Detroit Mom’s Travel Series: Yosemite National Park

Our national parks are a true treasure. The diversity of landscapes and recreation can offer even a city-lover an opportunity to enjoy nature. The question is, with over 60 national parks to choose from, where do you start–especially, if you plan to visit with kids?

That was my question, as our family set a goal of visiting at least one national park per year. Yosemite National Park quickly rose to the top, as we discovered the family-friendly options the park offered. Additionally, we felt that this park would allow my six-year-old daughter to experience a variety of scenery and activities, helping to keep her interest during a week-long vacation. Here are some options to enjoy our nation’s third oldest national park!

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National park
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

Know Before You Go

Plan Ahead for Lodging

Lodging inside Yosemite fills up fast. If you want to stay in the park (which I highly suggest to avoid long, windy drives in and out of the park each day) look to make your reservation a year or more before your planned visit, especially if your travels place you in the park between April and October.

Consider Visiting in the Shoulder Season

Over 3.5 million visitors entered Yosemite park in 2022, with the majority of tourists coming between June and August. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the spring or fall. Spring brings roaring waterfalls and fall offers temperate weather with beautiful foliage.

Winter is the quietest season and the park remains open with unique experiences to be had. Just know that tire chains are required where posted, even for four-wheel-drive vehicles.

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

Entrance fees are required to visit Yosemite. You have two options to consider: you can pay $35 per vehicle, which is good for seven consecutive days to the park, OR the second option is the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80. This is a great option if you plan to stay longer than a week or if you plan to visit another national park or federal recreation site in a year. The annual pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase. If purchased online, allow for shipping time.

Check for Trail/Road Closures

Be aware that trails or roads may be closed due to construction or natural events, so check ahead to see if your plans may be impacted.

Half Dome Hiking Permits

Permits are required to hike Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome. You can apply for a permit during the preseason lottery, which is held in March, or you can try your luck in the daily lottery (applying for a weekday in the daily lottery gives you a better chance of success). Note that it is a very strenuous hike, and is not suitable for kids!

Top of Lembert Dome, Yosemite National Park

Hikes to Do With Kids

Lembert Dome

If you have an older child (or an adventurous younger child), Lembert Dome offers sweeping views from the top of its granite peak. It is a moderate hike, with an elevation change of 850 feet, but it really gave my daughter a sense of accomplishment once she made it to the top!

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was my daughter’s favorite day in Yosemite. We walked the two-and-a-half mile Grizzly Giant Loop, which took us past some of the famous trees in the grove such as the Bachelor and Three Graces, the California Tunnel Tree, and of course the Grizzly Giant.

Sentinel Dome Trail

The two-mile Sentinel Dome Trail hike offered panoramic views of the park, including Half Dome and El Capitan. Plus views of Yosemite Valley!

Vernal Falls

We accessed Vernal Falls using the Mist Trail. There are many options of trail length and elevation gain, depending on the ages and endurance of your kids. My husband and I continued on past Vernal Falls (thank you, grandparents!) up to Emerald Pool, then to Nevada Falls, and looped back to our starting point via the John Muir Trail.

Yosemite Lower Falls

This is an accessible one-mile hike that takes you to the base of Yosemite Falls. But bring rain gear if you are visiting in spring or early summer (which is the best time as the waterfall is flowing at its peak) as the mist from the falls can leave you drenched!

Best Views

The best views of Yosemite can be found at:

Activities That Are NOT Hiking

Ansel Adams Gallery | open year-round

This fine art and photography gallery boasts a beautiful collection of prints and artwork. It also offers photography workshops.

Tenaya Lake | open late May/early June through November

The crystal clear waters of this alpine lake are the perfect spot for a picnic. Michiganders can probably brave the chilly waters for a swim!

Yosemite Valley Bike Path | open March/April through October 27

Explore the park from a different vantage point via the 12 miles of flat, paved bike trails. Bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and tag-along bikes for kids are available to rent at Yosemite Valley Lodge and Curry Village Recreation Center.

Yosemite Valley Floor Tour | open year-round

We found this to be a great introduction to Yosemite on our first full day in the park. The Yosemite Hospitality naturalist, who led our tour, highlighted the history and nature inside the park, in-between designated stopping points. Depending on when you visit Yosemite, the tours are offered in an open-air tram or a heated motor coach.

Bonus Tips for Yosemite National Park

  • Print the Yosemite National Park Junior Ranger Handbook for fun and informative activities for your child to complete during their visit.
  • Depending on where you are in the park, cell phone reception can be spotty. Download any maps or information to your phone before entering the park.
  • Get to the park early to beat the crowds and the traffic!

What’s your favorite vacation spot? Check out our previous Travel Series location–Sturgeon Point Lighthouse!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.