Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County set the stage for epic family getaways, with the more children, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents tagging along the merrier. Yosemite’s iconic granite peaks and tumbling waterfalls put nature into a breathtaking perspective as they live up to the gravitas and glee of multigenerational travel. Burnish the family crest with a Sierra escape that honors your arc of generations.
Family time is dear, maybe now more than ever, and just around the bend, holidays are another natural for family gatherings. There are so many reasons to experience the timeless quality of Yosemite National Park with your family. Here are some ideas for great things to do in Yosemite with kids.
Walk This Way
The Yosemite Mariposa region is an elevated realm where national park outdoor recreation beckons. There’s a majesty about the Sierra that energizes and enlivens. Family bonds forge fast and true as kids, parents and grandparents stand shoulder to shoulder, marveling at Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Glacier Point, and Half Dome.
There’s a full playbook of hiking trails ranging from easy ambles to awesome ascents, both in the park and just outside in Mariposa County. Whether it’s a waltz through the wildflowers while the kids chase butterflies or a tango-up granite switchbacks, there’s a trail for everyone regardless of age or ability. You’ll feel that relaxing conversational rhythm as you walk with family, friends, and loved ones, making your time all the more rewarding.
Every level of fitness and mobility is welcome here. For wee ones and esteemed elders alike, many of Yosemite’s greatest hits are visible from parking areas and accessible vista points. For buffed boomers and cross-trained millennials, there are countless climbs to take it higher. Here are some of our favorite walks:
Bridalveil is one of Yosemite’s most heralded waterfalls, and its beauty is surpassed only by its ease of access. The short and paved trail to the base of the fall is gentle for all as well as wheelchair accessible and pet-friendly (after all, dogs are family, too).
(Note: The Bridalveil Fall Trail closed for the 2021-22 seasons as improvements were made to the trail)
El Capitan’s iconic granite walls dominate the west end of Yosemite Valley. At more than 3,000 feet above the valley floors, it’s 2.5x taller than the Empire State Building, 3x taller than the Eiffel Tower! Vista points where the views are sublime are Tunnel View, El Capitan Meadow and the long car pullouts along Bridalveil Straight.
Encompassing two powerful Yosemite Valley waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada, the Mist Trail follows a granite stairway where springtime hikers will be soaked by waterfall mist! The trail is really three in one: stage one to the Vernal Falls Footbridge is 1.6 miles roundtrip with a 400 foot elevation gain (moderate); stage two to the top of Vernal Fall is 2.4 miles roundtrip, with a strenuous 1,000 foot elevation gain; and stage 3 to the top of Nevada Fall is 5.4 miles roundtrip with a 2,000 foot elevation gain (all distances measured from the Happy Isles Trailhead). There are currently trail modifications in place, noted here.
The tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls begins high above Yosemite Valley, gushing over the granite rim with hydro fury in the spring and summer, and recharging with the storms of fall and winter. Hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls is a signature experience but not one for the faint of heart. It’s a seven-plus mile, 2,700-foot elevation gain with thrilling Yosemite Falls and valley vistas as the reward.
Pro tip: seek out the natural rock tubs at the top for soaking trail-weary legs before heading back down.
For an easier adventure with views of the falls, hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Loop which takes you right to the base of the giant falls plunge. Keep an eye out for the trail spur that leads to the site of the cabin the John Muir called his home for a few years.
There are great hikes outside of Yosemite National Park in Mariposa County. One of the most colorful is the Hite Cove Trail, teeming with wildflowers in the spring as it follows the south fork of the Merced River. After the early wildflower show, hikers up for steep sections can follow the trail all the way to an old mining ghost town about four and a half miles in.
Yosemite Roadside Attractions
Spending quality time with family is often its own best reward, and Yosemite Mariposa has great options from easy excursions to dashboard attractions that keep the expedition engaging.
No one forgets their first time as Yosemite Valley comes into crisp focus at Tunnel View. Grands will wax nostalgic about how it hasn’t changed; younger folk will always remember the day when they took their first Yosemite Valley selfie. Maybe the most vista point bang for buck in the entire Sierra range. No hiking or climbing required, just park and prepare to be awestruck. Take it from John Muir, who wrote:
The far-famed valley came suddenly into view throughout almost its whole extent: the noble walls, sculptured into endless variety of domes and gables, spires and battlements and plain mural precipices, all a-tremble with the thunder tones of the falling water.
A “family tree” for the ages, the Giant Sequoia is among the largest and oldest living things on earth. Mariposa Grove is home to about 500 of these mature titans ““ talk about multigenerational! The Grizzly Giant, the tallest and oldest tree in Yosemite National Park, is 209 feet tall and estimated to be 2,700 years old. From the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza parking lot, there is a trail system geared for visitor accessibility and engagement with interpretive signposts an easy walk away.
The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center offers exhibits on geology, history and local wildlife, not to mention an excellent 23-minute documentary on Yosemite National Park. Next door, the Yosemite Museum (est. 1925) displays the cultural history of Yosemite’s native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present including a reconstructed Ahwahnee village.
The Ansel Adams Gallery was established in Yosemite Valley in 1902 and today is a showcase of the Sierra “Range of Light” that Ansel Adams captured in his famous Hasselblad camera. The gallery has the most extensive collection of Adams’ original photographs for sale in the world, not to mention beautiful photo books and prints for the more modest budget.
The Northern Mariposa County History Center in Coulterville is filled with authentic nuggets of California Gold Rush history. With over 40 historical buildings and landmarks, Coulterville has a fascinating backstory filled with rogues-to-riches characters, and the Northern Mariposa County History Center spins it well.
Built in 1854, the Mariposa County Courthouse is the oldest superior courthouse still in use west of the Mississippi and of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the Gold Country. Here’s an idea: since you already brought the family together, why not tie the knot or renew vows here at this National Register of Historic Places building?
Where to Stay
Mariposa County has you covered with quality places to stay for multigenerational travelers. From luxury hotels and resorts such as Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, one of the most heralded family retreats in California, to vacation home rentals where everyone can stay comfortably and dine under one roof, there are myriad excellent options. These resorts have dining, events, and activities to entertain family of all ages, together or separately during the family down tine.
Whether gathering around a crackling fire or a fully-laden dinner table at the end of a magical Yosemite day, sharing stories of the past or dreaming of the future, this is where family is celebrated. So add to your legacy with a multigenerational visit and bring everyone together under one roof ““ the deep blue Yosemite Mariposa sky.
(Please contact destinations mentioned in this story for current hours of operation.)