Family-Friendly Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is the ultimate family-friendly destination, offering easy hikes, educational programs, scenic drives, picnic spots, and adventure activities. Its breathtaking landscapes and rich history make it perfect for creating unforgettable memories with kids of all ages.


1. Kid-Friendly Hikes

 

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Lower Yosemite Fall Trail: This easy, 1-mile round-trip hike is perfect for families with young children. The paved trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, providing an up-close view of the cascading waterfall. The short duration and minimal elevation gain make it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

Mirror Lake Loop: A slightly longer but still manageable hike is the Mirror Lake Loop. This 2-mile round-trip hike offers beautiful views of Half Dome and reflections in the serene lake. It’s a great spot for a family picnic and a bit of wading in the shallow waters.

Yosemite's Happy Isles Art and Nature Center (Kristin Anderson)

Happy Isles Art and Nature Center: This family-oriented space features short, easy trails that are both educational and engaging. Families can explore the surrounding area, learn about the local flora and fauna, and participate in hands-on exhibits that make nature fun and accessible for kids.

The view from Happy Isles Bridge (Photo by Mark Stevens)

2. Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger Program is a fantastic way for children to learn about Yosemite while earning badges and certificates. Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at any visitor center and complete a series of activities designed to educate them about the park’s natural and cultural history. Once the activities are completed, they can attend a ranger-led program and receive their official Junior Ranger badge.

 

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3. Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Museum

The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Museum offer numerous educational opportunities for families. Interactive exhibits, informative displays, and historical artifacts provide insights into the park’s geology, ecology, and history. The museum also offers ranger-led programs and films that can enrich the visitor experience.

 

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4. Best Picnic Areas

 

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Cathedral Beach Picnic Area: Located along the Merced River, this spot offers stunning views of El Capitan and ample space for picnicking and swimming. Note it is not wheelchair accessible.

 

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Swinging Bridge Picnic Area: With views of Yosemite Falls and access to the Merced River, this area is perfect for a relaxing family picnic.

Yosemite's Church Bowl Picnic Area (Photo by National Park Service)

Church Bowl Picnic Area: Let the views of Half Dome and Glacier Point across Ahwahnee Meadow inspire you as you enjoy a picnic. Picnic tables and grills are available at this scenic spot as well as potable water and flush toilets.

5. Scenic Drives

 

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Glacier Point Drive: This scenic drive takes families to Glacier Point, offering breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. The drive is complemented by several overlooks and short trails.

 

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Tioga Road: This road traverses Yosemite’s high country, providing access to stunning alpine scenery, meadows, and several beautiful lakes. It’s ideal for families looking to explore different parts of the park.

6. Adventure Activities

Horseback riding: This is a fantastic way for families to explore Yosemite’s backcountry. Stables in Yosemite Valley offer guided rides suitable for all ages and experience levels, allowing families to experience the park from a unique perspective.

 

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Rafting on the Merced River: During the summer, families can rent rafts and float down the Merced River. This gentle activity offers a refreshing way to see Yosemite Valley’s iconic sights while enjoying the water. Safety gear and instructions are provided, making it a fun and secure activity for children.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad: Just outside the park, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers a delightful excursion for families. This historic steam train ride takes passengers through scenic forests, providing a glimpse into the area’s logging history. The experience includes gold panning and a museum, adding an educational twist to the adventure.

Yosemite National Park is a treasure trove of family-friendly activities that blend education, adventure, and natural beauty. Yosemite awaits your family’s next great adventure!


Yosemite: Beyond the Valley

Yosemite Valley provides exciting adventures for hikers, but peak season crowds can diminish the experience. Thankfully, many hidden gems lie beyond the valley, ready to be discovered.


Situated in California’s famed Sierra Nevada Mountains, the stunning waterfalls and high-elevation views of Yosemite National Park are a hiker’s dream.

Carved by ancient glaciers, its iconic U-shaped valley features unique topography, including glacial megablocks, waterfalls, and domes. The park is among the top 10 most visited national parks in the United States, boasting millions of visitors every year.

If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite, you’re probably thinking about doing the popular Yosemite Falls Trail with its breathtaking views of the valley, Half Dome, and Upper Yosemite Fall. Or maybe the Mist Trail is on your itinerary with its intimate view of Vernal Fall, vibrant plant life and dramatic ascent up a giant staircase to the top.

Yosemite Valley offers tons of unique and thrilling experiences. However, the crowds of hikers in popular seasons can detract from your experience. Thankfully, there are dozens of great hikes—and plenty of other adventures—in less-visited areas beyond the valley.

 

Watch Parks Channel creator National Park Diaries make the case for why Yosemite should be considered America’s first national park.

 

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1. Wawona

Wawona is an expansive mid-elevation basin in the southern part of the park. It’s home to giant sequoias and one of the largest mountain meadows in the High Sierra.

The area was originally inhabited by the Ahwahnechee, part of the Southern Sierra Miwok tribe. Many Native American artifacts can still be found, including mortar rocks used to prepare food, as well as arrows and spear tips that serve as reminders of the region’s rich indigenous history. (Remember to always leave artifacts where you find them.)

The town of Wawona is located entirely within Yosemite and precedes the establishment of the park. It serves as a gateway to the southern areas of the park and is known for several historic buildings, including the Wawona Hotel, a classic Victorian resort and National Historic Landmark.

Lower Chilnualna Fall, Yosemite National Park (Photo by Nicolas Barcet/flickr)

Wawona’s clear rivers are perfect for water activities in the summer. Its abundant wildlife—including rare birds like the Great Gray Owl and aquatic creatures such as Western Pond Turtles—add natural beauty to its streams. For photographers, relaxed vacationers and thrill seekers, this location earns a spot on every visitor’s itinerary.

Popular attractions

 

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Chilnualna Falls: A long and steep hike with a rewarding payoff—a comparatively deserted trail boasting beautiful cascades and three picturesque waterfalls. The popular Mist Trail, on the other hand, has only two waterfalls and swarms of people blocking your view!

 

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Wawona Swimming Hole: During the late spring and summer months, enjoy tubing down rapids or read a book while relaxing in a cold, crystal clear river. There is also a swinging bridge at this location for the daredevils of your group.

 

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Yosemite History Center: Are you looking to complement your hiking trip with an enriching historical experience? See rustic cabins and unique exhibits—such as the long-abandoned Chinese Laundry—and get a fascinating glimpse into the community that flourished during the Gold Rush.

2. Hetch Hetchy Valley

Just over an hour’s drive up to the quiet northwest corner of the park, this area is known for biodiversity and grandeur that rival Yosemite Valley. Hetch Hetchy is perfect for hikers and features impressive waterfalls, sprawling granite cliffs and domes, and abundant wildflowers due to its low elevation.

Like Wawona, this beautiful valley was cherished by indigenous people until a decision was made to flood it to create the reservoir. The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was formed by the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River and serves as a water supply for the city of San Francisco and surrounding areas. The valley was historically home to the Miwok and Paiute Native American tribes and had significant cultural and environmental importance to these indigenous communities. The construction of the dam has been a subject of controversy since its inception in the early 20th century.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (Photo by Everett Powers/flickr)

The name “Hetch Hetchy” translates to “edible grasses,” likely due to its abundance of acorns and edible plants. With one of the longest hiking seasons in the park, Hetch Hetchy offers visitors the flexibility to explore its trails almost year-round, providing hikes of all difficulty levels.

Popular Attractions

 

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Wapama Falls Trail: Hike along the reservoir’s edge on a moderate 5-mile round-trip, with a great view at the base of Wapama Falls. During spring, adventurous hikers can cross the bridges below the falls and experience a refreshing mist from the cascade.

O’Shaughnessy Dam: Though its 1919 construction spurred controversy, this 430-foot dam remains an impressive sight. Hikers can take a short, 2-mile hike up to Lookout Point, offering a sweeping view of the reservoir and its backdrop of glacier-carved granite cliffs. The Wapama Falls trail also takes hikers on a scenic walk across the dam.

Evergreen Lodge: After a long day of hiking and spectacular views, hikers can kick back at a tranquil cabin in the woods, cool off in the pool or hot tub, lay in a hammock, or if they still have energy, enjoy the thrill of Evergreen’s ziplines. Known for its terrific restaurant, Evergreen Lodge is ideal for tired visitors ready to relax.

3. Tuolumne Meadows

Prefer the tranquility of high elevation views? Accessible via Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows involves an 8,600-foot ascent to a subalpine meadow. This magnificent area features picturesque lakes, trails up its distinctive domes, and a backdrop of mountain peaks accessible by cross-country skis.

Known for its amazing campsites, gorgeous alpine lakes, and secluded hikes, Tuolumne Meadows appeals to novice hikers and families who want to explore the scenery without much of a challenge.

Fun fact: The water sources at Tuolumne Meadows are so clean they require minimal water treatment. The Tuolumne River originates here, flowing through the meadows and eventually reaching Hetch Hetchy which accounts for the vast majority of drinking water in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Popular Attractions

Tuolumne Meadows (Photo by Joyce Cory, flickr)

 

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Pothole Dome: Situated on the western edges of the meadow, a short half-hour hike leads up a smooth, granite dome with panoramic views of Tuolumne Valley, the river, and the surrounding mountains. This spot is rarely crowded, giving hikers a unique opportunity to enjoy Yosemite’s peace and quiet all to themselves.

 

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Cathedral Lakes: For hikers who prefer a longer journey, this 8.2-mile round-trip features the pristine lakes of the High Sierra, reflecting the stunning alpine scenery on the famed John Muir Trail. One of the most popular attractions in Tuolumne Meadows, the subalpine landscape sets the meadows apart from other parts of Yosemite.

 

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Tenaya Lake: Looking for a prime swimming spot without the effort of a long hike? Tenaya Lake—named after Chief Tenaya, of the Yosemite Indians—is 7 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road. It offers visitors rocky and sandy beaches, as well as canoeing and tubing.

4. Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

This location is often ignored by visitors, partly because of the popularity of neighboring trails, and partly because of its initially unkempt appearance with fallen trees and sparse vegetation.

However, a short and easy-to-moderate hike rewards visitors with arguably the most fantastic view of Yosemite. Located along the road up to Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome offers a 360-degree view of the park including Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite and Nevada Falls, and much more.

 

Watch how NatureBridge connects young people to the wonder and science of Yosemite.

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (Photo by Dawn Endico, flickr)

Popular Attractions

Fallen Jeffrey Pine: The fallen Jeffrey Pine on Sentinel Dome is one of Yosemite’s most photographed trees, celebrated for its poetic beauty and twisted, rugged appearance. Perched on the park’s second-highest point, the iconic tree, which died in 2003, was shaped by its harsh, high-altitude environment.

Taft Point: Hikers can extend their trek with one of the best photography spots in Yosemite Park. The trail is connected to Sentinel Dome, so both viewpoints can be seen in a single day. Taft Point stands on a vertical cliff with an impressive view of Yosemite Valley with notable cracks in the granite that help form a dramatic landscape. Ideal for sunset views and pictures, it tends to be less crowded than Sentinel Dome.

5. Mariposa Grove

Hikers looking for an especially memorable experience should check out the giant sequoias, exclusive to the western Sierra Nevada. These colossal redwood trees are among the oldest and largest trees on the planet, a surreal sight that no Yosemite visitor should miss.

The largest concentrations of giant sequoias are found in Mariposa Grove, which boasts a community of more than 500 giant sequoias. Famous trees to look for include the Grizzly Giant, California Tunnel Tree, and the Bachelor and Three Graces. The grove is found in the southern part of the park and is accessible by a shuttle or 2-mile hike from either Washburn Trail or Mariposa Grove Road.

Follow Alice Ford on a winter journey to Yosemite and Mariposa Grove.

Mariposa Grove (Photo by Robert Brett)

Popular Attractions

 

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Grizzly Giant Loop Trail: A moderately difficult 2-mile loop, beginning at the Big Trees Loop, this trail takes hikers on a tour of all three of the famous trees, the Grizzly Giant being the largest in the grove.

Guardians Loop Trail: For visitors looking for a more challenging and enriching hike, this 1.5-mile loop has unique features including the Wawona Tunnel Tree. Cut in the early 1880s to attract tourists, it unfortunately collapsed in the late 1960s. Other attractions include the Telescope Tree, a hollow sequoia, and Mariposa Grove Cabin, an iconic and quaint cabin originally constructed by Galen Clark who was known as the first European American to discover Mariposa Grove.

 

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Big Trees Loop Trail: Ideal for casual hikers, families, and people with disabilities, this flat loop takes visitors on a 0.3-mile trek past giant sequoias including the impressive Fallen Monarch tree, which highlights just how massive these redwood trees are even after they meet their end.

6. Yosemite Creek Campground

Just an hour north of Yosemite Valley, this location is perfect for campers looking to settle in the midst of stunning scenery and views of famous landmarks. Situated not far from the popular trails and attractions in Yosemite Valley, it’s also near Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows and more. It is only available by reservation—and it’s closed for 2024 for upgrades—so make sure to check for updates and plan in advance.

 

Learn more about visiting Yosemite from Parks Channel creators.

Yosemite Creek Campground (Photo by BG Washburn/Flickr)

Popular Attractions

Yosemite Creek Trail: The trail offers a tranquil alternative to the busy valley, accessing valley landmarks like El Capitan while uncovering hidden waterfalls and serene landscapes.

 

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Olmsted Point: Get ready for breathtaking panoramic views of Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest. Named after landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and his son, it provides a unique perspective of Yosemite’s rugged beauty and is accessible via Tioga Road, making it a must-see spot.

While the famous landmarks of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan rightfully capture most visitors’ attention, there are countless unique experiences beyond the valley. From the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove to the lakes and streams of Wawona, these lesser-known spots offer a tranquil escape from the tourist hotspots in the valley. Deepen your connection to Yosemite’s beautiful landscapes and explore some of the hidden gems of this beloved national park.

 

Top photo of Mariposa Grove by Marty Aligata