Yosemite Hikes for Kids

Yosemite hikes for kids or hikes with kids is a bit of a tough category. There’s a huge difference between a two-year-old who will likely spend most of the time in a backpack (in which case the distance you can go is determined more by your fitness than by your child’s). At the other extreme, there are seven-year-olds who will hike Half Dome if you let them. The idea here is to provide a few options for people visiting Yosemite, perhaps with a couple kids with a bit of an age spread.

Kid-Friendly Hikes in Yosemite West

If you’re staying with us and don’t want to drive too far, there are some walks in or close to the neighborhood. They do not have iconic Yosemite scenery, but they are out in nature and most four-year-olds are just as likely to get excited by a stick that has just the right curve to resemble a dog’s nose as they are by seeing Half Dome. There are three options:

  • Henness Ridge Helipad. Head back out toward the highway, but at the mailboxes turn right on Henness Circle, then take a left at the T and a left at the next T on Azalea Lane. Park and walk roughly 3/4 of a mile (about 1km) on the service road, keeping right (uphill) at the first and only intersection. Easy and with nice views out over the South Fork of the Merced.
    Map from Alpine Escape to parking for Henness Helipad walk
    Map from Alpine Escape to parking for Henness Helipad walk

    View from Henness Ridge helipad
    View from Henness Ridge helipad
  • Deer Camp Trail. This time head all the way out to the highway, take a right then an immediate left in a not-so-obvious parking lot (if you are on Highway 41 for more than 100 feet you have missed it). This is a flat walk on an old railroad through the forest. It does not have great views, but it is a quiet walk in nature.
  • Old Badger Road. This walk has a rather undignified start but is an enjoyable walk with a small waterfall you can walk to in about 1/4 mile and if you go higher up, has some small wetlands that can have gorgeous flowers in the right season.To get here, take a left at the highway, go 0.2 miles to the bathrooms and parking lot at the intersection with the Glacier Point Road. Walk up the very steep hill behind the bathroom for about 100 feet to gain the old road. After 1/4 mile in the spring you will hear the waterfall and can traverse over to it. Otherwise just keep walking up the road.

Kid-Friendly Hikes in the rest of Yosemite

With 800 miles of trail, where you can go with kids depends on fitness. When Theresa was out on a 230-mile hike, she ran across a family with a ten-year-old girl out for a long hike, having hiked the John Muir Trail (over 200 miles) the previous summer. So this depends on ambition and fitness. There are some obvious options though that are short and open to even relatively young kids.

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point near Glacier Point are both 2-mile round trips with an option for the “secret” parking for Sentinel Dome to make that shorter. Those are both excellent short walks. Taft Point will take you out to a stunning and precipitous view out over Yosemite Valley. Sentinel Dome, at 8,300 feet in elevation, gives you a complete 360-degree view of the park. There is also a “secret” shortcut to Sentinel Dome. Rather than stopping at the main parking lot, continue about another half mile (perhaps a bit more), until the road is descending down a sweeping righthand turn. You’ll see a dirt parking area on the right and an access road blocked with a metal gate on the left. Park here and walk to Sentinel Dome in only about 0.5 miles.

Mist Trail to Vernal Fall. Depending on how much of a walker your child is, Vernal Fall might be an option for kids as young as five. Below that they will likely need to be carried much of the way (and we’ve certainly seen teenagers complain that it is too hard; adults too for that matter). It’s only 0.6 miles to the footbridge (first view) and 1.2 miles to the top of the falls, but it is steep. Above all, and the big problem for kids, is the last bit to the top of the falls involves a sort of staircase with extra high steps which can pose a challenge for their little legs. Some six-year-olds are up for it and some aren’t.

Swinging Bridge in Wawona is only 1.5 miles round trip and when the water is low it is safe for kids to play in. The Chilnualna Falls Trail is long (7.2 miles round trip), but the first quarter mile is great on a hot day, with cascades close to the trail. Both are accessed from the Chilnualna Falls Road in Wawona. That’s the first left turn on Highway 41 as you enter Wawona. If you cross the bridge, you’ve gone too far. While you’re in Wawona, you can also visit the Pioneer Yosemite History Center with historic buildings and, if your timing is right, free wagon rides (donation requested).

In Yosemite Valley, you have classic short walks like

  • Bridalveil Fall, right as you enter the Valley (parking can be a challenge)
  • Lower Yosemite Falls
  • Mirror Lake (aka Mirror Meadow since there is no lake by midsummer, but you are beneath Half Dome).

Beyond Hiking: Other Activities for Kids in Yosemite

Other suggestions besides hiking, depending on the age of the kids:

  • Art Activity Center often has kids classes.
  • Stop by the Yosemite Museum near the visitor center and talk to an Indian Cultural Demonstrator. They might be weaving baskets, making arrowheads or twisting rope from meadow grasses.
  • Go on a ranger program. Some are aimed at kids, but most are kid-friendly. Check the Yosemite Guide for schedules.
  • Become a Junior Ranger. Again, see the Yosemite Guide for details. I’d say ages 6-9 is the sweet spot, but younger kids will like it and I’ve sworn in Junior Rangers well into their 70s.
  • Go down to the river and play in the water. Water can be dangerous in Yosemite. If it is white, it is dangerous, no matter how inviting it may look. But along the Valley floor where the Merced meanders in and out of pools at Swinging Bridge, El Capitan Bridge and up by the North Pines campground, there are calm pools that make for safe swimming.
  • Don’t want to swim? In a certain season (June and July usually), you can take a slow raft down the Merced River. Rent a raft, grab drinks, food and plenty of sunscreen and get to see the Valley in a different way.
  • Rent bikes. This is probably the most relaxing way to tool around Yosemite Valley. They rent bike trailers, so even if you have very young kids this can be an option.
  • The Park Service has a lot more information on Things to Do.

Outside the Park

Though outside the park and a bit of a drive, the Nelder Grove would be a great hike with kids. There are two hikes that you could do together. One is out to the Bull Buck Tree, the 43rd largest in the world and the 4th largest in the greater Yosemite Area (there are two that are larger in the Mariposa Grove and another in the Nelder Grove that is larger). The Bull Buck is an easy 1/4 mile from the parking. On your way by the interpretive center, you can take the quick walk into the Big Ed tree as well, which is only about 0.1 miles (150m). And finally, the Shadow of the Giants Trail is a moderate 1.5 miles and passes very close (close enough to touch) several really nice sequoias.