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Category Archives for "USA"

The Ultimate USA West Coast Road Trip: 2019 Guide

There's a reason countless songs, books and movies have paid homage to the classic USA West Coast road trip... It's an iconic adventure of a lifetime. From deserts to mountains to miles-long beaches (it even has places where mountain and ocean meet!) the USA West Coast is a gem waiting to be explored. Here are 20 of our favourite spots.

A highlight - McWay falls on the Big Sur coast

By Grace Koelma.
All images our own unless otherwise credited.

The USA West Coast Road Trip of a Lifetime

Are you ready for an unforgettable trip down the USA West Coast? For as long as I can remember I felt a inexplicable pull to America's western coastline. My intrigue came mostly from Beach Boys song hooks, snippets from movies and the thrill of letting exotic words like Yosemite, Mojave and Joshua Tree roll off my tongue.

In 2018 we arrived in Vancouver, Canada and renovated a 1991 RV, and then set off on a 12-week trip to explore America's far western states. And it truly was the #vanlife trip of a lifetime.

This guide contains what we consider to be the absolute visual highlights of this part of the United States. We're photographers, so we're always on the lookout for the best vantage points and diverse scenic landscapes. This USA West Coast road trip had it all. Snow-capped mountains, canyons, waterfalls (going into the ocean!), giant Redwood forests, cliffs dropping into the ocean, deserts, long beaches and wildlife (deer, seals, otters, whales, birds).

Our road trip ride was pretty sweet! #valourthevan

What you'll find in this guide

We're a classic example of the 'opposites attract' rule for couples. Grace is a travel research ninja and likes to travel with an emergency item and contingency plan for every possible situation. "But I haven't read the reviews on it yet!" is one of her oft-repeated phrases.

Eric is the most laid-back traveller on the planet, and likes to be more spontaneous. "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it" is one of his favourite expressions.

We also travel with a toddler, so keep an eye out for our bonus kid travel tips.

So, whether you have kiddos or not, this guide has the perfect balance of planning, spontaneity and toddler-induced chaos prevention.

Choosing your USA West-Coast route

The iconic Big Sur stretch of Highway 1.

There are tons of ways to do the west coast line, and you can drive south to north (starting San Diego and finishing in Seattle) or north to south (Seattle to San Diego). 

We'd recommend driving north to south, since you'll be driving on the right-hand side of the road and many of the coastal routes are much prettier when you're driving south (because your vehicle lane is closer to the ocean).

You may be tempted to hug the coast the whole way down, but there are some incredible natural wonders to see just a few hundred miles inland, so we'd recommend doing a similar itinerary to what we did - we loved the mix of coastal cliffs versus inland forests, deserts and canyons.

Below is a map of our journey (the major points) and if you click the image you can view/save it in Google Maps.

Map of our USA West Coast route

Click the image to see the route on Google Maps

Our top 20 stops for your USA West Coast road trip

WASHINGTON

1. Mount Rainer National Park

Mt. Rainier National Park is a Washington state gem, and its iconic snow capped peak is a fixture of the Seattle skyline. We visited in Autumn (so no wildflowers) and only had a day here, but would recommend 3 days to fully experience the beauty of this park. 

Read our full Mt. Rainier guide here.

Spot the deer grazing at the vibrant  foothills, bursting with colour.

  • The national park is a glorious landscape of sub-alpine meadows, wildflowers (in season), lakes, waterfalls and wildlife viewing opportunities.
  • Our top recommendations (photography and general hiking) are Tipsoo Lake (and Little Tipsoo Lake), Paradise meadow and Skyline trail, Sunrise area and Christine Falls.

Part of the Paradise meadows.

Vivid autumn colours.

2. Olympic National Park (and Seattle)

Seattle is a trendy, cosmopolitan city on the USA West Coast with some fantastic family options. While we didn't spend long here on our road trip south (we were chasing the Californian warmth), it's definitely worth a stop.

  • Highlights for families include the Museum of Pop Culture, Pacific Science Centre, Pike Place Market and boarding one of the Washington State ferries for a trip through Puget Sound.
  • Olympic National Park is a breathtaking coastal park near Seattle, and while we couldn't fit it in on our trip, it's been highly recommended by many others since, which is why we're including it here. We'll just have to go back.

Olympic National Park (image used with permission by Zetong Li, Unsplash)

Take some time to walk by the water and look at the Seattle Great Wheel.

OREGON

3. Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast may just be one of my favourite sunrise locations in the world. It's not hard to see why.

  • Cannon Beach is well-known in the area for its monolithic titan, Haystack Rock, formed from volcanic lava millions of years ago. It's striking from all angles, but possibly prettiest at sunrise and sunset, when the light hits its peak.
  • At low tide you can walk up to Haystack Rock and explore the tide pools, and the anemones and sea stars hiding within. 
  • During the day there are stunning views of the beach from Ecola State Park.

4. Hug Point

Hug Point State Recreation Site is just south of Cannon Beach, and is a unique beach with a fascinating history. At low tide, you can walk around the northern cliffs and explore the little cove beyond - including a waterfall, caves in the sandstone cliffs and tide pools.

Any excuse for a family hug!

  • We took the opportunity for a cheeky embrace photo, but that's not where Hug Point got its name. Before the highway was built, stagecoaches used to travel along the wide, sandy beaches. They would always hug the point, even at low tide, which is where the name originated.
  • Exercise caution, and read tide charts and the weather conditions carefully. People can become stranded when the tide comes in quickly.

5. Otter Crest area

If you're on the hunt for wildlife during your USA West Coast Roadtrip, make sure you stop in the Otter Crest area.

Climbing rock formations at Otter Crest Beach.

  • In season, you can view whales migrating north up the Oregon coast. They typically begin their journey in late March, but can often be sighted well into late summer. We even spied a few spouts in September. 
  • Some of the best whale viewpoints near Otter Crest are Otter Crest Scenic State Viewpoint, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint and Devil's Punchbowl.
  • The beaches surrounding this area are favourite haunts for seals, so keep an eye out, but don't interfere with or touch the animals as they are protected.

6. Seal Rock State Recreation Site

The coast of Oregon is dotted with incredible rock formations, and they give each beach their own personality. Seal Rock State Recreation Site has some interesting formations, but the beaches north and south are worth a look as well. 

  • Watching the sunset over the ocean is a must on the USA West Coast, and as you drive south you'll be spoilt for choice.
  • Many beaches also have picnic areas with BBQs, so bring a picnic and enjoy your evening as you watch the sun go down.

Watching sunset at Seal Rock Beach... with popcorn of course!

CALIFORNIA

7. Redwood Coast

The towering redwood and sequoia forests of California are a must-see on your USA West Coast road trip, and you will have many options to choose from. These trees are peaceful giants on earth, and truly have to be seen to be believed. Many grow over 300 ft tall, are between 8 and 20 ft in diameter and some are almost 2000 years old.

There are multiple forests dotted along what's called the 'Redwood Coast', stretching from the Oregon/Californian border down to Shelter Cove. As the map below shows, some of the forests hug the coastline and others are a little further inland, but are definitely worth leaving the coast for. 

Image source: visitredwoods.com

Because you likely don't have time to check them all out, redwood forests we recommend are:

  • Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
  • The Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Shrine Drive Thru tree (you can drive your car through)
  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Hendy Woods State Park
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park (close to San Francisco)

8. Stout Grove

We chose to explore Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, just south of the Oregon/California border. Stout Grove isn't the largest forest or boasting the tallest trees, but it is possibly the most picturesque grove, particularly when the late afternoon light hits.

Because the Grove is off the beaten path, it's often much quieter than the forests closer to Highway 1, which is why we ventured out there. We timed our visit for late afternoon to catch the rays filtering through the leaves, and it was a photographer's dream. 

Stout Grove trees aren't so stout.

9. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a few hour's drive inland south of the Redwood Coast, but is a place that is definitely worth a stop on your USA West Coast road trip. There is so much to explore in this crystal clear lake, we'd recommend 4-7 days at least.

  • Lake Tahoe straddles the border between California and Nevada, so it's a unique place with two distinct cultures. As well as the border divide, Tahoe is also divided into the South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe regions. The high-rolling town of Reno is close by as well.
  • In terms of nature, Lake Tahoe has it all... pine forests leading down to crystal clear water, hiking trails, water sports, incredible view points, and stunning sunrise and sunset views. The best months to visit to enjoy the water are summer and early autumn, but we visited in mid-Autumn and it was still beautiful (but too chilly to swim).
  • In the north of the lake, Sand Harbour, Secret Cove and Chimney Beach are popular and very scenic spots, perfect for photography. They will tend to get crowded in the warmer months, so if you want a truly deserted paradise, we recommend hiring a boat, kayak or paddle board and exploring the beaches that are only accessible by water.

Sand Harbour, Lake Tahoe

Secret Cove, Lake Tahoe

  • In the south of the lake, Emerald Bay State Park has some gorgeous walking trails (Rubicon and the trail up to Eagle Lake), and the road up to Inspiration Point viewing area is one of the most exhilarating ridge roads we've driven on.

10. Yosemite National Park

It's fitting that Yosemite comes in geographically at number 10 on our USA West Coast list, because it's a 10/10.

Just 2.5 hours drive south of Lake Tahoe is one of our favourite spots on earth... Yosemite National Park. 

Yosemite is known for its sky-scraping, jaw-dropping cliffs and striking landscapes, and it really does feel like another planet when you're there. It's one of the most popular parks in the USA, and it's not hard to see why. 

The most iconic view in the park - Tunnel View

We visited in October, which was perfect because the nights weren't yet too cold, but there were far less tourists than summer. If you're visiting in spring or summer, you may also be able to see wildflowers and wildlife in the meadows in and around the park. We'd recommend devoting at least 4 days to exploring Yosemite, but longer if you're an avid hiker or climber. 

Read our full guide to Yosemite National Park here.

The sunsets from the top of the park are breathtaking.

The Yosemite Valley truly takes your breath away.

11. San Francisco

A road trip down the USA West Coast wouldn't be complete without a stop in at one of the most iconic cities in the world... San Francisco and its famed Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge, viewed from the north side of the harbour.

There is so much to see in this city, and you could spend anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks and still not see it all. If you're travelling in a van (like we did) San Francisco can be a tricky place to find campgrounds. There are a few dotted throughout the north and south of the city, but they are quite expensive ($100+ a night for just a basic unpowered site). Rules on city streets are strict, and you can't park overnight, so we'd recommend looking for where other vanlifers are staying, and follow suit. If you see signs, obey though - you will be fined.

Sunrise wake up to see Karl the Fog.

Hanging off a San Francisco Cable Car is a classic experience.

The top highlights we'd recommend seeing in San Francisco are:

  • Wandering the Sunset District, stopping for an authentic Vietnamese or Mexican lunch and heading to Ocean Beach to join hundreds of other locals and tourists for sunset.
  • Riding or walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is a must while you're in town. We'd recommend early morning or late afternoon if you're visiting in the hotter months.
  • Take a San Francisco cable car. As touristy as this is, we were pleasantly surprised by how fun the conductors were, and impressed with the way they worked the century-old manual operating system.
  • For views of the Golden Gate Bridge, go to Presidio, Horshoe Bay or Baker Beach at sunrise and catch that iconic fog. The fog is called Karl, and even has its own Instagram account @karlthefog.
  • Head to Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 to see the sea lions.
  • In terms of iconic photo moments, make sure you check out Twin Peaks Viewpoint, Dolores Park, The Painted Ladies in Alamo Park (for all those Full House fans!) and the hilly hairpin turns of Lombard Street.

Classic SF street. So many hills!

Sea Lions on Pier 39.

12. Highway 1

Once you leave San Francisco, you'll begin one of the most famous drives on the USA West Coast - the coastal highway to Los Angeles, called Highway 1 (or sometimes State Route 1).

Highway 1 is the longest state route in California at 659 miles long (1,055 km), and runs from Leggett in Mendocino Country to Dana Point in Orange County.

You'll get stunning coastal views like this the whole 659 miles (or 1,055km) drive.

13. Garrapata State Park

Drive south from Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1 and you'll reach Garrapata State park in less than 30 minutes. This is a place with stunning rock formations, colorful cliffs and little rocky paths just waiting to be explored. Pull over in one of the many pull outs, and take a walk to admire the view. We visited in autumn, and the colours were spectacular.

Views from Garrapata State Park.

The colours in fall are magnificent.

14. Bixby Creek Bridge

Just a few miles south of Garrapata State Park, on the outskirts of Big Sur, is the famed Bixby Creek Bridge. There are several smaller bridges close by, but you'll know you've reached Bixby when you see all the cars parked beside the road. The map point is here. 

It's a popular photography spot, and you'll likely see groups of bikers or cyclists here as well, cracking open a cold drink and taking jovial group photos. Due to the high volume of traffic and tourists parking on road shoulders and crossing the road, take car when driving through here.

There are two sides to Bixby - the main viewpoint is on the ocean side of the road, and is where most people stop. But there is also a trail going up a small hill on the mountain side (northbound side of the road) which has excellent views as well, and is less frequented.

This is the most popular view of Bixby, and you may struggle not to get other tourists in your shot.

The back side of Bixby Bridge. Image used with permission: By Connor McScheffrey Unsplash.

15. Big Sur

You can drive the Big Sur stretch of Highway 1 in one day, but we'd recommend taking 2-3 days in this part if possible, to truly soak in the beauty. Planning in advance where you'll spend your nights is key, as cell reception becomes spotty when you enter the Big Sur State Park, and accommodation can be few and far in between, as are campgrounds. 

Views for days in Big Sur.

16. Julia Pfeiffer State Park - McWay Falls

McWay Falls was one of our USA West Coast road trip highlights. It's like something from a dream... where else can you find a waterfall spilling from a cliff face into foaming aqua ocean?

McWay Falls at sunset - absolute perfection.

While McWay falls is beautiful throughout the day, we'd 100% recommend visiting at sunset for views like this. You'll likely find other photographers with tripods set up on the shoulder, and the cliff is rocky and uneven, so walk with care. We held onto our son's hand tightly the whole time, but we wouldn't recommend the cliff spot if you have multiple children, as you need to keep them close.

Many cars park on the side of the road, but there is a carpark on the eastern side of the road, with a short trail that takes you through a tunnel under the road to a lower viewing platform. We took photos from both that viewing platform and this cliffside spot on the roadside.

17. Morro Bay

As you leave Big Sur, make sure you stop in at the Elephant Seals Viewing point (map point here) to see the hundreds of seals lying on the beach. It's free to walk to the viewing platform, but be prepared... they're a pretty noisy bunch!

Then head to Morro Bay, a sleepy but beautiful coastal town. It's famed for its single monolith, Morro Rock which (according to our 3-year-old) looks like "a bald head rising out of the water." He's not wrong.

Morro Bay township.

More of those West Coast sunsets we can't get enough of.

Morro Bay area is a great place to spend the night after driving Big Sur, and there are a number of great RV campgrounds to choose from. We chose the state-run Morro Strand Campground, and were rewarded with excellent views right outside our door.

The sunset view from Morro Strand Campground.

18. Orange County beaches

The beaches north and south of Los Angeles are plentiful, clean and gorgeous.

Here are our top recommendations:

  • Take a stroll along the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica boardwalks.
  • Venice Beach is perhaps the most famous LA beach, known for its street food, volley ball nets and long cycle paths packed with roller skaters and motorized scooters. It is crowded, and a difficult area to find parking for bigger vehicles.
  • We love the quieter beaches south of the city: Newport beach, Corona del Mar, Crystal Cove and Laguna beach are all stunning options.
  • Be aware that at most Los Angeles beaches you'll need to pay for parking.

The Pirate Tower in Laguna Beach is a local's secret.

Long afternoons on Californian beaches.

19. San Diego

The laid back surfer-vibe culture of San Diego is the perfect stop on a USA West Coast road trip. The Beach Boy's 'good vibrations' are strong here. 

After weeks of non-stop road tripping and taking in the plethora of incredible natural sites on California's coast, stopping for a week or longer in San Diego is a treat. The pace of life is slower here, and it's a fantastic place to soak up the sun, go for lazy morning rides around the beautiful lake and slurp a smoothie bowl.

Our top must-sees in San Diego are:

  • Take a morning walk along Mission Beach boardwalk, famed for its smoothie bars and taco joints.
  • Hire a bike and go for a cycle around Mission Bay. It takes 2-3 hours to do a lap, but there are lots of playgrounds and gorgeous foreshore parks to picnic at along the way.
  • Head to Balboa Park for the day (San Diego's version of Central Park spanning a huge 1,200 acres), to enjoy the many gardens, hiking trails and an impressive 16 museums.
  • Drive to La Jolla and Torrey Pines to watch the hang gliders.
  • Discover the California Missions and the intriguing Spanish heritage. There are over 21 missions in the area, including the notable Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala.

Balboa Park gardens. Image used with permission. Matthew T Rader (Unsplash).

20. Joshua Tree National Park

About 3 hours drive inland from San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to end your USA West Coast itinerary. 

Joshua Tree is a National Park spanning 800,000 acres in the desert. It's the perfect escape from civilisation into a place where boulders balance in piles as if they were marbles dropped by giants.

Exploring Hidden Valley Region.

Our tips for exploring the park:

  • Go during the peak tourist months (October - May), as the summers are boiling, reaching over 100°F (38°C) during the day.
  • Remember that deserts, while hot in the day, get quite cold at night. While winter days are mild, night temperatures can be well below freezing in winter, so be prepared. 
  • Accommodation in the park is limited to campgrounds with tent sites and sites for RVs and trailers. There are 8 campgrounds in the park, and during peak season it's a good idea to make a reservation. Check the Park Website for more information.

The views from the tops of boulders are magnificent, but always climb with care and keep little ones close.

  • There are a number of boutique hotels and motels on the outskirts of the park, in Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley and, of course, the famous Palm Springs.
  • There is no cell service in the park, but you won't need need it with the million stars above you. If you do need to make an emergency call, you can get 1-2 bars of service by climbing the rocks.
  • Take care when climbing and follow park guidelines. Some rocks have huge crevices and slippery surfaces. Wear appropriate footwear at all times.

Is the West Coast is calling you? Happy travels, and drop us a comment if you found this guide helpful, or have any questions!

The best place to contact us is on Instagram (where we hang out regularly). @darelist.family.

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Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

Travel Guide: Yosemite National Park with kids

We've been asked a lot for our tips on Yosemite National Park, especially for advice on accessibility with kids, and photography locations. This guide has everything you need to know.

The stunning Sentinel Dome lookout at sunset.

By Grace Koelma

The magical place that is Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is arguably the most well-recognised national park on the planet... situated in the western Sierra Nevada of Central California. The only national park more globally famous would be the Grand Canyon.

You've likely have heard of Yosemite (pronounced "Yow-sem-it-tee"), but what you may not know is that it's the oldest national park in the USA, opened officially to the public in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln (thanks, Abe!) 

Yosemite is known for its sky-scraping, jaw-dropping cliffs and striking landscapes, and it really does feel like another planet when you're there. The park attracts over 4 million visitors a year, most arriving in the summer months and exploring mainly in the Yosemite Valley area.

Yosemite Valley's Meadows - stunning all year round (this was in October)

Adventure-seekers and extreme sports enthusiasts often go further afield are drawn to Yosemite because of its challenging natural climbing landscape. Raising your eyes from the valley floor to see climbers (tiny red and blue dots) scaling the sheer, 3000 ft tall rock face of El Capitan - Yosemite's most striking cliff - will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. As incredible as the climbs are, there are hundreds of accidents each year, so if you're thinking of climbing, make sure you follow the park's safety guidelines carefully.

The park is huge (an impressive 748,436 acres) so there is a lot to explore, including giant sequoia forests, lakes, waterfalls, and vast meadows. We would recommend 4-5 days as a minimum. We only had a 3 day window, and it was far too quick. That being said, if you only have 3 days, we would 100% recommend driving out there from San Francisco, because it is a place that has to be seen to be believed.

Put simply, Yosemite is a destination everyone should visit at least once in their life. Read on - this guide will give you all the info you'll need to plan your visit.

A road winding into the Yosemite Valley

Getting there

Yosemite is located a fairly long way from major towns. Here is a run down of the various ways to get there.

By car 

The simplest, hassle-free way to get to Yosemite (bar a private helicopter!) is by car. If arriving from interstate or overseas, you can fly into San Francisco International airport (SFO) and pick up a hire car, or drive your own car. 

  • From San Francisco International airport it takes roughly 4 hours to reach Yosemite Park's outskirts and 5 hrs to reach Yosemite Village (the centre of the action).
  • From San Francisco downtown area it takes about the same time (or longer sometimes, if you're leaving in peak hour traffic).
  • You can drive your car into and around Yosemite, though the park encourages visitors to use shuttles in some areas.
  • Fees: see below for advice on entry fees for vehicles.
  • We drove our RV into the park, and would recommend this method of transport if you're traveling with little ones, as it's far more convenient. If you're visiting Yosemite as part of a West Coast roadtrip, you can also find campsites in the National Park, which is a fantastic option for affordable accommodation (see the Accommodation section below).

By flight

Here is a list of the commercial airports closest to Yosemite, arranged by distance (nearest to furthest) to Yosemite Valley. You'll need to research rental car options and public transport individually for each airport, as it's available seasonally, depending on snowfall.

  • Merced airport (MCE) - 2 hrs to valley
  • Fresno-Yosemite International airport (FAT) - 2.5 hrs to valley
  • Mammoth Yosemite airport (MMH) - 1 hr to Tuolumne Meadows (2.5 hrs to Yosemite Valley) when Tioga Road is open (typically late May or June until November). 
  • Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK) - 2.5 hrs to valley
  • Oakland International (OAK) - 3.5 hrs to valley
  • Sacramento International (SMF) - 3.5 hrs to valley
  • San Francisco International (SFO) 5 hrs to valley

See the full list of nearby airports and public transport schedules here.

By public transport

Bus services are available to Yosemite Valley (and, during summer, to some other areas of the park) from cities throughout California and the rest of the United States. Amtrak and Greyhound also have services to the park.

By private tour

There are a range of private tours available leaving from San Francisco and major central Californian cities, too many to list here. Simply search 'Yosemite tour + [city of your choice]' for options.

Yosemite Valley Meadows

Park entry fees

  • If you drive into the park, you'll need to pay the $35 entry fee (valid for cars, vans, trucks and RVs for 7 days).
  • Alternatively, you can purchase an annual pass for $80 (the best value if you're doing multiple national parks, as it gets you into all the USA National Parks). 
  • You can purchase passes in advance here.
  • You can also pay the entrance fee or purchase an annual or lifetime pass at any park entrance station. If the station is unstaffed when you arrive, you can pay on your exit. You must display your 7-day or annual pass clearly in your windscreen window at all times. Rangers do patrol.

Seasonal info

Yosemite is open all year and visually stunning in every season, though some areas of the park are inaccessible by car from approximately November through May due to snow. Check the park's website for condition updates before you visit (even if you think you're coming outside of snow season.)

We visited in October, which was perfect because the nights weren't yet too cold, but there were far less tourists than summer. If you're visiting in spring or summer, you may also be able to see wildflowers and wildlife in the meadows in and around the park. Check out this National Parks guide for information on how to spot them, and taking care around the native plants.

Top photography locations

An iconic sunset view in Yosemite: From the top of Sentinel Dome, featuring El Capitan on the right.

Location #1: Sentinel Dome

Without a doubt, this was our favourite location in the park, both for views and photography. You'll need to drive up Glacier Point Road, and park on the side of the road near the Sentinel Dome trailhead - you'll likely see lots of cars parked nearby. I've included a map pin of the location below. 

Our tips for Sentinel Dome

  • The walk only takes about 15 minutes, and leads up a large rocky outcrop to a dome. Make sure you keep children close as there are steep drop offs, but it is safe if you use caution.
  • Make sure you get there about an hour before sunset, and sit with a picnic or drinks to let the spectacular show begin.
  • You can also drive up to the far more popular Glacier Point Lookout (at the end of the road) which has stunning views as well. Here's the Google map pin.
  • There are a bunch of other moderate hikes off Glacier Point Rd that we didn't have time to explore, but look incredible. Check those out here.

Sentinel Dome Gallery

Just in case you need more convincing 😉

Make sure you keep small children close at the top.

The trail up to Sentinel Dome

Location #2: Tunnel View

This has to be the most iconic view of Yosemite, shot at the lookout point for Tunnel View. The lookout point is located about 45 minutes drive from the Oakhurt and Mariposa borders (map pin here), and you'll see the viewing platform on the left after you come out of a long tunnel.  There are carparks on the left and right, but take the right one if you're in a larger car, bus or RV.

Our tips for Tunnel View

  • Go for sunrise like we did, it's totally worth the 6am wake up (earlier in summer) to drive the 40 or so minutes from the outer campgrounds. If you have kids, sunrise is an excellent time to see this view.
  • Watch the light as it moves over El Capitan, it is truly breathtaking. By going at sunrise you'll also beat the crowds.
  • Take your breakfast outdoors and enjoy the view.
  • Pro photography tip - underexpose your photos and set the light balance to get light on the peaks without washing them out - you can brighten the foreground detail later in Lightroom. 
  • (Check out our photography course for tips for photographing with kids, learning to shoot on manual settings and learning to edit in Lightroom. It has rave reviews!)

Sunrise at Tunnel View - Light on El Capitan

Tunnel View Gallery

Our 3-year-old enjoying his cereal with this stunning view.

It was chilly in the mornings - October in Yosemite.

Behind-the-scenes: Tunnel View

The carpark as you exit the tunnel.

The viewing platform, photographers waiting for sunrise.

Location #3: Yosemite Meadows

Located on the Valley Trail, the Yosemite meadows are absolutely breathtaking. Take a bike (there are designated bike paths) or wander by foot. Just pay attention to signs as there are some areas you are not allowed to leave the trail on.

Behind-the-scenes: Yosemite Meadows

Cycling along Cook's Meadow Loop

Northside Dr - the valley loop Rd. From here you can see climbers scaling El Capitan.

Location # 4: El Capitan Meadow

Take a drive around the valley loop, which comprises of Northside and Southside drives and stop in El Capitan Meadow. It's a one way road, so you'll need to follow signs carefully. 

Parking by the side of the road on Northside Dr and taking a photo in front of El Capitan is a classic Yosemite experience.

Prepare for some jaw dropping views - the loop drive takes about 30 minutes without stopping but you'll be pulling over to take photos a lot, so factor in 2-3 hours here if you want time to see it all. There are loads of spots to park on the side of the road, and picnic areas too, so pack a picnic lunch!

Other notable photography and viewing locations around the valley loop are:

  • Valley View Yosemite
  • Bridal veil falls viewpoint
  • Cathedral beach picnic area
  • El Capitan picnic area

Having an RV that you can stand on doesn't hurt either! 😉

Yosemite is family-friendly

Trails and walks suitable for kids

  • Lower Yosemite Fall Trail: 1 mi / 1.6 km (entire loop). This is a very accessible trail for families traveling with kids, flat and easy. We recommend walking the loop in a clockwise direction for best views of Yosemite Falls. 
  • Cook's Meadow Loop: 1 mile (1.6 km) loop. This is a lap around the Valley Floor, starting at the visitor information centre. We cycled this as there were bike paths. Allow 1-2 hours, and bring a picnic as there is a lot to explore.
  • Bridalveil Fall Trail: 0.5 mi / 0.8 km (round trip) Bridalveil Fall is often the first waterfall you'll see when entering Yosemite Valley. This easy trail takes you right to the base for a spectacular view of the rushing torrent of water.
  • You can see a list of all the hikes available (moderate - strenuous) on the Park's Website here.

Kids' Junior ranger program

Yosemite, like most National Parks, has a Junior Ranger program and loads of educational opportunities for your little ones. Find out more here.

Where to stay

There are a range of accommodation options inside the valley, with styles to suit every budget.

Hotels

  • The Ahwahnee (formerly known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) has to be one of the most iconic establishments in the valley, with its historic architecture and magnificent grand dining hall. It's the only lodging in the park boasting a 4 diamond rating and while the rooms will set you back a few hundred dollars, it's definitely worth a visit for afternoon cocktails on the back lawn.
  • Other options are Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village (tent cabins), and the Wawona Hotel.


RV and trailer campgrounds

  • Yosemite has 10 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs and trailers, including 5th wheel.
  • Sleeping in vehicles in non-designated campgrounds is prohibited throughout the park (like all American National Parks), though there are a number of free campsites just outside the park perimeter. Download iOverlander to find them.
  • Wawona Campground - we stayed in our RV at Wawona Campground, which was about 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley. 
  • From April - September campsites are $26 and reservations are required. You can reserve campsites online. Reservations during the Summer months are hard to come by, and campsites are usually booked out. Be sure to book early.
  • From October - March it's on a first-come-first serve basis, so we recommend arriving before 10am to get a spot. Registration is self-serve and is $18 a night, payable in cash.
  • Information on Wawona Campground here.

Our RV site in Wawona campground

Wawona campground

Surrounded by large trees with ample shade.


Campsites

  • Camping is perhaps the most magical way to experience Yosemite, as you are so close to nature and can watch the million stars at night, and wake up to misty views of the towering cliffs each morning.
  • There are 13 tent sites in Yosemite National park. See them all here.
  • The 4 sites in most demand are right in the centre of Yosemite Valley, and each have incredible views of the canyon. These sites are Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines and Camp 4. Reservations are required in advance all year and if you don't get in early, they will be booked out. Make reservations here.

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Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

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Guide to Mt Rainier National Park with kids

Mt. Rainier National Park is a Washington state icon.

By Grace Koelma

Mount Rainier National Park: a guide with kids

Know before you go

Mt. Rainier National Park is a Washington state gem, and its iconic snow capped peak is a fixture of the Seattle skyline.

  • The national park is a glorious landscape of sub-alpine meadows, wildflowers (in season), lakes, waterfalls and wildlife viewing opportunities.
  • It's open year round, but its peak visitor season is July and August, when the alpine wildflowers bloom in the meadows. 
  • You'll need a park's pass to visit the pass. You can pay the entrance fee or purchase an annual or lifetime pass at any park entrance station. If the station is unstaffed when you arrive, you can pay on your exit. You must display your 7-day or annual pass clearly in your windscreen window at all times. Rangers do patrol. More information here.
  • You are likely to see wildlife on the trail (we saw deer grazing), so use common sense and don't get too close or offer food, or attempt to touch.

Spot the deer grazing at the vibrant  foothills, bursting with colour.

Hikes and photography locations

  • Our top recommendations (photography and general hiking) are Tipsoo Lake (and Little Tipsoo Lake), Paradise meadow and Skyline trail, Sunrise area and Christine Falls.
  • The hikes vary in difficulty, and children between the ages of 3-6 may struggle with the distance (being too heavy to carry easily) so check with the guides at the Henry M Jackson Visitor Centre before attempting with children.
  • We unfortunately only had a day to spend here, but wished we had longer because the scenery is stunning and the park is large (we'd recommend 3 days to explore it all if you have time).
  • Check out this excellent guide by Renee Roaming for a more detailed itinerary and recommendations. 

Sunrise view of Mt Rainier from Little Tipsoo Lake.

Vivid autumn colours. In summer, these are patches of wildflowers. 

Frolicking in the alpine meadows

The air is so pure up there.

Viewpoint in the Paradise meadows.

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Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

Come with us to our next destination!

Get Dare List Family love and behind-the-scenes action sent straight to your inbox.

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