Like most families, we’ve been in some sort of shelter-in-place since March and in desperate need of a change of scenery. With so many trips canceled this year due to COVID (reminiscing over a Paso Robles 40th birthday celebration here), we still wanted to get away, but in a safe way that would give us the sense that we were on vacation but also not around crowds.
I researched a bunch, looked at FB groups and talked to people who have gone on vacation. Little did I know there are SO MANY BEAUTIFUL PLACES here in CA that I even (I know) got excited about the possibility of camping (I mean glamping- this girl doesn’t do camping) in the middle of a forest and roast marshmallows at night. We looked at hotels near beaches but decided it wasn’t worth the risk to be around a lot of people. We also looked at driving to Southern California and just renting a house with a pool but we didn’t want to make a long drive for a house unless we were going to Disneyland (*insert sad face*).
Ultimately, we decided on Yosemite because I had never been, we could socially distance, and could see some pretty amazing sites. We found an adorable AirB&B log cabin about an hour away from the park and even though it didn’t not have a pool, could totally pass for a Goldilocks and the 3 Bears house. It had bunk beds, a log swing on the front porch, bear decor throughout the house and even a jet tub. My 3 and 5 year old were SOLD. My mother-in-law got presents for the kids on the way to (and from) Yosemite to open in the car, backpacks full of nature scavenger hunt tools (magnifying glass! bug catcher!) and even wrapped a Lincoln Logs set for the cabin. It made the trip that much more special.
If you are thinking about taking a family trip to Yosemite and have little ones, here are some things we learned along the way that worked and didn’t work.
- Where to Stay– We looked a lot of places, but ultimately decided on the log cabin because it was extremely isolated and had a ton of open space for the kids to run around freely. The bunk beds were a big hit, and we were very comfortable there. The drive to Yosemite was about an hour away which didn’t seem like a big deal, but after doing that for 3 days, we decided it was just too long of a drive. On one of the days we drove to Tenaya Lake which was about 2 hours away and we ended up being on the road more than we wanted to. We tried to make it fun with games like “hold your breath!” when going under tunnels and “how many trees can you count?”, but we could tell the kids were just itching to get out of the car after about a half hour.
2. Lakes- It was hot when we went, so finding a place that was either a creek or lake proved to be the best way to cool off the kids after some hiking. We stumbled on Swinging Bridge on our drive back home and decided to stop. The creek was great and the kids loved dipping their toes in the cool water. They threw rocks, played with sand and chilled out for a bit. Everyone was in a better mood after that and promptly passed out in the car on the way back. The only negative is its popularity, so the longer we stayed, the more crowded it got and with not everyone wearing a mask, we decided it was time to head out. Tenaya Lake was also not only beautiful, but the kids could go all the way in the water and swim for a bit. It was cold, but we spent a good 2 hours there.
3. The Hikes– We are not big hikers. I’m from Texas, so we spend most of our time indoors (hello, 105 degree humid weather). The hikes were also tough for a 3 and 5 year old. The first hike we attempted was Mariposa Grove. All of our research said it was an easy 2 mile hike with toddlers and babies. Our kids lasted about a half hour before the “I’m hot!” and “this is boooooring” happed and we ultimately turned around and went somewhere else. We felt better seeing other families on the way down telling us “yeah, we didn’t make it either” and “wow, you guys made it this far, nice job!”. It’s just not doable for the little ones UNLESS hiking is something you do as a family regularly or your kids are older. We did another hike the next day that we managed to finish, but there was plenty of whining and snack breaks. A 2 mile hike took us a bit over 2 hours, and we had to haul a stroller for the kids to take a break. It was tough but we made it. The last hike we did was Lower Yosemite Falls and that one by far was the best. Paved the entire way, no big uphill or downhills, and mostly shaded. The kids were happy, climbed on rocks and collected acorns along the way. It was by far the best experience for everyone involved.
4. The Views: There are plenty of amazing views in Yosemite, which we wanted to check out, but the kids didn’t care about. We planned our route to pass by these views, get out for a couple of minutes, take pictures and then continue on our trip. It was totally worth it to see El Capitan, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, and some of the waterfalls, and the park makes it so easy to just jump out, take some pictures and stay as long (or little) as you want. Speaking of waterfalls, a lot of them were dry or low when we went, so I suggest looking on the Yosemite website to see which ones are flowing. They even have a webcam set up in real time to see if it’s worth going.
Overall we had a great time, and would totally go again. If going with little kids, I would skip the hikes (or just do the paved, easy ones) and go to the creeks and lakes. It was just not worth it if everyone wasn’t happy. Even if we would’ve made it up to Mariposa Grove and seen the giant Sequoia trees, the kids would’ve surely been in mid-meltdown and we wouldn’t have been in our best mood to take it all in.
As always, take all the snacks and as many breaks as possible. Everyone will have more fun if bellies are full. I felt like our bag of snacks just got bigger and bigger every day we went out because we knew it was key. Naps were taken in the car and although we’ve got our little one on a pretty consistent schedule at home, we threw all that out so we didn’t have to stress about being back at the cabin at a certain time. Our 5 year old also zonked out in the car a few times, which allowed the grown-ups to enjoy the beautiful views on the way back to the cabin. The later naps also made time for movie night, s’mores outside and extended bubble baths in the jet tub.
As far as Yosemite itself, we felt safe and I would recommend it. Most people knew to socially distance, although mask wearing was about 50/50. We saw people who had everyone in their party wearing a mask and staying more than 6 feet away, and also saw people who had no mask in site and walked right in front of us mid-conversation. All you can do is make sure your family is doing what’s most comfortable to you in order to keep everyone safe, healthy and sane.