Monday, August 9, 2010

Where to Go in Yosemite With Kids: The Pioneer Yosemite History Center

Welcome to the fifth installment in a series called “Where to Go in Yosemite With Kids,” especially young kids like mine (5 ½ and 2 years). 

When I was a kid, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center was a happening place for kids in Wawona. Summers brought this collection of historic structures from different eras of Yosemite history back to life.

This is where I learned how to milk a cow, ride a horse, make a candle, bake cornbread and create rock people. It’s where I made new friends and got reacquainted with those from summers past.

Although these days the activities aren’t quite so extensive, this place is still a favorite with my kids. Volunteers and park rangers dress up in costumes specific to each building’s era and act their role to create a living history for visitors.

Even if it’s just to wander through the buildings and cross the covered bridge, make a stop here and take a step back in time. You won’t regret it.

We always start our tour of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center at the blacksmith’s workshop, where we watch and listen as the volunteer blacksmith explains his craft and then shows us how it works. Every year the kids are dazzled by it.

The only way we can lure the kids away from the show at the blacksmith’s shop is with mention of the stagecoach ride. This 15-minute ride is well worth the nominal fee, I promise.

Where else can you ride on a horse-drawn stagecoach driven by a guy who’s been doing this for more than 30 years? You get more than a bouncy, dusty ride back in time; you learn a ton about Yosemite’s pioneer life in the process.

With the thrill of the horses and stagecoach still fresh in their minds, we tour the rest of the History Center. There’s this cabin showing what life was like for some of Yosemite’s earliest settlers.

Another favorite building is the jail. Why is that?!

From here, we cross over the South Fork of the Merced River via the covered bridge, first built in 1857. There’s a wood beam that runs the length of the bridge separating foot traffic from pedestrians. The kids love trying to balance on it.

On the other side of the river are several stagecoaches and wagons representing early travel to the area. If you’ve got a car or truck lover in the group, this is a must-see.

We often head down to the river at this point in our tour and practice our rock skipping skills and have a snack. It’s easy to lose track of time here.

And that’s the point.

  • The History Center is always open with brochures and interpretive signs available for self-guided tours
  • Ample free parking is available on Chilnualna Falls Road next to the stables or on Forest Drive behind the Wawona Store
  • During the summer, stagecoach rides run Wednesday through Sunday; check your Yosemite Guide for times ($4 for adults, $3 for kids 3 through 12, kids 2 and under are free)
  • During the summer, blacksmith demonstrations take place Wednesday through Sunday; check your Yosemite Guide for times
  • No flush toilets or food concessions are available; closest facilities can be found at the nearby Wawona Store
  • The Pioneer History Center surface is flat but unpaved and extremely dusty; strollers should be avoided if possible


  • Don’t miss the stagecoach ride. Not only is it a thrill for kids, but the driver Burrel, has been leading rides for more than 30 years. Ask him anything you want to know about the park & he’ll have a story!
  • Head to the river for some nature play. The South Fork of the Merced River runs right alongside the History Center. It’s a great spot for skipping rocks, enjoying a snack or having lunch.
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center can be found just off Highway 41 in Wawona, about 5 miles from the south entrance to the park. Access is available from both Chilnualna Falls Road and Forest Drive.

To read the other posts in this series, click on “Where to Go In Yosemite With Kids” under the Categories heading in the right-hand column on any page. Or click on one of these handy links:


  1. The covered bridge reminds me of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow!

    Anyway, it all looks just too fun. Big Roo loved the jail at an old Arizona ghost town we visited. So funny!

  2. @Mel: Glad to know it's not just my kid that loves jail cells! LOL!

  3. I have read a lot of post on many blogs but you are the best. Your blog post is really informative.


  4. @Claura: Thank you - hope you continue to find useful information here!

  5. I love living history museums!! We have several here in Massachusetts, including Plymouth Plantation (which I've never been to) and Old Sturbridge Village (which I absolutely love). Having history come to life like that is just such an amazing, memorable experience for kids (and for adults as well!)

  6. @Crystal: Couldn't agree more! I'd have learned a lot more about history when I was a kid if I'd visited more places like this.


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