During our recent summer holidays (to visit the grandparents in California), we decided to take a trip to Yosemite National Park. When I was a little girl, my family did a similar trip to Yosemite and I wanted my boys (ages 6 & 8) to experience the same thing.
For those of you not familiar with Yosemite, Yosemite National Park is located in Northern California and is “best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and so much more.”
We stayed at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), which is the biggest and most popular lodging area in Yosemite Valley.
We rented a crossover SUV, and the eight of us (my boys, husband, mom, dad, sister & brother) took a 3+ hour road trip from the East Bay (Northern California) to Yosemite for some outdoor adventures. We had an awesome family bonding experience consisting of hiking, exploring the waterfalls, playing with sticks, walking around in the dark, “camping” at Half Dome Village, observing the wildlife, using communal bathrooms, observing the stars and more.
What I realized when packing for the trip was that there was not much information out there on what to take or what to expect – especially when you go to Yosemite with kids. Hence, I decided to write this article on how to plan and prepare for a trip to Yosemite.
Here is some useful information for planning your trip…
Get Reservations in Advance. Book your tent, cabin or lodge room months in advance for Yosemite. The rooms sell out fast and are always sold out during the peak travel months. We booked our Half Dome Village lodging in March for our trip in July, and all of the weekend days in July were already sold out. The National Park Reservations website recommends booking 10-12 months in advance. Although there are many different lodging opportunities at Yosemite, Half Dome Village is the lodging that is the most centrally located, with shuttle bus access and lots of food options available.
Driving to Yosemite. The drive to Yosemite is about 3 1/2 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area. Once you enter into Yosemite, you will be driving on a mountain and the roads will get very narrow & curvy. I recommend driving during daylight hours. If you are going during the winter, you are required to have chains on your car. Half Dome Village is approximately 45mins to 1 hour away from the Yosemite National Park entrance. Once you enter the Park or leave Half Dome Village, there will be very few places to stop, hence remember to make your bathroom/food/gas stops before you enter/leave.
Parking at Yosemite. Parking is free, but limited and fills up fast. Hence be prepared to walk a bit with your luggage from your car to your lodging. Once you park your car at Half Dome Village or any of the other lodges, you don’t really need to drive anywhere until you check-out.
Shuttle Bus. There is a free, air-conditioned shuttle bus that runs every 10 to 20mins and will take you to the popular trails and lodging. Click here for a copy of the shuttle bus map from the NPS website.
Restaurants & Food. Food is reasonably priced and about the same as you would pay in town. In Half Dome Village there is a small store and a couple of restaurants that serve a variety of foods (burgers, hot dogs, salads, pizza, coffee shop, bar and buffet restaurant). Super Note: If you plan to go hiking, I recommend bringing lots of trail food for the kids. We went on a 3 hour hike and trust me those Goldfish crackers and other snacks in my backpack really came in handy!!
Convenience Store. There is a small convenience store for essential items, souvenirs and snack food in Half Dome Village and a few others along the bus route. But it’s best to bring some snacks (non-refrigerated) from home especially if you have picky eaters, however do not pack anything that will melt or spoil, as it will need to be stored in the Bear Locker outside your tent. Super Note: They did have milk, granola bars, chips, energy drinks and some other small ready to eat meals for you to pack for your hike or grab as a snack.
Bathrooms & Showers. Some of the lodging at Yosemite do have private bathrooms, otherwise communal bathrooms and showers will be located near the lodging you choose. During the busy months, prepare to line up to take a shower (especially for the female restrooms). Make sure to pack a towel, flip flops, soap and a towel for the shower. Small towels are provided, but are stiff and scratchy. Super Note: Bring some rolls of toilet paper from home. In the middle of the night and early morning the toilet paper runs out and is not refilled until the morning staff comes on duty.
Check the weather at night before you go. Even if it is super hot during the day, it gets cold at night & in the early morning (even during summer months) so make sure you check the temperature and pack your clothes accordingly.
Clothes & Shoes: You will be in nature and will get dirty. Leave the fancy clothes, jewelry and dresses at home. Make sure you pack to be outdoors, with appropriate clothing for the summer or winter months. Bring at least two pairs of walking/hiking shoes. Our shoes got muddy & wet from the Mist Trail and did not dry overnight. In addition to your shoes and clothes, make sure you bring sunglasses, sunblock, a hat and a small backpack to carry your supplies while hiking. During the rainy months, make sure to pack an umbrella, rain boots and poncho.
Swimming Clothes. There is a pool at Half Dome Village and some of the other lodges for guests, so be sure to pack your swimming outfits. You may also be able to swim in some of the lakes (but you will need to double check on this).
Bring Extra Blankets. Blankets are provided in the Half Dome tents and extra blankets are available at registration. However extra blankets are on a first come, first served, basis, hence I recommend bringing your own blankets if you are going in the colder months. Super Note: Some tents are heated, but you need to make sure you reserve this in advance at extra cost. During the summer months none of the tents are heated (even on the cold nights).
Cellular Service & WiFi: Cellular service at Yosemite is very, very limited, and almost non-existent. You should plan on being unreachable for the duration of your trip. WiFi is available at the Half Dome Village Lodge and a few other areas around Yosemite, and even with the proper passwords it still it was very difficult to connect.
Electrical Sockets & Charging Your Phone. There are no electrical sockets in the tents. You cannot charge your phone in your room. There are outlets in the lounge and in the bathroom, so plan accordingly. Some people were charging their phone while waiting in line for the shower or brushing their teeth. Alternatively, while eating at the lodge people also plugged in. If all else fails, make sure to bring your car charger and you can charge it up in the car.
Storing Your Valuable Items. There is a small safe in your tent for valuables. Don’t bring anything that is unnecessary, as space is limited.
Bring Flashlights. It gets very dark at night and you will need a flashlight to walk around and even to go to the bathroom. We only had two flashlights for our family of 8 and ended up buying some additional flashlights & glow sticks from the Half Dome Village convenience store.
Pack Hand Sanitizer & Wet Wipes. Definitely bring wet wipes and sanitizer with you, especially if you plan to be hiking and snacking.
Pack Insect Repellent. Don’t forget to bring your insect repellent as the bugs do come out, especially at night.
Bring a Padlock for the Bear Locker. Due to the bears, which are very prevalent at Yosemite, you are not allowed any food or scented items in your tents, cabins or cars. All items that give off a scent, this includes food, drinks, perfume, toiletries, and even toothpaste will need to be stored in a Bear Locker outside your tent. Super Note: We didn’t have a lock with us and we were fine since we didn’t put much in there, but if you plan to be out during the day for a long period of time, I would recommend bringing a lock.
Extras Items to Bring. If you plan to stay in Yosemite for a few nights you might want to pack a few extra items. We packed some playing cards, played hide & seek and went stargazing, which entertained the boys when it got dark. People in other tents had foldable chairs to sit outside their tents, blow-up rafts, bikes, scooters and more. There are also places to rent equipment, so just do some research before you go.
SuperMommy’s Vacation Overview:
We loved, loved our family trip to Yosemite. We only stayed for one night and I wish we would have stayed for longer! I definitely recommend staying a minimum of two nights to get the full experience. This was a great way for our family to bond and experience nature together. It was nice to be “unreachable” for a few days. We are not hardcore campers or an outdoor family, hence staying at Half Dome Village was a fun camping experience for us, without the hassle of having to set up our own tent/gear. We will definitely be making another trip to Yosemite soon!
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite with kids and need more tips & advice, feel free to leave me a comment or email me.
Hope you have a fabulous trip! Happy Trails!!