20 Great Ideas For Kids When Visiting The Sierra National Parks

Sierra National Parks – The Sierra mountains are home to four National Parks: Yosemite National Park; Lassen Volcanic National Park; Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park. And with President Obama’s new get kids in the Parks program, which coincides with the 100th Anniversary of National Parks, 4th graders and their parents will receive Free admission to National Parks for 1 year starting Fall 2015.

Which brings the question, what are the best things for a 4th grader or any young child to do in a Sierra National Park?

We can ask all kinds of political questions about this bill, but that is for another day. Today let’s remember being a kid, or maybe our first trip to a National Park. For me it was Crater Lake Oregon, and I was in 3rd or 4th grade I believe, I still remember my parents and grandparents helping me try to feed the chipmunks (not recommended any longer sorry kids), and the deep blue colors of Crater Lake some 40 years later in life. I remember the stories of fish the size of boats that swim deep in the blue water and how my imagination was captivated by the idea of living on that little volcanic island in the middle. So at it’s purest form this new program has great potential to help a new generation of family memories possible for families across America. (Just wish I had a fourth Grader)

So What about the Sierra Mountain Range and our four National Parks? What are the must see, or must do things that parents can do to help their 4th grader remember that experience 40 years later in life?

Here are Sierra REC’s Top 20 things to do with a 4th grader in the Sierra National Parks.

  1. 220px-Methuselah_treeHug a Giant – The Giant Sequoia Trees of the Sierra are the largest of their kind. When you think of the width and you realize that you’re looking at over 25-30 yards around the base on some of the largest trees, it will make a kid gasp at its enormous size.  Have a little fun and see how far the family can reach hand in hand around one of these giants. Go ahead and ask visitors that are near to join you and see how many will it take to hug a giant.

  2. Experience the Bubbling Mud – Lassen National Park is the least visited of the lassen0373562-20090721-editparks in the Sierra. One of the many highlights in this Northern Park is the bubbling mud pots of Bumpass Hell. Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in the park and marks the principal area of upflow of steam and discharge from the Lassen hydrothermal system. The temperature of high-velocity steam jetting from Big Boiler, the largest fumarole in the park, has been measured as high as 322°F (161°C), making it one of the hottest fumaroles in the world. (Learn More) Your 4th grader will love the connection with Volcanic activity live and in action.

  3. Waterfalls – If you like Waterfalls then the Sierra National Parks are a great nevadafall-misttrailplace to visit. Yosemite National park provides many great waterfalls for the family and easy hikes for kids. Yosemite Falls is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the West and is a true delight for the entire family. What is great about visiting Yosemite Valley however is the multiple waterfalls that can be seen in the same day. Bridal Veil Falls as you enter the west end of the park, Sentinel Falls on the South Side of the Valley, Horse Tail Fall, Nevada Fall & Vernal falls to just name a few. Yosemite National park has a great list here for your planning. The best time to see waterfalls is during spring when most of the snowmelt occurs. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) often only a trickle or completely dry by August

  4. Climb a dome (Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows.) – Ok this one usually OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdoes not make the bucket list of must do’s at Yosemite. But maybe it should for more people. Taking your family on this hike ( Rated Moderate because you are climbing a mountain) is a recommended trip. A fantastic View of Tuolumne Meadows & the experience of climbing one of Yosemite’s granite structures is sure to bring out the adventurer in your 4th grader. Here are two great reviews of the Lembert Dome hike. Review 1 or Review 2.

  5. Scavenger Hunt – No matter which park you visit it begs for a traditional pocket scavenger hunt. Plan ahead and have a prize for the kids as a reward. Spend the day hiking around your favorite park looking for unique items that will fit in a pocket. Or with today’s technology make it a photo scavenger hunt and spend the evening reviewing all the great treasures you found on the phone. From Animal tracks to awesome rock features The National Parks are filled with items to explore and find on any day adventure.

  6. Watch a Meteor Shower – One of Sierra REC’s favorite evening activities in the Packages-Lrg_Perseid-Meteor-Shower-PkgSierra is Star Gazing. The elimination of city lights allows kids to see stars and space features seldom seen in the City lights from where they come from.  Each National Park provides multiple opportunities to come out for star-gazing events during the year. However just about any night with a clear sky you can unfold a blanket, find a meadow or clearing and lay back to watch amazing light shows. There are obviously better times to watch for meteor showers during the year. So a little investigation before you go is needed. But if you know of a Meteor event coming soon, we suggest finding a national park to visit. The Perseid meteor shower Comes into sight every July and has a great viewing location from Glacier Point for example. Lassen National Park has a seasonal Astronomy program worth checking out.

  7. Moonlight Hike – Moonlight hikes are another great way to enjoy the night skylines in the National Parks. Guided hikes are available most month’s as we switch to snowshoes in the winter months.  Yosemite by daylight is inspiring, see the Valley in an entirely new and magical light during a Moonlight Tour.

  8. Treasure Hunts – The classic treasure hunt can come to life in the National Parks for families. the opportunity to see wildlife, to experience preserved imagesoutdoor environments and to safely hike into amazing features in these parks allows you to use a little creativity in designing your very own Treasure hunt. Also with a little pre-trip planning and today’s technology, a very popular form of treasure hunts are Geo Caching hikes.

  9. Night Prowler – Got a young one with a sense of night adventure? The national parks are a great place to go one a night hike in the meadows and try to see wildlife come to life. Start at Dusk and watch as a the meadows start to fill with deer, bear, coyotes and so much more. Stay out late and sit in the darkness watching the stars and listening to the sounds of coyotes talking or sit quietly and watch for the little eye-balls of creatures eating and scurrying through the meadow.  Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite National Park, is a great place at Dusk or Dawn to see wildlife active in the meadow.

  10. Raft the Merced – Lazy River Style on the Merced. A very popular event in Yosemite national Park as floater’s grab a tube or raft and float through the Rafting the MercedYosemite Valley surrounded by the enormous Granite Cliffs and views of the Yosemite Valley.

  11. Explore A Cave – Kings canyon and Sequoia National Park support a great cave system that is perfect for the family to explore. If you have never let the Crystal Cave Sequoia NPkids strap on a headlamp or hold their own flashlight and explore the caves this is the time.  Cave exploration can bring out the creative wonders of a child’s mind. Wonder what it feels like with the lights out? Huddle the family together and turn the lights out for a few minutes and feel the peace and fear of complete darkness.

  12. Become a Junior Ranger – Each of the Sierra National parks have Junior Ranger Programs. These programs are developed to help you leave a lasting lifelong impression in your kids, on the importance of our parks, the work it takes to keep them safe and why they should care. The next generation is challenged to understand the why of what generations before them have accomplished. This is a simple way to add a little fun to your trip and start answering the questions.

  13. Hike to a Hidden Lake –  Take your pick of lakes that you can’t see by driving down the road in our national parks. One of our favorite hikes that will five-lakes-basinrequire a little effort from a fourth grader is Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park. The thrill of seeing a place that 85-90% of the public never see first hand is a gift that your kids will never forget.

  14. Hike to a great vista – Similar to staying up late and watching the stars, Vista sites are not always the most exciting thing to think about. But in the quiet  moments,  as you stare out on the vast images available on the Vista points in all of the Sierra National Parks , kids will start to grasp the enormous area and size of our Nation’s Parks. The Curious will be filled with questions and wonder, but often will just sit in awe.

  15. Track an Animal – So many to choose from, track a deer through the forest or follow a bear trail left behind the night before in the campground.bear tracks

  16. Become Family Digital Photo Professional – Its ok, they know how to use electronics. Make your 4th grader the professional photographer for the day.  No rules just let them shoot whatever catches their eye. Then set up a time after dinner to look through all their pictures of the day.

  17. Paint the Wildflowers – Spring is a great time to visit the National Parts. This year, bring crayons or water paints and ask your 4th grader to paint the wildflowers they see int he park. New fridge art!

  18. Walk near a stream –  There is something magical when you walk along a stream in the wilderness. Seeing fish in the clear pools of water, the occasional from leaping along the tall grass, the multiple creatures; deer, squirrels; marmots, otters which can be seen playing or resting near a stream.  There are multiple streams in the Sierra National parks to enjoy. Yosemite Valley provides a fantastic opportunity along the Merced or on the Eastern Side in the Tuolumne Meadow for kids to explore the shorelines, sit in the tall grass and watch for animals, etc.  Depending on the season you visit the park with your kids, mountain streams from snow run-off can be very dangerous, so using caution and understanding your surroundings is very important. However int he Spring, you also have the opportunity to see run off streams while hiking that provides the forest and trail with unique adventure spots.

  19. Guide a family adventure – Have you ever just followed a kid around. As an adult, we probably think this sounds exhausting, however for a great family-in-the-woodsexperience for the kids and yourself, let your 4th grader lead the days adventure. Climb a rock, skip across a meadow, build a fort in the forest, etc.. Kids can lead to some great adventures. You also might find their education come out in extraordinary ways as the spin the facts they have heard into an exact science, telling your stories of creation and creativity.

  20. Bike the highway (Lassen) – Each year, Lassen National Park, one of the least visit national parks in the United States, provides visitors with a unique Car Free day. A day where bikes and foot traffic are the only means of transportation. What a great way to let your kids experience the National Park. No fear on the roadway of cars or crazy drivers. Imagine the bike games your kids can have with a highway all to themselves, a mountain race in a National Park. Sounds like a great kid day.

So what about you? What items have we missed on our list that you believe are a must do for 4th grader’s.  Please Share you ideas by adding to our Facebook post or emailing us a story and photo at sierrarecinfo@gmail.com. We would love to post some your 4th grader’s first adventures int he National Parks.


Sierra REC Magazine is dedicated to sharing the events, news and adventure opportunities that exist in The Sierra Mountains. From Lassen Volcanic National Park to the North down through the Central Sierra and the Lake Tahoe Basin through the rugged eastern slopes of the Mono county and Yosemite National park to the southern tips near Sequoia National Park and the PCT trail. We invite you to share stories, tips and photos from your adventures in the  Sierra. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter Google +  and You-Tube or email us your events and photos at sierrarecinfo@gmail.com  #goexplore