What to do in Yosemite
Abraham Lincoln knew this area was worth cherishing, so in 1864 he designated it as protected state parkland. In 1890, at the urging of environmentalists like John Muir, Yosemite National Park was established by Congress, making it the country's first national park. In spring 2018, the park's iconic Mariposa Grove, home to 500 mature giant sequoia trees, reopened after a three-year renovation designed to better protect the natural skyscrapers for centuries to come. Seeing these ancient beauties in person should be on everyone's bucket list: They can live to be 3,000 years old and are considered some of the largest living things on Earth. Besides the trees, there are hiking trails to explore, waterfalls to admire and rivers like the Merced, where swimming and rafting are permitted. The park is also home to an impressive array of wildlife, such as black bears, red foxes, bighorn sheep and mountain lions. Note: If it's been a while since your last Yosemite trip, know that in 2016, several famous buildings and areas were renamed due to trademark infringement issues.
Where to go in Yosemite
Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall both have short, easy hikes that offer spectacular vantage points of these towering cascades. You'll see the most impressive rushing water during spring and early summer. El Capitan and Half Dome, two of the most well-known rock formations, are almost as famous as Yosemite itself. There are various lookouts from which to view and photograph them throughout the park.
Ansel Adams gave Tunnel View, the area after the mile-long tunnel on the park's west side, its claim to fame, and it's often packed with people trying to reproduce his angle. Another must-see panorama is the one from Glacier Point, which overlooks the Half Dome, Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra mountains. You can rent a raft at the Half Dome Village activities kiosk and take it down a three-mile trip on the Merced River, putting in at Stoneman Bridge and exiting at Sentinel Beach Picnic area (there's a shuttle back to Half Dome). It's a perfect option for younger kids since it's more like gently floating and less like intense whitewater rafting, but they must weight at least 50 pounds to ride on the river.
Where to stay in Yosemite
Built in 1876, Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wawona Lodge) is a national historic landmark with detailed Victorian woodwork and antique furniture, and many rooms open onto wide, wrap-around verandas. There's an outdoor heated pool and the lodge offers easy access to the Mariposa Grove. Half Dome Village (previously called Curry Village) sits right in the shadow of the famous granite mound it was named for. Families can choose basic motel rooms, wooden cabins with private bathrooms or canvas tent cabins that share a communal bathhouse. There's a swimming pool and the vibe throughout the property is casual and communal, possibly due to the fact that many accommodations are grouped closely together (especially the tent cabins).
Where to eat in Yosemite
Slightly hidden in a tiny shack across from the Mariposa Museum, Shortstop Sandwiches is a perfect spot for picking up fare like pesto chicken and turkey cranberry sandwiches to fuel your national park expeditions. The setting at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee), is spectacular, with massive windows, stone columns and 34-foot ceilings punctuated by crisscrossed pine beams. At dinnertime, the kids' menu includes basics like pasta and chicken tenders but also offers scaled down versions of popular menu items like grilled salmon, chicken breast with mashed potatoes and petite prime rib. In keeping with all the elegance, adults and kids over age 4 are expected to steer clear of wearing shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops, and baseball caps.
Looking for more of the best vacations with kids? Check out TODAY's Family Travel Guide.