We recently returned from an awesome nine day road trip with our kids. Starting in San Francisco, we drove to Yosemite National Park, then drove to Sequoia National Park, and eventually made our way to Las Vegas where we did some fun things inside and outside of the city. We hadn’t done a national park trip with the kids since Banff in 2019 and Acadia in 2018 so we were really excited to hit these parks and tackle some family friendly hikes. The park was stunning! We were in awe of its natural beauty and we were rewarded with breathtaking sights at every turn! Yosemite National Park with kids was a magical experience! They loved looking at the majestic waterfalls and were impressed by the gigantic natural wonders in front of them.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Rush Creek Lodge and Resort, which is only a mile outside the gate of the park. This resort has it all: swimming pool, pool bar, hot tub, game room, playground, ziplines, fire pit (with free smores every night), convenience store, a restaurant, and plenty of hiking and running trails to explore. We spent our afternoons relaxing here after a couple long mornings at Yosemite. It was really incredible and exceeded our expectations. We stayed in a two bedroom villa and it was a perfect way for everyone to get their own space and keep our own food in the room. We were here for two nights, but I really wish we stayed for three so we could spend one day to just enjoy the resort and grounds.
Family Friendly Hikes & Sights
Since we were still a little bit on east coast time we were able to get early starts at Yosemite. This really helped as this is such a popular park, especially on the weekends. We stopped by the convenience store for some yogurt and cereal, and we were in the car by 7am! Our first stop was to Bridalveil Falls. This is often the first waterfall you see as you enter Yosemite Valley. This is a quick 0.3 mile walk from the main road. But once there you are able to climb up the rocks to get a closer look, which of course we did! Climbing rocks on trails is the kids most favorite thing to do when we’re hiking and it was great that we got to start with it! We spent a lot of time here exploring the different paths up and admiring the beautiful waterfall.
Next, we went to Tunnel View. The view here is incredible as you look at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and other landmarks. The pictures don’t do it justice! And if you come from the Wawona Tunnel it is the iconic view that everyone sees when coming out.
We walked across the street and hiked a trail to Inspiration Point. Distance wise, this wasn’t a long hike at all at 1.2 miles roundtrip, but it was steadily – and during the first half mile, steeply – uphill. This offers a similar view of down below at Tunnel View, but it is higher up and way less crowded (we only saw one couple on the hike the entire time).
After this we decided to drive to Glacier Point, about an hour away. This is an overlook with a powerful view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. It’s a short walk to the viewpoint from the parking lot. Standing at an elevation of around 7,200 feet we had a clear view of the beautiful sight in front of us.
The next day we went into Yosemite Valley and started our day with a hike to Vernal Falls. This was only a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that we thought was family friendly… and in some ways it was. But it was a VERY steep uphill from the get-go and it didn’t let up until we got to the falls. We did it, but there was definitely a certain nine year old that wasn’t happy! Had I known it was that steep I probably wouldn’t have done it with the kids, but there were other families out there as well. However, it was worth it when we got to the falls! And knowing that we didn’t have to go uphill on the way down helped a lot too. And the ice cream we promised afterward!
That hike kinda set the tone for the day and the kids were wiped, understandably. We took the shuttle to Yosemite Village where we had parked the car, and took a long rest with snacks and a bathroom break. From there we walked the one-mile Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, starting with Cooks Meadow Loop. I loved this walk, especially the part on Cooks Meadow Loop where we had a view of the falls the entire time, along with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. The kids took a lot of pictures with their cameras. It was all just so… impressive!
Some of these are obvious tips and apply to most national parks, but they are worth repeating because they work! Even though it wasn’t too crowded since it was the last week in August we still followed these tips to get the best experience.
One, go early! If you’re going in the summer time then get there before 7am. Parking usually fills up before 8am on the weekends in the summer.
Two, take the shuttle during the high season. Otherwise, you will be stuck in your car for hours waiting to park and you’ll just waste your day. We parked at Yosemite Village because it was the last parking lot on the way out of the one-way road. In our case it ended up not mattering as much because it was a Monday, but it all worked out.
Three, if you want to go in the summer then go during the last week in August. We found it wasn’t that crowded since a lot of kids start school by then.
Four, try to avoid the weekends. No explanation needed!
Five, make a plan! We knew exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. This saved time and energy as we went about our day. Of course we adjusted when needed, but this saved us from questioning what to do.
Yosemite National Park with kids was such an exciting and rewarding experience! I am still in awe of the beautiful sights that we witnessed. My one regret is not staying longer. I definitely would have eliminated a night somewhere else in order to add on a third night here. We not only would have had a little more time to see the park, but also more time to just enjoy all that the resort had to offer. But I guess that just means we’ll need to return in the future!