If you are looking to spend some serious time in nature, look no further than Yosemite National Park. Less than four hours from the Bay Area, Yosemite will give you the fresh air, big trees and time away from technology that you’ve been yearning for. Follow our guide below and you’ll be ready for the most epic nature adventure!
Get Your Hike On
Hiking in Yosemite is a given. There are so many trails to explore that it can get a little overwhelming when deciding where to go. A kid favorite is the Tuolomne Grove Nature Trail because you are rewarded with some massive Giant Sequoias, including one you can walk through. It’s a mile downhill from the parking lot to the grove where you then take a half-mile loop to see all the sequoias.
The mile climb back uphill can be a little bit challenging for little legs but the route is paved and there are info stations along the way that explain the history of this road in the gold rush days. In the fall you’ll be rewarded with all shades of reds and oranges from the Dogwood trees.
A favorite hike for park visitors is the Mist Trail as you have the opportunity to see two waterfalls. Park at the Half Dome Village lot and take the free shuttle to stop 16. Walk across the bridge and you’ll find the trailhead. The hike is uphill for about a mile to reach the footbridge where you can get a great view of Vernal Fall, especially when the water level is high in spring and summer. The trail can get crowded but there are scenic spots to stop along the way for a snack and a hiking break.
Beyond this point you can continue to the top of Vernal Fall via a steep, granite staircase. This can be challenging for little ones so the footbridge is a good turnaround point. Ambitious climbers can continue on to Nevada Fall via the Mist Trail.
After you return to the trailhead, you’ll find a great spot to stop along the Merced River to have lunch and enjoy the water. Take the shuttle from stop 16 to stop 20 to return to the parking lot.
Make sure you set aside some time to spend exploring Yosemite Village. Grab some lunch fixin’s and souvenirs at the gift shop (it is huge—perfect to stock up on everything from hot cocoa to wine to grilling supplies). Take a break to watch the Spirit of Yosemite film at the visitor center to give the kids all the background info on Yosemite and how it came to be a national park.
The Yosemite Museum has hands-on exhibits where kids can learn all about the cultural history of Yosemite’s native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present. If you are lucky, you may even be able to see traditional skills presented by historians. Outside you can walk through a replica Miwok village to see how they lived.
Ranger programs are available throughout the year and seasonal activities (like ice skating in the winter) are also hosted at the village.
Insider tip: Do you have a 4th grader in your crew? Grab your free pass to the national parks through the Every Kid in a Park program and you’ll save yourself the $35 cost to get into the park.
Take a drive around the park and you’ll find loads of scenic vistas and photo opps galore. Make sure you check off all the biggies before you head home: Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View and the Sentinel Meadow. Find more info here.
Stay the Night
Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
Families looking for an amazing spot to stay while visiting Yosemite should book a villa at Rush Creek Lodge. Just outside the west park entrance, Rush Creek offers amazing views, rooms that are perfect for families and more on-site activities than you could imagine.
Hillside villas sleep up to six people—one room with two twin beds (or a king) and a second room with a king and pull out couch. All rooms come with a fridge, coffee maker and huge bathroom. You have tons of space to store your snacks and hang your coats when you walk in the door.
One thing you won’t find in your Rush Creek Lodge room is a TV. This deliberate effort to get people to head outside will be just the electronics break you need. If you need something to keep the kids busy while you enjoy a cup of coffee on your deck (we can all dream, right?), each room is stocked with games like Barrel of Monkeys and Yahtzee.
Warning, you might have a hard time getting the kids to venture off property when they see the massive game room and playground that awaits them at Rush Creek. The game room has a climbing “tree house” as well as pinball, shuffle board, pool, foosball and pretty much every board game you can imagine. Out on the deck you’ll find ping pong and darts.
Venture to the playground to ride on kid-sized ziplines, a massive slide and swings for the little ones. You can also play giant-sized games of Connect Four and checkers. Pull up an adirondack chair and enjoy the sunset as the kids explore.
The Recreation Team has daily activities planned from stargazing to tie dyeing to geode breaking. Evenings include s’mores by the outdoor fire pit (yes, nightly s’mores!) as well as fierce games of BINGO. The Rec Team can also suggest hikes, book you a massage or reserve you a spot on one of the hotel’s guided tours in Yosemite.
Other amenities at Rush Creek include a heated salt water pool, two hot tubs, both a tavern and a restaurant, and a lobby gift shop that serves fancy lattes and DIY trail mix pretty much all day. You can find laundry facilities and microwaves in the main lodge.
Rush Creek Lodge would be the perfect spot to plan your next vacation with the grandparents or family reunion.
Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
34001 Highway 120
From the Bay Area you’ll be taking highway 120 to reach Rush Creek and Yosemite. This drive will take you through Stockton where you can stock up on veggies and fruits from various farm stands along the way. If you are looking for an opportunity to get out of the car for a bit, swing by Harris Orchards in Ripon to see what’s in season. Our fall stop had apples, pomegranates and persimmons ripe for the picking! Summer bring stone fruits, cherries, grapes and more.
Just a short detour on your way to Yosemite will get you to the Jamestown 1897 Railpark where you can learn all about the area’s gold rush history. If you time your visit right, you can enjoy the park’s Polar Express train!
—photos and story by Kate Loweth
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Rush Creek Lodge but all of the opinions belong to the writer.