What to Do When You Have One Day at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is worth a visit, even if it’s a short visit.  Every time I’ve been (I’ve been three times), I’ve spent either a half-day or full-day in the park.  No doubt, you could spend more time, but I personally feel like one day at Crater Lake is sufficient.

The water is absolutely mesmerizing on a sunny day and should be on your bucket list of National Parks to visit.  If you have one day at Crater Lake, we can help you make the most of it!

BEST TIME VISIT CRATER LAKE

Crater Lake, although it’s at a relatively low elevation of 6,178’ (at least when it comes to volcanic peaks), is one of the snowiest places in the United States.  It averages over 40’ of snow per year. Forty feet!

Because the water is a breath-taking blue, when the sun is shining, July or August are great months to visit.  During the summer, you’ll be able to do more and see Crater Lake looking its best.  Yes, there will be more crowds, but I’ve never seen it crazy busy like Yosemite in the summer.  

Cleetwood Cove, Crater Lake National Park

Hike Cleetwood Cove Trail

Our kids enjoyed this relatively short hike.  The trail winds from the rim of the crater down to the water’s edge.  On our last trip, we made it to the bottom in 15 minutes.  Going down you feel like a million bucks.  But here’s the catch.  You have to hike back up.  And it’s steep. Very steep.

It’s a 2.2 round trip hike, so it makes sense to use the restroom before you leave the trailhead parking lot (there are no restrooms at the bottom of the trail, at least not at the time I wrote this), and pack plenty of water and a small snack.

Claire and I almost didn’t hike since we knew hiking back up would prove to be impossible with her muscle disease.  She really wanted to go.  I really wanted to go.  And Allan really wanted to go.  We decided to just make it happen.  We took turns carrying her back up the hill, which was a workout but worth it.

It’s fun to see Crater Lake from a different angle, and it’s the only place where you can hike down to the water’s edge.

There are other hikes you can explore, but Cleetwood Cove should be at the top if you have only one day at Crater Lake.

Empty trail in the morning

Cute critters make hikes better

It really is that blue 

Swim in the Cold Water of an Ancient Volcano

Once you arrive at Cleetwood Cove, you’ll certainly want to feel the water.  You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the temperature and think, “That’s not too bad!” 

It’s not too bad.  When we were there in August, it was a refreshing 66°F.  But don’t fall for it.  It’s a trick.  While it may be SLIGHTLY brisk on the surface, if you go down six feet, you’ll find the water temperature to be ULTRA brisk at 38°F.  

Swimming is permitted in the cove if you’re willing to experience brain freeze, toe freeze, tush freeze, and all-the-other-parts freeze.  Let’s just say, a dip in Crater Lake hasn’t been added to my “must-do!” list, yet.  I’m a little bit of a chicken when it comes to cold water.

The icy blue waters of Cleetwood Cove.  Jump in, if you dare.

Fish for Trout and Salmon at Crater Lake–for FREE!

That’s right, you don’t need a fishing license to fish at Crater Lake.  The fish aren’t native (obviously—it was a volcano that blew up and filled up with water and fish don’t fall out of the sky), so the park allows visitors to fish to their heart’s content.  You can also catch as many as you like since there is no limit!  The only requirement is that you use artificial bait.

The only place with access to the water is Cleetwood Cove, so don’t forget, if you do catch anything, you’ll have to hike it back up the hill.

Take a Boat Ride

Of course, due to COVID-19, boat tours weren’t happening, but I really loved taking the boat tour on a previous trip.  It’s a little spendy, but it’s a two-hour ride that explores some features of the lake that you can’t see (at least, you can’t see very well) from Cleetwood Cove or the Rim.  The ranger did a fabulous job sharing about the lake’s history and geology, including all the details you probably won’t discover by driving your car around the rim of the lake. 

The boat departs from Cleetwood Cove, so you will have to be up to experiencing both the tour and the hike back!  Boat tours are only available during the summer (Cleetwood Trail doesn’t usually open until mid-June) and should be reserved in advance.

Drive Around the Crater Rim

The road that takes you around the perimeter of Crater Lake is 33 miles long.  Along the way are small parking lots where you can get out, stretch, and take a glimpse of the lake from a different viewpoint.  By the time you pull into your fourth vista point, the kids will probably be asking, “Why are we stopping again?”  But, if you have all day…   

Freezing cold on an August morning at Merriam Point along the Crater Rim Drive

Eat a Picnic Lunch by the Visitor Center

There’s just something about munching on a sandwich while overlooking the deepest, bluest lake in the United States.  If you park near the Visitor Center, you can take one of the paved paths that meander along the lake and just choose a spot on the rock wall to relax and soak in the beauty around you.

Food tastes better after hiking

Can you see Phantom Ship Island?

Perfect wall for sitting and picnicing

Become a junior ranger

Youth ages 6-12 can participate in Crater Lake National Park’s Junior Ranger Program.  All national parks offer this FREE program, giving young adventurers the opportunity to earn a park badge.  Simply pick up an activity booklet from the visitor center and complete seven pages (last time they had Claire do eight pages–different rangers, different rules).  A ranger will give kids a low-key quiz on what they learned, have them recite the junior ranger pledge, and present them with a small wooden badge.  You can also print the Junior Ranger booklet at home if you prefer! 

Look for All the Things at the Gift Shop

Anyone who knows me, knows this is not one of the things I want to do on my trip.  I have a natural aversion to shopping.  Shoe shopping, clothes shopping, grocery shopping, and souvenir shopping…it doesn’t matter.  It’s not my thing.  But for some reason, it’s my kids FAVORITE thing.  They agonize over choosing just the right item, trying to find something that fits their budget (they always have a predetermined budget for souvenirs that’s quite minimal).

We typically find ourselves circling the shop until I give the 2-minute warning.  Predictably, Brandon ends up with a key chain and a water bottle decal and the girls choose a small stuffed animal that reminds them of a creature they saw in the park.  

Water bottle decals–inexpensive souveniors that remind you of your experience every day

ENJOY YOUR DAY A CRATER LAKE

While Crater Lake National Park isn’t one of the more popular national parks, it’s definitely a must-do for every nature lover and adventurer.  It’s raw beauty is stunning and a perfect one-day stop on your next summer family vacation!

The Day Magic Found Us at Disney’s Magic Kingdom

“Mommy look at that one!”  

I looked down at my youngest daughter, Claire, as she sat in her wheelchair gazing up at a giant stuffed Marie (the adorable white kitten from Aristocats).  I picked up the stuffed animal and handed it to her.

Claire beamed as she held her.  She squeezed her tight.  My heart smiled as I watched her, wearing Belle’s yellow ballroom gown.

She handed her back as I asked, “How much do you think she costs?”  I glanced at the price tag.

“I don’t know.”

“She cost a lot.  And she’s VERY big.  She’s almost as big as you!  She’s super cute, though!”

I put Marie back on the shelf and we continued to meander through the gift shop, then headed outdoors.

  

Claire, my sister in law, and I stood outside the Briar Patch Gift Shop, taking in the sights and the sound of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  I heard happy screams drift from Thunder Mountain Railroad as the smell of popcorn and cotton candy wafted through the night air.

“When will they be back?” Claire asked.  “How much longer until the show?”

“Not much longer.  As soon as it’s over we’ll head back to The Village,” I said.

The Village I was talking about was Give Kids the World Village, an enchanted place designed especially for children with critical illnesses.  We were staying there for a week courtesy of the Mak-A-Wish Foundation.  Claire had wished to go to Disneyland, but they surprised her with a bigger trip to Disney World.  

Claire was elated to receive a wish but had been feeling poorly for the past seven months.  Most of the day at Magic Kingdom went well, but she started feeling pretty crummy right after dinner and was ready to leave.  We were torn between leaving right away and pressing through so we could watch Once Upon A Time, the nighttime show, something we all wanted to see.

She decided to try to press through.  Rides weren’t sounding great, though, so she requested we look through some gift shops while the rest of the family hopped on the Thunder Mountain Railroad for a quick ride.

As I stood there, alternating between taking in my surroundings, worrying about Claire, and praying she would feel better and that her whole trip wouldn’t be overshadowed by pain, a voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Excuse me.”

I turned around and saw a beautiful lady standing there.  Her makeup was glittery and fun, perfect for a day in the park.  

Quietly, she spoke to me, so that Claire couldn’t hear her.

“I saw your daughter with Marie in the gift shop, and I was wondering if we could buy it for her.”

Thoughts immediately started coursing through my brain.  How incredibly sweet!  Marie!  Claire would be in LOVE.

Those positive thoughts were quickly followed by negative ones.  Does she feel sorry for Claire?  That’s a lot of money to spend on a stranger.  Claire doesn’t need a stuffed animal to be happy.  Marie is so big.  How will we ever fit her on the airplane?  We don’t need a handout.  We already were granted a Wish Trip.  We don’t need more.   

Then I switched to thinking about it from her perspective.  She wanted to do something kind.  I was scared to let her do it because of my pride and the inconvenience.  I quickly made my choice.

“Yes.  That is incredibly kind of you.  She would love that,” I told her.

The lady smiled, turned back, and walked into the gift shop.

My eyes started watering.  Claire noticed. 

“What was the lady talking to you about?  Why are you crying?” she asked.

“She was asking me a question.  You’ll see what it was about in a few minutes.  They’re not sad tears.  They’re happy ones,” I replied.

After a couple of minutes, we saw her come out of the gift shop and walk toward us, two young girls and a gentleman in tow.  The older of the two girls was Claire’s age and holding the giant stuffed Marie.

“Hi!” they said.

Claire looked at me, then looked at them, clueless.

The mom smiled and spoke to Claire. “I’m Natalie and these are my girls.  They wanted to get something for you.”

“This is for you,” said the older daughter and handed Claire the stuffed animal.  

Claire was so shocked she didn’t smile and barely let out a small whisper. “Thank you.”

I cried.

We chatted for a minute about their trip, thanked them profusely for their generosity, wished them a wonderful time, and said goodbye.

Claire cuddled Marie, stared at her, then cuddled her some more.

Marie mostly fit in a small purple sackpack on the way home, her head sticking out the top, bringing a smile to all who saw her.  And since Allan was the only person without a personal item, she became his designated personal item for the ride home.  I still chuckle as I picture him carrying her through the airport and onto the plane.  Best dad ever.

Now, when people ask Claire to tell them her greatest highlight from her Wish Trip, she tells them the story of Marie.

It’s a story full of love, generosity, and the kindness of strangers.

It’s a story of the best magic at Magic Kingdom.  The magic of compassion.

Claire cuddling her magical gift, Marie, from Aristocats

Plan a Winter Getaway to Shaver Lake in California

Shaver Lake is one of our favorite winter getaway destinations.  Since we live on the Central Coast of California where it snows every few decades, our kids get pretty excited about spending some time in the snow.  Shaver Lake is only a three-hour drive, making it perfect for a quick weekend away.

WHEN TO VISIT SHAVER LAKE IN THE WINTER

The elevation of Shaver Lake is 5,627 feet, making snow in the winter a good possibility, but not a guarantee. Generally, even if Shaver does get a snowstorm in October or November, chances are good that it will be followed by a rainstorm, melting the snow.

For this reason, mid-January through the beginning of March is the best time to go if you want to have snow on the ground.  Our family typically schedules our Shaver trips for February.   We like to avoid the busiest weekend (Presidents’ Weekend) and have spent several Super Bowl weekends enjoying the winter wonderland.

If you want to visit an area that generally has several feet of snow throughout the winter, you may want to consider visiting another one of our favorite places, South Lake Tahoe!

Snow trips with cousins are the best

WHERE TO STAY IN SHAVER LAKE IN THE WINTER

We love to camp, but not in the winter.  The town of Shaver Lake is small, and while there is a small hotel, we opt to reserve a larger home through VRBO.  Making memories is always better with cousins, so we get a large house that will accommodate a couple of families.

We love having a fire crackling (or gas fire is fine) with snow falling outside, a game room to keep the kids entertained at night, a washer and dryer (for all the wet things), and a kitchen to fix our own meals.

If a hotel with an indoor swimming pool is a must, and you don’t mind a 60-minute drive, Fresno is at the base of the mountains and has a variety of hotel accommodations to choose from based on your preferences.

WINTER ACTIVITIES IN SHAVER LAKE

Although it’s a small town, there is still plenty to do in the village and surrounding area.

Go Sledding or Tubing

The community of Shaver Lake has plenty of small hills perfect for snow sledding!  We build tube runs right outside the back door of our vacation rental and the kids spend countless hours sliding down.  Old tire tubes and plastic toboggans are still our favorites.

If there isn’t enough snow at your rental house, or you don’t want to build your own tube run, jump in the car and drive north on Highway 168 to one of the designated sno-parks.  Parking passes are required for the sno-parks, and can be obtained from these vendors located in Shaver Lake.

If we’re visiting a sno-park, we like to make a day of it and pack an Instant Pot of soup, crackers, and plenty of water.  There’s just something about eating soup in the snow!

Go For a Hike

In winters when the snow is scarce, we can hike one of the many trails in the area.  Last time, we hiked the 3.3 mile Shaver Lake Trail.  If you like snowshoeing, Shaver Lake area also has a trail system that’s great for snowshoeing.

Get Coffee in Town

While getting coffee might not be high on the priority list for the younger people in your party, Allan and I love leaving the kids with cousins while we walk from the VRBO to the Shaver Lake Village to Shaver Coffee & Deli for a cup of joe.  

Spend a Day on the Slopes

China Peak Mountain Resort is only a 30-minute drive from Shaver Lake, making it the perfect day-trip for snowboarders and skiers.  The resort offers lessons for those who are just learning.  It’s not a large resort, so it’s easy for everyone to do their own thing and still cross paths on the slopes all day long.

Go Snowmobiling

If you like a little extra thrill in your life, go snowmobiling in Shaver.  You can rent snowmobiles from Shaver Lake Power Center and explore the trails at the Tamarack Sno-Park.

Claire with her snow saucer, getting ready to slide

Plan Your Next Trip to Shaver

If you need a quick trip to just get away and enjoy a little winter fun, Shaver Lake is a great destination choice, providing plenty of fun for families!

Have you been to Shaver Lake?  Did you go in the winter?  What did you think?  Tell us about it in the comments!

11 Hacks to Help You Save Money on Food at Disney

To help you save money on food at Disney, I’ve compiled a list of my top 11 money-saving hacks.

It’s no secret. The food at Disneyland and Disney World can be pricey.

If you’re looking for ways to eat cheaper at Disney, check out these tips and SAVE MORE!

MAKE A BUDGET

It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s true for our family.  The best way to save money on food at Disney is to never spend it!

If I don’t make a budget, we just fly by the seat of our pants.  Five dollars becomes ten.  Ten dollars becomes twenty.  Suddenly we find ourselves spending significantly more than we thought we would.

Enter THE BUDGET.  Decide ahead of time how much you’re going to spend.  Figure out the cost per meal.  The easiest way to calculate how much it will cost is to look at current menus.  Download the app for the park you want to visit.  For Disney World, it’s My Disney Experience.  For Disneyland, it’s the Disneyland app.  Or you can visit the park website and view the menus there.

Every restaurant shows its menu with prices, making it easy to get an accurate estimate of what you might spend on any given meal.

I use a free expense tracking app, Spending Tracker, to enter all our expenditures and stay on budget.

BRING YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLES

Save the planet and your pocketbook.  Bring your refillable water bottles into the park.  You can refill them at one of the refilling stations (check the map on the app!).  You can also request free cups of water, with ice, from any quick-service restaurant.

SKIP THE SODA

Or bring your own.  Soft drinks can add up quickly!

If you don’t mind drinking canned drinks, Disney allows guests to bring in their own soft drinks or energy drinks.  The only requirement is that it’s in a can or plastic–no glass.

BRING YOUR OWN MEALS

For me, eating out makes it feel more like a vacation, so I’m not the type to make my own lunch every day, BUT I have brought in our lunch before and saved $60.

You can’t bring in a full-sized ice chest into the park, but we filled a couple of soft-sided lunch boxes with sandwiches, chips, and fruit and stuffed them in the storage compartment under the stroller.  There are plenty of places around the park that you can choose from to sit and munch on your deletable peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

If you don’t have a stroller, you can rent a locker, but it costs money–and I’m averse to unnecessary spending.

Munching on our packed lunch while the rest of our party enjoys Rancho del Zocalo at Disneyland.

PACK SNACKS

Even if you don’t want to pack a lunch, stuffing snacks into your backpack is always a good idea, especially if you have young children.  It’s easy to eat a granola bar or banana while you’re standing in line outside, saving you time.  Most snacks available for purchase at Disneyland and Disney World are significantly more than you would spend at the grocery store.

Along with snacks, there are a few other items you should throw in your backpack to help avoid small item purchases.  What should you bring to Disney?  Check out my post about 15 things you should pack in your backpack for Disney.

ORDER A KID’S MEAL FOR AN AFTERNOON SNACK

If your kids are showing signs of an approaching hanger episode in the afternoon, skip the cotton candy, and do something different: order a kids’ meal from a quick-serve restaurant!  The last time we were at Disneyland we got a kid’s meal from Alien Pizza Planet.  For $6.99 they shared a large slice of cheese pizza, carrots, fruit, and bottled water (they didn’t want milk). 

EAT AT QUICK SERVICE RESTAURANTS

Eating at sit down, fancy restaurants is usually not a top priority for our family at Disney.  Mostly because we want to maximize our time and budget.

Choosing quick service restaurants is a great way to save money on food at Disney.  It will also decrease the amount of time you spend waiting in line (online ordering) and minimize your spending (no tip and cheaper meals). Choose places that give you the biggest bang for your buck.

CHOOSE A HOTEL WITH A FREE BREAKFAST

When I’m selecting a hotel, I look for hotels near Disney with free breakfast, specifically free HOT breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes–the works!).  Having a hearty breakfast makes my body happy and starts my day off right.  It’s usually much more cost-effective to eat at the hotel rather than in the parks.

I’m a huge Booking.com fan and use them to book all of our hotel accommodations.

SHARE MEALS

There are few things in this world that I strongly dislike. Wasting food is one of them.  I’d rather buy more if we need it than see it tossed in the trash.  Sometimes, Allan and I will share a meal, if I know the portions are larger.  Or we may buy two meals and share them with three people.

Reducing food waste is good for your pocketbook and our world.  And it doesn’t hurt that it helps you save money on food at Disney!

PAY FOR FOOD USING DISNEY GIFT CARDS FROM TARGET

You can use your Target REDCard to buy Disney gift cards, saving 5%.  If you’re using the credit REDCard, rather than debit, don’t forget to pay it off immediately so you don’t spend extra in interest.  While the savings aren’t huge, every little bit counts!

save money on food at Disney girls eating hand-dipped ice cream bars from Clarabelle's Hand Scooped Ice Cream on Buena Vista Street at Disney's California Adventure Park in California

You’ll want to budget for Clarabelle’s hand-dipped ice cream and sorbet bars at Disney’s California Adventure!

GET A DISCOUNT WHEN YOU USE YOUR DISNEY CREDIT CARD

Some restaurants offer a 10% discount when you pay for your meal using the Chase Disney credit card.  Check the CHASE Disney credit card website to see which restaurants offer the discount before you go!

SAVE MONEY ON FOOD AT DISNEY

Using all or some of these hacks to spend less money on food at Disney will allow you to enjoy your next trip without breaking the bank!

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!

6 Things to Do in Boise with Kids During the Summer

I have a special place in my heart for Boise, Idaho.  Partly because it’s one of the most beautiful big cities in the United States, but mostly because this is where I spent several years of my childhood.  Visiting Boise with kids is always a good idea!

I think what I love most about this area is that there is so much open space to explore, yet it has some modern touches and a variety of food choices for those of us who have a soft spot for ethnic foods.  You can also tell that Boise was designed by people who loved nature.  

Trips to the Boise area are fairly common for us.  My grandmother, my dad’s siblings, and cousins call Idaho home.  During our visits, we always incorporate some of our favorite activities that are kid-friendly.

If your next summer vacation is taking you to the Boise area, check out some of our favorite family activities!

Float Down the Boise River

Floating down the Boise River on a sunny day is one of the best things to do when visiting Boise with kids during the summer months.  It’s safe, fun, with just the right level of excitement, making it a great group activity for most ages.

The Basics

The river opens for floating as early as the middle of June or the beginning of July.  Floaters can enter the water at Barber Park, meander down the river for six miles, and get out at Ann Morrison Park.  The trip takes right around two hours.

The Route

There are three small drop-offs.  We didn’t tell some members of our party about the said drop-offs until we were already in the water.  They were quite pleased with this “surprise” and thanked us profusely for keeping things exciting.  At least that’s how I interpreted their exclamations.  The first drop-off gives you a fleeting moment of panic.  But we all made it over without incident while floating on river rafts, tubes, and even air mattresses.

RANDOM MEMORY: Once, I floated down the Boise River with my family as a teen. We got caught in a thunderstorm.  It was before the age of cell phones, so we dragged our tubes to the nearest office building and stood there shivering, hair plastered to our heads, looking like drowned rats while my dad made his way into the building dripping wet to ask to borrow their phone to hitch a ride in a taxi back to our vehicles.

Flotation Devices & Life Vests

You can either bring your own floatation device (nothing flimsy that will pop if it hits a branch or rock) or rent one from the on-site rental company.  The rental company has individual tubes, 4-person rafts, or 6-person rafts.  Each rental includes life jackets as well.  While life jackets are only required to be worn by children under 14, adults are supposed to have a life jacket in their floatation device.  We all opted to just wear our own life vests. It just seemed like a good idea.  

A waterproof case will keep your phone dry and help you capture this epic trip to remember forever.

Floating down the Boise River in Idaho

Visit a Mountain Lake

Within a short drive of Boise, are some of the most beautiful forests, lakes, and streams in the Western United States.  If you don’t have time to camp for a few nights near one of these lakes, take a day-trip! Our family opted to visit Lost Valley Reservoir, located off of HWY 95, north of Weiser.

Go Trout Fishing

Fishing is one of our favorite pastimes at mountain lakes, so we brought our poles, and purchased bait and fishing licenses.  Children under 14 fish for free in Idaho.  Fishing licenses can be purchased at a variety of places in Idaho, including some Albertson’s grocery stores and Sinclair gas stations.  We caught enough fish to cook over the campfire for dinner.  Trout is one of the most mild fish and is delicious with butter and salt!

Pick Wild Huckleberries

We were lucky enough to be in Idaho during huckleberry season this year!  If you’ve never had a huckleberry, you’re in for a treat.  It looks similar to a blueberry, and I think it tastes something like a cross between a blueberry and a blackberry.  All around the lake, the huckleberries grow wild next to the road.  We had to hunt a little, but were able to find quite a few when we stepped off the beaten path.  In fact, we found enough that my mom made huckleberry cobbler over the campfire!  I didn’t eat much (just the berry part—I don’t do gluten), but it was delicious!

Go for a Swim

Taking a dip in the lake is a perfect way to round out your day.  Some of the larger lakes allow for skiing and other water sports.  While the water may be cooler at higher altitudes, it’s certainly a great activity for your day trip to the mountains.

Lost Valley Reservior, Idaho

Wild huckleberry cobbler

Fishing for trout

Spend a Day at a Waterpark

During our last trip to Boise with kids, we surprised them with tickets to the Roaring Springs Water Park in the neighboring city of Meridian.  Of course, they were thrilled!  We went on a Monday when tickets were $10 off.

The park had a perfect blend of activities for all members of our family.  Our youngest enjoyed the kids’ slides, wave pool, and lazy river.  The older kids enjoyed the thrill rides, shave ice, pizza, and ice cream.  Allan and I enjoyed doing whatever the kids were doing.  

We arrived about one hour after park opening and found most of the lounge chairs were already in use.  However, guests were also claiming tables with chairs.  We found an open table, spread out our towels and backpacks, and set headed to the slides.

The day was full of laughter, new memories, and absolutely no pictures.

Eat Dinner at The Village in Meridian

Magical.  That’s the best way to describe The Village in Meridian.  The Village is an outdoor shopping mall.  I’m not a shopper, so I didn’t set foot inside one single store.  However, I have a thing for beautiful landscaping, music, and water.  The Village has all three.  Hanging and potted plants line the sidewalks and patio lights and street lamps bring cheer to this outdoor space.  

The real gem though is located in the center of the mall called The Fountain Square.  It’s a large fountain (surprise!) surrounded by beautiful landscape, ample outdoor dining space, and a children’s play area.  There’s a building that houses food that’s a step up from a traditional food court–one counter that serves up Mexican inspired dishes and another with an Asian flair.  

I opted for a burrito bowl then proceeded to snitch bites of Allan’s Korean Beef bowl.  Allan’s chill like that.  After all, our family motto is “We share around here.”  Though, in retrospect, I didn’t do much reciprocating.  The cucumber kimchi paired perfectly with the ginger beef and sauteed shiitake mushrooms.

Every hour, on the hour, the music would sync with the fountains and lights for a lovely little show.  It was almost like being at Disney’s California Adventure Park.  Almost.

There’s also a fun play structure for the kids to get their wiggles out while the adults relax.  I also heard a rumor while we were there, that a portion of the outdoor oasis converts into an ice skating rink during the winter! 

The Village is definitely a place to put on your list when visiting Boise with kids.

Synchronized water, music, and lights display every hour at The Village in Meridian, Idaho (small but magical)

Go On a Fruit Picking Adventure in Emmett

As a child, I lived in the quaint little town of Emmett, located northwest of Boise.  My family owned a 60-acre apple orchard in Emmett, and my grandparents also had their own orchard and fruit stand.  My grandpa was a gifted farmer and grew the biggest, juiciest, most flavorful fruit around.  I know, it sounds like something a granddaughter would say, but it’s the truth.

Depending on the month you’re visiting, your fruit experience varies.  Cherries, strawberries, peaches, and apples are at the top of my list.  Especially the peaches.  If I had to choose one fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be yellow peaches.  Followed by berries of all types: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and huckleberries.

We arrived this year when the peaches were just ripening.  We grabbed an empty bucket at Williams Fruit Ranch and hiked up the hill towards trees loaded with peaches the size of small bowling balls.  I kid, of course.  BUT, these peaches were giant.  They were about ½ pound each, and the size of a grapefruit.  We filled our bucket with these delectable peaches.  Some of our party might have complained about the tall, itchy grass, but the rest of us were oblivious.  We had one thing on our mind.  Peaches.

Do yourself, and your tastebuds, a favor.  Swing through Emmett while you’re visiting Boise with kids!

Picking peaches at Williams Fruit Ranch in Emmett, Idaho

Bike and Hike the Boise Greenbelt

Open spaces are an obvious part of the design of the city of Boise.  A greenbelt lines 25 miles of the Boise River, fulfilling the dream of hikers, runners, and bikers.  There are plenty of spots to enjoy a picnic lunch and take in the sounds of nature…right in the city.  Fishing and birding opportunities are also abundant.

If you didn’t bring a bike along, you can rent a bike or even a scooter.  E-scooters can be found throughout the city and can be rented via an app by the minute.

BOISE with kids is fun!

If you’re ready to start planning for your trip to Boise with kids this summer, create a foolproof vacation budget in 9 easy steps!

Planning a summer family vacation to the Boise area is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser for adventure, nature, and city lovers alike!

What are your family’s favorite activities in the Boise area?  Or, if you’re visiting Boise for the first time and have questions, drop them in the comments below!