Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park are glorious this time of year (especially after four years of drought in California). Where else can kids see the highest waterfall in the United States, and taller than the Eiffel Tower? Last weekend when we visited Yosemite Valley, it was spring in the high country.
We started at the large meadow south from Yosemite Village. Clumps of wild iris floated in the thick green meadow grass as we walked along the boardwalk (meadow was quite watery). Looking up at Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls cascading off sheer rock cliffs, we were mesmerized.
In John Muir’s words about Yosemite Valley – “Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life … their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their feet, bathed in floods of water, floods of light.”
Tip: Bring binoculars to watch the mist and light of Yosemite Falls up close.
Walking through the valley on our way to the Mist Trail for Vernal Fall, animals were busy feeding. At Happy Isles, a young buck with velvet antlers gobbled up fresh young tree leaves (cheeks full, the way kids eat), a ground squirrel delicately nibbled on grasses in a little marsh, energetic gray squirrels and chickarees (fluffy silver-tipped tails) zoomed around trees and rocks.
On the Mist Trail, at the footbridge over the Merced River, we stopped to look at cauldrons of frothing white water, rushing over dark rocks.
Tip: On the other side of the bridge is a water fountain – fill up water bottles with delicious water, fresh from the Sierra.
It’s a short hike from the bridge up to the top of Vernal Fall, but is also steep going up rock steps to the top. Take it slow, stop for rests with younger kids, it’s well worth it to reach the falls overlook.
The Mist Trail is so named, as Vernal Fall generates mist as it cascades onto the rocks below. On this day, so much water flowed over the falls, the mist was like light rain, and we were soaked by the time we got to the top (we had rain jackets, but our legs got wet).
Vernal Fall is spectacular, but there’s also something special – rainbows!
As you walk up the trail with kids, keep a sharp eye to find the rainbows, sparkling in long arcs across the river.
Tips for enjoying Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is open year round, and is the most accessible part of Yosemite National Park – in the valley are fun things to do for kids of any age. However, it is also the busiest area of the park, with more visitors coming every year. Please help preserve the natural beauty and wildlife in this exceptional landscape.
- Parking – If you’re staying outside Yosemite Valley, park at Day Use Parking (it’s free), across from Yosemite Village. Get an early start. By noon the parking lot is often full on weekends.
- Shuttle bus – The shuttle bus runs in a loop around Yosemite Valley, with 21 different stops. Pick up a map at visitor information yurt in the Day Use Parking or here’s the online shuttle map.
- Rent bikes – The valley is largely level, and there are bikes paths. Rent bikes at Half Dome Village (Curry Village) – kids’ bikes and trailers are available.
- Mist Trail & Vernal Fall – The trail to the top of Vernal Fall is 3 miles round trip. The first section to the bridge is paved. The second section goes up 1,000 ft. with rock steps. Wear closed toed shoes (don’t hike in flip-flops), and be prepared for mist drizzle on the way up.
- Stow your lunch trash – We had lunch at the top of Vernal Fall, plenty of flat rocks to spread out your lunch stuff (squirrels may drop by). In Yosemite, due to those clever bears, trash are specially designed to keep the bears out. No trash cans area available along the Mist Trail, so bring along a bag (we use ziplocks) to gather up your trash. Do not drop tissues or toss banana peels along the trail, or in any part of Yosemite Valley.
- Weather – Weather in Yosemite can be changeable, even in the middle of summer. Don’t think tee-shirts and shorts are all you need. It might be hot during the day, but much cooler in early morning and evening. Bright sun can quickly change to billowing clouds, and summer rain storms. Bring along something for rain and cooler weather.
- Do not feed the squirrels! – Squirrels will appear like magic, any time you’re having a snack or eating your lunch. We saw people feeding chips to the squirrels – this is extremely bad for them. Please keep food out of reach of squirrels.
Tip: Visiting Yosemite, you’ll need a fun place to stay – check out our list of Yosemite family hotels and Yosemite house rentals. Accommodations inside Yosemite National Park fill up rapidly, so make reservations months in advance.
We live four hours from Yosemite, and often visit for a weekend, with little advance planning. As we did last weekend, we stay in Mariposa, which is a 40 min. drive into the valley. Hotels are available, and Happy Burger Diner in Mariposa has a great breakfast (and is open early).