Explore Better with 2TravelDads: 5 Unique Yosemite Country Activities

Even when a place is as remarkable as Yosemite National Park, it’s always nice to explore beyond the most famous sights and most popular trails. True, you cannot surpass the epic view that awaits at the end of the Wawona Tunnel as the Yosemite Valley opens up to show off Half Dome, El Capitan and the waterfalls, but when it comes to experiences in nature, there’s more than you imagined.

After spending a week at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, we’ve seen a different side of Yosemite Country, including activities we’ve never considered on previous visits. When it comes to one of America’s favorite National Parks, we are excited to help others Explore Better like we have.

Five Truly Unique Yosemite Country Activities

As you plan your visit to Yosemite National Park, don’t miss out on a chance to see hidden gems and iconic attractions from a different perspective. Whether it’s learning the history of the area or getting into nature with few others around, I think you’ll find these picks great additions for a totally unique Yosemite getaway.

Mountain biking has never been easier with on-site E-bike rentals from Tenaya Lodge.
Mountain biking has never been easier with on-site E-bike rentals from Tenaya Lodge.

E-Biking and Hiking Adventure

We love getting out into the forest, especially in California’s Sierras. During our trip, we were able to rent E-bikes with off-road tires directly from Tenaya Lodge. Having a small electric motor on the bikes to help boost us on our way, we were able to cover a lot of ground really quickly. It was remarkable just how fast we traversed the trails and left the crowds behind.

For our particular adventure, we rode about 2.5 miles into the Sierra National Forest to the Tenaya Falls Trailhead. From there, this clearly marked National Forest Service path took us through the woods and along the Lewis Fork Creek to Tenaya Falls. We only met one hiker along the way and loved the scenery. After dipping our feet in the creek, we headed back to our E-bikes and rode back. It was truly a great way to enjoy the gorgeous forests in Yosemite Country!

Guided Nature Hike in the Forest

Even though we’re very knowledgeable when it comes to flora and fauna in the mountains, there’s something to be said about going on a guided hike in Yosemite Country. We hit the trail with our kids and our local guide and immediately learned new things about the trees we’d been walking by for the last few days. Did you know the white fir tree actually smells like oranges when you rub its needles, and even tastes like orange peel? The experience was totally wild and something we’d never have known without our guide.

It’s also nice to get insider information about additional hiking in the area or the best places to watch for wildlife. Guided nature hikes are available with National Park rangers or with local tour companies—in our case, it’s an included amenity when staying at Tenaya Lodge!

When you head out on your guided nature hike, be sure to bring your camera, binoculars for birdwatching (one of my favorite activities) and plenty of water. Even though nature hikes don’t tend to be strenuous, the air is drier in the Sierras, and you’ll need to drink more water than normal.

Learning about the local flora and fauna is one of the best reasons to sign up for a guided nature hike in Yosemite Country.
Learning about the local flora and fauna is one of the best reasons to sign up for a guided nature hike in Yosemite Country.
Getting splashed with mud is all part of the fun when you go off-roading in Yosemite Country!
Getting splashed with mud is all part of the fun when you go off-roading in Yosemite Country!

Off-Road Exploring with a UTV

Never have I ever… driven an off-road vehicle across a granite dome in Yosemite Country. Actually I have! Yosemite Adventure Company, a women-owned tour and rental company, makes it possible to explore the more remote areas around Yosemite National Park.

Since we were exploring with friends, we were able to split up our time between driving the UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) and adventuring on a guided Jeep tour.. We enjoyed having the two varied activities, and I’ll tell you, they were certainly different. The tour with our Yosemite Adventure Company guide was full of local knowledge and stories, a bit of science, and amazing views. Our time driving the UTV across creeks and up mountain faces was epic and much more of an adrenaline rush.

When it comes to making sure the kids had a great time, bumpy rides and getting away from it all would’ve been enough for them. Add helmets, goggles and getting splashed, and you have the recipe for an all-ages Yosemite adventure. And FYI, you WILL get awesomely muddy or dusty!

Horseback Riding in the Sierra National Forest

Yosemite Country is a special place to ride horses. Streams, rugged trails and the best smelling trees make it pretty remarkable when it comes to a family activity.

Our guide for horseback riding in Yosemite Country was Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures. I used to be a horseman myself so I always love when we go with guides that really care about the rider experience and the horses’ well-being. Our guide made sure we were comfortable and trusting of our horses before we went out on the trail. We were taught how the horses were trained and the best ways to communicate with them. I loved the approach.

For beginners or just those who don’t get the chance to ride horses often, Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures is a unique option for seeing a different side of Yosemite Country. Truly, this particular horseback riding adventure stands out as one of the best we’ve done as a family.

If you're hoping to ride the Sugarpine Railway in summer, make sure to book your train tickets in advance.
If you're hoping to ride the Sugarpine Railway in summer, make sure to book your train tickets in advance.

Historic Yosemite Sugarpine Railway Trip

What’s a trip to Yosemite National Park without getting into the history of it all? Just outside of the National Park is the Sugarpine Railway. This historic train ventures into the Sierra National Forest several times each day, sharing the story of the Sierra’s bygone lumber era. Understanding the past is something we always try to make a part of our travels, so activities like the Yosemite Mountain Sugarpine Railway is perfect for that!

If you’re looking for more, stick around at the Sugarpine Railway for a lesson in gold panning or immerse yourself in lumber history at the museum.

A tip for visiting in the peak of summer: book your train tickets in advance, as the Sugarpine Railway can get busy. It’s a great option for avoiding busier times in the National Park and great for all ages.

More Unique Yosemite Activities to Enjoy

Of course I’ve got some great, unique things to do WITHIN Yosemite National Park too. Yes, it’s a favorite park and you’ll encounter some crowds, but there are some really wonderful picks off the beaten path. Here are our favorite options:

  • Bring a picnic into the park for an afternoon at Cathedral Beach picnic area on the Merced River, surrounded by the towering granite cliffs
  • Visit the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias in the northwestern corner of the park; it has fewer visitors than the Mariposa Grove and offers a very different sort of hike
  • Plan a day trip to the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite; it’s only accessible from a road outside of park boundaries and offers views much like the main Yosemite Valley but with a gorgeous blue lake.

Remember, Yosemite National Park is open year-round, but not all parts of the park are accessible in winter months. Always check with the National Park Service before finalizing your travel plans.

There are so many more things to do and endless views to take in. Planning unique and lesser-known activities into your trip to Yosemite Country will elevate it even further. Take the time to explore beyond the park. You’ll be glad you did.




We are Chris and Rob Taylor, 2TravelDads, and we’re all about taking our sons out into the world and experiencing it as an LGBTQ family, learning about culture, having great food, and playing in the sand.

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