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Yosemite, California: Family Travel Guide

Get a glimpse of nature's skyscrapers and explore hiking trails and waterfalls.
California Tunnel Tree
The ancient California Tunnel Tree is seen at the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias on June 21, 2018 in Yosemite National Park, California which recently reopened after a three-year renovation project to better protect the trees that can live more than 3,000 years.David McNew / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

What to do in Yosemite

If you're thinking of traveling to Yosemite, you'll find there's good reason it's been named one of the top vacation destinations in America and a favorite national park. 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.

Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Falls
Luckily, the hike to Lower Yosemite Falls is easy enough for younger children.Tracie Cone / AP

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.

Yosemite National Park: Half Dome
Take in the stunning view of Half Dome, one of the most iconic rock formations in the park, by bike.Yosemite National 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.

Yosemite National Park: El Capitan
Glacier Point offers a unparalleled view of El Capitan.AFP-Getty Images

Where to stay in Yosemite

Built in 1876, 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. 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). Or consider glamping in these covered wagons.

Yosemite National Park: Half Dome Village
Parents will appreciate sleeping in the shadow of Yosemite's most famous landmarks, while kids will love playing in the camp site's pool.Yosemite National Park

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 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.