A Complete 4-Day Itinerary in Yosemite With Young Kids
This past summer, we spent a long weekend in Yosemite with our kids, who are 6 + 3 years old. While the four days were busy, we were able to plan activities that everyone in the family enjoyed, and we also had a bit of downtime. Keep reading to learn more about our itinerary in Yosemite with young kids, which felt just busy enough to keep the kids entertained but relaxing enough for us to enjoy.
First, I recommend making a reservation at the Yosemite Lodge. It’s in the valley and makes bedtime a bit easier with small kids. Comfy beds, a private bathroom, and your own space make traveling with kiddos more comfortable.
Drive up through the South Entrance. I recommend getting to the entrance as early as possible. We actually left Southern California at one in the morning (yikes) and drove through the night. Another alternative is to say in Fresno the night before and drive to the park early in the morning to avoid crowds.
Normally, I recommend stopping at Mariposa Grove upon entrance, but parking can be tough to find in the valley. So if you’re traveling to Yosemite during a busy season, I would head straight to the valley and grab a parking spot.
Stop at Tunnel View for a photo op
As you drive into Yosemite from the south entrance, you will go through a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel is a parking lot next to one of the most scenic views in Yosemite. It was a great spot to stop and take in Yosemite before getting further into the Valley. Parking can get a bit crazy, later in the day so be sure to check this out early in the morning.
Grab breakfast at the Yosemite Valley Eatery.
After driving into Yosemite, it was nice to get out, stretch our legs, and have a yummy breakfast. I had the egg plate while the boys enjoyed pancakes and fruit. We were able to take our time, use the restroom, and fill up before starting our day.
Take a trip on the shuttle around the Valley floor.
We do this for three reasons. One, the boys love riding the shuttle so this keeps them entertained for about an hour and a half while we take the loop around the valley floor. Two, to get reacquainted with all the stops. Getting to see what is at each stop helps us plan the rest of our time there. And three, it also requires very little energy, so we can recharge after our drive into the park.
Hop off the shuttle and visit Lower Yosemite Falls
The short, flat trail to this iconic waterfall is very easy for kids. It’s not really a hike but more of a walk. Once you get to the base of the waterfall, grab some photos, feel the mist from the waterfall, and sit and take it all in.
Go swimming at the Valley Lodge pool
During the summer months, the pool is open to anyone visiting Yosemite. It’s a large pool with a beautiful view of Lower Yosemite Falls. Pool chairs and towels are available for free. Lifeguards are on duty too, which always gives me peace of mind.
Grab dinner at the Valley Grill
After cleaning up post-pool, we put the kids in our double stroller and then walk down to the Valley Grill. They have burgers, chicken dishes, and all sorts of other items to order. I was shocked at how reasonable the prices were compared to restaurants at home.
Stop at the Valley Store
Before heading back to our room at the lodge, we grabbed some quick breakfast items for the next few mornings. We stocked up on bagels, peanut butter, fruit, granola bars, and cereal — items we knew our kids would eat whether we were in our room or on the go. By having quick go-to breakfast items, we were able to be a bit more spontaneous in the mornings and let the kids sleep in.
Take a shuttle to Happy Trails
Happy Trails is located at stop #16 on the shuttle route. Aside from long lines during the busy season, it’s a great way to get to the other side oft he Valley if you’re looking to hike.
Hike up Mist trail
You will find that Mist Trail starts at the Happy Isles Trailhead. This is one of our favorite hikes because the views near the waterfall are so beautiful and refreshing. Doing this hike without kids is pretty easy, but now that we bring the boys along, it takes us a bit longer. This past year we each carried a kiddo in a hiking pack. As they have gotten bigger, this made the hike a lot harder.
But, we made it! Then we found a little spot to sit have a snack. The boys aren’t big enough to hike up the wet stairs on their own and we didn’t feel comfortable carrying them up in the packs. So my husband and I each took turns hiking up to Vernal Falls to get a glimpse.
Take the shuttle back to the lodge
After the hike, we were all happy to sit on the shuttle and rest for a bit until we got back to the Lodge.
Go for another swim in the pool
The pool was a perfect afternoon activity. Kids could rest on the pool chairs, sit at the side of the pool, or swim around. I love that the pool has a shallow end that is just a few feet deep, so Bambino could wade around as he felt comfortable. There were also pool sinkers that were available to use, which kept the boys busy.
Grab dinner at the The Mountain Room
This was our first time at the steakhouse. I made reservations on Open Table ahead of time. The service, food, and kid-friendly atmosphere were awesome. This was a nice reprieve from the typical grab-and-go dining experience throughout the rest of the park.
Take a walk around the meadow
After dinner we went for a walk along the path just south of the Yosemite Valley Lodge. It looped around, over the Merced River and along Southside Dr. The sun was starting to set and we saw deer. Park rangers were in the woods trying to scare away a bear. It was a gorgeous time for a walk.
You can rent bikes right next to the Yosemite Lodge Pool. The shop opens up at 8am, but I recommend getting there between 7-7:30am to wait in line. Bikes are rented as first come first serve. No reservations allowed. We rented two adult bikes then added a trailer to the back of one bike for Bambino to sit in. And added a tag along bike to the back of the other adult bike.
Visit the Yosemite valley museum
Before heading to the Valley Store to grab some lunch items, we rode over to the Yosemite Valley Museum. We watched a short video in a theatre on the history of Yosemite. Then let the kids explore the Native American buildings outside. The inside of the museum was under construction this year, but the outside is a perfect spot for kiddos to roam around.
Visit the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center
Run by the Sierra Club, this little stop along the way has a little bit of something for everyone. First air conditioning, if you need a break from the heat. Artifacts and descriptions about the history of Yosemite. And a little kids corner to allow kids to play, draw, and read.
Ride bikes to mirror lake
After gathering lunch items and exploring the museum, we rode our bikes to Mirror Lake. It’s about a 2.5-mile bike ride and relatively flat. There’s a spot to park bikes before hiking about a quarter mile to the lake.
Spend the day at mirror lake splashing around
We took a blanket, towels, sunscreen, and lunch in a backpack with us. The boys played in the sand, and we all swam in the lake. It was refreshing and a great way to spend a few hours on a hot day in the valley. We even got to see a snake in the water, which was a bit frightening.
Bike back and grab dinner at The Deck
We had to return the bikes by 6:30 pm, so we rode back to the rental spot to drop them off. After taking quick showers, we drove over to Curry Village and grabbed dinner. You could also take the shuttle or walk if you have the time and energy. After biking all day, we were ready to just pop over and get something to eat quickly.
The Deck was a great spot for pizza and beer. It was crowded, and seating is first come, first served, so we had to hover a little to grab a table. But once we had a table and food, the boys were on cloud nine.
Visit the Yosemite Valley Lodge Gift Shop
After getting back to the Lodge. We stopped in the Gift Shop to look for souvenirs. We always get a Christmas ornament when we travel. I’ve also enjoyed picking out T-shirts for us to have after our trip. The gift shop had all sorts of items: kids’ toys, postcards, clothing, magnets, bags, books… you name it!
Grab brunch at the Ahwahnee
This was another great dining spot. Again, I made reservations on Open Table ahead of time. The Ahwahnee serves a breakfast buffet with a little bit of everything from fruit to waffles to egg dishes to bagels and more. The atmosphere is a bit quiet, but our boys did great as long as their plates were full.
While we didn’t do it this time around, in the past, we have walked the grounds around the Ahwahnee. The river passes by and there are great little hiking trails for the kids to explore. They also have a great gift shop to visit with a variety of keepsakes to purchase.
Drive out to Mariposa Grove and hike around the big trees
As I said before, this is typically something we would do on the way into the park. But given that this year we went during the busy season, we saved this for the way out of the park. This might be my favorite part of Yosemite. The giant sequoia trees are breathtaking. The walking paths are manageable for kids. It’s just so peaceful.
After taking the shuttle up to the grove, you can take a quick loop around or follow the longer trail that takes you past some of the oldest trees in the area. I recommend taking water with you because it can get pretty hot and there isn’t anywhere to get water after you get on the shuttle.
Drive to the Sugarpine Railroad for lunch and afternoon train
We started visiting the Sugarpine Railroad when Chulengo was younger, and it’s been a regular activity for us each time we go to Yosemite. I recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time because they do sell out. A conductor takes you on an old steam engine train ride through the woods. You stop halfway through to get off and explore while they refill the engine with water.
The boys got to explore the inside of the engine, and we explored the grounds near the stop. The train ride is really peaceful, and the conductor does a great job talking about the history of the railroad and Yosemite. The do sell food, so it’s a great spot to get lunch too.
As our incredible 4-day Yosemite journey with our young adventurers came to a close, I had to take a moment to reflect on the unforgettable memories we all created together. The tough hike up Mist Trail to the brave moments swimming to the rock in Mirror Lake. With the awe-inspiring waterfalls, and the towering sequoias, each day had been a new chapter in our family’s exploration story.
I will head back home and remember that these moments, even the challenging ones, are building blocks of lasting bonds and a lifelong love for nature. I hope your next trip to Yosemite is just as inspiring and rejuvenating. Happy travels and endless adventures to come!