Yosemite National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After Sequoia we headed to Yosemite.  Yosemite spans nearly 1,200 square miles but the majority of the visitors stay within the seven square mile area know as Yosemite Valley.  Many of Yosemite’s well know features can be accessed or seen from the valley.  If you are pressed for time there is a tour that will show you the highlights of the valley.  Yosemite is a park that is good for all age groups and fitness levels.  Yosemite Valley is filled with bike and walking paths and has several short, easy to walk trails to some of its most popular features.  The only downside to Yosemite is that it draws nearly 3.7 million visitors each year, and considering the majority of them stay within seven square miles, the valley is very crowded during the summer.

Welcome to Yosemite Valley.  If you come to Yosemite from Fresno this is the view as you emerge from the tunnel into Yosemite Valley.  This is known as Tunnel View and there is a pull out on the left where you can take pictures so be prepared to turn as soon as you exit the tunnel.  Starting on the left, that tall granite cliff is El Capitan.  In the middle of the picture, at the very back, is Half Dome, and the waterfall on the right is Bridalveil Fall.  The sun rises over Half Dome so pictures from this view are better in the afternoon when the sun is behind you.  Word of advise, if you force your kids to be in the picture like we did make sure they have sunglasses and/or a hat.  Mine had neither and were complaining about the sun being in their eyes and then proceeded to have annoyed looks on their faces in the picture.

My two favorite activities in Yosemite were riding bikes around the valley floor and rafting down the Merced River, which runs right through the middle of the valley floor.  The activities were not inexpensive but worth every penny.  Bikes and rafts are rented in Curry Village.  We were here mid-June and were able to easily rent bikes but were told that later in the summer bikes sell out quickly each day.  Bikes can be rented by the hour or all day so I would suggest showing up early and renting for the day.  Because of all of the people in the valley it is hard to get around by car.  It is best to walk, bike or use the free shuttle bus system.  Biking is a popular method of transportation and not only do people rent bikes but many bring their own bikes to get around.

Admiring Upper Yosemite Fall

While on our bike adventure we rode to the Lower Yosemite Fall trail.  The trail is a really easy 1 mile round-trip walk along a paved path.

The kids looking up at Lower Yosemite Fall.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

Rafting is another fun activity.  The views of the park from the raft are spectacular!  The Merced River is mellow and perfect for families.  However, beware of children with oars.  I will leave names out of this story but one of my kids accidentally whacked the other kid in the head with an oar.  Of course, neither The Husband nor I actually saw this happen, we entered the story when one kid started screaming hysterically.  And then the other kid started crying because they accidentally hurt their sibling.  Nothing like floating down a river trying to solve a crisis.

We rented our raft after lunch and had to wait probably an hour for a raft.  There is a shuttle bus bringing back rafts and people all throughout the day.  Later in the summer I would imagine the line gets even longer so be prepared to wait.  It’s totally worth the wait but the line was in the sun so bring water and a hat with you.  Once you are rafting you will forget all about that hot line.  There are beaches to stop at all along the river.  We pulled over a couple times so the kids could play and so we could stretch out our afternoon.  It was an absolutely wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Half Dome from the Merced River

Upper Yosemite Fall from the Merced River

The family taking a break from our rafting adventure on the Merced River.

Glacier Point has spectacular views.  This would make a great stop coming into the park from Fresno.  We wanted to get out of the valley one day and took a trip up here.  It’s about an hour from the valley.  There used to be a lodge at Glacier Point but it burned down in 1969 and was not rebuilt.  In its place a visitor center was built.  The views from the hotel had to have been the best in the world.

The parking lot is crowed during peak season and makes it tough for larger vehicles, specifically RV’s, to find parking.  If at all possible I would suggest being a car or truck up here rather than your RV or check with the rangers to find out when the area is less crowded.  We were here mid-day and the parking lot was a mess.  Several people in RV’s had trouble finding places because all the RV spots were taken.

Half Dome from Glacier Point

Vernal Fall from Glacier Point

Nevada Fall from Glacier Point

This year we purchased a tripod for our camera and it turned out to be a worthwhile investment.  If you like family pictures I would suggest getting one.  We didn’t have to worry about asking anyone to take our picture.  We didn’t have to show anyone how to use our camera.  We didn’t have to worry about someone taking a terrible picture.  We set the camera to take 10 shots in sucession, set the auto timer and voila!  Family pictures.

Family picture at Glacier Point

It is always really important to know your limits, in anything you do, but especially when in nature.  There can be serious consequences for pushing yourself too far.  My family is active but we are not regular hikers so we try to be careful when picking hikes to not over do it.  You are only as strong as your weakest member so we have plan hikes based upon what that member can do, not what the stronger hikers can do.  I really wanted to see Vernal Fall and figured 1.5 miles would not be a problem.  I have a thing for waterfalls if you haven’t noticed.  Turns out the 1.5 miles is spread over a 1,000 foot gain in elevation.  It’s basically climbing up the side of a mountain.  Actually, that’s exactly what we did.  We only made it to the Vernal Fall Bridge, which was .8 miles and a 400 foot elevation gain.  We were all dragging (minus The Husband, he can out hike all of us) and as much as I really wanted to see Vernal Fall, we decided that it was safer to head back down the mountain.  These decisions are not always fun but they are smart.

Yosemite Search and Rescue has an insightful blog where they provide lessons from the field.  When we were in Yosemite we heard the rescue helicopter out every single day.  And sometimes more than once.  No one ever intends to get hurt, lost or stuck but the reality is that it can happen to anyone.  It’s important to know the risk factors involved in what you are doing and also where you are going.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Vernal Fall from the Vernal Fall Bridge

We often saw deer eating in grassy areas in the valley around dusk.

Half Dome at dusk

We stayed in Curry Village and it is such a fun area to stay in.  Yosemite has lodging for every preference, from camping all the way to luxury hotels.  One of my favorite things about Curry Village is the coffee bar!  Like a real coffee bar that makes delicious latte’s.  I was in heaven.  And in the afternoon the coffee bar turns into an ice cream shoppe.

There is an outdoor theater in Curry Village and they have a great children’s program – Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure.  It’s a fun program and it’s right next to the coffee bar/ice cream shoppe so depending on when you go, you can grab a drink or some ice cream and watch the show.  Curry Village also has a swimming pool.  If you are staying in Curry Village there is no charge; otherwise, there is a small fee per person.

We stayed in a hard sided cabin and I don’t know that I would stay in the cabin again.  We almost didn’t make it through our stay but we sucked it up and tried to act like adults.  Our cabin was slightly tilted and a family of daddy long legs lived in the bathroom, which did not go over well with Little Miss.  If I’m being honest, I wasn’t a fan either but I tried to pretend like they weren’t there.  Of all the spiders I would prefer daddy long legs but spiders still creep me out.  And…we could not keep the squirrels out of our cabin.  For real.  At first it was cute.  And then it was annoying.  The cabins do not have screen doors so if in the evening when it would have been nice to leave the door open to let in some cool air, or keep the door open so the kids could run in and out, we had to keep the door closed because the squirrels would run in and try to get into our food box.  Every time we would open the cabin door they would stop their running around in the grass out front, which was a lot of fun to watch, and dash for our door.

Curry Village also has soft sided tent cabins, which is what Curry Village is known for but I have a phobia of public showers.  I am trying to get over that but I am not there yet so we opted for the more expensive hard sided cabin that comes with a private bathroom.  Lodging in the National Parks fills up quickly, especially the more popular choices, so make your reservation early.  We tried to make reservations for Yosemite several months before wanting to go but lodging was already full so we had to wait until the following year.

Curry Village has a store and several places to eat, one being an outdoor pizza place.  The pizza was good (said The Husband and kids) and we enjoyed sitting on the deck in the evening after a day spent exploring the park.  The pizza deck also serves adult beverages and The Husband recommends the cadillac margarita.  There are lots of squirrels around the pizza deck and the kids enjoyed watching the squirrels run all over the place collecting scraps of food.  One evening a squirrel actually climbed into the garbage can.  If you are familiar with animal proof garbage cans you will know that this was not an easy task.  Little Miss was so worried about the squirrel not being able to get out that she went and found someone to open the garbage can.  She has such a big heart.

We happened to be in Yosemite on Father’s Day so we decided to have a nice dinner at the Mountain Room Restaurant.  The Mountain Room has a great view of Yosemite Falls and is a classy place to eat dinner.  The only downside is they do not accept reservations unless you have a party of more than 8.  We got there right when they opened and had to wait in line for a little bit but the food was really good.  At least the adult food was.  My kids were not thrilled about the kid options and one chose not to eat this particular evening.  My kids are fairly picky so hopefully you’ll have better luck.

Yosemite is definitely someplace to add to the bucket list.  Because of its popularity they have a very full activity schedule for every age group.  Be sure to check out the Yosemite website or your park newsletter for the full schedule.

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