going back through my pictures from the trip gives me the chills because it reminds me how breathtakingly spectacular it was. I felt like I was in heaven the whole time I was there. At least, that’s what I hope heaven looks like.
I think that every National Park should be visited at least twice. The first time to experience the popular sites that make the park so iconic, and the second to travel off the beaten path and experience the hidden treasures that most people don’t ever see. I have read some posts that suggest to you to try to stay away from Yosemite Valley as much as you can because it is so busy. Yes, it is soooo busy. But you honestly cannot go to Yosemite and not see the things that make it famous. That would be silly.
I want to give you an awesome guide so that you can have a magical experience on your trip. Here are 5 things for families to see and do in Yosemite National Park.
1. Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows is a gorgeous high alpine meadow with beautiful rock formations, a clear and calm river, and wildlife galore. This area was a favorite spot of John Muir’s and was a big reason why he wanted Yosemite to be a National Park in the first place. In fact, let’s all give a round of applause to Mr. Muir. I am grateful to him for his dedication to saving this beautiful place.
What You Need to Know
Tuolumne Meadows boasts a large campground and a Visitor Center, as well as some great hikes. We took a trail from the Visitor Center called Soda Springs/Parson’s Lodge. It was short, easy, and stunning! The Yosemite Trail Guide will tell you to catch the trail from the Lembert Dome Parking Lot, but I suggest parking at the Visitor Center, crossing the road at the cross walk, and catching the trail from there. You will see more of the Meadows that way and it follows the river more closely.
Soda Springs is a carbonated spring that bubbles up out of the ground, and Parson’s Lodge is an old Sierra Club Meetinghouse. They were both interesting destinations, but I mostly enjoyed just walking through the meadows and taking pictures. We also saw a herd of deer moving through and some other small critters.
The trail is 1.5 miles round trip.
Tuolumne Meadows is along the Tioga Road, which runs east to west through Yosemite. It is near the East Entrance of the Park. This road is high in elevation and remains closed for a large part of the year so be sure to check the website to make sure the road is open. Yosemite also runs a shuttle bus along the Tioga Road during the summer that would eliminate the hassle of trying to find a parking space.
2. Vernal Fall and the Mist Trail
The Mist Trail is one of the coolest trails I have ever hiked. Seriously. Not only is it beautiful, but it offers a truly unique experience you won’t get anywhere else. We were drenched because of the mist from Vernal Fall and we loved it! Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are huge, roaring waterfalls that showcase how majestic Yosemite really is.
What You Need To Know
This trail is paved for the first mile and is overflowing with people. After 0.8 miles of hiking, you will come to a footbridge with views of Vernal Fall. This footbridge area also has a seasonal drinking fountain and restroom. If you want to ditch most of the crowds, continue on to the Mist Trail. The steep granite stairway scares a lot of people off, but this is the cool part of the hike!
As you hike on the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall, expect to get wet. The trail itself is going to be very wet and slippery so be sure to have shoes with good traction and watch your footing. As far as kids are concerned, I think most kids would be fine on this part of the trail as long as they are wearing appropriate footwear and they don’t mind a lot of water spraying their face.
Be sure to stop at the lookout over Vernal Fall when you get to the top of the stairway. You can turn around here, but if you are feeling up to it, continue on the Mist Trail. You will pass Emerald Pool and the Silver Apron, which are absolutely stunning, but be aware that there is no swimming in this area because of strong currents. Continue along this trail to get a gorgeous view of Nevada Fall and then climb some steep switchbacks to reach the top. This section of the trail is strenuous. Some connecting trails await you at the top of Nevada Fall, but I recommend returning the way you came if you haven’t pre-planned an alternate route.
The trail to the Vernal Fall Footbridge is 1.6 miles round trip, the trail to the top of Vernal Fall is 2.4 miles round trip, and the trail to the top of Nevada Fall is 5.4 miles round trip.
To get to the trailhead for Vernal Fall, please DO NOT try to drive around. You will be miserable and there is no parking lot at the trailhead anyway. Take the shuttle and get off at the Happy Isles Nature Center, stop 16.
We parked at stop 11, the Sentinel Bridge, and just left our car there all day so we could take the shuttle. It worked out great!
3. Mirror Lake
As we were walking to Mirror Lake, a group of women we passed told us to turn around because it wasn’t worth our time. Luckily we didn’t listen to them! We loved Mirror Lake. Not only is the lake shaded by the iconic Half Dome, but it is a great place to hang out and enjoy some much-needed peace in the bustling metropolis of Yosemite Valley.
What You Need to Know
The trail to Mirror Lake is paved and is wheelchair accessible. We followed the trail until we got to the lake, and then realized it was shallow enough to wade through and walked in the water a little farther to get away from the crowds. This would be a great place for kids to swim because the lake is shallow. This is also one of the best places in the park to pack in a picnic lunch.
This trail is 2 miles round trip.
Take the Yosemite Shuttle to stop 16. Handicap parking spots are available if needed, in which case you can just drive to the Mirror Lake road at the east end of Yosemite Valley.
4. Lower Yosemite Fall
We took a quick stroll to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Fall and got some great pictures (amazingly without other people in them). This hike is perfect for a family with small children, but everyone should do it because it won’t take long and it is beautiful.
What You Need to Know
You will be surrounded by people everywhere you turn on this hike because this is one of the most popular and easily accessible waterfalls in the valley. If your trip is scheduled for later in the summer (late July or August), this waterfall may be dry. This is a great place to get a nice picture of your whole group in front of the falls. We met a lot of really nice people who wanted their pictures taken and were more than willing to return the favor.
This hike is a 1 mile loop. We took the loop counter-clockwise and didn’t run into quite as many people along the trail. We noticed that many people start going clockwise and then turn around and go back the way they came without taking the whole loop.
In Yosemite Valley, take the shuttle and get off at stop 6 to get to the trailhead.
5. Mariposa Grove
The Mariposa Grove is for the tree hugger in all of us. Who can resist the grandeur and majesty of the Giant Sequoia? We were in awe as we walked along the trail through these old, hardy trees.
What You Need to Know
The most important thing about the Mariposa Grove that I wish I would have known is that there is very limited parking. We drove all the way to the Grove just to be turned down a parking space and told that we needed to drive back to the Wawona Visitor Center (approx. 15 minutes) to park and take the free shuttle. I recommend not even trying to get a parking space at the Grove and just parking at the Visitor Center to catch the free shuttle.
Several trails run through the Mariposa Grove and most of them loop together and connect to each other, making it easy to hike as far and as long as you want. You should at least try to make it to the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree, but I would even go a little farther than that to avoid most of the crowds.
The Mariposa Grove is just inside of the South Entrance along the Wawona Road.
What Yosemite activity will be first on your list?
Find more travel ideas and hiking guides on my blog at www.dirtinmyshoes.com. Happy Trails!