Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yosemite National Park with a toddler (in 26 hours)

My parents decided to come for a California visit, as you may have read, and that spawned a brief trip to Yosemite National Park. My mom was in town for two weeks, but my dad was only here for a week. We didn't want to spend a lot of money on lodging and we didn't want to use up all of his time here at Yosemite.

Thus, we settled on a one-night stay in the park--leaving early on the day of, and leaving kind of late on the day after. We departed our house before 9 am on Thursday and got home around 6 pm on Friday night. With a toddler and grandparents, those times are pretty decent. We spent a lot of time in our sport wagon (as I've affectionately called our Rendezvous, since learning of it's insurance classification), and that's never fun with a toddler. I packed plenty of car snacks and toys/books--and even had stuff on my iPhone as back up. Hell broke loose when she didn't nap as planned and my phone died mid-Super Why!

I remember the scenery being lovely and I am glad we went, but it certainly wasn't a 'vacation.' G screamed on much of the drive there, and a few of our stops within the park were cut short or cut-out completely because of her needs. I know that is part of going on a trip with a 15 month old, so I am not complaining. I would do it again--and my husband and I already want to go back for longer when our kids are older.

My first suggestion to those of you considering going to Yosemite National Park with a toddler would be to wait a few years, because going with a preschooler or older would be a lot nicer. Just being honest.

Now, if you can't wait...here is my advice for a short trip with toddler (we were in and out within 26 hours):

Mariposa Grove. 

You just can't fathom the size of the "big trees" from pictures. You must see them in person!
Prior to going, I read about the potential need to ride a {free}shuttle from Wawona to the grove, due to potentially full parking. Tip websites say to go early or late to score in-the-grove-parking. We got to the gate around 10:30 am and were too late {not surprising}. We had to retrace our drive for 4 miles to reach the shuttle. It's a nice eco-friendly bus, but they do pack them full (especially on the return trip). They run about every 15 minutes, and we never had to wait long at all. The main downer about taking the shuttle was having to stash our picnic lunch into my mom's bag, the diaper bag, and my dad carried our little shoulder bag cooler. It would have been much nicer to have the car inside the grove for lunch.G also wanted to get down and run around sans carseat on the bus.

Another downer--there is a fancy tram (diesel truck with a tram-like-trailer of open seating with room for about 25 people) that will take you around the upper and lower groves--but A; it takes about 2 hours & B; it costs nearly $30 per adult. We were not about to let my parents pay that much money (they offered) for another 'bus' ride that G would squirm and cry through.

So, we opted for the Beco carrier mini-hike. I saw one family with the intense-hiker-backpack style carrier and another with a baby in a Moby. I also saw two separate families try to get a stroller up unpaved and forest-y trails. I do not suggest a stroller. Bring a carrier of some type for your toddler.

We were only able to see the lower grove because the hike to the upper grove was too long and 'intense' for my parents and G. My husband was kind of bummed, but we did see several of the highlights and enjoyed a small picnic lunch in front of the California Tunnel Tree.


Yosemite Valley

This is a big tourist destination, and I'm not sold on it being a 'must-see.' Perhaps it's because I was tired and crabby when we got there--and so was G. She had not napped in the car, as planned, and was in a ROYAL mood. I nursed her mid-day, for the first time in weeks, as an attempt to coax her to sleep. Fail. It did get us through about an hour in the valley.

We walked through the museum, where the coolest thing {to me} was seeing an old (late 1800s) hotel register with signatures from Pittsburgh, PA (can you imagine how long they had to travel to get there)!

We also walked through a little Native American display of houses with placards narrating how they used the Yosemite land. I wondered, out loud to my husband, how Native Americans got into the Yosemite Valley hundreds (maybe thousands?) of years ago. As in, what prompted them to say, "Hey...there are a lot of mountains around here, lets try to climb over--or through them--to see what's on the other side? Our life might be really crappy for a while, but maybe something cool is over there." Interesting thought, right?

We also shopped in the gift store and my mom bought several things. I suppose if you are staying in Yosemite for longer than a day, you can explore more of the valley--but in my opinion, if you are short on time, skip the packed valley and use your time on Glacier Point (that we sadly had to cut out).

Ps. We parked in "30 minute only" parking for over an hour with no ticket. I don't know if you'd be so lucky, but victory on that one.


Bridalveil Falls

I loved this location. It was not hard to get to, in fact, it's right on the way to most other locations (if you enter from the West entrance). It was our first stop, and we had our picnic on a blanket, that I luckily remembered to pack, under some wonderful shade trees. I read that Bridalveil Falls was good for tots because it had a paved quarter-mile trail, easy enough for strollers. You can, though, see the falls from many other locations (including the parking lot); so walking up the trail isn't necessary. It does produce the best pictures and gets you as close to the base as possible. Stopping here is short, easy, and toddler friendly--so even without the beautiful scenery, it's a 'must-do.'


Yosemite Falls

We spent a lot of time trying to get to here, not realizing it was visible from the main road--or even the valley. We ended up in a residential area and got some {probably} rare-angle photos. It took a lot of time to get where we were going and I got pretty frustrated that it wasn't even as cool as Bridalveil Falls. I wouldn't go out of your way to find the base of Yosemite Falls, because you can get pretty pictures and memories by pulling off the road somewhere (or viewing it from Yosemite Valley). There is a shuttle to the top and then you can hike your way down--which would be super cool for the non-toddler family--but we obviously weren't able to do that.


Glacier Point

As I indicated above, we did not get to see the amazing views from Glacier Point. We had planned too, but ran out of time. It is a two hour drive from the valley to the top, so driving alone cuts 4 hours into your trip. I know the views on the drive must be lovely, but with a screaming kid...I just can't imagine forcing it. I'd suggest timing it around their happy times ;-) I think this is a must see, if you have time and can keep your kiddo happy for that long. You can see so much (you're over 7000 feet up!) and from the parking lot, it's apparently not a bad little trek (even with a stroller) to the lookout.


Where We Stayed

We stayed at Little Sport, a cabin maintained by a company called Scenic Wonders, which operates out of Yosemite West. It's about 30 minutes from Yosemite Valley and about 45 minutes from Mariposa Grove--so I thought it was a nice mid-spot. Scenic Wonders' cabins are fully furnished, including kitchen items and linens + such (bring your own toiletries, though). It even had a grill and some {limited} spices. Little Sport has two queen bedrooms, two bathrooms, Direct TV & DVD player in the living room, and box fans. It did not have AC, although there is a thermostat that makes you think there is! It was really nice, but you have to climb 60ish steps to get from the road to the cabin. We paid $350 for the night. I know, right? Crazy expensive for our party of 4 + tot. I am not one to stay at a piece of crap, but I also don't like to spend an arm & a leg. I did a good amount of shopping around, and Scenic Wonders had the best value. Driving out of the park, only to drive back into the park the next day was not really a cost or time option. Sure, you can get a decent hotel room outside the park for about $160--but we would need two rooms anyways (and by the time you factor in gas back and forth + not having a kitchen)--staying in the park is just as economical. There are a lot of cabin/tent options, and only a few in-the-park hotels. I suggest shopping around, booking far in advance, and bringing in food to save yourself that cost.


What We Brought

When you go anywhere with little kids, you can never pack very light. We honestly did better than I expected, though. We brought clothes for active use, jackets (just in case--not used), tennis shoes (since we weren't doing any series hiking), G's bedding + pack & play, toiletries, food, and a small and medium cooler. I also had the diaper bag & picnic blanket. My mom insisted on paper plates for the picnic and antibacterial hand wipes (which were nice to have). I did use disposable diapers on this short trip because I didn't want to make the grandparents {okay, and us too}smell stinky diapers heated in the car all day. My mom got G a cheap umbrella stroller--which she loves so far--which didn't take up a lot of room at all. I also brought my camera--duh!



I pre-made sandwiches right before we left, for lunch on Thursday and Friday. I also washed and prepared cherries and strawberries. We brought two bags of chips and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Voila! Awesome pic-a-nic lunch {hey, booboo!!} :-)

For Thursday night's dinner, I wanted something easy, but also delicious. I was unaware there would be a grill. I packed frozen shrimp, frozen peas, a box of fettuccine, a can of mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and two jars of Alfredo sauce. I also brought a loaf of sourdough bread. After some noodle boiling, defrosting, can opening, draining, warming...Voila! Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo :-)

For breakfast, I packed a box of 'complete-add water only' pancake mix, blueberries, and syrup--plus a roll of sausage and bottle of OJ. Voila! Blueberry Pancakes & sausage :-)

Thanks to the coolers--and putting food in the fridge right when we got to the cabin--I feel that we ate like royalty! It wasn't even expensive, and it was 'home-cooking' on the go. G ate pretty much everything we did, but I did pack some extra snacks for her.
We packed a lot of water, a few sodas, and some beer for the guys.



  • These are the things we saw/wanted to see, by entering on the West side. We didn't even attempt or plan to go to Tuolumne Meadows and the like.
  • Know in advance that there is a $20 per car park entrance fee that lasts for 7 days.
  • There are a lot of turn-outs in the mountains for slower vehicles to let faster ones pass, and there are several scenic-overlook stopping points to take photos. You can see some of the most beautiful sights just by pulling over!
  • Speaking of driving in the mountains...if you are scared of heights--don't look down! Sometimes you can see thousands of feet down, and that gets pretty scary (albeit cool looking). My dad nearly had an anxiety attack on the windy mountain road heading into Groveland. Almost all of the driving near the park is 2 lane roads, with a few having the occasional 3 lanes/extended turn-out.
  • Stay in the park. Seriously. Driving in and out would take too long, especially for a short trip, and it's not worth the few bucks you might save.
  • Get gas on the West side of Groveland and save a lot of money--because as you can imagine, gas goes up the closer and closer you get.
  • Pack your food items as pre-made as you can. It will save time and frustration with a hungry crowd if things are ready to go.
  • Take a lot of pictures, but remember to savor the memories in person too!


  1. Hi Kaylene,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Yosemite to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

  2. Hey! Thanks for Sharing! We going going next week with our two boys, 3 and 1. My marine husband is ready for us to do crazy stuff but this gives me a more realistic plan for our trip. Thank you!


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