There are a ton of resources out there for those wishing to visit Yosemite. Our limited Yosemite page provides information about our two favorite hikes in the Park but also, our ideas for two day trips outside of the Yosemite, namely Calaveras Big Trees State Park and the goldrush town of Columbia. Yosemite is also quite expensive, both for lodging (unless you're camping or backpacking), and for dining. Our recommendation is to stay in Sonora instead. Far more cost effective and centrally located to the two day trips, the drive to and from Yosemite is not that bad and quite beautiful. Yosemite itself should be on everyone's bucket list. Whether you are coming from abroad or within California or other States, the trip through the Valley, alone, is comparable to none. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home of spectacular rock formations and some of the best hiking in world. Be sure to also stop at the Visitor Center to see their great historical exhibits and videos of Yosemite's history.
Hiking: Yosemite, of course, is a hiker's dream. There are epic backpacking trips available and of course plenty of day hikes. We went to Yosemite while the kids were younger so our recommended hikes (see blog) are both under 8 miles each. Still though, they are challenging and do require some fitness. The Valley floor has plenty of easy trails for younger kids, including the popular 1 mile Lower Yosemite Falls trail. We have hiked Half Dome on previous, pre-kids trips to Yosemite, but since this website is dedicated to our family travels, those hikes are not included here. Yosemite is a popular hiking destination so there are plenty of resources available online.
Day Trip to Calaveras Big Tree State Park: Located just outside the town of Arnold, this Park was established back in 1852 but become a protected State park in 1931 due, in part, to the destruction of some of the most impressive Sequoias for various exhibitions. This Park is especially great for kids with trees to climb, flat trails, and gorgeous, towering Sequoias to admire.
Day Trip to Columbia: Another great spot for kids is the historic goldrush town of Columbia. The town center is preserved in a way that takes you back to the 1850s gold rush. Candy shops, saloons, and ice cream parlors line main street. Visitors can take horse drawn carriage rides or pan for real gold.
Where We Ate
Diamondback Grill, Sonora: Large portions that you can split, reasonable prices, and great service. We returned to this all American café twice during our visit.
Yosemite. In short, there are no good choices in Yosemite. It is either too expensive or just blah. As we came here as day entries, we recommend packing lunch and snacks and skipping the food courts and restaurants.
Where We Stayed
Senora Lake House: Lodging in Yosemite is quite expensive. We found, instead, an Air BnB in Senora, which is located about 90 minutes from Yosemite Park. Yes, it's a bit of a drive but at less than $100/night, it's a great spot on a tight budget. The space technically is tied to the main house, but guests have a separate private entrace to the apartment below. Guests also have access to a private deck and boat dock (boat available too). We definitely recommend this spot. If you have to stay in the Park, Yosemite Valley Lodge is our choice for the cost.