Recently our family went to Yosemite for a little weekend vacation. I have lived in California my entire life and this was my first time visiting the park. (Shameful I know!)
We originally considered making the trip during summer- that is when everything is lush and green and gorgeous. Timing (with school and children’s activities) just didn’t allow for the trip until late October, which is actually the off season.
I thought I’d mention the highs and lows of our trip, some recommendations of things to do with kids and our thoughts on visiting the park in fall or winter.
We travelled to Yosemite at an awkward time- the weather was changing (and it was COLD!) but many of the fun winter activities had not yet started.
I read that the park was stunning the last week of October with changing leaves and a rainbow of fall colors. I will say that wasn’t the case on our trip. There was a lot more grey and brown and not much vibrant red, orange and yellow. The major plus to our trip is that there were no crowds. I have heard that during the summer it can be difficult to even take photos near the popular spots because there are just so many people everywhere and traffic through the park is bumper to bumper. We did not find that to be the case on our trip at all. We didn’t wait for anything, had no issues with crowds and had no traffic whatsoever on the roads. This was a relaxing and peaceful trip for us. Lots of hiking, looking at waterfalls and just enjoying time together and none of the hectic congestion one might find in summer.
We were disappointed to find some of the lovely spots- such as the alpine meadows- were closed due to the unsafe roadways during late fall and winter. So again that is something to consider when you plan your trip. Mariposa Grove is also closed- this isn’t seasonal but rather an issue of removing parking lots for water drainage issues. I believe it will reopen in late 2016.
As for the temperature, it was really cold but not unpleasant. We definitely had to park layers and layers and in the morning, it was as low as 20 degrees. Which is freezing for us! By the afternoon though we were shedding our coats and gloves and the sun came out and it was brisk and pleasant weather. We saw a lot of people camping in tents inside the park and I can’t imagine doing that. It must have been freezing at night for them!
Another advantage of the colder weather is that we didn’t see any of the dangerous animals in the park- no bears for us. We did see tons of deer though and it is amazing how close you can get to them! I was literally 2 feet away at one point and could have easily reached out to touch one. My 8 year old had a wonderful time walking amongst the deer in one of the fields and taking videos of them. That is her photo above – she was actually surrounded by deer just happily munching on breakfast. Such a magical experience for city kids that don’t often get to experience nature.
And although I didn’t quite get the rainbow of fall colors I had hoped for in the park, we were still literally awestruck and the beauty of the park. Here I am with my girls at Half Dome, we pulled right up into a front row parking spot, chose this gorgeous location, my husband snapped a quick pic and we were on our way. Absolutely breathtaking and only a handful of people around us .
And here is Tuolumne Meadows, which was another favorite spot. I can only image how stunning this is in summer when it is covered with thick green grass and flowers. Even in the off season though it was still gorgeous and at one point I said to my husband, if you don’t believe in God or a higher power this spot will certainly convince you to embrace religion. It is just that awe inspiring.
Which brings me to one highlight from the trip, our accommodations. Tenaya Lodge was recommended to me by a friend and we found the prices in fall significantly lower than summer. So if you are interested in a budget trip, the off season is a great way to cut costs.
The Lodge is charming and clean and rustic and offers a lot of amenities such as restaurants, children’s activities and an indoor or outdoor pool. During the fall there aren’t quite as many activities as there are in winter or summer, but we still enjoyed our stay.
Tenaya Lodge is set up to accommodate families so you can choose a standard room (what we got) which was fine but really in off season I would encourage you to consider the upgraded rooms. We really wish we would have splurged a bit. It gets dark so early, in winter and fall you will likely spend a lot more time in your room after a day at the park. The upgraded suites had soaking tubs, large family areas, adjoining rooms in case Grandma or Grandpa comes along and little terraces for enjoying the sunrise.
In winter, the Lodge offers a ton of activities like an ice skating rink, outdoor fire pit for S’mores, sledding, kid’s snowmobiling and during November/December they have several holiday themed events such as building Gingerbread houses, decorating ornaments, dinner with Santa or a special celebration to ring in the New Year.
We were very happy with our stay at the Lodge and have already talked to the Grandparents about visiting again next year for Thanksgiving. I think once the snow is falling it will really be a magical place to visit.
Oh and Tenaya has a lovely spa area- I treated myself to a facial that was heavenly and the kids did the outdoor rock climbing. Very fun! The views are just gorgeous- this is my 6 year old on the rock wall. She went to the very top a few times to ring the bell. So fun!
So all in all I would say that we had an amazing trip to Yosemite and really enjoyed the peace and quiet. We will for sure visit again next year- I am curious about both the lush greenery of spring and summer and the winter wonderland in late November or December.
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