What To Do with Kids in the Yosemite Valley – Climbing, Swimming, Water Rafting and Horse Riding
After my grand tour of the child-friendly hiking and biking trails of the Yosemite Valley, here is an overview of all the other activities you can try to make your experience at the Yosemite National Park unforgettable.
If you’re staying at the Ahwanee, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or Curry Village, you can enjoy complimentary access to their heated outdoors swimming pools as a guest. However for a little perspective, the Ahwanee’s pool is barely bigger than a big heated tub except it’s a lot cooler and while both the Curry Village and Lodge pools are big enough for laps, they can be crowded. They do offer poolside service in the summer so that’s quite fun – and painless, for mom and dad. If you’re not a guest (say, you’re camping), you can access the Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge pools by paying a day fee.
To enjoy a more invigorating and wild water experience of the valley, you can head to Sentinel Beach (restrooms and picnic tables) next to the Swinging Bridge where kids can play on the sand and look for fool’s gold in the river. That’s my girls do every time and they’re very happy spending hours there, completely oblivious to how cold the water is. I’ve also taken them to Mirror Lake (restrooms) – which shrinks and dries out through the summer – and we’ve found nice sandy spots for them to splash around and look for more fool’s gold. Clearly, gold is key to any river exploration!
Also on the Merced River is Cathedral Beach (restrooms and picnic tables) is the spot where you can barbecue sausages while looking through binoculars at El Capitan and spotting extreme climbers. This beach will also be less crowded than Sentinel Beach because it’s way outside of the shuttle bus loop. If you’re willing to drive or bike a bit further, Pohono Bridge (restrooms) at the junction of El Portal Road and Southside Drive offers a nice sandy swim area right on the river.
Where else to start climbing than the mecca of sheer granite faces and abysmal overhands? Fortunately for children, El Capitan is not on the menu of their first climbing day but rather a gently-sloping granite wall next to Camp 4. If your kids want to learn the real thing outside of indoor climbing gyms, look no further than the Yosemite Mountaineering School. For $200 a pop, the school’s climbing teachers will take your kids for a 6-hour intro to rock climbing that they will remember. Top rope, helmet, belay devices, safety – they’ll learn all that and practice their balancing skills in the most grandiose setting.
- If you don’t bring your child’s climbing shoes, you can rent them for $8.
- The $200 fee includes expert guide training, helmet, harness, and belay device.
- Pack: plenty of water, a light lunch and plenty of snacks. Also: sun protection.
- Hours: starts around 8.30am, ends between 2 and 4pm.
- Age: The mountaineering school can teach children of any age so long as they are potty-trained and can fit into a harness. Generally that’d be at least 4 years of age.
- Reserve: At least a week’s advance notice or more. July and August fill up super fast. Call (209) 372-8344.
The trick part about rafting on the Merced River in the valley is that kids must be at least 50 pounds to put a foot in the raft. Since neither of my girls are there yet, I cannot speak from experience but I’ve often envied the happy rafters floating quietly along the river, able to swim and disembark at will. Of course the water is cold but it must be nice to enjoy it from the water. If you want to do this as a family, the details are basically:
- Rafts rented at Curry Village Recreation Center
- The per person fee covers one three-mile trip down the river, personal floatation devices for each person, two paddles and return trip by shuttle to the Curry Village Recreation Center.
- To plan your Yosemite National Park rafting trip, call (209) 372-4FUN (4386)
Again, we haven’t been able to sign up for horse-riding at the Yosemite Stables because kids must be at least 7 years old and our youngest is still 6. There. That said, I’ve met horse-riders very often on the trail and my girls look at them longingly, wishing they could hop on the horse and ride away.