Hiking in Yosemite with Kids (4 Hikes You Must Do)

If you’re going to Yosemite National Park with kids, here are four hikes that they will enjoy!  Yosemite has over 750 miles of hiking trails–enough to try a new hike (or two) every time you visit!  If this is your first visit, you’re in for a treat!  Hiking in Yosemite with kids is both doable and enjoyable!

1. Hike to Bridalveil Fall

Distance: 0.5 miles

Elevation change: 80 ft.

Time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Bridalveil Fall Trail is one of the easiest, and shortest, trails in the park.  The path hugs the river, and the mist from the fall can get you wet.  The trail was my kids’ first little hike in the park, and they loved every minute of it.

The trailhead parking lot is the first one you’ll see as you enter Yosemite Valley.  We like to make this our first stop when we arrive!

Make this adventure a little longer by walking along the trail where it runs parallel to the road after visiting the viewpoint.

Bridalveil Fall Trailhead

2. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail

Distance: 1 mile (round trip)

Elevation change: 50 ft.

Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is another favorite when you’re hiking in Yosemite with kids.  This trail is an easy loop. Start at the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead (bus/shuttle stop #6).  You will see a building that houses restrooms at the trailhead.

TIP: I’ve learned to always have the kids stop by the restroom before starting a hike.  Even if they don’t need to. Even if they don’t want to. Yes, even if they just went 30 minutes ago. Take them. Always. 

It works well to walk this trail in a clockwise pattern.  You’ll cross the river at the base of the fall (plan to get wet if you’re here during waterfall season) then make your way back toward where you started.

Part of the trail winds over dispersed river water, and it’s best if younger kids stay close to parents during this portion of the trail.

If you’re feeling adventurous and your kids are intermediate hikers, you can take the Upper Yosemite Fall trail up 1,300 ft. to Oh My Gosh Point which overlooks Lower Yosemite Fall and Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Falls

3. Mirror Lake Trail

Distance: 2 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 100 ft.

Time: 60 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Mirror Lake is one of the most photographed spots in the valley and a great trail to explore when hiking in Yosemite with kids.

Best Time of Day to Visit Mirror Lake

To get the full mirror effect of this lake, you’ll want to visit in the morning or evening when the lake water is in the shadows.  With kids, morning is typically best.  By late afternoon and evening, they’re usually done with hiking and prefer to run around like crazies, chase each other at the campground, roll around in the dirt, bike, or eat ice cream.

Ride Your Bikes Partway to Mirror Lake

We actually like to ride our bikes most of the way to Mirror Lake from our campground.  Bikes aren’t allowed past a certain point (there’s a sign and a bike rack), so you will have to walk the final portion of the trail.  You can make this hike longer by hiking all the way around the lake, but usually, our kids just want to go straight to the lake, then play on the boulders nearby and in the dirt.

4. Vernal fall footbridge + Mist Trail + Clark Point + John Muir Trail

Distance: 3 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 1,500 ft.

Time: 3-4 hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

young hikers at the top of Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park in California

Beginning hikers may just want to do the first leg of this hike, the Vernal Fall Footbridge Trail.  However, if your kids are a little older and stronger hikers, this hike is one of our favorites!  Our kids were comfortable hiking this loop by ages six to eight.  Every child is different though, so keep that in mind.

Leg 1: Vernal Fall Footbridge Trail

Distance: 1.6 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 400 ft.

Time: 60-90 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to the Vernal Fall Footbridge isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy.  It’s a paved path, but it can be fairly steep at points and a little crowded. 

Best Time of Day to Hike the Mist Trail and Vernal Fall Trail

The trail typically gets busier mid-morning, so if you go first thing in the morning, crowds are a little more sparse.  However, if you plan to hike the Mist Trail, you will likely get wet.  During waterfall season you will get SOAKING WET.  We like getting wet when we’re hot, so we aim for being at the trailhead between 9am and 10am with a packed lunch.

Trail Details

Partway up the trail, you’ll notice a natural spring under a large rock on the side of the trail.  The kids love to stop here and scoop the cold water from the spring and dump it on their heads.

Once you arrive at the footbridge, you’ll glimpse picturesque views of Vernal Fall in the distance.  Across the footbridge, you’ll see more restrooms and a water bottle refilling station.  There are no water refilling stations beyond this point, so you’ll want to top off your bottles.  There are additional restroom facilities at the end of the next leg of the journey at the top of Vernal Falls, making hiking in Yosemite with kids that much easier.

Iconic Vernal Fall Footbridge family photo

Leg 2: Mist Trail

Distance: 0.7 miles (one way)

Elevation gain: 600 ft. (hundreds of granite steps)

Time: 40-60 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

The Mist Trail is a family favorite.  It’s a magical path with large rock formations, greenery, rainbows, and as expected, the mist from Vernal Fall.  Depending on the time of year and the amount of snowfall, the mist can be non-existent or like walking through a shower fully clothed.  Generally, you can tell just how wet it will be by looking at the people coming back down Mist Trail.  

Since waterfall season is our favorite season at Yosemite, we pack plastic ponchos to wear up the trail.  They help, but if the water is roaring, the wind from the fall will make the poncho feel like a useless piece of plastic, flapping in the breeze.

Toward the end of the trail, the trail moves away from the waterfall providing the opportunity to capture the beauty of the fall (without soaking your camera or becoming a traffic hazard).

Is the Mist Trail Safe for Kids?

In my opinion, the Mist Trail is NOT suitable for young or very young children, especially if the river is roaring.  The first time my children hiked it they were 6, 8, and 10.  I felt safe about them hiking the trail at that age.

If your children are cautious rule-followers who listen to and obey adults, then they may be ready for this hike.  My kids don’t always listen well (neither do I), but when it comes to things like this, they do.  I’m also very upfront with them about WHY they need to be careful.  I don’t try to scare them, just be honest.  There are STEEP, wet, granite steps on Mist Trail with hikers going up while others are going down.  People also pass you from time to time.  

I feel better taking the kids UP this trail since we walk on the right side of the trail, which is the side furthest away from the gorge and river. On the way back, we take a different route, away from the water.  It’s a little longer but allows you to let down your guard a little, relax, and enjoy the journey.

Hopefully, this information can help you make an informed decision about whether or not your children are ready to hike this trail.  If they are, then go!  Have fun!  This may be one of the most memorable experiences you will having hiking in Yosemite with kids

Plan to get wet on the Mist Trail

Steep granite steps next to a roaring river

Leg 3: Clark Point and John Muir Trail

Distance: 1.7 miles (one way)

Elevation gain: 500 ft. to Clark Point (then down 1,500 ft. to the Happy Isles trailhead)

Time: 60 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

At the top of Vernal Fall, there’s a giant slab of rock where you can dry out and eat a snack.

From Vernal Fall, you’ll head upstream a little.  On the right, up the hill, away from the river, you’ll spot some restrooms.  After taking a potty break, follow the trail signs up the hill toward Clark Point for 0.4 miles.  From there, you can connect to the John Muir Trail and head down the 1.3-mile trail back toward the Vernal Fall footbridge and Happy Isles!

The trail will take you back to the Vernal Fall Footbridge but will keep you high and dry and give you beautiful views of Vernal from above.

Drying out and taking a break above Vernal Fall

The view from Clark Point

Tips to Remember When Hiking with Kids in Yosemite

Hiking in Yosemite with kids can be challenging (they get hungry, tired, and fussy), but with a little preparation, and proper setting of expectations, hiking with children is so rewarding!

There are so many trail options in Yosemite National Park, making it a great place to hike with children.  Before you go hiking in Yosemite, here are a few tips that have helped us hiking with our own kids in (and out) of this beautiful valley!

Know Your Child’s Hiking Skill Level

When you think of Yosemite, what do you think?  I think of massive, powerful, roaring waterfalls.  This is because that our favorite time to visit is during waterfall season, typically late April through mid-June.

The waterfalls are both beautiful and terrifying. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my toddlers to Yosemite.  I don’t really like just hanging out at the campsite when I’m in Yosemite.  I want to hike to the waterfalls and feel the mist and wind from the crashing water in my face.

In reality, it’s probably easier (read: safer) to take young children than to take teenagers (I remember being one of those teenagers at one time).

The best way you’ll know what hikes your family is ready to tackle at Yosemite is by knowing your children.

Beginning Hiker

Beginning hikers are typically under the age of five.  An almost unlimited supply of snacks and lots of breaks are a must for this level.  They may still need a nap and will need to be carried when they get tired.  These young hikers will likely need to hold a parent’s hand for safety at times.

Intermediate Hiker

Intermediate hikers are typically under the age of ten.  They will still need regular breaks and snacks, but they can hike fairly independently for several hours.

Advanced Hiker

Advanced hikers are basically grown-ups with the boundless energy of a child.  

My oldest child, by the time he hit 13, could out hike my husband and me.  And I would say my husband and I are both fairly athletic.  He doesn’t hike trails, he runs trails.

Knowing your child’s abilities and what they can handle makes a big difference and helps you prefer not just for WHERE you’ll hike, but HOW you’ll hike.

Happy hikers

Impromptu exploration is half the fun

Start Hiking with Kids When They’re Young

We have always hiked with our kids from the day they were born.  Well, maybe a few days after they were born.  Or weeks.  I remember hiking through the caves at Pinnacles National Park with my six-week-old.  I’m not sure what I was thinking. Scrambling over rocks in the dark with a baby in a front pack isn’t very practical, but I guess I didn’t think about it.  He slept most of the time, making it fairly easy.

Our kids love to hike, so I can’t relate entirely to families that have to drag their kids out on hikes.  I’m sorry!  I’m not sure why.  Early hiking might have something to do with it, but I’m sure it’s also just a stroke of good luck.


Hiking with Kids Can Be Challenging

My youngest child, Claire, has a muscle disease (caused by a mutation of the RYR-1 gene) and a carnitine disorder (this affects her cellular energy).  For her, hiking has gotten progressively challenging.  When she was younger, we carried her when she was too tired to hike.  She loves being in nature, she just doesn’t have the strength or stamina to go long distances.

Now she’s getting older and it’s definitely getting more difficult.  We still carry her sometimes.  She’s at the age where she gets embarrassed easily, especially if people make comments in passing, not knowing the situation. Other times, we split up. Allan or I stay with Claire while everyone else hikes.

However, as much as possible, we find hikes that she can do on her own. Yosemite is a great place for kids of all skill levels to hike and enjoy nature.

Trails are my happy place.  I feel truly alive, aware, and soaking in everything around me: the smells, the sounds, the sights, and the feel of the rocks and dirt beneath me.

Rapid Changes in Elevation Can Put a Damper on Your Hiking

Something you’ll want to take into account when hiking in the mountains is the elevation change.  

If you’ve been at a lower elevation before arriving in Yosemite, it’s not uncommon to experience a little altitude sickness.  Headaches, stomach aches, tiredness, fatigue, and irritability can occur.  For this reason, we always take the first day to acclimate to the new elevation.

Once, when I was a teen, our family made the mistake of hiking the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail (switchbacks galore!) the first day we arrived.  We were puffing like road lizards and felt like crud.

LESSON LEARNED: Take it slow and use the first day for low-key exploration.

Small streams–every kid’s favorite

Half Dome

Hiking trail between Happy Isles & Curry Village


In addition to these four hikes, there are kid-friendly trails EVERYWHERE throughout Yosemite Valley.  Pick up a trail map as you enter the park to see all your options, review the Yosemite Valley trail map online, or just start walking!  Kids will love the little footbridges over ponds and streams, as well as looking for butterflies, bugs, birds, ground squirrels, and deer as they meander through the beautiful valley.


If you’re looking for doing more to with kids in Yosemite National Park in addition to hiking, or need aditional tips, check out our post, 21 Top Travel Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park.

21 Top Travel Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is the first park I remember visiting as a child, and one of my most favorite places in the world.  Even though I’ve been many times, I always catch my breath every time I enter the valley.  It’s truly stunning.

I’ve been there as a child, a teen, a married couple without children, a married couple with young children, and a married couple with older children.  There are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that can help make your time at Yosemite stress-free and memorable!

Hiking in Yosemite National Park in California.

Before Your Trip

  1. Pack a poncho.

If you’re headed to Yosemite National Park during waterfall season (usually mid April through mid June–dependent on the levels of snowfall they received), when the water is roaring, you’ll need to be prepared to get wet.  The rain ponchos will come in handy at Bridalveil Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, and the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls.

  1. Bring your bikes.

Biking around Yosemite Valley is the best way to get places quickly.  In addition, you can stop when you want to stop, go when you want to go, and you have a better view of the scenery.  Yosemite National Park is bike friendly with bike trails intertwined throughout the park.  We never lock our bikes and have never had a bike stolen.  Either we’re lucky, our bikes aren’t worth stealing, or the people who visit parks are full of humankindness.  I like thinking it’s the latter, but it’s probably a combination of all three.  Oh!  Don’t forget helmets!  Helmets are required by law in California for children under the age of 18.

  1. Prepare for bears.

Bears in Yosemite National Park aren’t the same as bears in Yellowstone.  No one packs bear spray when hiking in Yosemite.  However, the bears in Yosemite will get into your stuff!  One time, when I was visiting as a kid, a bear rummaged through our camp and bit my friend’s coffee mug he had made for his mom for mother’s day, ruining it.  He was devastated. We laugh about it now!

In order to keep the bears safe (bears that get to comfortable scavenging campsites and vehicles in search of food may have to be euthanized), Yosemite is VERY strict about enforcing their bear safety rules.  ALL food, drinks, and toiletries that smell tasty MUST be stored in the bear boxes. You can’t even leave an empty water bottle or cup in the car where it can be seen.  These bears are smart and will pry your car’s door open to get to anything that looks or smells like food.

For this reason, we make sure that all our food, drinks, and toiletries are packed in plastic totes or ice chests, making it easy to fit everything in the bear box at the campsite, quickly.

  1. Don’t forget your binoculars.

Binoculars are great for watching climbers in Yosemite Valley.  Sitting in the meadow near El Capitan and finding climbers inching their way up the granite cliff is a great way to spend a morning.

  1. Pack an extra pair of shoes.

With all the water, you’re guaranteed to have soggy shoes at some point during your trip!  We opt to take an extra pair of active shoes to keep our feet warm and comfortable.  I don’t know that it’s terribly safe, but I usually switch to flip-flips on Bridal Veil Falls trail, Lower Yosemite Falls trail, and even the Mist Trail.  Flip-flops on the Mist Trail are probably the most questionable.  The ones I take have good tread, and I feel comfortable wearing them.

Drying out at the top of Vernal Fall after hiking up the Mist Trail.
  1. Watch the documentary Free Solo.

Fun fact.  We were in Yosemite the morning that Alex Honnald free soloed El Capitan.  Unbeknownst to me, the minute he finished his world-record climb, I was enjoying my breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room.  The footage is stunning, and it will give you a greater appreciation for what Alex accomplished when you stand on the valley floor staring up at El Capitan.

When You Get There

  1. Arrive early in the morning or later in the day.

The entrance fee lines into Yosemite National Park are longest around noon.  Especially on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Finding parking is also easier if you arrive first thing in the morning.  Although, with current COVID restrictions, a parking/entrance permit is required, so timing may not be as important as it is during normal operation.

  1. Enter the park through the Tunnel View entrance.  

This entrance to Yosemite National Park, also known as the Yosemite West, will knock your socks off.  Using highway 41 to access the park for the first time will give you the iconic view of the entire Yosemite Valley.

We like to change things up as we exit, using highway 140, El Portal, as it meanders alongside the Merced River.  It’s a great way to catch a glimpse of some lesser known waterfalls right outside the valley. 

  1. Visit Bridalveil Fall when you first arrive.

Yosemite Valley roads consist primarily of one-way streets.  Bridalveil Fall is the furthest away from the remaining waterfalls and is not serviced by the parks shuttle system.  For these reasons, we generally opt to visit Bridalveil right when we enter the valley.  Make sure your ponchos are easy to access–you may need them!  

Standing in the parking lot of Bridalveil Fall trailhead.

Food Tips

  1. Eat breakfast in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

There is something magical about the Ahwahnee Dining Room.  It’s truly a majestic place to dine in style.  But don’t fear if you only packed your simple suit.  There is no dress code for breakfast!  The kids’ menu serves up some incredibly generous portions, so keep that in mind when you order.  Last time we were there, we ordered one adult breakfast to share, and each of the kids got their own plate.  We had leftovers.  They serve jam in small glass jars, maple syrup in miniature glass jugs, making the youngest members of your party feel extra special.  It’s the little things…in the most literal sense.  

Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite Valley at breakfast time.
  1. Enjoy ice cream or a frozen treat.

Whether you’re visiting in the spring, summer, or fall, ice cream is always a good idea.  You can get single serving pre-packaged frozen treats at multiple locations throughout the park, or hand scooped ice cream at Curry Village.  It always tastes extra amazing after a hard hike!

  1. Order Curry Village pizza.

After you’ve been cooking over a campfire for a week, hiking 7-9 miles a day, the pizza at Curry Village hits the spot!  We like eating here on our last night, when the ice chest is starting to look a little empty.  They even have a gluten-free crust and dairy-free cheese, which is wonderful if you have any family members with food sensitivities (like us).  I think it was the best gf/df pizza I’ve ever had.  The other members of my family said the regular pizza was delicious, too.  Tip: Don’t feed the squirrels.  They are persistent and adorable, but it’s not good for them, and they carry germs that you don’t want to take home with you!  Did I say they are persistent?

Hiking in the Park

  1. Hike the Mist Trail.

The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls is one of our favorite hikes.  If you go during waterfall season, be prepared to get wet.  The past several times we were there, it was like standing in a shower fully clothed for minutes on end.  Fortunately, there is a large slab of rock at the top where you can wring out your socks, sprawl out, and try to dry out a bit before tackling the hike back or going further to Nevada Falls.

Hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park.
  1. Avoid Mirror Lake in the middle of the day.

Don’t get me wrong.  Mirror Lake is pretty during the middle of the day.  But if you want to see the true “mirror” effect, it works best when there are shadows on the water.  That’s why visiting Mirror Lake in the early morning or later in the day when the sun isn’t shining directly on the water is best! 

  1. Visit Lower Yosemite Falls

The sheer power generated by these falls will leave you breathless and laughing.  You can feel the air start to change as your walk up the easily-accessible trail to the base of the falls.  You can’t go to Yosemite National Park and not make the short walk to these Falls.

The power of Lower Yosemite Fall in spring is surreal!

Non-hiking Activities

  1. Become a Junior Ranger.

Participating in the Junior Ranger Program at national parks is something my kids look forward to with each visit.  Kids can get their Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor Center or at the Happy Isles Nature Center.  It’s free, it’s fun, they learn, and they earn a little badge to keep.

  1. Don’t miss the Visitor’s Center! 

My young adventurers (and us older adventurers) love walking through Yosemite’s Visitor Center.  They have both an indoor and outdoor interpretive center.  Usually, they have native american docents weaving baskets or sharing other skills from the original inhabitants of the valley.  Outdoors, guests can explore replicas of the past, which feels like taking a step back in time.  On our last visit, my kiddos saw an exhibit about a game that the natives played with sticks and acorns caps (is that what they’re called?).  Days later, I found them playing it on the sidewalk with sticks and pastasico shells.  

  1. Watch the climbers on El Capitan.

Spend an hour or two (or more) sitting on the valley floor, watching men and women make their way up one of the largest slabs of granite in the world.  Take your binoculars, a sketch pad, and blanket, and enjoy the stillness.

  1. Tour the Happy Isles Nature Center.

Tucked a little ways off the beaten path is the Happy Isles Nature Center.  In addition to selling gifts (surprise), there is an exhibit about the animals that inhabit Yosemite National Park.  It’s small, but nicely put together.

Other Things to Know

  1. Avoid shuttle buses in the afternoon.

Shuttle bus lines can get long in Yosemite Valley…especially in the afternoon.  Often, it’s faster to walk, but as you know, our preferred method of transportation is biking!  Sometimes though, you don’t feel like moving, and an air-conditioned bus sounds better than walking.  If that’s the case, here’s a quick shuttle bus hack:  walk from the busier shuttle stop to a stop that is less busy.  You might have to ride for a bit longer, but at least you’ll be sitting on an air-conditioned bus rather than standing in the hot sun.

  1. Don’t rely on cell service.

Cell service is spotty at best in Yosemite Valley.  It’s almost non-existent in the Pines campgrounds, which I certainly don’t mind.  In fact, LACK of cell service might be one of my favorite amenities at most national parks.  Haha!  If you do need to use your phone, your best bet at getting a signal is near the Visitor Center and General Store in the center of the valley.

The view of Vernal Fall from Clark Point in Yosemite.

Enjoy your stay!

Yosemite National Park is a great destination choice for your next family vacation!  I hope these insider tips help make your next trip your best one yet!

If you have any questions, or have other tips to share, drop them in the comments below!