It’s been 12 years since I last visited this jaw dropping place and this time I was able to share it’s beauty with my children. It’s interesting that when I asked my nine-year old what the favourite part of our road trip was, she mentioned Yosemite before Disney. There must have been something that captured her imagination, because it is spell binding. The sheer scale of what nature has created, the colours, the huge granite rocks, the winding roads with sheer drops. It looks like something straight out of a movie, you expect a dinosaur to creep out from behind one of the woodland areas at any time!
The other thing that really captured the kids imagination was El Capitan a vertical granite rock formation in Yosemite Valley that stands at 3000ft and is a magnet for rock climbers and base jumpers. Both roped and free assents take place and over the years climbers have got quicker, it can now be done in a matter of hours. You can stand at the base and watch the climbers undertake the incredible feat with their drag bags and hoists, it’s quite something to take your breath away, the sheer bravery of it all.
Our kids were so interested in this, perhaps because it seemed such an amazing challenge. Later back at the hotel they had the privilege to try the rock climbing wall where a retired gentleman who had climbed El Capitan 50 times instructed them. This is a must for anyone with children who love adventures and the great outdoors.
Road trip logistics
Yosemite is a 2.5 hr drive from Lake Tahoe, and to break the journey as we stopped at Mono Lake a large, shallow saline soda lake where salt accumulates create an incredible landscape, like something from a Star Wars set! There is an entrance to the park very close to Mono Lake where you pay $30 for your park pass that will last you for the duration of your stay.
Once you are in the park be prepared to drive through some of the most beautiful scenery you have ever seen. Here are some of the park highlights to ensure you make the most of your time in this jaw dropping “Temple of Nature” and America’s first national park.
1. Marvel at the views along Tioga Road and stop for a break at Tuolumne Meadows.
Tioga Road cuts through the Park for 56 miles, a fascinating drive with steep roads, sheer drops and elevations of nearly 10,000ft! You also pass by Tenaya Lake and its worth a stop at the Tuolumne Meadows, which will remind you of an alpine meadow, but at 8,600ft scattered with delicate wild flowers of all shades. Take your time to travel this road, the setting is so photogenic and there are visitors centres dotted along the way to drop in and get information from the park rangers who are passionate about their environment and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the park!
2. Head to Yosemite Valley floor…lift your eyes to the towering “granite monuments of nature”
Yes, you won’t be the only one (it gets pretty packed with tourists) so set off super early in the morning to park up in the Yosemite Village car park. There are plenty of walks from this location to suit all levels of experience. We opted for a gentle one (it was pretty hot) to the incredible Yosemite falls the highest waterfall in Yosemite at 2425ft. We were fortunate enough to see the falls in full throttle for the time of year, when in previous years they had been dry. The star attraction has to be El Capitan itself, a wonderous sheer granite rock that attracts adrenaline junkies from far and wide. Back at our hotel our kids were able to try for themselves on the climbing wall which was just perfect! Everywhere you turn there is another “wow” moment that will take your breath away. It’s still my husbands favourite place in the world and now my daughter’s… it is something special.
3. Visit the Giant Sequoia
Yosemite has a great collection of Sequoia trees (there is of course the Redwood National Park north of San Francisco for the amazing Redwoods). The best place to view these beasts is in Mariposa Grove near Wawona. Unfortunately when we visited it was closed due to renovations but is due to re open later this year. We were also prevented due to the wild forest fire in Wawona our nearest town which had caused an evacuation , scary stuff but well-managed by the authorities. We instead visited a smaller group of the Sequoia on our way out of the park and that gave the kids a taste of these amazing giants. I am fascinated about what captures a child’s imagination on trips. My daughter was at Brownies the week after our return and was asked what was the most special thing about your holiday – seeing a Giant Sequoia was her response – I think for kids extreme nature is fascinating.
4. Marvel at the parks inhabitants
“Have you seen a bear yet?” was a frequent phrase on the trip, and the kids sat staring out of the car or wandering the paths in anticipation of a glimpse but it was not to be. There are however lots more inhabitants that you can see from the beautiful butterflies, birds and in the Yosemite valley lots of deer roaming around, just beautiful.
5. After a hard day outdoors rest and look up to the stars
Clear skies and a lack of street lights mean you are in for a real treat if you like star-gazing. It can be tiring in the park with so much to see and lots of visitors at peak time so we were sure to rest before the next part of our adventure. We were lucky to stay at a great hotel , Tenaya Lodge (££/£££) just outside the park (40min drive into the main valley floor) We had stayed there before 12 years previously when we last did the road trip and since then its been upgraded and has lots of family friendly facilities including an excellent pool, climbing wall, archery and my kids favourite thing an outdoor cinema (well a projector screen by the pool) but it was magical to relax on a lounger, glass of wine in hand and look up to the stars (with Moana in the background). For other accommodation alternatives there are a few hotels around but camping is also a great option in the campgrounds on the valley floor if you can get organised!
So our Yosemite adventure came to an end, and the Pacific Ocean was calling us! It was John Muir, a Scottish American Naturalist who coined the phrase “Temple of Nature” for Yosemite and I am with him. It’s a place that deserves respect, a place that makes you fall silent in awe.