Ultimate Family Travel Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the top five most visited National Parks in the U.S., with over 4.5 million people making the trek out to the Sierra Nevada Mountains each year. No matter what time of year you visit, there is something magical about the u-shaped Yosemite Valley. From skyscraper-height waterfalls to quiet moments watching deer dance beneath Half Dome or El Capitan, you will leave with enough photos to fill an entire scrapbook and memories to last a lifetime.

Located only 90 minutes north of Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT) or three hours from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) it’s easy to fly into the area, rent a car with Alamo and be well on your way to exploring the vast landscape of giant Sequoias, deep valleys and ancient granite peaks.


Planning a Trip to Yosemite National Park

When planning a trip to Yosemite, start researching flights early so you can get a good deal on a flight into the closest airport, Fresno-Yosemite (FAT). This airport puts you near the giant Sequoias as you drive in and is an amazing greeting as you start your trip. FAT can be more expensive than other bigger cities’ airports, so Sacramento is your next best option. From the Sacramento area, you will head southeast into the park.

Once you land at either airport, head to Alamo Rent A Car (located in each terminal) to rent your preferred vehicle. You do not need any special sized car or 4-wheel drive in the park, so the vehicle preference is completely yours. The main roads are all paved and easy to navigate.


Lodging In and Around Yosemite National Park

Lodging books up early in Yosemite, whether you are renting a campground or want to stay in a historic lodge, so make sure to start researching and booking in advance.

  • The Ahwahnee is a historic hotel and one of the most beautiful national park lodges in the country. Even if you cannot get a room here, make sure to get dining reservations to have lunch or dinner in the The Ahwahnee Dining Room, with spectacular views courtesy of the restaurant’s wall-to-wall windows.
  • Curry Village near Half Dome is a popular cabin and yurt area where you’ll sleep in one of the most desirable areas of the park. Don’t forget your telescope to take advantage of the amazing stargazing.
  • Autocamp, located a bit outside the park, offers luxury adventure lodging options – everything from yurts to airstreams – and features a locally sourced “fine-dining camping” kitchen, pool and amenities. This isn’t roughing it, but it’s pure Instagram gold.


Activities to do in Yosemite National Park

Easy Hikes

  • Glacier Point Loop is a great spot to start your day. This one-mile easy trail can even be done with a stroller and has a small convenience store along the route in case you forget any supplies. Once on top of Lookout Point, you’ll see 270-degree views, with waterfalls, Half Dome and much of Yosemite Valley.
  • Bridalveil Falls hike is short, flat and easy for hikers of all ages and fitness levels. Depending on the time of year you visit and the rainfall, the falls will vary in thickness and power. If you want to make the walk more challenging, you can scramble up the boulders and reach the base of the falls. Be careful, though, as the rocks get slippery when went and you need the right shoes to make it up there safely.

Moderate to Difficult Hikes

  • A bit more strenuous due to the incline is the Mariposa Grove hike, where you can walk amongst the giant ancient trees, including the world’s oldest sequoia, and take a picture in California Tunnel tree.
  • Hike the Mist Trail, where you’ll get cooled off from the mist of Vernal and Nevada waterfalls and arrive at the summit of Half Dome, with views in every direction.
  • Explore the Tioga Road and embark on a full-day hike to Cathedral Lake. Bring all supplies with you, as there are not any stops along the way.


Rock Climb

  • Perhaps one of the most well-known and extreme adventures in Yosemite National Park is its incredible rock climbing. People come from all over the world to try their hands at climbing Half Dome. At 8,844 feet above sea level and rising another 1,360 feet, this is one heart pumping adventure and not for the faint of heart or novice. If this is your first time or you need to brush up on your skills, consider a personalized rock climbing tour with Summit Adventure company. They even offer a guided summit attempt to Half Dome in October, when they say it’s the best time to visit due to lower crowds, cooler temperatures and no required permits.
  • El Cap is the 2nd most popular rock climbing spot, but the summit can also be reached by hiking full-day, class 1 trails.

Water Sports

  • Take a dip in Mirror Lake. The paved service road hike to the lake is about a two-mile loop and well worth it in spring and summer when you’ve worked up a sweat from hiking and biking all day. Bring a picnic to make it a fun half-day adventure.
  • Kayak and swim in Tenaya Lake, one of Yosemite’s most beautiful and well-known swimming areas. Tenaya Lake is an alpine lake with sweeping views of granite rocks and pine wood forests. From Yosemite Valley, it’s about an hour and a half to Tenaya Lake, where you can easily park your car and enjoy for the day.
  • Rafting is another popular summertime activity and best experienced at the South Fork of the Merced River (below Swinging Bridge). Bring your own floatation device, as they are required for all who enter the water.

Bike Trails

  • Bring your bikes to explore the Yosemite Valley. The 12-mile loop, featuring mostly paved, flat trails, can take up to two hours to complete. Kids will love this route and the thrill of exploring by their own two wheels.
  • If you didn’t bring your own bikes, you can rent them for about $30 dollars a day from Curry Village or Valley Lodge. One popular route is the Wawona Wawona Swinging Bridge trail. From the Wawona store, the route is four miles round trip and has a swimming hole in the middle to cool off.


Is Alamo open during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

Yes. Alamo is an essential services provider that remains open to meet critical transportation and personal mobility needs.

How do I rent a vehicle from Alamo during the COVID-19 outbreak?

You can make reservations via our website or Alamo mobile app. To save time at the rental counter, you can check in online with your driver’s license information and rental confirmation number.

To streamline your rental experience further and enable you to safely practice social distancing when picking up your rental vehicle:

  • You can skip the counter (for select locations) in advance after activating Online Check-In. Then, you can go straight to your car without visiting the counter or kiosk.
  • Another option is Alamo’s Self-Service Kiosk at select locations. All you need to check in is your driver’s license and credit card. When you’re finished, just show your rental agreement and driver’s license at the exit booth before you hit the road.

What steps are being taken to clean the rental cars?

Clean vehicles have always been important to us, but at this moment in time, we know vehicle cleanliness is even more critical. Each rental vehicle is thoroughly cleaned between every rental and backed with the Complete Clean Pledge. This includes washing, vacuuming, general wipe down, and sanitizing with a disinfectant that meets leading heath authority requirements, with particular attention to more than 20-plus high-touch points including:

  • Key / key fob
  • Steering wheel
  • Steering column
  • Seat belts
  • Center console
  • Door interiors
  • Door pockets
  • Interior door handles
  • Exterior door handles
  • Seat pockets / seat surfaces
  • Areas between seats & consoles
  • Areas between seats & doorjambs
  • Cupholders / compartments
  • Instrument panel
  • Accessory panel / touchscreen
  • Rearview mirror / side mirrors
  • Visors / visor mirrors
  • Dashboard / vents
  • Gear stick / gear shift
  • Trunk release
  • Among other high-touch areas

As part of the Complete Clean Pledge, we've also extended our already rigorous cleaning protocols to our shuttles and rental locations.

Read more COVID-19 FAQs.

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About the Author

Jade Broadus and her husband Bob are the founders of the travel blog, Vagabond3. Jade originally hails from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and now lives in Los Angeles with Bob and their spunky 4 year old daughter. With over 250 trips under their belts as a family, they aren’t stopping anytime soon.