Currently Wandering » Outdoor Family, Adventure Travel, Simple Living - Family of 5 Traveling the United States in an Airstream.

Our Kids Complete the Most Epic Hike EVER in Yosemite National Park

Our kids never cease to amaze me. They have adapted so well to this traveling lifestyle of ours and I see them growing and thriving in the most spectacular ways.

Hiking is definitely a huge activity for us. We started with short hikes when they were little, and gradually have been able to increase the distance as they become stronger and more used to the physical effort. The hike we completed in Yosemite definitely topped the list for difficulty, duration and amazing views.

When We Visited: December 8, 2014

Ages of Kids: 9, 7, 4

Where We Stayed: Yosemite Ridge Resort.  Our timing worked out for a visit across a Sat-Mon, with Monday being the day we spent all day at the park. We opted to stay outside the National Park near Groveland at an RV Park so that 1) Sam could have a prayer of getting Verizon coverage so he could work some on Saturday to make up for play on Monday, and 2) It was much, much closer to church.

I had one purpose for visiting this park, and that was to hike. A big one. It had been quite a while since we attempted an all day excursion, and having just seen the valley floor on my previous visit, I wanted to get up into the hills and really experience Yosemite. Even if that’s all we did on our visit, we felt that would be a better way to see the park than exploring a few of the shorter trails closer to the valley floor. We needed to get UP.

If we could snag a Jr. Ranger Badge while we were at it, I was okay with that too.

Yosemite HIke_04

I don’t think any of use quite comprehended what we were getting ourselves into as we left the Visitor Center and headed for the trail head. We planned to hike up to both Vernal and Nevada Falls, a distance, on paper, of 5.4 miles round trip. We also knew there was an option to come down the John Muir Trail, which considering it is the last section Sam hiked of his 240 miles we were kind of excited to all hike together. Coming down the JMT rather than back down the Mist Trail would add about 2.5 miles, however, so we figured we’d just see how it went.

Everyone started out in great spirits. We had psyched the kids up for a long, difficult hike, but we knew that they could do it. The first section of the trail is paved and steep. We kept leap frogging a high school field trip group, and Cara kept teasing them about hiking faster than they were. Sam and I joked that these kids would never live it down if a 4 year old beat them to the top of the waterfall.

About .8 miles up the trail, we hit the footbridge and our first view of Vernal Falls. I handed my camera off to the field trip instructor and started giving him directions when he promised that he was a photographer and knew what he was doing. Perfect. We rarely get photos of all 5 of us and this is one of my all time favorites!

The little things that help our kids accomplish something difficult are pretty varied. For Cara, listening to music is a huge help. On this hike, Rachel really want to bring Rebecca, her American Girl doll along for the hike. She’s not very heavy and has a backpack she straps into, so we thought, “why not?” It was adorable to watch Rachel hike up the trail with her doll strapped to her back. I think it gave her encouragement to think she was “helping” her doll along and responsible for someone else throughout the hike.

Before reaching the top of the falls, we had to climb 600 granite steps that had been shaped out of the mountain. It was quite the work out and we were all pretty tired & hungry by the time we reached the top!

Feeding both body and spirit is definitely important. We packed in lunch to eat at the top of the falls and not only filled our hungry bellies, but re-energized the kids to keep hiking. Its amazing what a milestone can do for encouragement! We did beat the school group to the top of the falls, and they endured some good natured teasing from 4 year old Cara, despite having to stop here and there for a lecture from their teacher. Cara was very proud to be competing in league with ‘big kids’ and it gave her confidence and courage.

At this point we had a decision to make, continue to the top of Nevada Falls or head back down? We definitely wanted to keep going, but Rachel was having some severe cramping in her hip flexor and was struggling to even walk. We sat down and talked about pressing on in spite of difficulties, how excited everyone else was to see the other waterfall, and we stretched out her leg so she felt confident she could keep hiking. Had we remembered to bring our hiking poles, they also would have helped tremendously, but they were sitting back in the Airstream too far away to be useful.

We are proud of Rachel for how determined she was to see this thing through. We walked a little slower on the second half of the trail, and stopped frequently to stretch, but she kept hiking with very little complaining. I’m glad we kept going because the views just kept getting better and better!

Just before we hit the top of Nevada Falls we had another steep, switchback, rocky section to hike. This time, however, we had the company of the sun which peaked over the nearby cliffs and bathed us in golden light. It was the first time that day we had seen the sun and I just stood for a minute and let the warm sunshine wash over my face. 

We saved our very favorite granola bars to eat at the top of Nevada Falls, and stopped for 20 minutes or so to complete their short Jr. Ranger books before heading back down the trail. Spending a few minutes which such a view (and our favorite snack!) was ample reward for our effort up the trail. Our break was short, as we’ve learned to keep moving so our muscles don’t freeze up, and by this time it was about 3pm and we needed to get off the mountain before it got dark.

We made it! This was our “We can’t believe our 4 year old hiked all the way up here” self-congratulatory selfie photo.

The slog downhill began. The kids were pretty tired by now, and it was getting late into the afternoon. We were slightly worried we wouldn’t make it back to the visitor center in time to turn in our Jr. Ranger Books, but more importantly that it would be dark before we could get off the mountain. The views coming down the JMT side of the trail were spectacular, however, and was worth the extra distance we hiked.

Lots of trail snacks, “I spy” games, music and anything else we could think of to keep them hiking. Sam and I were tired, which meant the kids must be doubly so. Little Cara had given her all, and just couldn’t make it the last mile. We alternated between carrying her and having her walk and it was pretty slow going.

We made it back to the car just as it was getting too dark to see around 4:55pm. The visitor center closed at 5pm so we raced back along the road to the closest drop off point and the kids and I ran from there on our already exhausted legs. We ran up to the visitor center just as the last ranger was walking out the front door. He was so great – the kids explained which hike they had just finished and he congratulated them and went back inside for the badges. Without even checking their sheets, he just asked what their favorite part was and handed them over. Obviously he was ready to go home too!

On the way out, we made a quick pit stop at the food market to grab some snacks for the way home. Everyone was tired, but it was definitely a fantastic accomplishment for everyone! Although on paper, the trail was supposed to be only 7. 5 miles or so, tracking with Endomondo I clocked 10 miles and 2000 feet of vertical elevation. We are so proud of our kids and what they accomplished!

Our decision to begin hiking serious hikes with the kids was deliberate, and over this last year we’ve seen them grow and become both physically and mentally strong. We have a learned and grown so much through these experiences, and I look forward to what we will accomplish this year!

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  • Tiffany Izatt - I freaking love your adventures!ReplyCancel

  • danielle - YAY! That is awesome! We are hoping to head to Yosemi
    te next year, we might need to check out this hike!ReplyCancel

  • danielle - Also, M&M’s make every hike better and now I want some…ReplyCancel

    • Jess - M&M’s make EVERYTHING better! haha! Thanks for reading!ReplyCancel

  • danielle - Also(I need to give what I type more thought before hitting post), the top pic is fantastic! Beautiful shot! Hopefully I will stop hogging your comments section now and be done 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Meg - Great post! Stunning photos and virutal fist bumps to your kiddos! Way to go! One question… If you handed over your camera to the person who took your family photo and you were still wearing a camera, does that mean you carry two cameras with you? I always bring the point and click for the kids to use and hand that over but the photo looks to be too good of quality for a point and click!ReplyCancel

    • Jess - Thanks Meg! Yes, we take two cameras. Our other one is the Samsung NX300 and we LOVE it. We bought the body only and the 20mm lens so it will mimic the focal length of our camera phones (about 30mm). It’s a 20mp and has great optics (so better than our camera phones) plus it has the direct wifi feature so we can transfer the images to our phones and post to Instagram.ReplyCancel

  • Kerri - We are heading to Yosemite this summer and have been trying to get the kids pumped up about the hiking we hope to do. Thank you for your inspiration! It CAN be done. I also appreciated your article about how to get kids to hike without whining! On our last hike, lollipops and a battery-operated spritzing fan saved the day. Thank you for sharing your experiences.ReplyCancel

    • Jess - You are welcome!! There are definitely some shorter hikes to do in Yosemite, but this one was definitely worth the effort! They also have pit toilets along the trail, so you don’t have to worry about little kids needing the bathroom. Hooray!ReplyCancel

      • Kerri - Ha! Thank you for the tip about the toilets! We attempted the mile-long hike around Bear Lake in the Rocky Mountains when our sons were younger, only to have the dreaded whining about needing to go to the bathroom about a quarter of the way in.

        We can’t wait to explore Yosemite. Your pictures are amazing!ReplyCancel

        • Jess - You are welcome and thanks for reading!! We are backpackers by nature so the bathroom issue isn’t a big deal for us. We figure if our kids REALLY need to go they’ll deal. 🙂 haha Such nice parents. Our only downfall these days is remembering to pack the shovel and toilet paper on long hikes!ReplyCancel

  • How to Mail In Jr. Ranger Booklets to Get Your Badge » Currently Wandering - […] time and only just barely make it as the rangers are stepping out of the door for the night – not that we’d know anything about that), there definitely is another option to still get your […]ReplyCancel

  • Skye Moyer - Do you have a list of products youve found make hiking with the littles easier?ReplyCancel

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