Yosemite in a Day with Young Kids

Yosemite with young kidsWho’s up for a last minute visit to Yosemite with young kids during the super busy summer months? We are! Capitalizing on our successful Norther Ca trip, we rolled the dice on our final full day and drove our family two hours west to explore Yosemite for the day. With plans to rendezvous at my uncle’s rural 1910s family cabin situated on original Yosemite roads, we left early in the morning with a full tank of gas, fully charged iPads, open minds, and lots of food.

Yosemite National Park spans nearly 1200 sq miles in Eastern Ca, making it about the size of the state of Rhode Island. It reaches across the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is mostly known for its mammoth granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoias, and diverse plants and animals. The geology of Yosemite National Park is a result of a combination of volcanic activity, uplift, erosion, exfoliation (responsible for the dome-shaped granite areas), and glaciation that happened over 25 million years ago. Starting in the 1850s, explorers, artists, and writers advocated for preserving Yosemite Valley and slowly expanded the protected area to include nearby forests and mountains. Yosemite switched from a state park to a National Park shortly after the National Park Service was started in 1916. We visited 100 years later!

Getting There

IMG_6941Since the Yosemite trip was last minute,  intermittent cell service limited my mobile-friendly research as we drove through harrowing switchbacks and rural towns.  Following my aunt and uncle’s advice, we headed to the popular Valley area of Yosemite in hopes that we could catch glances of El Capitan, Half Dome and some of the waterfalls. Driving from Sonora, Ca we drove along 120 East through Groveland and the Big Oak Flat Entrance.  The drive through Yosemite starts out hilly with dense conifers and then becomes hillier with sparse shrubs, dead underbrush, sand, rocks and old dying pine trees. Then, suddenly before crossing into the big tunnel, the massive granite rocks explode before your eyes. You catch really quick (yet far away) views of El Capitan and Half Dome before going through the tunnel. After the tunnel you wind through switchbacks catching different views of the granite formations. Yosemite is enormous – it takes at least 40 minutes to drive from the main entrance to the bottom of the park.

Bridalveil Fall Trail

IMG_6947Knowing the park would be busy, we aimed for short hikes easy in difficulty and with easy access. Using the simple Yosemite Valley day hike chart, we hiked the 0.5 mile (round trip) Bridalveil Fall Trail on our way into the park. We parked at the trailhead and follow the paved path to the 620 ft waterfalls. Since we visited in late summer, the waterfalls trickled, but I imagine in spring time after snow melts the falls are quite a spray. Other visitors climbed along the large boulders to the bottom of the light waterfall. Even though the waterfall spray was barely visible, it was amazing to look up at the massiveness of the rocks and feel so tiny.

After Bridalveil Fall Trail, we parked in the main parking areas near the Visitor Center/Museum so we could scope out the center and easily hop on the free shuttle buses. In my little research, I learned the shuttle buses were key to getting around busy Yosemite Valley. The trailheads and points of interest are spread out so we either walked along the wide bicycle paths or rode the bus. Wishing for more time in the museum and to see the short Spirit of Yosemite film, we pushed on and walked about a half mile along the bicycle path to access the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

IMG_7088Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is a one mile paved trail with little elevation change making it an easy walk for everyone. The path is mostly shaded with giant sequoias and huge slabs of granite rock making for nice photo backdrops. About half mile into our walk we arrived at the observation bridge of the falls.  Lower Yosemite is the bottom waterfall section of the three-part Yosemite Falls. Unfortunately, with it being late summer the waterfall sprayed a mere trickle, but we tried to imagine the command it carries in spring after the snow melts. Before leaving the falls we admired, in jaw-dropping fashion, as pea-sized rock climbers scaled the mountain.

 

Views of Half Dome

IMG_7016Wanting to get closer to Half Dome I quickly researched places within the valley to catch a glimpse. I learned the meadows behind the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel) provide good views of the massive mountains, so we rode the shuttle bus to stop #3 outside the hotel. The hotel was built nearly a century ago with the design influences of Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Arts & Crafts Movement. We walked to the back of the hotel, through a small path and turned left on the pedestrian path. Before crossing over the pedestrian bridge we arrived at the best spot we could find with a good glimpse of Half Dome (elevation 8800ft) in the background. Even from so far away it’s amazing to imagine people (including my crazy aunt) hike the 16-mile round trip.
After capturing a few pictures with Half Dome in the background, the girls and I splashed around in the crisp, cool Merced River that flows behind the hotel.  We were hot and tired from the long day and we felt refreshed after a quick dip.

Driving out of Yosemite Valley, we followed my aunt’s handwritten directions for meeting them at my uncle’s rural cabin. After a harrowing 7 mile drive up original access roads into Yosemite, we arrived at the cabin. I immediately relaxed after enjoying a beer on the hammock and we took in the beautiful sites of the meadow from the back deck. My aunt and uncle planned a delicious steak dinner with all the trimmings – it made for a very memorable early birthday celebration! After a restful night’s sleep, we left for San Francisco the next morning feeling very accomplished as a young family of four and thankful to experience Yosemite! We can’t wait to return to Yosemite and spend an entire week camping and exploring the different trails – maybe one day we’ll even hike to the summit of Half Dome!

Looking Ahead & Tips For Young Families

Having spent only about 5-6 hours in Yosemite, we definitely maximized our visit with seeing a few waterfalls and catching a glimpse of Half Dome and El Capitan (on the way out). The girls pushed through the early afternoon hour when they’re usually quietly relaxing, but felt refreshed with our backpack snacks and a quick ice cream treat. 

  • Plan ahead and stay for a few days – camping spots in the park fill up months in advance, so plan your trip early or stay outside the park
  • Less is more – bring a small backpack to carry around the park with essentials and snacks; visit the convenience stores and restaurants to refill with snacks and treats
  • Bring a good camera – I’m kicking myself for not having my big camera with me
  • Park & ride – park your car in one of the main lots and ride the bus as much as you can
  • Do some swimming – there’s lots of options for cooling off in the creeks and Merced River
  • Visit in late spring when the waterfalls are at full peak
  • Wear your patience pants – if visiting in summer be aware of the large crowds and take breaks accordingly

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: breathtaking views, massive rock formations, free shuttle bus rides, bike/pedestrian path connecting many points of interest, paved trails provide accommodations for everyone

Thumbs down: little time for planning on my part, drier waterfalls in summer mean less dramatic views, busy summer crowds

Glen Burney Trail (Blowing Rock, NC)

Glen Burney TrailWhile we were in the NC mountains, Bill and I scooted out for a day date hike and beers in Blowing Rock.  We hiked the Glen Burney trail located just off Main St at 229 Laurel Ln in Annie Cannon Gardens.  The Glen Burney Trail is 1.6 miles long (3.2 total miles out/back) and parallels the New Year’s Creek, which eventually flows into the Catawba River Basin.  The trail is unlike others I’ve ever hiked because it starts at 3,920 ft in elevation and drops 600 ft to the base of the falls.

The hike started off moderate as we crossed a few gentle streams and walked along even ground.  Then we hiked by dramatic backyard views of a private home and ruins of a former sewer plant that was in use until 1929.  Soon thereafter, the trail became more strenuous as we crossed large roots, steep hills, and fallen logs.

IMG_5763We arrived at the first waterfall, the Cascades, a little past halfway down the trail.  The creek water gently flows over these moderately sloped rocks, allowing hikers to cautiously climb up the rocks to higher ground.  We stopped to take in the sights and sounds before moving farther down the trail. On our next stop we hiked to the base of the trail at Glen Marie Falls.  We climbed up large boulders sandwiched between small streams to get higher views of the mountains in the distance.  Again, we stopped for several minutes to take in the quiet sights and sounds.

After Glen Burney Falls, we started our ascent back up the trail and stopped at the Glen Marie Falls.  We had passed the sign for these falls on the way down the mountain. We hiked a short ways off the trail to the reach the falls, and it was well worth it.  I walked along the creek rocks to enjoy cooling off in the waterfall where water gently flows from a 30+ft boulder.

We then continued our ascent up the mountain, which was much shorter than our hike down; walking down we focused a lot of our time on our footing.  Overall, the hike took about 1 1/2 hours and was strenuous, so we were right to hike this trail without kids.  Judging by the little foot traffic, it’s a hidden gem of a hike even though busy Main St is a few blocks away.  After our hike we wandered around Annie Cannon park, which features several spots for quiet reflection, a small creek, an amphitheater, and beautiful landscaping.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, little foot traffic, easy access to waterfalls, unique hike down and then up

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Linville Falls & Boone, NC

img_1574For Memorial Day weekend we headed out to the Grandfather Mountain area on the annual Raleigh Jaycees camping trip for some cabin camping.  This was the first time we had ever been to the Boone/Blowing Rock/Banner Elk area and we can’t wait to go back!

We stayed at the Grandfather Mountain campground, which is not on the state park property, but only about 5 miles away at 125 Profile View, Banner Elk.  Being our first year up there (and with a baby), I was reluctant to jump into tent camping so we opted for one of the nearby cabins.  It was a two-bedroom place with a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and cable TV…basically a primitive hotel room on a campground, but I was happy! All our friends camped at the nearby open field, so we happily mooched off their campfires and s’mores all weekend!

My goal for the weekend was to make sure we had enough fun outdoorsy things to do during the day to keep baby entertained.  I researched a few things ahead of time and got some advice from friends so our weekend was pretty jam-packed, but just the way I wanted it.

On Saturday morning we headed out to Linville Falls, which is about 10 miles southwest of where we stayed.  It is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway and maintained by the National Park Service.  From Grandfather Mountain campground on 105, you follow 105 south, turn onto 221 south and then north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  In about a mile onto the BRP, you’ll take a right into Linville Falls.  Follow the road for a few miles where you can take pictures near the unexciting overlooks and then it’ll dead end into the parking lot for the park.

Earlier last week I found an amazing Craigslist deal on a Kelty 2.0 child carrier.  It was a crucial purchase for this weekend.  We quickly strapped Ashley in and away we started for the visitor center and maps.  Linville Falls has  three main trails – Erwin’s View Trail (moderate), Plunge Basin Trail (difficult) and Dugger’s Creek Loop Trail (easy).  Each one has a few different overlooks to hike to and the map clearly notes the length of each trail, which are all under 1.5 miles.  Being our first major hike with Ashley and the backpack we opted for Erwin’s View Trail.  Here’s a link to a Linville Falls map.

The first overlook we came to was the Upper Falls Overlook.  The narrow pathway of stones led to a large rock outcrop where you had gorgeous views of several falls.  Upstream the river was rather wide and then near this overlook the river narrowed creating a gushing of water down below.  Large rocks lined the downstream falls making the last section of waterfalls look like an infinity pool.

Next we continued on towards the northern most falls – Chimney View (closed due to fallen tree branch) and Erwin’s View.  The hike up there was very moderate.  In general, the majority of the paths were very easily travelled with 10ft+ wide paths sprinkled lightly with tree roots and stones.  At the clearing near the top is where Chimney View is located, which was closed.  There was also a nearby pavilion with some benches.  A little further up the path was Erwin’s View.  We had to climb a few stairs to get to this section, but it was well worth it.  As you look across the river you see the opposite view from the upper falls.  Even though the view of the falls is far away, the mountain views were gorgeous.  We stuck around here for about 20 minutes to let Ashley get out and enjoy a quick snack before heading back down.

After leaving Linville Falls we tried going to Linville Caverns, which is only about 5 miles away but decided to leave it for another trip after we found out that child backpack carriers weren’t allowed.  So, we headed back north to downtown Boone in search of lunch.  Back at VT, our club field hockey team once travelled to App State for a game, but we never had the chance to explore anything besides the football field.  Downtown Boone definitely reminded us of being back in Blacksburg with the local shops and restaurants and college students and families out and about, except downtown Boone was much busier than any summer day we’d ever seen in Blacksburg.  We stopped in at Our Daily Bread and scarfed down some yummy sandwiches and cups of water.

After our fun adventures on day 1, it was time for showers followed by yummy campfire burgers and s’mores!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, relatively easy hike, photo ops

Thumbs down: get there early in the morning as it gets busy with tourists

P.S. Yay for my one-year blog anniversary!