Families from around the world travel to Yosemite for the iconic scenery, abundant natural experiences, and a chance to relax and unwind in a beautiful setting. There are plenty of short hikes, beautiful scenery, and fun activities to keep your kids entertained as you explore. It may take a little extra planning to design the ideal trip with your family, but rest assured there is plenty to do. Keep reading for activities galore and tips for traveling to Yosemite with kids.
Is Yosemite Kid-friendly?
Let’s start here with an unequivocal yes. With many stroller-compatible trails and easy access to the most-iconic viewpoints, Yosemite is strikingly easy to get around. That makes it a great national park to visit with young kids and people with mobility limitations.
What Is There To Do in Yosemite for Families?
Hold on tight. There is so much to do in Yosemite with kids that the answer to this question is going to take a while.
Simply being out in the fresh air and attentive to what is happening around you is a way to become more connected with natural spaces, and make fascinating discoveries about the world we live in.
First thing on the list – Junior Rangers! The junior ranger program includes fun activities that get kids to engage with what they are seeing and experiencing in the park, encourages them to interact with park rangers, gives them a chance to earn a cool junior ranger badge, and even serves as a souvenir and memento of their time in the park. There’s nothing like experiencing Yosemite through the eyes of a would-be junior ranger.
Note: Junior Ranger activities can be fun for all ages. If you look in the Junior Ranger log book in Yosemite, you’ll find people from pre-school to post-retirement ages who have taken the time to become Junior Rangers. Try it!
Whether you’re traveling with a budding young artist, or simply want a quiet day outdoors, The Yosemite Conservancy offers a wide range of art activities. Taking time to paint or draw in nature gives you time to be still and enjoy the scenery around you, fills the soul, and creates a unique souvenir of your time in Yosemite.
Sometimes kids want to walk, and sometimes they just want to explore. Fortunately, you’ll find many short walks with great views that are also perfectly suited to a kid’s pace. Here is a small selection of trails you to investigate.
Lower Yosemite Falls & Cooks Meadow
In the spring and early summer when the water is flowing, the short loop to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall gives you a chance to see this waterfall up close. The trail is even paved and stroller-friendly, though steep in spots. As an alternative, or a way to extend the walk to Lower Yosemite Fall, cross the road at the bus stop and walk through Cook’s Meadow on paved trails and boardwalks to zoom out on Yosemite Falls, and take in grand views of Half Dome at the same time.
Lower Yosemite Falls Loop: 0.5 miles (0.8 km)
Cooks Meadow Loop: 0.5 miles (0.8 km)
Happy Isles & The Fen
East of Curry Village, there are two beautiful kid-friendly strolls to explore. The fen is a lush wetland filled with songbirds, which connects to Happy Isles, a short trail out to two islands in the middle of the Merced River. A highlight of the Happy Isles area is the Art and Nature Center with kid-oriented exhibits and art programs.
Both trails are less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km)
This beautiful location is going through an identity crisis. A beautiful, reflective pond in spring, it dries to an open meadow by late summer. In the right part of this transition, the sandy shores create a popular family-friendly beach with shallow pools for swimming and splashing.
Mirror Lake/Meadow: 2.4 miles (3.8 km) round trip.
Indian Village behind the Yosemite Museum
A very short walk behind the Yosemite Museum provides a glimpse into the traditional homes and buildings built by the Miwok people in the late 1800s and early 20th century. If you keep your eyes open for the interpretive signs, you can also learn about some of the plants that were used to make arrows or baskets and food. Within the museum, you can also sometimes find cultural demonstraters who can provide even greater insights into how these people used to live.
Note: Local tribes have requested to be referred to as Indians.
The trail is less than a quarter-mile (0.4 km).
Swinging Bridge – Yosemite Valley and Wawona versions
There are actually two “Swinging Bridges” in Yosemite. The one in Yosemite Valley sports a river-side picnic area with tables and grills and doesn’t actually swing, but provides nice views of Yosemite Valley. In contrast, Wawona’s Swinging Bridge still bounces and sways as you cross, making it a fun adventure for small kids. Both are popular swimming spots once spring run-off has slowed and the water temperatures have warmed.
Yosemite Valley Swinging Bridge: just a few steps from the parking area.
Wawona Swinging Bridge: 0.75 miles (1.2 km) round trip.
Wawona Meadow Loops
Just across Highway 41 from the Redwoods In Yosemite cabins, this peaceful trail circles the Wawona meadow (and golf course), and is a great place to discover a variety of wildflowers in the spring. In true family-friendly spirit, this is one of the few mostly non-paved trails in Yosemite that is open to leashed pets and bicycles.
Wawona Meadow Loop: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) with a 5-mile (8 km) variation.
Figuring out Nap Time for Kids While Visiting Yosemite
If your kids are young enough that you want to protect nap time during your visit, there are a couple of easy solutions.
- If you’re staying in one of the cabins rented by the Redwoods In Yosemite, you can try to combine a short local excursion with a return to your vacation rental home for nap time. There is a wealth of options, but a few along those lines might include: the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite History Center exploration, a trip to a local swimming hole, or a walk to the first cascade along the Chilnualna Fall Trail.
- Your car is another great place to retreat for a satisfying nap time. It can take a while to drive to various destinations in Yosemite, and many scenic overlooks to stop at along the way where you can keep an eye on the sleeping babes and still take in some amazing scenery. If there are two of you, you can also take turns stretching your legs while the other person keeps an eye on the napping kids. Try doing this on a trip to explore Tuolumne Meadows, for example.
- Admittedly, this solution is more gear-intensive, but some local parents have had great luck getting their kids to nap outdoors by bringing along small tents that can be easily set up anywhere. The tent walls help block out all the things that are going on all around to help little ones relax and rest, as well as protect them from the sun and any mosquitoes or other insects.
More Yosemite Activities for Kids that are a Little Older
If you’ve got a natural climber on your hands, your kid will love a class with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Learn rope work, safety systems, and get great views while rock climbing. Kids need to be aged 10 or up to join a group lesson (12+ to attend the class without an adult present). However, younger kids (with their parents) can also sign up for a private lesson. This personalized format allows the climbing guide to give their full attention to their young protégé.
There are two kinds of rafting in the Yosemite area. You can take a scenic float through Yosemite, or paddle through the whitewater rapids just west of Yosemite with one of the guide services there.
Get the family together for a relaxing downstream float through Yosemite Valley. You can rent a raft that holds 2-4 people at Curry Village. Kids need to weigh at least 50 lbs to go ride in a rental raft, and you need to have at least 2 capable paddlers on board (at least 5 ft. tall and 12 years old).
Whitewater rafting options are a little further away, but provide a rollicking ride through the waves on a guided rafting trip. Age requirements will depend on the river conditions, so be sure to check with the whitewater rafting guides ahead of time. In spring when the rivers are at their fullest and most wild this will only be appropriate for older kids, but younger kids will be able to join as the water levels drop in late summer.
We like to recommend Yosemite Trails for nearby trail rides. Yosemite Trails is a small family-run business, and these folks really know their horses. No previous experience necessary. You’ll get a quick riding lesson before you set off on the trail. You can sign up for one or two-hour rides through the beautiful Sierra National Forest and experience getting to cross a mountain stream on your mount. Kids need to be at least 7 years old.
You can also take a ride along the Wawona Loop Trail from the guides at the Wawona Stables. The Wawona Stables are even closer to the Redwoods In Yosemite cabins than Yosemite Trails, but a little less remote-feeling. The age requirement here is also 7 and up, and the kids also need to weigh at least 52 pounds and be at least 52 inches tall.
Best Places to Stay in Yosemite with Kids
Of course we’re biased, but we can’t say enough about how great the Redwoods In Yosemite rental cabins are for families visiting Yosemite National Park.
Vacation rental cabins give your family enough room to spread out while remaining together. This means that you can put the kids to bed, close the door, and still have some space for yourselves to relax and talk or watch TV. Or the kids can play happily in the living room while you’re making dinner or getting lunches together in the kitchen.
Rent a large cabin for extended family gatherings so there is room for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents too. Sometimes we also see extra-large family reunions split up into multiple cabins next to each other for a little extra space and privacy, with the convenience of having more family right next door.
Some cabins also have some laundry access. This is ideal if you have a couple of dirt-lovers in the family, and helps keep the luggage size under control by allowing you to clean as you go. In the winter months, the drier can also come in handy to ensure that jackets and other clothes are warm and dry for the next round of outdoor fun.
Older kids and adults will also find better internet connectivity in a private cabin compared to other in-park hotels. Now, this is the mountains, so you can’t expect city internet in the best of circumstances, but hotel internet is shared between all other hotel guests. That means that in the evenings when everyone is trying to connect sometimes even checking email can be an exercise in patience, to say nothing of trying to stream entertainment.
Note: Regardless of where you stay, plan ahead and download the kids’ movies before you travel to Yosemite. It’ll take less time in the long run, and you won’t have to worry whether the internet capacity is sufficient.
What to Pack for Kids in Yosemite
Of course, you’ll need the normal things you would pack for traveling with kids – diapers, wipes, water bottles, snacks, plenty of clothing, toiletries, etc. Plus, here are a few additional items that could come in handy for a visit to Yosemite.
- Strollers or Collapsible wagons. There are a lot of paved trails where you can use them. And also…
- Baby carriers and backpacks. Strollers aren’t always easy to wrangle.
- Car toys. It’s a big park, and if you want to visit different areas, the kids will be spending time in the car each day.
- Outdoor discovery tools. Binoculars, magnifying glasses, bird guides, or any number of nature apps make outdoor discovery even richer. We love the John Muir Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. It seems to contain all of the most common plants, animals, and even constellations that you’re likely to see.
- Pre-downloaded movies or other kid entertainment. Yeah, we just mentioned that above, but it’s worth repeating because mountain internet is likely to be slower than what you’re used to in the city.
- Foldable play mat / mini tent shades come in handy for impromptu nap time or just a comfortable place to stretch out for the little ones.
- Small first aid kit. Because letting kids run, jump and scramble in the woods is beautiful, and you might want to be ready with a few band-aids just in case.