Over the summer, my kids and I took in the three national parks that make up the Majestic Mountain Loop in California, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We first checked out the huge sequoia trees at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, then headed north to explore Yosemite National Park.
Among the most visited national parks, Yosemite has a lot of acreage to explore. We had just two days to see the park and between the waterfalls, scenic lookout points and hiking trails, I knew we weren’t going to be able to see it all (or even come close).
To make the most of your visit, enter the park from the South Gate (Oakhurst), which is where you’ll enter if you also choose to explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Take a look at 10 things you must do during your Yosemite National Park visit. Have fun. 🙂
1. Stay Near the Park Entrance. If you aren’t planning to stay inside the park, stay very close to the entrance because Yosemite is a very large park. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn in Oakhurst, which was about 15 minutes from the South Gate. There’s an outdoor pool, a playground, even a replica of the Statue of Liberty (go figure).
Even closer is Tenaya Lodge, which is located in Fish Camp and is also very close to Yosemite’s South Gate. We ate dinner there at Sierra Restaurant our second night in town. The food was delicious and they had a lot of fun items on the Kids Menu, like “Why the Chicken Crossed the Road” (grilled BBQ chicken sandwich) and “Molly’s Crispy Chicken Strips” (a favorite with my own daughter, Molly).
2. Stop at the Happy Isles Nature Center. Take a break and stop in the Happy Isles Nature Center during your Yosemite National Park visit. There you’ll find wildlife exhibits and interactive displays. There are also several trails nearby, including a 1.5-mile trail to Vernal Fall.
3. Ride on an Old-Time Steam Train. In Fish Camp, near the South Gate, make a stop at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Sit back and enjoy the one-hour steam train ride as you learn about the history of the logging industry in the area. Trains depart several times each day.
4. Have a Picnic at Swinging Bridge. Pack a picnic lunch and plan to stop at one of the picnic tables at Swinging Bridge. There’s plenty of space for kids to run around. As a bonus, be awed by the spectacular views of Yosemite Falls.
5. Attend a Ranger-Led Program. It’s a must to attend a ranger program. You and your kids can learn about wildlife safety, geology, history and native animals. Pick up the Yosemite Guide when you arrive or go online ahead of time to check out the schedule for the day(s) you’ll be at the park.
6. Hike to Yosemite Falls. Take one of the park shuttle buses to the Yosemite Falls bus stop for an easy one-mile hike to Lower Yosemite Fall. The short walk offers fantastic views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. Little ones will love getting sprayed by water when standing on the footbridge.
7. Enjoy an Old-Fashioned Campfire. Most evenings, look for a one-hour Junior Ranger Campfire at the Happy Isles Nature Center. It’s a fun way to end a busy day in the park and a great way to learn more from the resident park rangers.
8. Stamp Your Passport (Multiple Times). First, buy a Passport to Your National Parks. You can buy one online for $8.95 or you can buy one at the park visitors center during your Yosemite National Park visit. Then, keep your eyes open for cancellation stamps. There are a handful of stamps, including stamps that can be found at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Happy Isles Nature Center.
9. Take the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour. This two-hour open-air tram tour is a great way to get your bearings at Yosemite as park rangers introduce the must-sees, like Half Dome, Tunnel View and El Capitan. Trams depart every hour during from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in Yosemite Valley.
10. Become a Junior Ranger. My kids love earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program. You can pick up an activity booklet at any visitors center inside the park. While booklets are free at most national parks, they’re $3.50 each at Yosemite National Park.