Enjoy free or low cost eco-activities and lots of outdoor fun in northern California at one of America's favorite, easily accessible national parks. Enjoy free or low cost eco-activities and lots of outdoor fun in northern California at one of America's favorite, easily accessible national parks.
Visiting Yosemite with the kids can make for a fun experience at any time of year. There are many interpretive programs in the park to choose from, all of which are either free or inexpensive. These activities are geared to all ages and are designed to be enjoyed as a family.
During the winter holiday school break, activities within the park include skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and ice skating — all great fun for the kids. For children 6 and under, there's even a Wee Wild Ones program held at the great fireplace in The Ahwahnee Village. This program, also given at other times of year, allows kids to learn all about the park's animals through fun stories, songs, games, crafts and activities. Also held indoors at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and The Ahwahnee Village, free evening programs and fireside storytelling are available to learn more about park history and wildlife.
In addition to the organized programs and taking in the beautiful scenery, be sure to keep in mind all of the many inexpensive activities families can enjoy, such as the free tours offered year-round at Ahwanee Village. There are live music performances and historical events at the Wawona Hotel, and photography and ranger-led walks throughout the park.
Ask the on-site National Park Service park ranger (209/372-1220) for the inside scoop on the more popular options, so you can plan ahead. At least in winter, these special family acitivities are rarely overbooked.
Winter Only in Yosemite
During the deep snow season, however, crowds diminish even more and the Park stays fully operational. From December to late March, Yosemite offers a variety of recreational activities such as skiing, snow boarding and snow tubing. Yosemite even has its own Badger Pass Ski area, equipped with five lifts, and plenty of beginner or intermediate runs.
Also offered is their Yosemite Ski School (209/372-8430) with lessons that are useful for beginners as well as refresher courses for children and adults with some experience. Your younger ones can enroll in the Badger Pups Program, designed to accommodate the needs of preschool students. It introduces them to the world of downhill skiing. While skiing always has its price, in comparison with many other ski areas, Badger is a bargain. They actually have a Guaranteed Learn to Ski offer priced at $69 for adults and teens, or $59 for kids, that gives you equipment, a lift ticket and unlimited lessons (even returning a second day) until you can ride their chairlift and ski back down.
Other winter activities within Yosemite Park include sightseeing tours from heated and enclosed motor coaches, nature walks, and visiting the Yosemite Museum and Ansel Adams Gallery.
The summer of 2007 introduced the $1.3 million Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, funded by the Yosemite Fund. This is the place to start your park visit and get a behind the scenes look at an extraordinary natural environment.
The very popular visitor displays feature a replica of the base of a giant sequoia, a bear cave that kids can enter, and a "glacier" that welcomes a hands-on approach. There are pull-out panels and drawers, exhibits that make sounds, and animation about topics ranging from Yosemite’s geology to human history and local artists.
Yosemite Lodging on a Budget
The Ahwanhee Hotel (866/875-8456) is as distinctive as it is beautiful. This national historical landmark houses 123 rooms and features a blend of Native American, Middle Eastern and other design influences. Although reservations at this National Park Service hotel are expensive compared to the other lodging options at the park, touring inside and around the property with the kids is free. Many public rooms such as the Solarium and the Great Lounge can be accessed by guests and non-guests alike.
Housekeeping Camp facilities provide their guests with the look and feel of camping without having to set up their own tents. These tents sleep up to four people with two single-size bunks and one double bed. Shared restrooms are a short walk away.
The Curry Village allows guests easy access to many dining and activity options, including a pizza deck and bar, coffee shop and buffet, and even an outdoor ice skating rink that remains open daily from November to March.
The Tenaya Lodge (559/683-6555) is just 2 miles south of Yosemite National Park in the Sierra National Forest. Each winter, the lodge offers guided snowshoe hikes, kids' snowmobiling, and horse-drawn sleigh rides for the entire family. A shuttle bus can whisk guests away to the Badger Ski Pass Area, or, for those looking to stay onsite, the 80-by-40-foot outdoor ice rink at Tenaya is a good way to spend the day, capping it off with marshmallow roasting and s'more-making over the outdoor fire pit.
Getting Around the Park
Families are welcome to drive into Yosemite, and it can be an absolutely beautiful drive, although it isn't the only way to get into the Park. There are other options to get around too; free shuttle buses can pick you up and drop you off from place to place within the valley.
If you're not driving, Amtrak offers train service to Merced, where the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) buses pick you up and send you into Yosemite Valley. The Valley is the hub of the park, and where you will find all of the shops and hotels. Special savings on Amtrak, as well as discounts for kids and students, may be found at www.amtrak.com.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.