My forehead was pressed against the car window, peering intermittently up to the top of the cliffs, then down at the winding river, much like I did when I was a child on family road trips out west. I’d never been to Yosemite National Park before and I was in awe.
Obviously, I’d heard much about Yosemite. Tales about its granite peaks that seem to come out of nowhere and rise from the ground like immense creatures towering over the land. Or the powerful waterfalls that line the valley and shoot down from neck-craning heights.
Yosemite National Park is the sixth most visited national park in the nation. Located in California, it’s easy to get to — about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Fresno, or four hours from Oakland — and once you’re in the park, there’s no shortage of getaways to see and explore. Here’s where you can stay, play and savor the park’s goodness.
An abundance of lodging in Yosemite National Park and the surrounding areas are just right for immersing in nature.
The park itself is about an hour’s drive from the nearest town. If staying in the park, options include camping, lodges, and a bit of glamping with tent-style cabins. Hotels to check out include The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite Valley Lodge and Big Trees Lodge. Tent-style cabins are available at Half Dome Village, White Wolf Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
Campsites are open from early summer through early fall. Note: opening and closing dates vary based on park conditions. Reserve sites early, as spots fill up months ahead of time. Most campgrounds allow RVs and trailers if towing is your thing.
If you’d rather day trip to the park and stay closer to town, check out AutoCamp Yosemite (rates start at $265), a family-friendly, glamping experience in Airstream travel trailers. The camp, 6.5 miles from Mariposa and 35 miles from Yosemite Valley, has 80 Airstream trailers and a variety of luxury tents and cabins.
The Airstreams offer classic suites sleeping up to four people with their queen-sized beds and pull-out sofas. This isn’t some old-school trailer, instead amenities includes a flat-screen TV, spa-inspired bathroom with walk-in shower, and a deck with an outdoor dining area and fire pit. I instantly went into fantasy mode and envisioned living in an Airstream, foraging for my food and unplugging from the world.
Options for larger families include the Classic Cabin Suite or Base Camp, both which accommodate five guests. AutoCamp Yosemite also has a clubhouse with a pool. Ideal for families looking to head to the park is a YARTS shuttle that travels directly to Yosemite National Park.
There’s much to explore in the park and hikes will reward you with gorgeous views. If you only have a day or two like I did, you can easily fit in two or three adventures and see most of the park.
As Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall, is a huge draw, this is an excellent spot for embarking on a family-friendly hike.
Yosemite Falls Trail begins near Camp 4 on the Valley Loop Trail (a flat hiking loop in the park that’s 11.5 miles long). It’s a fairly steep climb, but doable for beginners. Aim for Columbia Rock — just one mile up, and you’ll get amazing views of the valley and Half Dome.
Head another 15 minutes past Columbia Rock for a closer viewpoint of the booming waterfall. To reach the top of the falls, you’ll have to conquer the entire 7.2-mile trail, leading to serenity away from crowds and cell service.
Day hikes to consider:
- Lower Yosemite Fall, one mile loop
- Cook’s Meadlow Loop, one mile
- Mirror Lake Trail to the base of Half Dome
- Bridalveil Fall trail to the waterfall, half a mile
Other park activities include cycling through the valley, rock climbing with the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service, horseback riding, and ranger and nature programs.
In a rush, guided bus tours will give you quick overviews of the park. Other areas to include in your explorations are Yosemite Valley (there’s great hiking here, too), Tuolumne Meadow, Tioga Road, Hetch Hetchy Valley, Crane Flat Area and Mariposa Grove.
If heading south from Yosemite Valley toward Fresno, stop at Mariposa Grove to experience Yosemite Park’s largest sequoia grove.
In the park, many of the lodges have restaurants serve breakfast and dinner. Some offer sack lunches and kid’s menus as well. The park has small grocery shops and markets for snacks and other basic items, plus a pizza patio in Half Dome Village.
About an hour west of the park is Mariposa, a charming little town with a plethora of restaurants and shops that’s about an hour west of the park. Feeling peckish? Strolling along Main Street, we spotted Savoury’s and grabbed a table for dinner. Appetizers like bacon-wrapped dates and house-made crab cakes got our taste buds amped. My main course was the Maple Leaf Duck Breast with mashed potatoes. Just right after a day of hiking. There’s no kid’s menu, but little ones will most likely gravitate towards the pasta or meat dishes that run the gamut from steak and chicken Marsala to pork chops and lamb.
More casual is the Charles Street Dinner House with classic American eats. The Sugar Pine Cafe has a fun atmosphere and is ideal for breakfast and lunch. For dessert, make a beeline for Yosemite Treats, a frozen yogurt and ice cream bar.
Fully sated, we were ready to head back to Yosemite and trek through new, uncharted territory with a course set for granite peaks and waterfalls.
Yosemite National Park
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Yosemite Valley Lodge
Big Trees Lodge
Half Dome Village
White Wolf Lodge
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge
National Parks Site Planning Page
Yosemite Falls Trail
Valley Loop Trail
Lower Yosemite Fall
Cook’s Meadow Loop
Mirror Lake Trail
Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service
Guided Bus Tours
Charles Street Dinner House
Sugar Pine Cafe