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Yosemite For Families-Ideas for Hiking

Updated on February 9, 2013

Hiking At Yosemite With Kids

Hiking is a great family activity. Our family's favorite place to go in the whole world is Yosemite National Park. We take several trips a year there to hike, camp, and explore. We have been taking our children to this national park since they were toddlers so we have lots of experience having them with us on the trail.

This lens will give you lots of suggestions for books and hiking specifics for you to use in preparation for a trip to Yosemite National Park.

I included some field guides, hiking book suggestions, books about John Muir, and a few other books just for fun that I thought families might be interested in reading before and during their trips to Yosemite.

There are descriptions for hiking to Vernal Falls, Tuolumne Grove, Happy Isles, Mirror Lake, and the Mist Trail.

Yosemite is a great place to hike year round! Need some ideas to get started? See the books linked below.

Hiking Suggestions

Day Hikes in Yosemite National Park, 2nd: 55 Great Hikes
Day Hikes in Yosemite National Park, 2nd: 55 Great Hikes

This newer book is my second favorite book and we are slowly working our way through the hikes listed in this book.

Easy Day Hikes in Yosemite: Twenty Enjoyable Trails
Easy Day Hikes in Yosemite: Twenty Enjoyable Trails

*First Choice* This book is a little older and is only available used but it has been the foundation of our family's hikes in Yosemite for over a decade. The information is reliable and the hikes are some of the best in the park. Easy for children or parents with children in baby backpacks.


Tuolumne Grove Hike

Tioga Pass and Hwy 140 - Near Crane Flat Gas Station

The Tuolumne Grove is a downward sloping, mostly paved, hike from the parking lot. This hike can easily be done with young children as long as you slow your pace on the way back up from the Grove to the parking lot. At a brisk pace, you can be down the trail in about 20 minutes. The hike up will probably be twice the time of your hike down. The sign at the trailhead says to allow at least two hours for this hike.

The trail meanders through lots of trees and on our last trip we saw some mule deer and lots of squirrels. The bird song and the wind through the tops of the trees makes this an enjoyable place to get up out of the Valley and away from the crowds. The trail is well marked. Just a note: We made this hike one time in November with a few inches of snow on the ground.

Once you reach the grove you can take the path that leads to the Tunnel Tree and then around past that to a looping nature trail. There are picnic tables under the sequoias so it is a perfect place to plan a picnic lunch or a snack before heading up the trail to your car.

The informational signs are short and sweet and if this is your first experience with the Giant Sequoias you can stop at the signs and educate yourself about these fantastic trees.

Fun Books to Use Before and During Your Trip to Yosemite

Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids
Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids

This book with the crude title is a very good way to introduce the mammals of Yosemite to your children. The watercolor drawings in the book are fun to look at and the information is very helpful.

One Small Square: Woods
One Small Square: Woods

This book covers the woodland habitat in general but we find it very useful to a study of Yosemite. If you are familiar at all with the One Square Foot series you know that the information presented in the book is fantastic and easy to understand.

Sierra Wildlife Coloring Book
Sierra Wildlife Coloring Book

It looks like this is temporarily out of stock from but you can find it at any of the stores in Yosemite Valley. It is a lot of fun to follow up a nature walk with a coloring session from this book. We have used up several copies over the years.


Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley

Bus Stop #16

A great place for families to visit is the Happy Isles Nature Center. This is a small but very well done nature center with great exhibits and activities for children. You can ride the shuttle bus to stop number 16 and get off and take the short walk over to the nature center. While you are here, you can walk around on the trails and bridges that border the Merced River. Your family will enjoy the atmosphere of this area with the water and rocks. The view of the steep rock walls of Yosemite Valley here is spectacular.

There is a snack bar and several restrooms at the bus stop area .The nature center has a small gift shop.

Field Guide Stuff for Your Backpack

Yosemite Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (A Pocket Naturalist Guide)
Yosemite Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (A Pocket Naturalist Guide)

This laminated folded field guide is my favorite for carrying in our day pack. It is easy to use and children will enjoy using it to identify the park's wildlife.

Wildflowers of Yosemite
Wildflowers of Yosemite

If you have any interest in identifying Yosemite's wildflowers, this book is easy to use and the photos are large enough for your children to page through and use. I highly recommend this book.

A Field Guide to Western Trees: Western United States and Canada (Peterson Field Guides (Paperback))
A Field Guide to Western Trees: Western United States and Canada (Peterson Field Guides (Paperback))

This is the best tree guide we have found so far to use at Yosemite National Park. I like the color plates that show the leaves and the cones since many times the cones are what catch our eye.

Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, The: written and illustrated by John Muir Laws (California Academy of Sciences)
Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, The: written and illustrated by John Muir Laws (California Academy of Sciences)

This is the newest field guide to be added to my Yosemite trips. There is a little of everything in this book and I am finding it to be a valuable book to have along on my hikes.


Vernal Falls Footbridge -Yosemite Valley

Bus Stop #16

Bus stop 16 is also the stop if you are interested in taking another great hike. The trail to the footbridge below Vernal Falls is a great destination for families. There is a snack bar, restrooms, and a drinking fountain at the bus stop. Fill up your water bottles before you head to the trail.

This hike is a little more strenuous but we have taken our children on this hike many, many times. The trail is a slope upwards pretty much the whole way there but about half way up, you are encouraged by the sound of crashing water coming from the falls and making its way down to the Merced River.

Vernal Falls has water coming over pretty much year round so if you are in the Valley in July or August and you would like to see a running waterfall, try Vernal Falls with your family.

There is a restroom and drinking fountain at the footbridge.

Top of Vernal Falls Via the Mist Trail

Bus Stop #16

The hike to the Vernal Falls Footbridge described previously is the beginning of the Mist Trail which if you are really ambitious, you can hike ¾ of a mile more and be at the top of Vernal Falls looking down. You get off the shuttle bus at number 16, follow the directions for the Vernal Falls Footbridge, and then continue on following the signs for the Mist Trail.

Although it is not far from the footbridge to the top of the falls, it is a very strenuous hike up the side of the granite. There are big, uneven stairs made of rocks that get wet with the mist from the waterfall which is right to the side of the trail. You wind up, up, up until you reach a very narrow ledge with a guard fence that you climb up the very last bit of the trail to the falls. We have hiked this and been totally soaked by the time we reached the top and other times we just get a little misty. It really depends on the time of year and the amount of water coming over the falls.

Don't attempt this hike with very little ones. The trail is slippery, narrow, and steep. I have hiked my boys up the Mist Trail at about eight years old but any younger than that will be one that takes a lot of diligence and supervision.

After having relating all those warnings, I encourage you to give this hike a try because the view and the experience will not be forgotten.

Many people take along rain jackets, hats, or rain ponchos to keep from getting wet. I suggest a small daypack to put your camera and other gear into so your hands are free to help your children climb up. We like to pack a small lunch or snack to enjoy next to the Emerald Pool. The Emerald Pool is just what it sounds like, a beautiful pool where the water looks green. Do not attempt to go swimming here at the Emerald Pool. Pay attention to all the signs and stay out of the water even if you see others in the water. Above the Emerald Pool there are rocks to climb and we sometimes hike a bit higher towards Nevada Falls which is the next destination on this trail.

Mirror Lake -Yosemite Valley

Bus Stop #17

Mirror Lake

This hike starts at shuttle bus #17 and is easily accessible to families with young children. The paved road to the lake is a gentle slope up and can be hiked or you can use a stroller for your youngest children. The "lake" varies in size and depth at different times of the year but always very pretty early in the morning. This hike is a little more traveled than some because of the ease of the distance, but don't let that stop you from taking the time to fit this into your trip.

There are restrooms near the lake for you convenience.

John Muir

John Muir: My Life With Nature
John Muir: My Life With Nature

Great children's biography about John Muir. Essential reading for anyone traveling to Yosemite.

The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures
The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures

We love to read these short stories around the campfire. It really makes the camping experience in Yosemite complete.


I would love to hear your comments. - Thanks for visiting!

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    • Caroline Andrade profile image

      Caroline andrade 

      4 years ago from San Jose, California

      Great article. Very informative for those who haven't visited Yosemite yet.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great place, I'm from California but didn't get a chance to visit here.

    • OzGirl LM profile image

      OzGirl LM 

      6 years ago

      Wonderful lens... brought back some good hiking memories for me, even if I haven't hiked Yosemite! It's been far too long since I've gone on a good hiking trip. It's time to plan one, I think. I can already hear the water and smell the trees.

    • RawBill1 profile image


      6 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I have gotten some great ideas from this page. Thanks. I have visited Yosemite once before in 1998 with friends when I was younger, but am planning on returning this March with my wife and children. It will be a very different experience this time I imagine. I would love to visit the valley in summer time, maybe one day....

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      7 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      After Yellowstone, I admit that I have the National Park bug. I can't wait to get back to USA to plan our next adventure. A great lens, Barb.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      So thankful for the book tips here - my kids and I had a fabulous 8 nights in the Valley, and the first link (to the folded guide) was invaluable. While there we also discovered "The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada" - expensive at $25, but I was able to identify nearly everything we saw, animal, insect, flower and tree. Loved it!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Awesome pictures! I'd love to do Yosemite again.


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