My family and I have visited a number of national parks over the years, and friends often ask me which of the park vactions my kids liked best. Though it isn’t easy for them to narrow their “favorites” list down to one, our special vacation to Yosemite National Park has remained one all five of us remember fondly.

We visited Yosemite National Park after a short visit to San Francisco. We were on a two-week road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, with a variety of stops in between. Of everything we saw in those two weeks, Yosemite made the biggest impression.

Of course, we were eager to see the famous Half Dome and the many waterfalls, some of which required hiking to get to.

Simple drives through the park often led to unexpected wildlife encounters. Sunsets entranced not only myself, but also my children. Every day, we would pick a favorite rock or ledge and just watch the colors dancing alongside the cliffs while day welcomed night.

We spent every day of our week-long visit inside Yosemite rising early to hike the many paths and delighted in the sense of being one with nature. Here’s a closer look at the things that made our experience so unique.

Look but don’t pet!

 

Where we stayed

While planning our visit, we quickly realized that booking a stay in the national parks, whether you plan to camp or stay in a park lodge, requires advance preparation. By the end of January most campsites in the park were booked for summer travel. Getting a room at the The Ahawanee, a historic hotel, was difficult at short notice as well. High-season is from April to October and most avid guests book a year in advance.

Lucky for us, there are lodging options just outside the park as well. We stayed at the Cedar Ridge, a 10-minute drive from the park. My family of five booked a large room with two double beds and a sofa bed. We were comfortable during our stay.

The drive from the hotel into the park was a lovely way to start each day. We enjoyed our time at the lodge, too. The lodge has an in-house restaurant, as well as two pools. The lodge is located in the Yosemite Valley, which is a lot warmer than the parts of the park at elevation. This is important to note if planning any hiking or outdoor activities in the area.

Post hike zen.

 

Things to do

One of the wonderful things about Yosemite National Park is that it is open all year. This means that if you are a photography lover like I am, you have the opportunity to visit and capture the park in all of its different phases. The Ansel Adams Gallery, located in the park, is a great way to find inspiration from the works of this well-respected photographer. You also can sign up for photography walks and workshops here, led by photographers experienced in the area and in landscape photography.

The Yosemite Conservancy hosts several Outdoor Adventures that also include photography and art walks, as well as snowshoeing in the winter and hiking excursions in the warmer months.

Other, more independent activities include backpacking, horseback riding,  biking, and so much more. What my kids absolutely loved was taking part in the Junior Ranger program. This program isn’t exclusive to Yosemite so kids and their families can take part in the fun and exploration at any national park they visit. The Junior Program is a great way to introduce younger park visitors to the topic of conservancy. It also is a great opportunity to spark an appreciation for nature, both inside and outside of the parks.

Viewfinder Tip: Yosemite is more crowded in summer; if you go then, prepare for traffic jams.

During our first visit, we did a lot of our own hikes. To get our bearings, we simply picked up a map at the visitor’s center and went. Even during tourist season it is still possible to find places to be alone, be still, and listen to the beautiful silence of nature.

One thing is for sure: Your kids will walk away hooked. Visiting the parks for us has always been an experience that has been light on the budget and overwhelming for the heart and soul. For my family, national parks have been the places where we disconnect from technology and the world and become more connected with each other and the scenery around us.

A week in Yosemite gave us only a glimpse of all there is to see and do there. It also gave us 1 million reasons to return.

Which national parks do you like to visit with your family and why?