Yosemite National Park | California

Yosemite National Park, in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, is visited by over 3.5 MILLION people a year and is consistently one of the most popular National Parks in the country. Jacob and I both visited Yosemite as kids, and we were excited to introduce our kids to the beauty and splendor of one of the most magnificent places in the country. Since we were short on time, we opted to just see the Yosemite National Park highlights.

girls on open-air tram for valley floor tour Yosemite

After a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco, we left bright and early in the morning, headed over the Bay Bridge, and made the drive to Yosemite National Park. Knowing that we wouldn’t have much time to explore on our own, we booked the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour before heading out on our trip.

We parked the car at the Yosemite Valley Lodge and went inside to pick up our tickets and check out the gift shop. At our scheduled time, we boarded the open-air tram and set off to learn about Yosemite National Park– Ellie was so excited to sit on the bench with Lexie.

open air tram valley floor tour yosemite

The two-hour tour covered the highlights of Yosemite (like Half Dome and El Capitan) and introduced us to many places we would like to explore in the future.

open air tram valley floor tour yosemite

I love guided tours because they provide all sorts of information and really help to keep the kids engaged. I know that when we’re driving around, we sometimes guess what we’re seeing, but these guides (at Yosemite National Park in particular!) really know their stuff and do a great job explaining the park’s history, geology, and ecology.

Yosemite National Park highlights

It was a HOT (like heatwave hot) July day, but we stayed pretty cool as the tram drove along, the breeze blowing in our hair while we were treated to an ever-changing display of beauty.

Yosemite National Park highlights

Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark.  None can escape its charms.  Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree. — John Muir, 1938

kid taking pictures at yosemite

Our kids love taking their own pictures when we’re traveling because they love having them as a reminder of our adventures even when we’re back home– I’m guessing that was a learned behavior.

View of Half Dome from Tunnel View

We stopped at the Tunnel View parking lot, and the kids were excited to glimpse Half Dome in the distance– they recognized it from OS X Yosemite. Even though Tunnel View is one of the most popular places in the park, it didn’t feel overly crowded when we were there, even in the middle of the peak summer season.

Bridalveil Falls Yosemite

We caught what was probably the last week of water for the season at the iconic Bridalveil Falls. The waterfall flow peaks in the spring and typically dries up by late summer unless it has been unseasonably rainy.

Yosemite National Park highlights

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening- still all is Beauty! — John Muir, 1938

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Perhaps the most familiar rock formation at Yosemite, Half Dome, stands almost a mile higher than the valley floor, at an almost 9000-foot elevation. With three rounded sides and a sheer granite face, it looks like a dome that was cut in half, leading to the name Half Dome.

Yosemite Valley Chapel

The Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in the late 1800s, stands at the base of these impressive peaks, offers worship services year-round, and is a popular wedding location.

Half Dome Yosemite National Park highlights

There were beautiful vistas to enjoy in every direction on the tour. While we could have taken the same route in our van and stopped at the same places, it was so much more enjoyable to have someone else worry about driving so that we could all take everything in and learn about one of our country’s greatest National Parks.

Yosemite National Park

It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter — John Muir, 1868 (about Yosemite)

Yosemite Falls almost dry

Like Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls typically dries up in July. It’s actually made up of three separate falls and is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. Every time the wind kicked up, it turned the falls into mist, making them look completely dry, but in the stillness, you could see the beauty of the waterfall.

meadow at Yosemite National Park

We had a fantastic time on our two-hour tour of Yosemite and would not hesitate to recommend it to someone who only had a short time to explore the park.  While we did see the Yosemite National Park highlights, we did not even come close to scratching the surface of what the park has to offer. It’s definitely somewhere we would love to return to and spend more time.

Things to Remember for a trip to Yosemite National Park

  • Like most National Parks, you do have to pay to enter Yosemite- it’s currently $35 for a noncommercial vehicle unless you have an annual pass. We highly recommend the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass because it gets you into all of the national parks (as well as National Monuments, National Historical Parks, etc) for a full year!
  • Check to see if park reservations are required on the days you’re planning to visit. Most reservations were opened on January 5, 2024. Additional spots will open one week prior at 8am PDT.
  • Make sure to check for road closures before you go; many are closed during the winter, and there are often seasonal closures due to wildfires or construction. Tioga Pass is closed for the winter from sometime in November through late May/early June, so you can only access Yosemite National Park from the west during the snowy winter/spring.
  • Particularly in the summer, arrive early in order to beat the traffic, and be patient because Yosemite is an extremely popular destination and gets crowded.
  • Drink lots of water!! The combination of high altitude and low humidity (and summer heat!) means that you need to drink more water than you may be accustomed to drinking.

Have you experienced the beauty of Yosemite??  What’s your favorite National Park??

If you’re looking for more California National Parks, head to these posts:

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