What’s the best thing about going to Yosemite National Park during the winter? In addition to the iconic vistas covered in pretty snow, “you get to feel like you have the park to yourself,” says Mommy Shorts blogger Ilana Wiles, who took her family of four (including husband Mike and daughters Harlow and Mazzy) on a recent Northern California adventure.
This wasn’t the family’s first trip to California from their home in New York City (read about their seven-day road trip along Highway 1 and beyond), and it likely won't be the last.
“We've spent several family vacations in California, and each one has been completely different,” Wiles says. “There is the scene in L.A., the cool outdoorsy beach vibe of San Diego, the beautiful cliffs and coastline of Monterey and Big Sur, and of course, the awesome city of San Francisco. I love that California has a combination of great cultural cities and adventurous outdoors. You can always do both extremes in each city, which is great for kids, who love variety.”
1. What were the top highlights of your trip?
It is very hard to pick, but if I had to choose, it would be our hike through the snow and seeing the sequoias in Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite, seeing Mazzy attempt ski jumps on the beginner snow park at Palisades Tahoe, and skipping rocks on the very still and serene North Lake Tahoe.
2. What all did you do and see at Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)?
We skied, ate, and relaxed in the hot tub. I particularly loved the lodge at the top of the aerial tram, which had beautiful views and easy access to the learning park. Another big highlight was taking the kids on the mini snowmobiles. They could not believe they were allowed to drive them on their own and had a blast!
3. What were the best activities or features at Rush Creek Lodge?
I've been telling everyone I know to take their family to Rush Creek Lodge! From the second we walked on the property, we knew it was a special place. Not only are the rooms modern and well designed, there is tons for kids of all ages to do. My kids loved exploring the outdoor playground with super-long slides, a big circular swing, and of course the zip lines. Even I couldn't resist going on those a few times! For bigger kids, they have ping pong, oversized chess, and Connect Four.
There is also a fire pit, where they have all the ingredients for make-your-own s’mores for free every night from 6–8 p.m. My kids made sure we were back at the hotel for that every night of our stay. If it rains, there is plenty to do inside. There's a huge rec room with pool, foosball, pinball, and a climbing area, and a library with a huge selection of board games. The best part is that the restaurant is attached, so after you order the kids can play in the rec room while the adults sit at the table and relax with a glass of wine. Afterward you can go to the library and play a board game as a family. I didn't even mention the heated pool!
4. What was Yosemite like in the winter?
We were in Yosemite off-season so it was not crowded, which made the whole thing feel very special. There was never a wait at the restaurants or facilities and all the famous vistas and waterfalls weren't overrun with tourists taking photos. I also think that hikes in sweater weather beat a sweaty tank top and shorts. And it was really awesome to have spring-like weather in the valley while other parts of the park were covered in snow. One of my favorite days was when we hiked Tuolumne Grove in the snow. By the end of the hike, the kids took off their jackets and tied them around their waist, but they were still throwing snowballs at each other. We never get to enjoy the snow without the cold back in the East!
5. What were your kids’ favorite parts of the trip?
I think Mazzy and Harlow will remember Rush Creek Lodge the most. They were always excited to go back to the lodge at the end of the day because they wanted to have time on the zip lines, in the pool, and in the rec room. Every night was filled with sunsets, s’mores, and late-night ping pong. They loved the entire trip but I really think they will miss the free s’mores most of all.
6. What’s one photo that best sums up your trip?
Believe it or not, this is our first family selfie. It was instigated by Mike and taken by Mazzy. I think this photo totally reflects how happy we were on this day, and on this whole vacation in general. Also, we were super worried that the weather would be so bad that we would miss all the views in Yosemite. We weren't even sure if we would be able to drive through the park due to snowstorms! The first day we went in, it was so foggy we almost missed it. But then the next day, the weather cleared up and it was gorgeous! Especially at Tunnel View, which took my breath away just like everyone said it would. We ended up having four beautiful days of hiking and waterfalls. I would highly recommend the off-season experience.
7. Where in California do you plan to take your family next?
I do not think of myself as an outdoorsy person but my family had so much fun that I’m now looking up all different national parks to see what I want to hit up next. We're really interested in Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Pinnacles National Park.