Visiting a National Park with a Large Family

Our Family’s Trip to Yosemite with 14 people

Guest posted over at True North, in Part 1 and Part 2

My family recently moved to California, half a continent away from my grassy South Dakota hometown. This has some benefits, as now we have the opportunity to plan a special trip when I am able to travel out to visit. This year, we chose to visit our first major national park (unless you count the Badlands in Western South Dakota, which are lovely but small and not very crowded). Eleven children, two parents and my brothers guest, who just graduated from (homeschool) high school loaded suitcases under the seats two spend a two night stay in Yosemite National Park. Every age group from nine months old to adults of the early twenties was represented in our caravan. A baby, a toddler, ten older kids, and two parents, and my 16 year old brother’s friend, fourteen people in all.

A highlight of the trip was the visit from my brother’s South Dakota friend.

The most challenging part of large family travel is getting from place to place and having enough energy to enjoy the destination. In the past, my mother has used sticker books and long lasting suckers to keep the natives happy, but this year the baby of the family-a teething nine month old with a strong set of lungs, was too young to be impressed. Squeezable baby food packets, teething biscuits, and organic dried mango helped to buy time in the carseat. Rights to the coveted front seats are rotated between the children. The privileged spot comes with the responsibility of playing with the baby. The young men of the family take the job seriously and use creativity to devise the entertainment. The newest sport on the planet, Fidora Frisbee was invented in this way. The goal of the game is to throw a hat directly on the baby’s face, to her delight. It’s probably only a matter of time till this game becomes known worldwide, from its humble birthplace in the middle benches of the blue fifteen passenger van between Stockton, CA and Yosemite National Park.
Once we arrived at Yosemite National Park, walking shorter distances rather than driving allows the family a welcome break from the car. A few of the middle school aged kids take advantage of the freedom, however, and try to branch off on their own.  This means moving as a group is sometimes more like herding sheep, and before leaving a location a headcount is mandatory. Though I believe we’ve only left someone behind once in the entire family history, there was one near miss this trip before getting on a bus. Fortunately, our family friend noticed the missing child and made quick trip to check the bathrooms seconds before we boarded.
The beginning of the day is always very enjoyable on foot, but in the afternoon the younger kids lag behind. The wide age span in the family is an advantage at this point, and the three year old and five year old enjoyed shoulder rides courtesy of the teen boys for the last half of the day, to their delight. In the past we have transported children in strollers, but my mom chose to bring a baby carrier this time for added mobility. The baby was much happier being carried close to mom, and we didn’t have to use valuable car space to store it or tote one up stairs. 
sister takes a turn in carrying the baby in the pack
Motion sickness is not a unique trouble to a large family, but the high backed seats and bumpy back rows of the fifteen passenger van are particularly rough on stomachs. After many years of enduring the smells of half digested lunches, the family now always packs a large stash of Ziplock bags. Drives through curvy mountain roads are new to the family, and in the future child friendly nausea medication will be essential.
Our family is thirteen strong and incredibly nerdy. Every path brings new subject matter for discussion, exploration, and research. Since half the family are budding entomologists, a butterfly or dragonfly causes a pause in the hike. The family welcomes these pauses as moments of wonder rather than treating it as an inconvenience or telling the kids to hurry along. Yosemite furnished a variety of spiders, butterflies, and praying mantis along the trail to please this fan club. Later on, four history nerds paused to contemplate the significance of standing next to the Grizzly Giant sequoia tree where Theodore Rosevelt had camped. Fingertips touched the plaque showing the president in the exact spot where we now stood, 115 years later. Though country and culture had transformed in this time period, the face of the natural landscape remained unchanged. Contemplation of this fact sparked a discussion on rock formation and erosion led by the amateur geologists. 
Experiencing natural wonders is much different in a large family than alone or in small groups. As we explored the dramatic monoliths of Yosemite looming above meadows of wildflowers, we also enjoyed the companionship and commentary of our tribe.
This is the famous Fidora
The friendship and camaraderie in my family creates a richness I miss when I travel alone.  The multiplicity of reactions of each family member come together to form a fuller experience than could be had in a small group with a smaller age range. I will look back at my impressions of the majestic mountains alongside the exclamations of my five year old sister. Individual experiences are flat in comparison. 
The young ones bring appreciation of the smallest things on the trail. Their eyes turned downwards to the things they can reach, and while the bigger ones pause to climb the trees they pick up sticks and rocks. ‘Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints’ is the motto in the National Parks, and It always takes some convincing to make sure the youngest comply. They are open to bartering, and we phrased it this way, “You can’t pick up rocks here, but you can at the cabin outside the park limits”. Nevertheless, they leave their mark on the park, as small drawings in the sand and stacks of leaves and pinecones mark their path.


  1. Grandma Becky

    This was a great read on your vacation with family and friend. I could just imagine that chatter as you explored a beautiful place. I want to go there!

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