A weekend in Yosemite is never a bad idea, but can be particularly lovely in the fall. I’ve already posted at length about some of our favorite ways to pass a couple of days in the valley this time of year—we tend to time visits to Aron’s birthday in October—and we didn’t do very much differently this time around.
Here are some highlights, and a few tips if you’re planning a trip…
We packed up the car and drove out of town late on Friday—after Aron got off work—and drove into the park in the moonlight while the children softly snored in the backseat. I could just make out the river as we drove alongside it, but otherwise the parks icons were invisible in the darkness.
When we pulled into Camp Curry, with its rows upon rows of little white tent cabins, Aron went into the registration to get our assignment while I sat in the car with Hudson and Skyler (and pictured the bears breaking into cars in the cautionary video that Aron was likely watching on replay while he checked in). Bear break-ins occur far less frequently than they once did, however. The park has been very effective in changing guest behavior: food and other scented items is stored in bear lockers or in hotel rooms and never in cars. Each cabin in Curry village is provided a bear locker.
The cabins all look alike, so it’s easy to get lost—especially at night. Once you figure out the position of your tent, you can pull the car up close and run the bags in before parking. I shared some thoughts on a packing list yesterday and included a headlamp—it comes in especially handy for this.
There were three beds and one very nice space heater in our tent. I ended up taking the largest one with Skyler that first night (we brought the travel crib but only used it on our second night), and would have been super-comfortable if it weren’t for a very sweet, very wriggly one-year-old who was extremely excited that we were all in one room together.
Aron and I have stayed here on previous visits and really enjoy it: Each tent comes with bed linens and heavy camp blankets, fresh towels, water cups, and a safe—all you need, really, to have a camp-like experience without actually camping. (Though we do like bringing sleeping bags.) Camp Curry is a great option for families who aren’t equipped to (or don’t want to prep to) go camping, and it’s a good way to experience the park and stay in the valley for much less than at a hotel. It’s also fun—the kids loved it.
Showers and restrooms are in communal bathhouses that are clean and well-lit (though closed at select posted hours for maintenance, so just be aware before you get out of bed to head that way).
Be sure to read Camp Curry’s list of tips and etiquette guidelines for more advice.
Though we had the kids’ breakfast staples in the locker (peanut butter and bananas), we walked over to the cafeteria both mornings. The food isn’t exceptional, but there’s something about cool mountain mornings that makes hot eggs and steamy oats taste better than usual. There’s also a cozy fireplace and free refills on coffee.
That first morning, we spent a fair amount of time just playing on the boulders behind the mess hall. I think we could have stayed there the entire time and it would have been enough.
There was certainly plenty to do: trails to hike, rocks to climb, bug trails to investigate, flora to collect… even some deer to spot.
We started up a short trail and realized there was a deer standing just a few feet to our right! (Clearly they’re accustomed to people.)
We eventually moved on, however. We debated new adventures, but with the vernal falls trailhead just steps from Camp Curry we set out on one of our favorite walks in the valley, up the mist trail.
It can seem a little too civilized at times, with its smooth pavement and its afternoon crowds, but the views are wonderful. It has a little of everything.
Skyler slept through a lot of it.
Which meant that she missed the footbridge where I was hoping to get her in the picture. Last time we took a selfie in this spot I was pregnant!
But it actually worked out perfectly. We stopped at the footbridge this time instead of continuing to Vernal Falls and headed back to Curry Village. She woke up just in time for a pizza lunch—which we followed with a very short break in the tent.
When we got in the car to head toward Yosemite lodge, we got tangled in some messy traffic. That sort of reality is why some people avoid the valley: it can get crowded. We realized we should have used the park’s bus service (which gets to go in a special lane for most of its route), so we parked at the side of the road and walked across the meadow to Yosemite Falls and, ultimately, Yosemite Lodge. It would have been such a shame to spend that golden hour in the car.
We passed more deer—including a mother with its fawn that went leaping over rocks. I think that was a highlight for Hudson.
We caught the sun’s setting glow on Half Dome just as we turned to go.
We arrived at the lodge just as it was getting dark and had dinner there, in the cafeteria.
If you’re staying in the valley, be sure to pick up the weekly activity guide to see what’s going on around the valley at night. There are usually ranger-led walks, short films, and stargazing groups. And there’s a ton of programming aimed specifically at families.
In the past we’ve also had dinner at the restaurant at Yosemite Lodge (which is very good), and then stopped by the bar there to roast s’mores over the fire pit. The bartender can give you sticks if the fire is going (unfortunately it wasn’t this time).
The next morning started in a similar way as the last, only instead of going on a hike we rented bikes out of the village. The bike rental stand opens at 10am, and we were off on a pair of cruisers about 10 minutes after. All kids’ rentals include helmets (though we had brought Skyler’s with us), and there are trailers and other bike attachments available. Aron noted that pulling a trailer on a cruiser was quite a workout.
We paid a quick visit to the Yosemite museum, and then rode beyond the main 12-mile loop trail to the Awahnee.
We just enjoyed the grounds (and the gift shop) on this trip, but brunch at the Awahnee is something I highly recommend. The dress code is informal (unlike at dinner), the buffet spread is delicious, and the staff caters to children with special touches like crayons or even Etch-a-Sketch. Here’s a post with more details about the hotel and enjoying a Sunday brunch there.
The entire loop trail would probably take you about 2 hours to ride. We cut it short, but still stayed out for just over that before returning our bikes, grabbing some provisions, and packing up the car.
On the way out of the valley we pulled off in El Capitan meadow—a magical place—to look for climbers on the face of the rock (and play on fallen logs). Binoculars come in handy here, but even with the naked eye we could just make out a speck of orange where someone had set up a sleeping bag. It’s completely awe-inspiring to think about the scale of that climb.
Hudson loves the book, Two Bears, that tells a Native American folk tale about two bears who climb a rock that grows and grows to become—what we now call—El Capitan, and who are helped down by a brave inch-worm. So he was excited to see “that rock.”
I should note that picnics and play should generally be avoided in the meadows at Yosemite—which are delicate ecosystems. However, you’ll find a much-used, cleared area just in front of the mountain face where it’s acceptable to spread out a blanket and join other onlookers arching their necks to take in the scene.
Because…what a sight!