5 California Ski Resorts for Beginning Skiers

As a beginner skier or someone looking for a family-friendly ski resort in California, it can be overwhelming to choose the right place to hit the slopes. But fear not, I’ve got you covered with a list of five ski resorts in California that are perfect for beginners and families.

1. Bear Mountain – San Bernardino Mountains

Bear Mountain is known for its wide, groomed runs that are perfect for beginners. The resort also offers lessons for all ages and has a dedicated family-friendly area.

The resort offers:

  • Dedicated Beginner Areas: Bear Mountain has a variety of gentle slopes specifically designed for beginners, ensuring a safe and enjoyable learning experience.
  • Family-Friendly Programs: Their ski and snowboard school offers excellent instruction for all ages, making it easy for everyone to get started.
  • Snow Play Areas: When the kids need a break from skiing, they can enjoy snow tubing and other family-friendly activities.

Why You’ll Love It: The relaxed atmosphere and friendly instructors make Bear Mountain an ideal spot for young families looking to start their skiing adventures.

2. Northstar California – Lake Tahoe

Located near Lake Tahoe, Northstar California is renowned for its family-friendly environment:

  • Gentle Runs: Northstar features numerous beginner trails that are wide and well-groomed, perfect for gaining confidence on the slopes.
  • Children’s Programs: Their award-winning children’s ski school offers top-notch instruction, ensuring your little ones are in good hands.
  • Village Activities: The vibrant village at the base of the slopes offers ice skating, dining, and shopping, providing entertainment for the whole family.

Why You’ll Love It: The combination of excellent beginner terrain and a lively village makes Northstar a great choice for families.

3. Sierra-at-Tahoe – Near South Lake Tahoe

Located in the Eldorado National Forest, Sierra-at-Tahoe is another top-notch option for beginners:

  • Beginner Terrain: Sierra-at-Tahoe offers dedicated learning areas and gentle slopes perfect for novice skiers. Their “Easy Street” area is designed specifically for beginners.
  • Ski and Snowboard School: With professional and friendly instructors, Sierra-at-Tahoe’s ski school provides excellent lessons for beginners of all ages.
  • Family-Friendly Vibe: The resort’s welcoming atmosphere and variety of activities, including tubing and snow play areas, make it a great spot for families.

Why You’ll Love It: The laid-back, friendly environment combined with top-tier beginner facilities makes Sierra-at-Tahoe an ideal destination for families new to skiing. Hands down, this is my favorite location for beginning skiers and families!

4. China Peak – Lakeshore

Situated in the Sierra National Forest, China Peak is a hidden gem for beginner skiers:

  • Beginner Terrain: China Peak features dedicated beginner areas and gentle slopes that are perfect for newcomers to the sport. Their main green (beginner run), is a little steeper than most greens, so you may need to hit the bunny hill a few more times to feel confident.
  • Ski School: The resort’s ski and snowboard school provides comprehensive lessons tailored to beginners of all ages, ensuring everyone feels comfortable on the slopes.
  • Family-Friendly Environment: With a laid-back atmosphere and a variety of activities, China Peak is an excellent choice for a relaxed family skiing experience.

Why You’ll Love It: The picturesque setting and welcoming vibe make China Peak a great destination for families seeking a serene skiing adventure. From the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to see Huntington Lake in the distance.

PRO TIP

Many ski resorts offer discounts for groups. We were able to attend a field trip at China Peak with a group of students (ages 5-18). The students received a lesson, rentals, and a lift ticket at a fraction of the cost. We highly recommend grabbing your friends and planning a day at the slopes to save big!

5. Badger Pass – Yosemite National Park

As California’s original ski resort, Badger Pass offers a unique and charming experience for beginners:

  • Gentle Slopes: Badger Pass features a variety of easy runs that are perfect for learning and improving your skiing skills.
  • Ski and Snowboard School: The resort’s ski school is well-regarded for its friendly and patient instructors who excel at teaching young children and beginners.
  • Family-Friendly Activities: Beyond skiing, families can enjoy snowshoeing and tubing, or simply take in the breathtaking winter scenery of Yosemite.

Why You’ll Love It: The historic charm and stunning natural beauty of Yosemite make Badger Pass a memorable and enchanting destination for a family ski trip. Badger Pass is also known for their highly skilled ski instructors and affordable lesson packages, making it a great place to learn!

Final Tips for a Family Ski Trip

  1. Plan Ahead: Book your accommodations and ski lessons in advance to ensure availability.
  2. Dress Warmly: Layering is key to staying warm and comfortable on the slopes.
  3. Remember the Sunscreen: When it’s cold outside, it’s easy to forget that the sun is shining. The reflection of the snow makes it easy to burn. That’s why we always pack our sunscreen!

Whether you’re hitting the slopes for the first time or helping your little ones find their skiing legs, these California ski resorts offer the perfect blend of beginner-friendly terrain and family-oriented amenities. So pack your bags, bundle up, and get ready for an unforgettable winter adventure!

Happy skiing, and enjoy the snow!

1 Day at Arches National Park (What to Do and Where to Go)

If you’re wondering what to do when you have only 1 day at Arches National Park, you’re not alone!

Before our 7-day southern Utah road trip, I was trying to figure out a one-day itinerary for Arches National Park in Moab.

Arches National Park covers 76,519 acres, making it one of the smaller national parks in Nothern America. However, there is plenty to do and see if you want to spend two to three days in the park. We only had one day to dedicate to the park, so we wanted to make the most of it.

After spending some time researching and looking at our schedule, I decided that it would make the most sense for us to spend an evening in the park, then come back the next day and spend a morning in the park.

Fortunately, Arches is located just outside the city of Moab, which was a mere 10-minute drive from our hotel.

Because we were visiting in July, we opted to spend our afternoons at the hotel pool, which still left plenty of time to get a good overview of the park and explore some areas in detail.

Stop By the Visitor’s Center

Whenever we visit a national park for the first time, we always like to stop by the Visitor’s Center. We are a family who loves learning, so the Visitor’s Center is always a great place to learn more about the park, its history, conservation efforts, wildlife, and more. 

The Visitor’s Center is also a great place to refill water bottles and ask questions about trails and activities.

Participate in the Junior Ranger Program

If you have younger kids, pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor’s Center for them to complete as you make your way through the park. The Junior Ranger Program is a highlight for many young adventurers. When they complete their booklet, return it to the Visitor’s Center later in the day, share their discoveries with a ranger, recite the Junior Ranger pledge and receive a wooden Junior Ranger badge.

kids smiling while wind blows at courthouse towers viewing area in arches national park

Park Avenue & Courthouse Towers viewpoints

These gorgeous red walls will be one of the first sights you’ll see as you make your way into the park.  

A short, accessible trail will take you from the parking lot to the viewpoint.

Hike the Park Avenue Trail

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Length: 2 miles, out and back

If you’re up for a little hike, follow the trail from the Park Avenue Viewpoint to Courthouse Towers.

This trail offers up-close views of these stunning, massive red rock walls.

north and south window at arches national park

Explore the Windows Section

We had heard how crowded the park was before our trip, but we were pleasantly surprised by the low crowd levels in this section of the park. The Windows Section of the park is a 25-30 minute drive from the park entrance and absolutely breathtaking.

The Windows Section of Arches National Park is kid-friendly and perfect for beginning hikers since all of the attractions are within a short walking distance from the parking lot.

If you have only 1 day at Arches National Park, the Windows Section is a must-visit area of the park.  You can see such a great variety of rock formations in a short amount of time!

Double Arch Trail

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 0.3 mile trail (0.6 round trip)

Reaching 112 feet above the ground, Double Arch is the tallest arch in the park.

Primitive Loop Trail

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 1.1 miles

The Primitive Loop Trail will take you around the entire Windows Section. However, if you’re not feeling up to a mile-long walk, you can skip the loop trail and hike directly to each viewpoint. Our kids just wanted to run around and climb up rocks, so we didn’t end up hiking the entire loop.

North and South Windows Trail

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 0.3 mile trail

It’s one thing to see a picture of these massive rock formations and another thing to stand inside of them. It makes the world feel big and beautiful. The wind blows through the windows, creating natural air conditioning (which is a welcome reprieve from the blazing Utah sun…especially in July).

Turret Arch Trail

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 0.1 mile trail (from South Window)

Turret Arch was the arch we visited the longest.  The kids enjoyed scrambling over the rocks leading up to the arch, and the lighting was just beautiful.  It also had relatively few visitors compared to the other arches and windows in this area of the park.

family running up path to turret arch in arches national park

See Balanced Rock

Located right off the main road, Balanced Rock is easy to spot, even from a distance. If you didn’t already stop and take pictures here before exploring the Windows Section, Balanced Rock has a picnic area which could be a great place to stop and enjoy a meal together before heading out on your next adventure. 

view of delicate arch through a rock window

Hike to Delicate Arch

Due to warm weather conditions and limited trailhead parking, we opted to hike to this incredibly famous arch first thing in the morning. Depending on the weather, this could also be a great hike on a summer evening, or during the day at other times of the year.

Delicate Arch Hike Details

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Length: 3 miles round trip

Some people might consider this hike strenuous, but I think it’s mostly because shade is in limited supply on this trail (READ: non-existent!), which can make it unbearably hot during the summer. There is a steady rock incline and a narrow rock path with drop-offs towards the end of the trail. But certainly, it’s not in the same caliber as Angel’s Landing or Half Dome.

While this trail was challenging for our youngest, Claire, due to her muscle disorder, it was ranked as “easy to moderate” by the rest of the family.

Trailhead parking is limited, so if you’re coming during the summer, you’ll want to arrive before 7:30 am. If you opt to hike later in the day or evening, parking isn’t usually an issue.

There are vault toilets at the trailhead, but no other facilities.  

Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed arches in Utah and is worth a visit. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and just leaves you in wonder. For another great view of Delicate Arch, towards the end of the hike, you can climb up to a little window and view the arch through the window. 

hiker looking at petroglyph ute panel near Delicate Arch

View Ute Petroglyphs and Old Cabin

At the start of the Delicate Arch Trailhead is a panel of petroglyphs left by previous inhabitants. The panel art is typical of what is seen in Ute rock carvings. Archeologists estimate that the markings were made sometime between 1650 and 1850.

Nearby, you’ll also see a small, one-room cabin built by John Wesley Wolfe in the late 1800s. If I had my pick of the Wild West in the late 1800s, I’m not sure that this is the spot I would have chosen to live. If you like blazing hot temperatures in the summer, sans shade trees and air conditioning, it might be a good choice for you. For that reason, this small, non-descript cabin is extra intriguing.

three kids standing in front of a one room cabin on wolfe ranch in arches national park

Hike to Sand Dune Arch in Devil’s Garden

Trail Difficulty: Easy

.4 miles

This short hike is popular with families. It offers some shade during the summer…and plenty of sand to play in for the younger hikers.

have some Extra Time in Arches?

If you still have time to burn during your 1 day at Arches National Park, check out some of the other nearby arches in the Devil’s Garden area of the park. Broken Arch and Skyline Arch are both good choices! Or, head over to the Devil’s Garden Trailhead and hike to Landscape Arch or Double O Arch. For those who feel extra adventurous, a ranger-led tour through the Fiery Furnace might be a good option!

Top Ten Things to Do With Kids in San Simeon

If you’re looking for things to do with kids in San Simeon, California, you’ve come to the right place!

Both Allan and I grew up on the Central Coast of California and consider San Simeon and the surrounding areas to be our big “backyard”!

San Simeon is a small coastal town located north of San Luis Obispo along scenic Highway 1. It’s the perfect place to visit if you love to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy outdoor adventures!

A weekend getaway to San Simeon is the perfect way to unwind and reset! We’ll help you make the most of your time by sharing with you the top ten things to do with kids in San Simeon.

mom and daughter standing under a tree tunnel on a hiking trail at san simeon bay
girl sitting in a large tree with sprawling branches

Chill at William Randolph Hearst State Beach

One of our all-time favorite beaches on the Central Coast is Hearst State Beach. You’ll quickly see why Hearst chose to build his castle overlooking the bay.

The beautiful turquoise water speaks to your soul. A long stretch of sandy beach provides plenty of room to run and play.  

The bay also has its own little micro-climate and is usually sunny, even when the surrounding areas are shrouded in fog.

Enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, boogie board, swimming, hunting for shells and sea glass, and–if the tide is low enough–exploring the small caves at the end of the cove along the bluff.

Bathrooms are available to visitors as well as an outdoor shower for rinsing off the sand at the end of the day. There is no entrance fee for parking.

Tour Hearst Castle

There’s just something about castles that brings out the kids in all of us! School-aged kids, in particular, will enjoy a tour of California’s well-known castle–Hearst Castle! Hearst Castle is the historic attraction that put San Simeon on the map!

The castle was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s with the help of architect Julia Morgan. This 165-room architectural wonder sits up on a hill on 123 acres of gardens, pools, terraces, and paths overlooking the beautiful San Simeon Bay.

In the 1950s Hearst donated the castle to the State of California, and the estate became a Historical State Park. Every year, more than 750,000 visitors come to explore the property and take in gorgeous views.

Schedule a Tour

Visit the park website to schedule a tour. If it’s your first visit, we recommend the Grand Rooms Tour. It gives a great overview of the castle and includes some of our favorite portions the kids will love—the swimming pools!

Watch a Movie on the IMAX Screen

Included in your ticket price is a view of Building the Dream. Shown on the Visitor’s Center IMAX screen, it’s a documentary that focuses on the construction of the castle.

Usually, during the slow season (January and February), the IMAX may play a National Geographic film that young viewers typically enjoy for a nominal fee!

girls smiling while sitting in the dark near a campfire

Camp at Hearst San Simeon State Park

Just south of Hearst State Castle is a state-run campground. If you love tent camping or have an RV, it’s a great little place to spend a few nights.  

Amenities

The Hearst San Simeon State Park Campground is a developed campground with flushing toilets, showers, fire pits, picnic tables, and a dump station. There are hiking trails and easy access to the beach.

Remote Campground

If you’re looking for a quieter spot, we recommend reserving a space in the Washburn Campground. Amenities are more limited, but you’ll enjoy the solitude and the stargazing at night. If you need a shower, the main campground is a short walk, bike ride, or car ride away.

teen boy walking boardwalk on the bluff trail on the fiscalini ranch preserve in cambria in california with ocean in the distance

Take a Hike

One of our favorite things to do with kids in San Simeon is to go for a hike!

Not all kids love to hike, but we somehow ended up with three kiddos who do. Even if you have to bribe and convince your young explorers to go for a hike, we have three kid-friendly trail recommendations.

San Simeon Bay Trail at Williams Randolph Hearst State Beach

This trail is one of our favorites. It’s an out and back trail that All Trails rates as moderate, but I would say is easy. The only tricky part is a short walk through the sand and up a small hill. Once you’re at the top of the bluff, the trail is completely flat.

This trail has a beautiful, sprawling tree that every kid will want to climb. There are scenic overlooks of the bay and you’ll often see elephant seals in the water or laying on the beach. We’ve spotted several bald eagles while hiking this trail. There are also a couple of tree tunnels that speak to the kid in all of us. You can simply hike to the point and back, or you can walk a full four miles (out and back).

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Trail is located in Cambria, just a few miles south of San Simeon. The Preserve is located right along the bluffs and offers accessible trails. Kids will enjoy the boardwalks and fun benches made out of driftwood.

The Preserve offers 17 easy to moderate trails. We recommend the Bluff Trail which takes you right along the water’s edge on a well-maintained boardwalk. It’s a little less than a mile, but packs a lot of punch!

Harmony Headlands

The Harmony Headlands Trail is 20 minutes south of San Simeon. The trail is wide and flat, making it an easy hike for most young adventurers. Portable restrooms are located just west of the trailhead.

This trail winds through the hills where you’re bound to see some wildlife and ends with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. For added adventure, if the tide is low enough, hike down the bluffs to the water’s edge and explore.

If you’re willing to drive a little further, and want to hike more of the Central Coast, check out our list of family-friends hikes in our post titled 10 FREE things to do with kids near Paso Robles.

young blonde girl in a pink swearshirt looking at sea life in the tide pools top 10 things to do with kids near san simeon

Go Tidepooling

Tidepooling is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. If you’re not familiar with the term tide-pooling, I’ll explain. When the ocean tide recedes twice per day, water is left in rocky crags and “pools” along the beach.

These pools are teeming with sea life. Muscles, clams, hermit crabs, sea anemones, starfish, crabs, eels, and octopuses all make their home in the protected rocks.

When the water is low, it’s a great time to explore the tidepools. Check the tides before your trip and go during low tide. And remember, always face the waves–sometimes they sneak up on you!

Best Tidepooling Places Near San Simeon

  • Cayucos, north of the pier
  • Cambria, Moonstone Beach
  • Harmony Headlands, along the bluff

Bike Ride in Cambria

Paths and boardwalks wind through Cambria and riding these paths can be a fun way to experience this quaint town. While you’re in Cambria, we highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Main Street Grill. We especially love their salads (add tri-tip), tri-tip sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, and ABC burgers. Biggest tip: Main Street Grill french fries are TASTY. Ask for ranch dressing and bbq sauce for dipping…but they don’t even need it. 

northern elephant seals on the beach near san simeon with yellow flowers blooming

Visit the Elephant Seals

No trip to San Simeon is complete without a stop by the Elephant Seal Viewing Area just a few miles north of Hearst Castle.

If you’ve never seen an elephant seal, you’re in for a treat. Northern Elephant Seals are large and loud (and occasionally smelly–especially when they’re molting).  

The seals congregate in large numbers on the beach at a location known as the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. These creatures are entertaining to watch from the viewing area, but keep your distance! Although they look deceptively slow, they can move as fast as most people can run, weigh thousands of pounds, and have sharp teeth that can snap bones in half. In other words, they can ruin your vacation. Don’t be that person.

Watch them from a distance and chuckle at their antics. And smile, because the experience is completely free!

Drive up to Salmon Creek Falls

If you’re up for a short hike and would like to splash in a freshwater stream, then a drive up to Salmon Creek Falls is in order. The trail is all of 0.3 miles and easy. There is poison oak, so keep that in mind and bring along some Fels-Naptha soap if you have sensitive skin.

You can fish in the stream, swim, or–if the water is low enough–hike above the waterfall and climb inside!

zebra grazing

Look for Zebras

Yes, there are zebras in San Siemon.  

Williams Randolph Hearst created a zoo on the property, shipping in animals from all over the world, including African zebras. To this day, the zebras graze the grassy hillsides surrounding the castle with cattle.

We typically spot them out in the field just south of the entrance to Hearst State Castle.

Get Ice Cream in One of the World’s Smallest Towns

If you hike Harmony Headlands, it only makes sense that you stop for ice cream in the small town of Harmony.

And when we say small, we mean SMALL. The population of Harmony is 18, and there are rumors that the number includes a few cows.

Harmony Valley Creamery is located on the main drag, and you really can’t miss it. Grab a cone and walk one block to explore the remainder of the town. Don’t forget to take a picture in front of their city sign!

Enjoy your family getaway to San Simeon

We know you’ll have a wonderful time exploring this little piece of paradise on the Central Coast!

If you have any questions about an upcoming trip, drop us a line below–we’d love to help!

The Cheapest Way to Get Disney Tickets {7 Tips for Buying Dirt Cheap Disney Tickets}

One of the most asked questions Disney-loving families ask is, What is the cheapest way to get Disney Tickets?

Disneyland and Walt Disney World can add up in a hurry when you start looking at ticket prices for an entire family.  I frequently see posts and comments on social media of people saying that their family could never afford a trip to Disney.

I disagree.

A Disney vacation IS within reach for your family.  

Using my hacks and tips, most families CAN afford a trip to Disney.  Our family of five can get tickets to Disneyland for three days for $393.  That’s only $26 per person, per day! Yes, that’s dirt cheap!

family talking to buzz lightyear in toy story land at hollywood studios at walt disney world

1. APPLY FOR A DISNEY CREDIT CARD

The most bang for your buck involves a Disney credit card or two… that you pay off IMMEDIATELY and cancel as soon as you get your rewards.

Chase offers a Disney Premier credit card that gives you a $300 discount when you spend $1,000. It also charges you $49 for the annual fee.  This equates to a $251 discount, which is pretty amazing.

I got a credit card for myself and one for my husband, Allan, saving our family $502!

You can reapply for the card every two years and get this reward each time.

If you struggle with managing your impulses when it comes to credit card expenditures, however, I would recommend avoiding this method.

2. GET A RESIDENT DISCOUNT

At certain times of the year, Disney offers discounted tickets to residents.  Purchasing a discounted resident pass is one of the cheapest ways to get Disney tickets.

Usually, from January through May, Disneyland offers a discounted 3-day ticket for Southern California residents (the entire bottom half of the state). Any California resident that lives in zip code ZIP codes 90000-93599 qualifies. If you’re willing to visit on a weekday during the first half of the year, you can score the 3-day pass for only $199 this year. 

This discounted pass is a one-park-per-day pass which means that you can only visit one park each day–no park hopping.  We aren’t big fans of park hopping.  It takes up more time, and we don’t feel it’s worth the additional cost.  This is especially true if you have young kids.

From the time you use the first day of your pass, you have 14 days to use your other two visits.

Florida residents can get similar discounts at Walt Disney World, but it applies to all residents of the entire state.

TIP: If you purchase a resident pass, be prepared to show proof of residency at the gate.  Typically, they will check your tickets against your state-issued ID.  So, you cannot purchase tickets for friends or family who are non-residents.

cinderella and prince charming on parade float at magic kingdom at walt disney world

3. PURCHASE TICKETS THROUGH DISCOUNT WEBSITES

Alternatively, you can get tickets from a reputable source like Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist for a smaller discount. 

These discounts aren’t as good as a resident discount, but if you don’t qualify for a resident discount, this is a good alternative.

Note: Ticket fraud is an unfortunate reality. Do not buy your tickets from unauthorized websites or third parties like FB Marketplace or other sites.

4. USE YOUR TARGET RED CARD

Purchase Disney gift cards using your Target Red Card and save 5%. You can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets on Disney’s website or in the app.

Prior to purchasing your tickets, use the Disney gift card website to combine balances on cards.  Just keep in mind that the balance of each card can’t exceed $1,000.  Also, the ticket website only allows you to use one gift card per purchase.  So, if your total ticket price is more than $1,000 you’ll need to split up your ticket purchase into multiple orders.

girl hugging bb8 star wars droid at character meet and greet in hollywood studios at walt disney world

5. USE THE RAKUTEN APP

The Rakuten app is one of my favorite money-saving tips.  It’s so easy to use!

Rakuten partners with popular businesses to provide cashback to its users.

Recently, Rakuten was offering 10% back on the Disney store. The fine print said cashback didn’t apply to gift cards (you can use the gift cards to purchase your tickets) but it worked for me. No guarantees on this tip—but you might get lucky, too.

Additionally, if you use this referral link to sign up for Rakuten, you’ll get $30 when you spend $30.  Then, if you refer someone (like your spouse), they also get $30 when they spend $30 AND you get $30.  Sounds too good to be true?  It’s not!  It’s good–and it’s true!

By taking advantage of their referral program, we were able to get Disney gift cards FOR FREE.

Here’s how it worked.  I referred my husband who bought a $50 Disney gift card.  Since it was Cyber Monday, they were giving an even better referral credit, so I got $40 and my husband got $40.  That’s a total of $80 cashback.  If you subtract the $50 I spent on the gift card, we still walked away with an extra $30.

When you’re on the hunt for the cheapest way to get Disney tickets, the Rakuten app is the way to go!

Sign up for Rakuten and get busy saving! It’s easy!

6. VISIT DURING OFFSEASON

The best (cheapest) time to visit Disney is during the offseason. Any day that kids are in school there will be lower crowds and cheaper tickets.

To score the lowest cost on tickets, check the ticket calendar on Disney’s website.  Avoid weekends, holidays, and school breaks and your pocketbook will thank you.

7. SKIP the HOPPER TICKETS

Instead of paying extra for hopper tickets, go with the 1-park-per-day pass. 

If you only have one day at Disney and have teens, a hopper may be a good choice.  But for most families, park-hopping equals lots of walking.  And more walking means you’re spending less time enjoying the attractions and the magic of Disney!

We have always found plenty to do and have never had trouble filling up our day by staying in one park all day long.

Typically, at Disneyland, we spend two full days at Disneyland Resort and one full day at California Adventure Park.  For Disney World, it’s easy to spend a full day in each of the four parks.

The Cheapest Way to Get Disney Tickets

Using these tips and tricks will make a visit to Disney World or Disneyland within reach!  Here’s a breakdown of how our family of five can score 3-days worth of tickets to Disneyland for only $393.

1. Purchased $1,000 in gift cards from Shop Disney via the Rakuten App with a 10% cashback offer.

SAVINGS: $100

2. Used the gift card money to purchase 5, 3-day, 1 park per day Disneyland tickets for Southern California Residents at $995.

SAVINGS: $655+

3. Applied for the Chase Disney Premier Visa Card for both my husband and myself. Obtained a $300 credit – the $49 annual fee.

SAVINGS: $251(x2)=$502

Altogether…

$995 (Tickets)

-$100 (Rakuten cashback)

-$502 (Chase credit card credit)

=$393

If you have any questions about any of these tips, I’d love to help answer them.  Drop them in the comments below.

For more ways to save money at Disney, check out our post 11 Hacks to Help You Save Money on Food at Disney.

Perfect 3-Day Itinerary for Yellowstone National Park

If you’re looking for a 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we’ve got you covered! 

Yellowstone National Park was on our bucket list for years.  It was one of the national parks that neither Allan nor I had visited.  I had seen pictures of the incredible scenery and wildlife but wanted to see it for myself.  Of course, even if the pictures are filtered, this is one of those places that is even better in person!

I wasn’t sure how much time we needed there, so I used the wonderful tool of social media to get input from my friends who had already visited Yellowstone.  A variety of answers came in, but two to five days was the general recommendation.  I settled on three days and three nights.  We did one half-day, followed by two full days, then another half-day.

WHEN TO VISIT YELLOWSTONE

The best time to visit, of course, depends on multiple factors, all of which vary from family to family.  We needed to go when the kids were out of school and it was warm enough to tent camp.  That didn’t leave a lot of options.  Really, just one: summer.  I researched weather patterns (it CAN snow in June and September), mosquitos, and crowds.

Consider the Weather

During our 3-day itinerary to Yellowstone, we wanted to hike, and we were tent camping, so we decided to go in July when it was warm.  I had thought June might work if we went right after the kids got out of school.  I imagined crowds would be a little lower in June.  And they may have been, but we’re glad we ended up going in July since it ended up snowing in Yellowstone the third week of June!

Plan for Mosquitos

I had heard that you can get eaten alive by mosquitoes at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the summer.  Here’s the bad news: you can.  But there’s also good news: they only come out at dawn and dusk.  Timing your trip to avoid the mosquitos is nearly impossible since their appearance depends on a variety of factors like the amount and timing of snowfall/snowmelt, rainfall, and temperature.  My best advice?  Bring repellent, long pants, and long shirts.  Even though we weren’t cold, covering up before the mosquitos blessed us with their presence definitely helped.

Expect Some Crowds at Some Locations

More than four million people visit Yellowstone every year, making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States.  I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd volume or lack thereof.  I was expecting the crowd levels to be more similar to Yosemite National Park.  However, because Yellowstone is so spread out, it helps disperse the crowds.  

Unfortunately, there is no public transportation system in this national park.  Biking isn’t really feasible considering the abundance of wildlife, narrow roads, and sprawling nature of Yellowstone.  Everywhere you go, you will need to drive your vehicle.  I expected chaos and congestion, but, in reality, it was easy to find parking spots with the exception of the Grand Prismatic Spring trailhead.

I planned our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone so that we would arrive on a Sunday and leave on a Wednesday, avoiding the extra weekend traffic.

Walking the boardwalk at West Thumb Hot Springs

MAKING RESERVATIONS AT YELLOWSTONE

After extensive research, I decided to stay at Canyon Campground.  It was the most centrally located, so we could stay in the same spot all three nights and keep everything within relatively easy driving distance.  I suggest reserving your spot as far in advance as you can.  It’s not as difficult to secure a spot in Yellowstone as it is in Yosemite, which was nice.

Campsites can be reserved through the Yellowstone National Park Lodges website.  Just click on the BOOK button to see your options.

YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 1 (HALF DAY)

On the first day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we entered the park through the west entrance in the afternoon, using our FREE 4th grader national park pass from the Every Kid Outdoors program.  We loved seeing the beautiful, small section of Montana right before we entered the park. Allan is now dreaming of owning a ranch home in that area.

To be honest, after the gorgeous mountains, trees, tall green grass, and wildflowers entering Yellowstone from the west was a bit of a letdown.  There were stunted trees and the vegetation was a little sparse. I’m not sure what I was expecting, considering it’s a geothermal area.  Haha!  Gradually, the scenery did change, ushering in more trees and greenery.

Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls was our first stop!  We parked the vehicle and made a short, easy walk down the path to view 84 feet of cascading falls.  

Gibbon Falls on the west side of Yellowstone National Park

Canyon Campground

From there, we hopped back in the car, passed some mud pots, and drove on until we got to our home base for the next few days: the Canyon Campground.  We set up camp and then headed down to Canyon Village.  The Village is an area that has a couple of dining areas, a gift shop, a grocery store, and a visitor center.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

Canyon Visitor Center

After walking around The Village, we made our way to the Visitor Center.  We talked to rangers, looked at maps, and walked around looking at all the different displays. A love for learning runs deep in our family, so visitor centers are always a hit.  Don’t forget to pick up a free Junior Ranger booklet if you have younger kids!  My kids love this program!

Hayden Valley

At dusk, we grabbed our binoculars and cameras and drove down to Hayden Valley.  It’s an eight-mile drive from the campground that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on animal traffic.  Bison and wildlife traffic jams are a very real thing in Yellowstone, and you just learn to live with it and enjoy it!  Hayden Valley is a great place to see bison, elk, river otters, deer, and more!  There are plenty of places to pull off the road and park.

It was the perfect way to end our first night in Yellowstone.

TIP: If you can afford it, I highly recommend you have several pairs of binoculars!

A bison cow and her calf

YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 2 (FULL DAY)

We devoted Day 2, the first full day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, to exploring the northern loop of the park.  Yellowstone National Park consists of two main driving loops, a northern loop, and a southern loop. 

Lamar Valley

We ate a quick breakfast and headed north, straight toward Lamar Valley, knowing that the wildlife would be most active in the morning.

The drive to the valley was a beautiful one, up and over the summit with wildflowers all along the road.  As we turned at Tower Junction and headed east toward Lamar Valley, we saw bald eagles, pronghorn antelope, and bison.  We had hoped we would see wolves, but we didn’t get that lucky. In the morning, this area was devoid of park visitors, making the experience more magical.

A Pronghorn antelope in Hayden Valley

Petrified Tree

After a couple of hours in Lamar Valley, we headed northwest toward the Petrified Tree.  This was a quick stop that we found a bit underwhelming.  Would we stop here again?  Probably not, but it’s a good site to stop by once, especially if your kids have never seen petrified wood.

The Town of Mammoth

Our next stop was the little town of Mammoth, located at the north end of the park.  Fort Yellowstone was located in this area and many of the buildings are still in use today.

Usually, the town is inundated with elk.  They lounge on the grass like they own the place.  However, the day we were there, they were strangely absent and nobody seemed to know why.  

Lunch in Mammoth

We had lunch at the “fancy” restaurant in town, the Mammoth Dining Room.  My turkey salad looked (and tasted) like something you would get from a cafeteria.  Edible, but not remarkable.  Everyone agreed that the huckleberry lemonade, and ambiance, was their favorite part.

Lunch at the Mammoth Dining Room in Yellowstone

The Mammoth Visitor Center

We especially enjoyed the Albright Visitor Center in this quaint little town!  It was small, and a little busy, but the displays, particularly the ones about the wildlife, were fascinating.  

Mammoth Springs

Next, we walked across the town square to Mammoth Springs.  If you’re doubtful that you’re headed in the right direction, you can be assured you are going the right way if your nose tells you there’s a rotten egg factory nearby.  Haha!

What you’re smelling is the easily identifiable smell of sulfur, which can be found in the geothermal areas throughout the park.  If the hot mist blows toward you, it can get in your eyes and irritate them.  It’s not dangerous, per se, but I wouldn’t call it incredibly enjoyable.

Some people rate Mammoth Springs high on their list of park favorites, but anything that smelled strongly of sulfur resulted in short visit times for our family.  Is it interesting and unique?  Absolutely.  Would we go back?  Yes!  Ten to twenty minutes was enough time though, for our family to view the springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

Roosevelt Lodge

We doubled back towards the campground after visiting Mammoth.  Ordinarily, you could complete the whole loop. I really wanted to swim in Boiling River Hot Springs and catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, but that portion of the road was closed due to construction.

As we passed Roosevelt Lodge (located right by Tower Junction), we saw a couple of cars pull over on the side of the road.  Suddenly, more cars pulled over.  Then we spotted it.  There was a black bear, sitting in the meadow eating grass!  We found a parking spot on the side of the road and watched.  It was undoubtedly the highlight of our day!

Black bear sighting near Tower Junction in Yellowstone National Park

Tower Fall

Next, we stopped by Tower Fall.  There’s a short, accessible hike to a 132-foot waterfall.  After the hike, we snagged an ice cream cone from the Tower General Store located at the trailhead, in the parking lot.  It’s the little things!

Tower Fall in Yellowstone

Enjoying ice cream from Tower Fall General Store

Hayden Valley

After eating a bowl of chili for dinner back at the campground, we headed out again to Hayden Valley to watch the wildlife.  Watching the sunset across the grassy fields where bison, elk, and antelope grazed is a peaceful way to end every day.

Elk munching on grass

Yellowstone River

One of many bison herds

YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 3 (FULL DAY)

For the second full day of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone, we explored the southern loop of the park.  This loop was busier than the northern loop as it’s closer to Grand Teton National Park and hosts some of the more well-known features of the park, like Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Hot Springs at West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake

For our first stop, we toured the West Thumb geothermal area.  It’s located right near Yellowstone Lake and is uniquely beautiful.  We hiked the boardwalk that connects the different springs, listened to a ranger talk, and had a picnic lunch.

West Thumb Hot Springs near Yellowstone Lake

Old Faithful Geyser

From West Thumb, we headed west toward our next destination, Old Faithful.  The crowds were definitely a little heavier here.

Old Faithful is one of six geysers in the park that erupts on a fairly consistent basis (hence the name, Old Faithful).  The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center regularly posts the next predicted eruption time, plus or minus 10 minutes, allowing guests the opportunity to explore some of the nearby attractions via a boardwalk, meander through the gift shop, watch an educational video in the visitor center, or grab a bite to eat.

We arrived fairly close to the eruption time (view eruption prediction times here), so we didn’t have long to wait.

While it was a unique experience, for us, the animals ranked higher on the list when it comes to planning a 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone.  It may have been that that area was so jampacked with people, and I’m a bit of an introvert.

Old Faithful Geyser erupts in Yellowstone

Old Faithful Inn

The Old Faithful Inn is a work of art and a beautiful piece of history.  Stepping inside was like stepping back in time.

Of course, we managed to find an ice cream shop inside the lodge.  Huckleberry ice cream is my new favorite ice cream.  If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do!

We took our ice cream to the second floor, where there’s a covered balcony that overlooks the Old Faithful geyser.  There are dozens of handcrafted wooden tables and chairs for guests to use.  The next time we visit Old Faithful, we decided the balcony would be the perfect spot to watch the eruption!

Other Geysers/Upper Basin

There are multiple trails in the Old Faithful/Upper Basin area.  It was unusually warm when we were there (over 90°F), and nobody was super anxious to walk near steaming hot water.   Also, we still wanted to visit the Lower Basin area.  Some of the trails are short with boardwalks, and others are longer and would require the rental of bear spray. We decided to save some of those longer trails for our next visit to Yellowstone.

Grand Prismatic Spring

By the time we reached the Grand Prismatic Spring/Lower Basin parking lot in the mid-afternoon, the traffic was rather congested.  The parking lot was full and cars were lined up waiting to get in.  I don’t even remember how long it took to find a parking spot.  A long time.  A very long time. Long enough that I ended up getting out with the girls to take them to the restroom.  

The colors at the Lower Basin were stunning and unlike anything we had ever seen before.  It was also rather breezy, causing everyone to clutch their hats, lest they be snatched away by the wind.  There were quite a few hats lying out of reach of the boardwalk that had escaped their owners’ heads.  

Some people were playing in the river right at the trailhead, but I’m definitely a rule follower when it comes to signs like “Stay on the Boardwalk” and “Danger: Thermal Area”.  Instead, we skipped wading in the river and headed back to camp for showers and dinner.

The unbelievable colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone Canyon

One of the benefits of being so far north is that the sun doesn’t set until after 9 pm in July.  So, after dinner, we headed out to explore Yellowstone Falls.  It’s here that you’ll discover how Yellowstone got its name. The grandeur of this golden canyon is breathtaking.

Yellowstone River

Bird watching

Lower Yellowstone Falls

On our way there, we spied a grizzly bear in a meadow between the main road and the falls parking lot!  We pulled into the parking lot and saw it saunter off into the woods.  Of course, there were people running towards the bear, selfie sticks in hand.  I still can hardly believe it.

What in the world would possess someone to chase a grizzly bear into the forest at dusk?  Probably the same thing that possesses people to try to pet the bison that is hanging out by the restroom.

After spending a few days at Yellowstone, I’m actually surprised more people don’t get tossed by bison or attacked by bears.  The park does an excellent job of reminding people that the animals are wild and to keep at least 25 yards away from bison and elk and 100 yards away from bears.  But people will be people, and no doubt I pulled my fair share of stupid stunts, especially when I was a teen.

YELLOWSTONE ITINERARY: DAY 4 (HALF DAY)

Our last half-day was more of a travel day.  We packed up in the morning and said goodbye to Canyon Campground.  This was the end of our 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone.

We felt like we had time to see all the main attractions, and know that next time we return, we’ll explore more of the off-the-beaten-path!

Canyon Village

First, we stopped by the village to visit the gift shop (tradition). Brandon got a national park keychain and the girls chose animals that reminded them of their time in Yellowstone.  If your kiddos have completed at least seven pages of the Junior Ranger booklet, this morning is also a great time to drop by the visitor center and claim their Junior Ranger badge!

Mud Volcano

Just south of Hayden Valley is an area called Mud Volcano.  There’s a half-mile loop that takes you on a boardwalk through boiling mud. And, yes, it smells like sulfur!  There’s something strangely mesmerizing about watching mud simmer and boil.  

Scenic Drive

We continued to drive south on the main road toward our next stop, Grand Teton National Park, where we spent two days.  A beautiful scenic drive was the perfect way to end our time in Yellowstone.  We stopped from time to time when we saw wildlife or wanted to take a picture.  We saw more bison (surprise!) and ended up seeing some elk that were bedded down right next to the road!

Rushing waters and people at lower Yellowstone Falls - 3-day itinerary for yellowstone

Bison by the road and bison in the road…everywhere

PLAN YOUR YELLOWSTONE VISIT

This 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone allowed us to see all the major attractions in the park at a pace that fit our family!  Yellowstone National Park was everything we dreamed it would be and then some.  It became the girls’ favorite national park, mostly because of the abundance of wildlife.

Are you ready to plan your trip to Yellowstone National Park?  Do you have any questions?  I’d love to hear them and help answer them!  Additionally, download my FREE printable packing list for Yellowstone before your trip!

3-day itinerary for Yellowstone with map and attractions for visiting Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

How to Spend One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoping to spend one day in Bryce Canyon National Park and don’t know what to do? We can help!

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is an absolute must-see!

We spent two days and nights in Bryce on our 7-day southern Utah road trip and it felt like the perfect amount of time. However, not everyone has two days, and you can certainly see much of the park in one day!

HIKE QUEEN’S GARDEN + NAVAJO LOOP TRAIL

Views of the canyon from up above are gorgeous, there’s no denying it. However, to fully experience Bryce, YOU MUST hike down into the canyon.

Wondering through the hoodoos as the sunlight dances through all the nooks and crannies is something we’ll never forget.

We suggest starting at Sunrise Point and taking the Queen’s Garden Trail. The path is steep, but the least steep of all trails leading into the canyon.

Follow the Queen’s Garden Trail until you reach the Navajo Loop. Take the Navajo Loop towards Wall Street (not Thor’s Hammer). Wind your way through a towering slot canyon until you reach Sunset Point.

Hike Length: 2.3 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

towering red limestone hoodoos in bryce canyon in utah

TOUR THE VISITOR’S CENTER

There’s no better way to learn about the canyon than hearing about its history and speaking to the people who care for it day in and day out.

Head to the Visitor’s Center to watch an informative video about the park, talk to rangers, check out the interactive displays, and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the younger members of your crew.

bryce canyon 3d map in the visitors center

VISIT INSPIRATION POINT AND BRYCE POINT

Riding around the park on the shuttle is a great way to see the canyon without the hassle. Take a shuttle tour of Bryce Canyon and get off at all the vista points! Two sights that you don’t want to miss are Inspiration Point and Bryce Point.

Inspiration Point offers jaw-dropping views of the unique rock formations. If you’re feeling up to it, take the short, but steep, hike up to mid and upper Inspiration Point.

the view from lower inspiration point in bryce canyon

EXPLORE OLD TOWN BRYCE

Small and quaint, albeit touristy, most families will enjoy a stroll through Old Town Bryce. Pick up souvenirs, take silly pictures, and grab something to eat. This area is small enough that if you blink, you might miss it!

If you ride the shuttle into town, don’t forget to bring along your park entry ticket so you can re-enter the park…without paying twice.

family walking on path in old town bryce in utah
father and daughter posing for a picture in a western cutout in old town bryce

GO ON A WILDLIFE SIGHTING ADVENTURE

As dusk approaches, Bryce Canyon’s finest residents make an appearance. While wildlife isn’t nearly as diverse as Yellowstone, adventurers of all ages will enjoy spotting wild turkeys, mule deer, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and a variety of feathered friends.

We spotted the most creatures as we drove our car a few miles down the road, past Bryce Point toward Swamp Canyon and Whiteman Bench.

STROLL ALONG THE RIM TRAIL

Before the sun sets, hike the Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Point. If you have extra time, hike from Inspiration Point to Sunrise Point.

This trail is mostly flat and hugs the edge of the canyon.  

Trail Length: 1-mile roundtrip (Sunrise to Sunset)

Difficulty: Easy

Enjoy the beauty of Bryce Canyon

While Bryce Canyon National Park may be one of the smaller national parks, it should definitely be on everyone’s list. There’s nothing quite like it in all the world!

Planning to stay longer than one day and have kids? Check out 9 Things to Do in Bryce Canyon With Kids!