Travel Review: Yosemite National Park & Our Stay at the Alpaca Ranch House
This post may contain affiliate links. My stay at the Alpaca Ranch House was paid for by myself.
Did anyone else find themselves with a ton of AirBnB credit as they got to the midpoint of 2020? I know I did! As I went searching for local places driving distance from my house, I stumbled upon a guest house at an alpaca ranch and was instantly sold. When I realized Yosemite National Park was only about an hour away, it made it even better! Read on for tips on planning a stay at the Alpaca Ranch House with time at Yosemite National Park.
When we went: November 2020
Ages of kids at time of travel: 7, 5 and 2
Where we stayed: Alpaca Ranch House, Catheys Valley, California
What To Expect:
Alpaca Ranch House is part of the Epic Alpacas farm which has over 200 alpacas! It is located in a remote, quiet area off of Highway 140 which is one of the routes into Yosemite National Park. The owners of the property live immediately next to the guest house and the friendly alpacas are in various pens around the property. As this is a working farm, you can expect to see the owners and caretakers walking around and driving in and out but we barely even noticed. The house does have a back patio with a grill and seating area should you want some more privacy. And, the property is 45 acres so plenty of room to take a walk down to the pond and sit in the pergola to watch the sunset.
The house itself is a comfortable, spacious two bedroom property with one bathroom. The master has one bed and the second room has two beds (perfect for kids). The couch in the living room also pulls-out if additional space is needed. The kitchen was well-stocked with everything you need to cook but we opted to do takeout since we had such a short stay. There is also a washer/dryer, reliable wi-fi and a smart TV. The house itself was very kid-friendly. Aside from a few steps into the actual house, it is a single story so no trip hazards. If you have a curious toddler, you may want to bring some locks for the cabinets, especially the one under the sink.
As for Yosemite National Park, it can still be busy even in the colder months. We went the first weekend it was open without reservations so we definitely noticed crowds at the busier spots. It was, however, still very manageable and we were able to find parking down in Yosemite Village very easily.
Things To Keep in Mind:
We went off-season when the weather was starting to get cold (we even had a winter storm warning!). It definitely can get chilly so be prepared with warm clothes and layers. The house does have heating but it can still get a bit chilly so consider bringing a few blankets for cuddling on the couch in the evening or to add some warmth to the bed. If you do venture up to Yosemite National Park, expect even cooler temperatures than in Catheys Valley.
The house is definitely remote and you will need a car to get around. While there is a gas station with a small market down the road, you can expect to either head into Mariposa (about a 15 minute drive) or Merced (about a 30 minute drive) for dining, shopping and other entertainment. My recommendation would be to head to downtown Mariposa for a quaint downtown with ample cafes, restaurants and shops.
Looking to stay closer to the park? Check out hotels, inns and lodges closer to the park.
If you do want to visit Yosemite National Park, it is totally doable as a day trip. We left around 8am, stopped in Mariposa for a quick breakfast and then got to the park about an hour later. The park is pretty massive – it is actually a similar size to the state of Rhode Island! With that in mind, it is advisable to have a plan for what you want to do in the park.
Yosemite National Park Recs:
As mentioned above, Yosemite National Park is huge and you will want to have a plan. As a parent going with three kids, I decided to select 2-3 spots as our focus areas and then had a few other things in mind if time permitted. Some of the spots to consider are:
- Glacier Point – perhaps the most gorgeous view in the park, Glacier Point sits at 7,214 feet and boasts picturesque views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and the valley below. It is at the end of a seasonal road only open half the year (typically closed November – May). If you are able to go all the way, consider doing this first and then make your way back down to the other spots. We tried to go up as far as we could knowing the road was closed and we were lucky enough to find snow!
- Mirror Lake – an easy 1 mile loop, this was going to be our family hike until torrential hail began and we opted out. In springtime and early summer, it is a gorgeous lake with mountain reflections. By late summer/fall, it is more of a pond but still a nice walk.
- Bridalveil Falls & Lower Yosemite Falls – both short, easy walks (20 minutes) with huge rewards of some breathtaking waterfalls. In spring and early summer, prepare for spray from the waterfalls and be cautious of wet rocks.
- Yosemite Village – with a few dining options and other amenities, a nice place to walk around with kids. Stop by the gift shop and get a Junior Ranger book ($3) for your child to complete.
What Else To Do in the Area:
While Yosemite National Park is the big draw and can easily cover a few days, there is also other things to consider doing during your time in the area. Some ideas:
- Downtown Mariposa – with that small town feel and no stoplights, a great spot to walk around, shop and grab a bite to eat.
- Visit a local farm – booked through AirBnB Experiences, visit a local farm for “Coffee with the Critters” on your way to Yosemite. The host, Ruth, will introduce you to her animals (many of which are rescues) including a horse, pigs, goats and chickens, just to name a few. $25 per person.
- California State Mining & Mineral Museum – learn more about California’s mining history. Admission is $4 per adults, children 12 & under are free. Check their website for operating hours based on the season.
- If after a visit to the mining museum, you cannot wait to pan for gold yourself in the river, check out this local tour operator who offers 2 hour tours to look for gold and other rocks in a nearby creek. $62 per person.
- Yosemite Zipline – a family-friendly zipline experience for anyone between 60-250 pounds (no age restrictions). They also have a ropes course and gold panning. $109 per person. *Currently closed due to COVID*
- Mercer Caverns – located in Murphys (a little under 2 hours away), check out the enormous caverns and their history. They also had gold panning for kids. $19 for adults, $11 for children ages 3-12. *Currently closed due to COVID*
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks – about 3 hours each way but doable in a day with an early start.
Coming from the Bay Area? If you pass through Merced, check out Vista Ranch along Highway 140 for a place to stretch your legs, use the restroom, let the kids run around and do a wine and/or olive oil tasting! Make a booking ahead of time using OpenTable.
We ate pretty much every meal in downtown Mariposa and everything was quite good! From our time there, we would recommend:
- Sticks coffee – a new spot in town (next to the River Rock Inn), they have freshly made pastries and delicious drinks including the Happy Camper which is a decadent hot chocolate complete with flame-roasted marshmallows on top!
- Pony Expresso Coffee House & Roasters – another spot to grab coffee and a bite to eat.
- Charles Street Dinner House – we only got dessert from here but it was really good. Probably one of the nicer spots in town but still family-friendly.
- 1850 Brewing Company – with over a dozen beers on tap and delicious food, a great spot to dine. Has a kids menu and ample outdoor dining (with heat lamps).
- Castillo’s – pretty average Mexican-inspired cuisine with good service. Very reasonable kids menu.
What to Pack:
This rental is very well-equipped so you can pack very little! We packed:
- Casual clothes (no need to dress-up) as well as comfy, warm loungewear for the evenings
- A warm jacket as well as hats, gloves & warm socks
- Sturdy walking shoes and boots (for the kids, I brought Crocs rain boots in case we encountered muddy conditions)
- Water bottles to refill
- Snacks or a plan to pick-up food along the way
- Pack & play for little ones (there is not one provided) as well as any other baby gear (ex. booster seat, toys, etc)
- Blankets for the couch – while bedding was provided and there was an extra blanket in the closet, I wish I would have brought with a few throws to use on the couch while watching TV at night and as a supplement when sleeping
- Chains for your car (if you’re going in winter months and there is a weather alert, the rangers will check that you have chains with you at the entrance)
- National Park Pass – a great investment and motivation to see more parks!
Notes on COVID precautions in the Region:
As of the time this blog was published, Mariposa County is Tier 4 (Yellow) which means things like indoor dining (at 50% capacity) are permitted. While many restaurants did have outdoor dining, most things were open for indoor seating, too. While there were signs posted requiring masks for entering indoor spots, we were surprised to see many people not wearing masks at all and not being asked to leave for non-compliance. We never felt unsafe but it was definitely a big change from our home county where you see almost 100% compliance everywhere.
For Yosemite National Park, we saw masks being worn pretty much everywhere, lots of signage for social distancing, ample hand sanitizer and contactless options for payment. Even the gift shop was operating with large posters showing what was for sale and you ordered at one window and your items were brought out in a bag at another window.
The Alpaca Ranch House is a great set-up for remote schooling – with a large dining room table and reliable wi-fi, you have the perfect set-up for learning. And being able to step outside to pet an alpaca as recess is pretty cool!
How To Book:
Need more animal adventures in your life? Read my post on B Bryan Preserve where you can visit with giraffes and zebras!