We had been to Yosemite several times prior to having children…camping, day trips, hiking Half Dome, etc.. But we have been holding out on our first visit with our children. We wanted them to look in awe at El Capitan and Half Dome and not just see it as another mountain…after all they have a view of the Sierras from about every window in our house. We also wanted them to appreciate some of it’s history.
So this summer at the ages at four and a half and nearly seven we felt it was time to go. And by accident (I was actually on line the night of the 14th looking for sites at a completely different area of Northern California when I saw Yosemite availability for Labor Day opened the next morning.) I happen to get us 2 campsites for Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend for us and 2 other families. This is an amazing feat as campsites are made available 5 months in advance on a first come, first serve basis...which means you have to be on your computer (not Yosemite's site, but Recreation.gov) at 7AM sharp on the 15th of the month that is five months before you want to visit. And then be ready to act fast. And if you don't camp...there are lots of other lodging options.
To ensure we had energy to do a lot on Saturday we actually started our drive down on Friday night. And we stayed in Best Western in Sonora, CA. Great place, especially as we called ahead and got rooms adjacent to one another that had sliding doors out onto a lawn area as well as the pool and hot tub. We also enjoyed a Happy Hour reception with wine for the adults and juice/sodas for the kids and a spread of cheeses and crackers. After a good swim and play we ordered take-out from the hotel restaurant and dined on our patios. The next morning a hot breakfast as well came along with the cost of our room. So with that we were fueled and on the road…and pulled into the Upper Pines Campground guard station right at check-in time.
Day one found us setting up camp and getting around on our bikes. With over 12 miles of bike trails ...this is the way to go rather than being at the schedule mercy of the very crowded buses. Even if you drive in for a day trip I would still bring your bikes. We made our way to the Village and looked around and then did the brief hike up to Lower Yosemite Falls. The kids took in one ranger-led programs at Curry Village’s amphatheatre while the adults enjoyed a beverage and plotting out Sunday’s activities. Yosemite's website is chop full of links, articles, etc to help plan your visit.
Sunday we awoke and after breakfast some adults went for a free photography class led by an Ansel Adams gallery employee….a blend of Adams history and how to photograph like him class. The kids and a couple of adults took in another ranger-led class. Then we all met up and biked over to the Vernal Falls trail-head. With grand plans to get out 4 and 6 year old to the footbridge…they surprised us and hiked all the way to the top of the falls. They were so proud of themselves and we were of them too. After heading back down we rewarded the kids with some play time in a gentle section of the Merced River and afterwards the adults got their reward with drinks at The Awahnee. Back at camp some cooked dinner while other helped the kids complete their worksheets for the Jr Ranger badges.
Monday morning of Labor Day weekend Yosemite very quiet. We made our way up to the village to do some souvenir shopping as well as the kids met with a Park Ranger to complete their Jr Ranger Program. After she quizzed them on their efforts they were sworn in. The Friday and Saturday evenings prior a line snuck miles back into the valley as people tried to exit at the end of the day. So we were amazed when at 11AM check-out we found ourselves proceeding right to the exit without an issue. After speaking with several Labor Day weekend regulars they said it’s generally an easy weekend for the campers….both in the terms of getting a site as well as entering and exiting the park.
Hmmm…after a wonderful weekend this is one we all agreed to give this one a GO again in the years to come.