10 Top Things to do with Kids in Yosemite National Park

“Hold your breath kids, we are almost there!” We honk the horn and tell our kids to hold their breath as long as possible through the, almost 1 mile, long tunnel at the entrance to Yosemite Valley.
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Girl sitting on rock wall at Glacier Point. Photo by Michelle McCoy

“Hold your breath kids, we are almost there!” We honk the horn and tell our kids to hold their breath as long as possible through the, almost 1 mile, long tunnel at the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Every time we make it through and drive into the sunshine on the other side we are all awe-struck at the amazing Yosemite Valley spread out before us. We see Bridalveil Falls on the right, the towering El Capitan on the left, and the iconic Half Dome straight ahead. We have to stop to take a picture, because everybody does, but we can’t wait to pile back in the car for the fun, adventure, and beauty that awaits us in Yosemite Valley. Here are the Top 10 things that I’ve discovered, that are great for kids in Yosemite National Park.

Click on images to enlarge

10. Gaze Up at the Giant Sequoias

Toddler hugging a Giant Sequoia at Yosemite

The Giant Sequoias are not the tallest trees in the world but they are the largest! Kids will have to gaze up high to see the tops of the 200 feet trees. While the Mariposa Grove is closed for renovations until 2017, there are two other groves of giant sequoias in the park - the Tuolumne and Merced groves. Keep an eye out for the sequoia cones. The kids will be surprised that such a small cone can produce such a giant tree!

9. Wade in the Meandering Merced River

Kids swimming in the Merced River at the Housekeeping Camp Beach with the Half Dome in the Background. Photo by Grant Ordelheide

No matter where you are on the river, it’s always great to stick your toes in! The Merced River flows through the valley floor as a quiet and gentle river in the summer: great for rafting, wading and swimming. During the spring, water levels can be rapid and high enough to be dangerous, but the summer heat makes the very cold water enticing. Look for quiet and shallow swimming holes with sandy banks such as the ones near Happy Isles, Housekeeping Camp, Stoneman Bridge, Superintendents Bridge, or El Capitan Meadow.

8. Get Sworn in as a Jr. Ranger

National Park Junior Ranger Program

After they complete a small workbook, go to a ranger program, and pick up some trash around Yosemite: kids can wear their Jr. Ranger badge with pride! Along the way they will learn about the wildlife in the park, and pick up some amazing info from the rangers. The kids will love the experience and be honored to be a Yosemite Jr. Ranger.

7. Roast Marshmallows, Sing Campfire Songs, and yell “ELMER!”

There are Yosemite legends of a boy who got lost in Yosemite Valley one summer evening about 60 years ago. Campers started yelling his name, “Elmer!” while looking for him and noticed how the sound echoed off the valley walls. Every evening campgrounds still echo with kids shouting “Elmer!” and laughing as the call goes from campsite to campsite. Get reservations for campgrounds at www.reserveamerica.com.

6. Gaze at the Valley Floor from Glacier Point

Mother and Daughter at Glacier Point in Yosemite

You might lose your breath looking down from Glacier Point to the Valley Floor, which is 3,200 feet below, but the stunning vista will be worth it. Don’t worry. There is a very safe stone wall enclosing the viewing area, but it still is a good idea to hold onto kids. From Glacier Point, you can see all across the Sierra range, down to the Grand Staircase of Vernal and Nevada Falls. Stay for the night to see the full moon rise, or for an astronomy night of shining stars.

5. Hike the Alpine Meadows in Tuolumne Meadows

Leaning against a glacier boulder near Tuolumne Meadows. Photo by Roy Luck via Flickr

Take a hike in the high country of Yosemite in Tuolumne Meadows. Glacier carved domes, gentle rivers, and stunning scenery can all be seen from relatively flat trails along the meadow. It’s a longer drive to Tuolumne Meadows, but with a Visitor Center, camp store, and campground, families will find all they need to enjoy a stay in this quieter section of Yosemite.

4. Watch the Wildlife Graze in the Twilight on the Meadow

Deer in a meadow in Yosemite

As the sun sets and casts it’s glow on the face of Half Dome, the meadows below come alive. Deer set out to quietly graze, flowers bloom, and bats scurry in the air. We have counted no less than 20 deer in an evening, and have gazed intently at the velvety horns of the bucks. You can watch an evening primrose bloom in the space of 3 minutes and then be pollinated by a moth.

3. Eat Huge Scoops of Ice Cream in Half Dome Village

Nothing can be better than eating a huge scoop of ice cream on a warm summer afternoon. The ice cream station in Half Dome Village (previously called Curry Village) is very generous with their scoops and variety of flavors. Take your ice cream outdoors and eat under the cliff of Glacier Point. The view is incredible, but the ice cream may be more enjoyable.

2. Ice Skate Under the Cliff of Half Dome

Ice skating at the rink in Half Dome Village. Photo by Margaret Napier via Flickr

Every winter when the waterfalls freeze, an outdoor ice rink is set up on the valley floor. Families can strap on ice skates and glide around the rink with a view of Half Dome right in front of them. There probably isn’t a more majestic view when ice skating in Yosemite Valley. Don’t forget a steaming mug of hot chocolate when the session is done, right nearby in Curry Village.

1. Get Sprayed by a Waterfall

Family-friendly trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.

The thundering waterfalls of Yosemite Valley are well known by most visitors. What makes them even more special is getting up close to them. Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls both have easy hikes leading to their bases. In the spring with the snow melt, visitors don’t have to get very close to get sprayed by the mist of the falling water. Although the rocks in the creeks below are VERY slippery, with caution guests can climb down and find sparkling streams to play in and enjoy. The waterfalls of Yosemite are not to be missed, no matter the season!

Michelle McCoy is a guest contributor and a family-travel guroo for SoCal who loves to share her adventures with 4 kids on trekaroo.com.