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Street in Columbia State Park

Family Weekend Guide: Yosemite and Tuolumne

Bringing kids to Yosemite is a rite of passage for outdoorsy families, and there’s no beating the awe-factor of introducing kids to the splendor of the valley for the first time. But the surrounding region offers plenty of family fun beyond the national park. Here’s how to turn a long weekend into a well-rounded family adventure.

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Columbia State Historic Park: This 1850s Gold Rush town in Sonora, California, gives kids and adults the chance to explore 19th-century life. Visit preserved buildings, take a stagecoach ride (complete with bandits), learn to pan for gold, and sample classic treats at the candy shop. Plan to spend two to four hours at the park. There’s no entry fee and no cost to park.

Indigeny Reserve: This preserve and apple orchard in the hills of Sonora caters to the interests of both kids and adults. Grownups can sample Indigeny’s hand-crafted hard cider, and kids have plenty of room to run and play. Bring a picnic and settle in at one of the picnic tables set under a grove of trees, or hike among apple orchards and native trees—keep your eye out for wildlife.

Black Oak Casino Resort: This casino and resort offers gaming and entertainment geared to adults, but the hidden gem for families is the lower level dedicated to family fun. Here, you’ll find the Underground Arcade, a mix of classic arcade games, hands-on options like Skee-Ball, and newer offerings. Just around the corner is Black Oak Lanes, a 24-lane bowling alley that has black-light bowling on Friday and Saturday nights. In between the two is a casual dining spot with serious ice cream offerings.

Yosemite National Park: The star of your weekend will, of course, be Yosemite National Park. Get an early start—if you’re staying in Sonora, the beautiful but winding drive to the park will take about an hour and a half—to experience the beauty of Yosemite without the big crowds. If you’re headed to the famous valley floor, park once at the main visitor center and hop on the shuttle to explore sights including Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. If you want to discover the Yosemite most people don’t see, opt for a visit to Hetch Hetchy for hiking, bird watching, or fishing. Or stand beneath giant sequoias at Tuolumne Grove, where you can see massive trees, some of which are thousands of years old.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: Hop a ride aboard an antique train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. The 45-minute round-trip ride is just long enough to see the countryside, get the full train experience, and learn some interesting history from your conductor. Train-crazy kids (and adults) can take a tour of the park to see more trains and artifacts of industry.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis visited Tuolumne County as a guest of Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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