Road Trip Diary: Summertime Adventures at Yosemite National Park

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When it comes to national parks, our kids have seemingly seen it all.  We’ve been to the Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore. Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Mount St. Helens, Big Bend National Park, you name it.

Our family’s favorite vista in Yosemite is Glacier Point.

In order to help our kids better appreciate Yosemite National Park, the top destination of our 16-day family road trip sponsored by State Farm, we decided to spend almost five full days in and around the park.  In addition to waterfalls, Yosemite boasts deep valleys, ancient sequoias, and hundreds of animal species.


Summer is the peak season for seeing Yosemite, the nation’s third most visited national park, so when you visit keep these summer travel tips in mind:

Start at the Visitors Center: There’s many ways to see Yosemite but in my opinion it’s probably ideal to get a global view of the park before settling for specific places.  Regardless of how planned out you have your itinerary it’s almost always going to be best to start by visiting the Yosemite Visitor’s Center.  Located at the base of the Yosemite Valley this center is an ideal place from which to start your visit, get the kids into the fun and educational park ranger programs, eat and much more.   In terms of quick, one day itinerary, I recommend you go to these places in this order: Mariposa Grove, Inspiration Point, Bridalveil Falls, the lower Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.

Driving may not be the best way to see the park:  During the summer – and especially during summer weekends – it can be difficult to drive through the Yosemite Valley area where the majority of the famous waterfalls are clustered.   Instead consider riding the free Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System.  To do this you park outside Yosemite and take a shuttle from points on Highway 120 or Highway 140. The shuttles were created to protect the park from overuse and pollution. They also prevent you from dealing with annoying driving hassles.

The waterfalls are weaker flowing during the summer: The majority of the waterfalls in Yosemite are fed by runoff snow from  the mountains so by the time July rolls in most of the waterfalls are only a trickle of their usual forceful selves.  We visited the lower Yosemite Falls and were able to let the kids climb atop rocky areas that during normal wet conditions are not viewable.  That said, don’t let your guard down.  Rocks and cliffs are slippery dangerous year-round.

The Yosemite Falls is just a trickle during the height of the summer.

The family portrait was taken from the rocks of the lower Yosemite Falls, which normally is not accessible due to the strength of the waterfalls.

Photography is a little different in Yosemite: Due to the way the Sierra Nevada mountains cast shadows around Yosemite at sunrise and sunset, the best times to photograph in Yosemite are not during the typical golden hours of very early in the morning or very late in the day.  During the summer the best morning times for photography are from 9 to 11 a.m.  and in the afternoon between 3:30 and 6 p.m.  The best panoramic photos to take in Yosemite are at Glacier Point, our family’s favorite viewpoint and at Inspiration Point.

Get the kids into the Junior Park Ranger Program: One of the best ways to have the children enjoy the park is by having them participate in the Junior Park Ranger program.  Elena and Briani spent countless hours completing their park ranger books and in the process got to learn about the park’s history, its animals, its Sequoia trees and even about it’s geologic features.  The Park Ranger program is good for kids up to 12 years-old.

Get Wet to Cool Off: One of the top things to do in Yosemite in the summer is to go rafting on the Merced River.  The waters are ice cold during most of the year but during the summer the waters are mild and perfect for swimming or rafting.  Unfortunately for us the water was so low (in most places it was below our knees) that they stopped rafting for the summer so instead we went swimming.

Good food is hard to find: We don’t want to shame anybody but with the exception of the food at the Curry Village and the moderately-priced Wowona Hotel we honestly had a terrible time finding halfway decent meals in and around Yosemite.   The highly touted Ahwahnee Hotel is a nice-looking historic hotel to visit but skip its extremely expensive restaurant.  The fancy hotel we stayed at was also a ripoff food-wise so by the end of our stay in Yosemite we were so unlucky with food that we resorted to a strict diet of hamburgers and french fries.

Take Park Danger Signs Seriously:  With an average number of 12 to 15 deaths per year Yosemite is both gorgeous and treacherous. One of the leading causes of deaths and injuries come from people who push the limits by hiking where their not supposed to.


As you probably know, our road trip sponsor State Farm gave us additional budget to provide complete strangers with Random Acts of Kindness.  At Yosemite we had a great time doing this in various ways.  As we entered the park we paid the park entrance for the two vehicles behind us, one of which we saw break out in laughter.

This yellow jeep and the car behind him had their entrance to Yosemite paid for by State Farm.

In order to make friends with other people we were going to surprise we bought a Polaroid camera and took photos of random families and couples we found along Yosemite.


Even though we had a great time at Yosemite we did have three big misses there.

These photos were taken right before the disastrous horseback riding problem.

The first major problem we encountered was when my 13-year-old son Jonathan almost had to get hospitalized.  Jonathan’s allergies are legendary but we didn’t know he had massive allergies to horses until my wife took him horseback riding with his sister Elena.  Not even five minutes after he got on top of his mule Jonathan erupted with violent scratching and sneezes that caused his face to swell like a blowfish.  Angela and Jonathan had to immediately abort the ride and return to get Benadryl.  The Benadryl knocked Jonathan out and when he returned to the hotel room, where I was baby sitting the younger girls, I too began to sneeze because I’m also very allergic to horses.

The second miss was when later that day we tried to salvage the day by driving around Yosemite .  After we got into the park we realized we were almost fully out of gas and we had to rush back out of the park to find fuel, which we did with the help of OnStar.  Between Jonathan’s massive allergy attack and our gas shortage we lost the entire day.

The third major miss was the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.  We sacrificed half of one day at Yosemite to go on this railroad attraction during one of its popular Moonlight Specials.  The novelty of the rail road is supposed to be a delicious dinner followed by a 5-mile steam train ride and an intimate music concert by the attraction’s Sugar Pine band.  The band itself is good but honestly the rest was not worth the time or the expense.

SAFETY FIRST TIP (Sponsored by State Farm)

One of the most important ways to avoid accidents, injuries – and even death – at Yosemite is by wearing the right kind of footwear.  Many of the injuries people suffer at Yosemite are due to preventable causes such as not wearing the proper footwear or venturing into parts that are clearly marked dangerous.  Don’t be one of the statistics.

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