Ultimate Road Trip With Kids – Yosemite National Park

    We packed up to set out to Yosemite.


    This is just a part of what we are taking in and out every time we move – pillows, blankets, the cooler (so we could keep it plugged in), a tote of the dry foods (so we can eat), a tote of clothes, toiletries, camera, computers, the water container, all electronics (and chargers), and of course all of the random stuffed animals purchased along the way.

    On another side, the kids saved up birthdays and other monies that they earned for spending money on the vacation. We had decided that the trip was what we could afford so any mementos would be up to them. Some saved more than others so they had more to spend. It worked out well though as we would have broke the bank had we had to budget for 5 ninja swords or 5 stuffed animals or 5 whatever else per stop.

    The kids did well with this although as they were aware of it beforehand and were aware that once they were out of money that was it.  It helped them learn an idea of budgeting as we had a long trip and MANY options on ways to spend money – so they had to prioritize and plan.

    In all honesty, I was less excited about Yosemite than I think it deserves. I am not sure why but I even tried to talk Scott into a reroute. We had planned to go and it IS one of the big national parks, so we went.

    We drove east, the first time in quite a while. The weather was much hotter than on the coast. It was actually a very pretty drive up to the Sierra Nevadas and an interesting drive through the forest leading up to the park where many of the fires occurred last year. It is about a 3-hour drive from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley which is where the big-name attractions are located – Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls, to name a few.

    We made reservations on the far eastern side of the park and “thought” we could explore from there as our condo was to be just 20 minutes to the park. Ah, but our research was not very thorough. We got to the western entrance to the park and received our map. There is one road through the park to the eastern side and it is the opposite direction from the road to Yosemite Valley AND that one 50-mile road takes 3 hours to drive. Awesome.

    We went that direction so as to get to our condo and realized that our condo which is now a 3-hour drive back to Yosemite Valley though only 20 minutes from Yosemite park (aha – depends on which part of the park you want to visit) is just as far as it is from San Francisco to Yosemite.

    On a side note, before we left on the trip, we purchased a National Park Pass for $80. The pass is valid for one full year from the month of purchase. It allows the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private vehicle to enter federally operated recreation sites across the country. It covers the pass owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older at sites where per person entrance fees are charged. No entry fee is charged for children 15 and under. Photo identification was required to verify ownership. The card paid for itself in spades for this trip. It also was accepted at some of the state parks and allowed us a discount on campsites at some of the parks too.

    We drove through the entire park from West to East driving through Tuolumne Meadows and the Tioga Pass and we really did enjoy the views. The mountains are crazy huge and full-faced granite with really limited amounts of trees or plant life. The views were beautiful and the reality is that I am sure we would not have explored this part of the park had we known what we were doing when we planned our accommodations. Extra bonus, a coyote (or a wolf – there was some debate) walked across the road right in front of us – cool!



    Also a bonus, our accommodations! Scott found a great condo for us in a ski village with amazing views and a beautiful atmosphere. Obviously, it was off-season so the rates were very affordable but there is still quite an amazing little community here. We were actually in the village so our condo had many neat little perks; cute little shops, a delicious restaurant that we tried (Smokeyard BBQ), waterfalls, spas, Jacuzzis, pools, sandpits (which the kids loved), and fire pits set up for warmth and coziness. Our condo had two spacious bedrooms and two baths. It also included a full kitchen, living area (with pullout couch), and walk-out porch. A complimentary breakfast was also included as we booked originally through the Austria Hof Lodge though we stayed in the Village.


    We decided that we would just take a break and enjoy it. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel if we totally skipped Yosemite Valley but I knew that we would enjoy the time to rest and we DID see part of the park (a lot actually, 50 miles for 3 hours! Lol.). Plus the kids did pick up their junior ranger booklets and completed the written part of them so it was all good for them either way.

    By the next morning, I wasn’t sure we even knew how to relax anymore. 🙂

    After breakfast, we came back to the room and no one could decide what we should do with our “free” day. The room had an Xbox and all kinds of games so the boys wanted to do that all day. I thought a tram ride to the top of whatever mountain we were at would be interesting. Lily and Grace wanted to swim the entire day and Scott had read about a ghost town that was about an hour’s drive from where we were. An hour? Pssshhh – that’s nothing.

    I think we got to do everything aside from the tram ride. A few video games, a bit of swimming, and of course…Scott convinced us all to go to visit the ghost town of Bodie – which is an old miner town that was abandoned and is currently a state park. He convinced all the kids with that tidbit and they all got to earn ANOTHER Junior Ranger badge!

    It was interesting to visit and to see the town which produced over 35 million dollars worth of gold and silver in its heyday.  “The town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes, and people from every country in the world. At one time there were reported to be 65 saloons in town. Among the saloons were numerous brothels and “houses of ill repute”, gambling halls, and opium dens – an entertainment outlet for everyone.” Ha.


    On the ride home, we stopped by Mono Lake, which is a salt lake, just to stretch our legs and hike a bit. The formations were beautiful though the smells were not.


    We finished the night with desserts while playing in the sand, and playing bags, and playing a huge game of checkers. We were off the next morning again and we had decided that we should, of course, visit the Yosemite Valley. How could we not?


    We were up early the next morning to pack (9 AM – so not so much “early” but early for this vacation), eat, and get on the road. We realized that we had to get to the valley by 1 in order to complete a Junior Ranger program (which was a requirement for the patch/badge).

    We drove back through the high part of the park and the kids thought we needed to stop to climb some of the mountains. So even though we were on a tight schedule, we stopped. The kids probably would have climbed to the top if we’d have let them. It was actually an easy climb up but it was a straight granite rock on the way down (which scared no one but me)! We then skipped some rocks in that clear mountain water, so blue! And then back in the car.


    We got to the valley and to the spot where we thought we needed to go with 15 minutes to spare! The kicker was that for some reason, the road to the visitor center was closed so we needed to walk half a mile. No problem, right? 15 minutes – a half-mile – easy peasy. Unless you don’t quite know where you are going and you have 5 little people to encourage and it is 100 degrees out! We made it and the kids learned all about the animals of Yosemite and managed to escape a few!!


    To earn their ranger badge, the big kids were required to pick up a bag’s worth of litter (in addition to the ranger program and the booklet requirements) which I think was a fantastic idea. This was the first park in which we had to do this but what a great way to teach the kids about keeping the environment clean and then actually keeping it clean! They all earned their badges and we set out to see the rest of the valley.


    We saw the falls, El Capitan, and half dome. The kids were very impressed with a house-sized boulder that they could climb and also slide down, a deer walking across the road right in front of us, and a bear sighting! That makes 9 this trip. Oh and the ice cream, because everything is good when you have ice cream!


    We drove to Monterrey and saw the most amazing sunset over the mountains as we drove. We arrived late but that seems to be nothing new and besides, everyone was very excited to go to the aquarium the next day!


    Ultimate Road Trip 2014

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    Terri L

    Terri has been married to her best friend, Scott, for 20 years and together they have 5 children. She has been blessed to be able to be a SAHM since her first was born over 14 years ago. In addition to finding new and creative ways to entertain 5 children, she enjoys date nights with her husband, photography, reading, and traveling with her crew.