Yosemite Family Vacation – My Experience and Recommendations: by Jen Oliak

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service will turn 100.  To celebrate this milestone, President Obama visited Yosemite National Park. Click here to see him at the park.

My family has taken 3 trips to Yosemite National Park, and we love it.  In this post, I will review our Yosemite family vacation experience and give my recommendations.

Choosing where to stay can be very confusing.  You can camp or lodge, and you can even do in-between camping/lodging by sleeping in a canvas tent with a bed but with no bathroom or electricity.  You can stay in Yosemite Valley, just outside the valley, or on the other side of the park like in Tuolumne Meadows. Click here to see the campsite options and here to see lodging options.

For our three Yosemite family vacation trips, we:  (1) camped in Yosemite Valley at Camp 4, (2) camped outside the valley at Tuolumne Meadows, and (3) lodged in Yosemite Valley at Curry Village and Yosemite lodge.

Yosemite Valley – Camp 4:

For our first Yosemite family vacation trip, we went with our outdoor enthusiast (and childhood BFF) friends from Colorado without making prior reservations.  Since it was a last minute decision to go, we had no choice but to make same day reservations at the park by waiting in line at one of the reservation desks early in the morning.  I would not recommend this!  But we somehow lucked out and were able to get a campsite in Yosemite Valley.

If you want to make a campground reservation in Yosemite Valley, the best locations are Lower Pines, Upper Pines and North Pines. Site reservations open up 5 months in advance.  They fill up very quickly, so you need to reserve right when the reservations become available.

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Tuolumne Meadows Campground:

This area is in the eastern section of Yosemite National Park, about 1.5 hours from Yosemite Valley and 1.5 hours from Mammoth Lakes. It’s approximate elevation is 8600 feet so it is cooler here than in Yosemite Valley.  This campground is much easier to get reservations for than the campgrounds in Yosemite Valley.

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We camped here for 3 nights by the Tuolomne River and loved listening to the running water as we hung out in the campground.  One thing to note with camping is that you will spend a lot of time preparing food, cleaning up and storing the food away in bear resistant lockers.  I think when camping, it is best to go with a group of families so each family can take turns cooking and cleaning.

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We loved the green vegetation that surrounded us.  The air felt so crisp and fresh!

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Our favorite hike in Tuolomne was the popular granite dome rock formation named Lembert Dome soaring 900 feet above the meadows. Once we reached the top, we felt like we were on top of the world.

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Yosemite Valley – Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge

Camping was fun, but we decided on our third Yosemite family vacation that we prefer lodging over camping. Since we are outside all day exploring the park, it is nice to have a place to come back to for showers and private bathrooms.  We also appreciate having a mini fridge and coffee machine.

We left each day early in the morning with packed lunches & water bottles and did not return until dinner.  The following are day hikes we went on.  Click here to see the full list of day hikes available in the Valley.

Bridalveil Falls Trail  (our favorite), Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, Cook’s Meadow Loop, Mirror Lake Loop, Valley Loop Trail.

Lodging in the Valley

Half Dome Village (Formerly Curry Village): We stayed here for 2 nights.  It is very efficient for families since everything is self-contained.  There is one cafeteria that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner along with an outdoor pizza place.  Kids can roam around the village on their scooters and bikes with little worry they will get lost.  There are activities throughout the day, a swimming pool and an amphitheater.

Curry Village has canvas tents with beds, log cabins and a small lodge housing 18 individual rooms with private bathrooms.  We stayed in the lodge portion of the village.  Our friends stayed in a log cabin.  If we were to return, we would stay in a log cabin for more privacy – the cabins are further away from the cafeteria and tents.

Yosemite Valley Lodge:  We would definitely stay here again.  It was not too pricey like the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel) and we loved its proximity to the popular hikes.  Although still a rustic feel, it had more of a “hotel” feel than Half Dome Village as the rooms and grounds were more private.  I recommend reserving the Family Room which is larger in size and has a balcony.

Majestic Yosemite Hotel:  we didn’t stay here, but we did go for the Sunday brunch.  It is the nicest hotel in Yosemite Park (although overpriced in my opinion).  We rode to the hotel on our bikes and had a lovely buffet brunch, walked the grounds, and continued our ride on to Yosemite Falls.   

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My friend Derk and I were training for the NY Marathon so we did a 20-mile training run.  We ran by the most magical views of nature I have ever seen.  I even saw a coyote! To read about my NY Marathon experience, click here.

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Are you ready to plan your Yosemite family vacation?  It truly is beautiful beyond description.  The pictures don’t convey what you will feel when you are there in person.  You will be grateful to experience the wonder of this national park.  Whether you are a California resident who has never visited or are coming from a different part of the world, Yosemite National Park will exceed your expectations.