Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.
Typically it takes us just 3-3 1/2 hours to get from our house in Folsom to the beautiful unique landscape of Yosemite. It’s a magical place that we get to visit annually.
Unfortunately, this year there was a lot of smoke in the air from the multiple fires burning in the area. The fact that we tent-camp and that there is very little cell reception and even less wifi connectivity really makes you re-set your typical daily activities and adapt to a simpler way of being. I’d never been to Yosemite or tent-camped for a solid week until I met my husband. The first year I was skeptical, but ended up loving it and now I look forward to it year after year. So, for those of you who are curious about how we do it and what our days are like here’s the scoop. First of all…yes! I shower…most days…sometimes, I even shave my legs! Here are all the answers to your “Camping in Yosemite with Kids” FAQ.
How do you get reservations? Are they expensive? Have you ever not gotten reservations?
We try to get our reservations online here. You can find all the info on how and when to do it here. They have very specific rules about when you can book. We like to go the same week annually, so we always know that on March 15th at 7am we need to book our reservations. My mother-in-law sends out an email to everyone in our large group of happy campers a few weeks before that March day with instructions on exactly how to do it and exactly which campsites we want to try to get. Every car that enters the park is charged $20. The campsites are $20/night and $140/week. There was one year (since I’ve been going) when we were unable to get a campsite. Thankfully, my MIL reserves cabins annually, so we stayed there that year. They are located in Curry Village and can be reserved about a year in advance.
Is it just the four of you? Is it hard with the kids?
We are so lucky to be able to go on this annual vacation with a large group. The actual number varies, but this year there were about 31 of my husband’s family members all staying in campsites right by us. Then there’s the “Yosemite Family” that goes the same time each year. It started all the way back when Nick’s, now passed, Grandpa started going to Yosemite at 18. He stayed friends with some of the guys he met and they all just kept going at the same time and they had kids and their kids had kids and now some of those kids have kids. That adds up to another 30-40 people. And we all meet at the same beach every day.
So you sleep in a tent on the ground?
Yes, but it’s probably not what you think. It’s pretty nice! Like I said, my in-laws have been doing this for so many years. They really know how to make a campsite feel like home. Eureka Copper Canyon 4 person Tent.
How can your kids sleep with all the noise around?
Most of the time, they sleep really well. I mean, they are exhausted from all the fun they have each day. There have been a few years that were tougher than others. Like the time my son WOULD NOT SLEEP at all at night. I drove him around the valley for about 3-4 hours and then I slept in the car. (Sleeping in your car anywhere in Yosemite is against the rules.) The next night that little man got a perfectly portioned dose of benedryl and I slept…well…like a baby. But that’s pretty unusual. Even through the overnight bear guns or campers clanging pots and pans my kiddos have slept right through in their blow up bed with rails specifically designed for kids.
How do you keep everyone organized? What happens if you run out of clothes?
I’m lucky that my MIL keeps the campsite organized. I just have to worry about all the stuff we bring and our tent organization. I love the hanging sorter from Ikea for all the outfits from my Ziplock Bag packing method. I keep swim diapers, swim suits, their outfits, and sweatshirts in those little compartments. It hangs from the ceiling of the 6’6″ tent. Most years I pack too many clothes. But if we really got into a pickle we can wash our clothes at the laundromat in Housekeeping Camp in Curry Village. Similar hanging sorter available here.
Is everyone just dirty all the time?
Yes and no. The kids are pretty much always dirty during waking hours. We bathe them almost nightly. When they were little we used a tub.
This year they were too big so we used a shower and chair method. People passing by asked if they could be next. We should have charged and made a little cash! On the random night that the kids get to skip the carwash-style shower, we put long pants and boots on them right after the beach and use baby wipes to clean anything else up at bedtime. Most adults are pretty clean if they try and have no children. Wearing tenny-runners with socks helps, as does long pants.
How do you shower? You shower right??
Yes, we do shower. We really try to stay clean. If I don’t I’ll feel disgusting. Remember how I said my MIL always reserves cabins in Curry Village? Yeah, she keeps a bunch of them for people to stay in (if they don’t want to tent-camp) and they come equipped with plumbing and electricity. So we can shower there if we want. This is the solar shower we used in the campsite this year. (Buy it here.) In other years, we’ve used a shower head connected to the faucet by the bathrooms and a fold-up cedar deck. But that water is brisk! My husband likes to go down to the river and jump in. He takes a bar of soap.
Where do you go to the bathroom? And what happens if you have to go in the middle of the night?
Each loop (all campsites here are on a loop) has a bathroom with a few stalls and electricity. I hate having to go in the night, so I try to hold it. Before kids I made my hubby go with me and wait outside. Since kids, someone always has to stay at the tent with them, so I make him watch me walk to the bathroom from outside the tent and I wear a headlamp (like this one) or carry a flashlight. I’m afraid of the dark and I had an incident my first year that involved falling into an unlit fire pit. There may to may not have been alcohol involved…It was really embarrassing. I woke everyone up…
How do you make your meals?
My in-laws have a really fantastic full kitchen set-up with an indoor prep area, indoor pantry, a flat-top, a couple burners (similar here just add this flat top attachment), a grill, and generator for blended drinks at the 5 o’clock cocktail hour. That rolling water jug is genius for all our drinking and cooking water needs.
What’s a typical day like?
We get up with the crows. They are soooooooo loud. Many times I sleep with ear plugs in and my sweet hubby takes the early shift while I snooze away. That’s pretty rare. We might walk to Curry to buy a coffee. Or maybe just make a pot at the campsite and eat some breakfast. (Yes, my in-laws have a coffee machine for camping, it’s available here.) Maybe take the kids for a run in the Bob stroller. Or just go on a deer hunt. They love the early mornings. After that, there’s always a morning/early afternoon activity to be had – hiking, exploring, horseback riding, check out the museums and nature centers, fish, crafting, etc. You can read more about how we keep our kids busy with fun crafts and activities when we are camping here.
The mode of transportation when we are in the valley has changed throughout the years, but it’s never by car. Then we come back to the site for lunch. After lunch everyone, without nappers, heads to the beach to swim. We play games while the kids nap. Then we get to go to the beach.
After that we come back to the campsite have some adult beverages and make dinner while the kiddos play. Yep, they’re all part of our group.
After dinner we’ll play games or make s’mores, maybe go stargazing in the meadow. When the kids go to bed at least one person has to stay in our campsite. So we’ll play more games or sit around the fire or visit family in other campsites. Every day is a memory made and a story told.
Do you ever see any bears or any other wildlife?
Yes! That’s one of the best things about camping in Yosemite. You always see tons of deer, squirrels and chipmunks (or chubbies as my kids call them), and lots of extremely large and noisy black crows. They are seriously bigger than my dog! Sometimes the deer walk right through your campsite.
We also see the occasional bear. I love when I get to see a bear! It’s really my favorite. However, the last few years we haven’t seen very many. There are around 500 tagged bears in the Valley and they estimate about 200 more that are untagged. The bears troll the day-use parking lots and the campsites looking for food at night (but randomly in the day too). We have come across them in the early mornings while out for a walk or a run. The word on the street this year is that if you go on the Fen trail around 7am you’ll see one.
I hope you enjoyed my
Camping in Yosemite with Kids FAQ.