Thinking of visiting Yosemite as a family? Try going in the Spring. We visited this Easter break with Visit California and now I’m a convert! In Spring, there are no crowds or traffic jams and the waterfalls are at their very best. The weather is pleasant – think high teens and 20sC (60s/70sF) on the Valley Floor. Yosemite summers can get into the 30sC/100F, which is a bit hot in my book. More visitors in the summer can also mean it may be difficult to find somewhere to stay.
Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been to Yosemite several times. It’s only about 3 and 1/2 hours by car from San Francisco, but strangely I’d never visited in the Spring. I guess most locals are thinking more about doing up their gardens after the winter and going to the beach rather than visiting one of America’s most beautiful national parks. This of course is great news for UK visitors. You can enjoy the park at its best with fewer people around. A no brainer if you can get there during Easter break.
My other top tip is to stay in the self-catering vacation rentals in Yosemite West. These family homes are conveniently located just a short drive from major park attractions. I didn’t even know there were vacation homes INSIDE Yosemite gates! If you have visited Yosemite before, you’ll know there are lots of options on the valley floor (from camping/glamping, to basic lodges to the swish Ahwahnee Hotel). But if you want space, a full kitchen and a fireplace (some even have hot tubs) at reasonable prices, try these vacation rentals. The decor is 80s and they need a bit of revamping, but they are located IN YOSEMITE PARK. The whole experience was pretty magical.
What else would I do?
Go on a nature walk with a Yosemite naturalist
One of the best ways to discover Yosemite is with a guide. We met naturalist Michael Ross at Degnan’s Deli for a four-hour nature walk to catch some key Valley floor highlights, plus learn some not-so-well-known facts.
Michael has lived in Yosemite for nearly 40 years and is with the Yosemite Conservancy, a non-profit organisation established to provide for Yosemite’s future. He’s come prepared with sun cream slathered on his face (the sun is streaming, it was already 18C), hiking boots and layers of clothing for temperamental mountain conditions.
He explained how Yosemite was formed (millions of years of glaciers, moving frozen rivers, cutting away at the granite landscape.) The last glacier disappeared in the 1970s. He took us on the Valley Loop Trail, which starts at Lower Yosemite Falls and always has fewer people than other trails. Michael was very good about weaving in stories (The Legend of Tis-sa-ack, the woman on the face of Half Dome), and facts that fascinate both kids and parents (Half Dome is not HALF, it’s actually three-quarters of a dome!).
We started by admiring the 7,200 Glacier Point and learning about how Yosemite became a national park (BTW – they are celebrating 150 years since the Yosemite Grant) then walked through a forested area, arriving with the crowds to admire Yosemite Falls. He showed the girls how to properly climb rocks (diagonally, so if you loosen a rock it doesn’t fall on someone below) and we had lunch perched high on a rock fall. This walk was a highlight of our visit.
Ride bikes on the Valley Floor
We rented bikes at the Lodge at Yosemite Falls and cycled a few miles around a loop in the Valley Floor. It was one of the best bikes rides we’ve had as a family. You can also get around the Valley Floor via the free shuttle bus, which stops at all major attractions, but bicycles give you the freedom to explore at your leisure. Be prepared to stop every few minutes to take pictures, as there are fantastic photo opportunities around every corner (I went a bit crazy on Instagram).
We stopped at Yosemite Bridge, took off our shoes and dipped them in the snow melt river. We passed camp sites, including Curry Village (perhaps we’ll stay try those next time) and ended up in Happy Isles, where we took the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls. We spent about 4 hours on the bikes, and we were happily exhausted when we finished.
Have Sunday brunch at The Ahwanhee Hotel
We had brunch at The Ahwanhee Hotel, the 4-diamond hotel and the most luxurious in the park. Opened in 1927, the hotel is made of stone, wood, concrete and glass and is a prime example of US National Park architecture. The Ahwanhee was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! Steve Jobs choose to be married here, and it’s easy to see why. From nearly every vantage point, there is a stunning view of the park.
The Grand Brunch is held in the grand dining room, which had cathedral ceilings and full length windows to show off views of Yosemite. When we went there was a pianist playing a selection pieces – including, to my girls’ delight, the theme songs from Frozen and Harry Potter.
An American “brunch” is a combo breakfast/lunch and the Grand Ahwanhee Brunch is spectacular! Breakfast items included Eggs Benedict, house made waffles and pancakes, cheese blintzes with fruit compote (our favourite), scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and chives, crispy applewood smoked bacon, and pork sausage links. There were market fresh vegetable crudités, antipasto platter with California cheeses, organic coastal greens and a whole seafood station with smoked salmon and shrimp and a hot food carving station. You can eat as much as you like, then go out hiking or cycling to burn off all the calories!
Yosemite is a magnificent place with wonderful scenery. There are gigantic mountains, off all shapes and sizes, including Half Dome, which is really three-quarters. Another spectacular sight is El Capitan which has a huge sheer granite face which some brave people climb. Next to it is lots of pine and Douglas fir trees. Water rushes from high in the mountains plunging downwards in massive waterfalls, some of which are over 2,000 feet.
IF YOU GO:
Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau 5320 California 49 #4, Mariposa, CA 95338 +1 (209) 742-4567 www.yosemiteexperience.com A valuable resource when planning your Yosemite/Mariposa trip. Make sure you download their Vacation Planner, or request a FREE copy.
Yosemite’s Four Seasons Vacation Rentals 7519 Hennessey Cir, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 +1 (209) 372-9000 www.yosemitelodging.com/four.seasons Located inside Yosemite Gates and just a short drive from all major park attractions, the Yosemite West housing develop has family homes and condos to rent. It’s one of the best ways to experience the park, giving you all home comforts in the most spectacular of settings.
Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch 4808 Highway 140 Mariposa, CA 95338 +1 209 742 4844 yosemiteziptours.com Just an hour from the Yosemite gates, this is the perfect place to try out zip-lining, the latest no sweat adrenaline sport craze. Our entire family zipped all 6 lines and had a blast!
The Ahwanhee Hotel 1 Ahwahnee Dr, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 +1 (209) 372-1407 www.yosemitepark.com Named after the Ahwanhee Indians that once made Yosemite their home, the Ahwanhee Hotel is a four diamond property and the most luxurious in the area. Dinners require a jacket and tie, but during the day stop by in jeans for a hot chocolate on the lawn or try Sunday Grand Brunch. Steve Jobs loved this place so much he got married here.
Brunch was very delicious. They had loads of different dishes, from cheese blitzes to red velvet cake. There was also a pianist and if you gave him a tip he would play the song of your request. He played Happy Birthday to my sister (it was her 12th birthday), “Let it Go” from Frozen and the Harry Potter theme song.
Betts Gold Coin 5021 Highway 140 Mariposa, CA 95338 bettsgoldcoin.com Fabulous and reasonably priced food and free history lessons too. Proprietor Bob Borchard shares colourful stories of the Gold Rush and kids get a free gold coin if they answer a history question (just remember John C Freeman). Well worth a visit (or three).
Yosemite Store. From souvenirs to socks, you can get nearly anything here (including a wide range of groceries). There are only two grocery stores in Yosemite, so while only slightly pricey, it’s rather convenient.
Yosemite Conservancy www.yosemiteconservancy.org Go on one of their nature walks or overnight backpacking treks, and proceeds go right back into programmes to protect Yosemite for future generations. It’s a win-win situation.
Yosemite Bicycle Rentals, stands at Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village www.yosemitepark.com/bike-rentals Rent bikes and tour the valley floor at your own leisure. There’s a circular, mainly flat, cycle path for all to enjoy. You can get small bikes, trailers for children and tandem bikes too.
After a filling lunch at The Ahwanhee, we decided to do some exercise, bike riding. As soon as we got to the Yosemite Lodge bike rentals we saw a ton of different bikes and we started to sit on all of the bikes to see which one would suit us.
Not too long later we were off! The old-fashioned back brakes bikes could go very fast which was fun for me and my sisters, but the bikes can also go slow, which was perfect for my mum and dad and enjoying the outstanding views.
The fun part of bike riding was that you could stop anywhere you like. For instance, we stopped to have a walk up the Mist Trail to see Vernal Falls. We also stopped at a river and put our hot feet in the cool water.
Note: Our accommodation and activities were provided by Visit California for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own and my family’s.