Inspired by a lifetime of Sunset stories, and envious of our more adventurous friends' Instagram feeds, my husband and I recently decided to take our first trip to Yosemite—with our 3-year-old son. Our 3 year old who is too big to fit in a hiking backpack, but too small to handle a walk of more than a few blocks before starting up with the "carry me" chorus. We worried this was a terrible idea. But we actually came home feeling like we had a full Yosemite experience. Here's what we managed to see in a weekend:
The secret to toddler-hiking success: The walking stick. Maybe it's a boy thing, but ours could have walked all day thanks to the entertainment a glorified twig on the trail provided. We even reached some of this forest's major photo ops: an 1,800-year-old Grizzly Giant sequoia and the California Tunnel Tree, a walk of about 3 miles roundtrip. Near Yosemite's south entrance.
We rode bikes along Yosemite Valley's 12 miles of trails for hours, taking in the spectacular scenery while our son lounged like royalty in a carriage in the back, only occasionally demanding Goldfish. Be sure to stop at the beach along Merced River. Bike rentals available at Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge, $12/hour or $34/day (additional charges for kid trailer).3. Lower Yosemite Falls
These iconic, holycowwe'reinYosemite! falls are reachable via an easy paved trail—about 1.5 miles roundtrip. This was our version of climbing Half Dome. Yosemite Valley.
One of these old-timey steam trains includes an open-air car carved out of a giant log. Our son basically lost his mind. The 1-hour ride through the woods of Sierra National Forest is very pretty, and the activities at the depot—picnicking at communal tables, panning for gold—are sweet. (Note: This is technically not in Yosemite, but a few miles outside the park's south entrance.) $22/adult, $11/child (ages 3-12), free for kids under 3.
5. Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus The free bus that shuttles exhausted hikers back from their 5,000-foot-elevation climbs was, for us, an activity in itself. This may sound sad. But we were grateful to just sit with a completely still, mesmerized child and stare out the window for a good 30 minutes.