Traveling with an Adult Child: Yosemite

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 1, 2010 14

We spent three glorious days in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. ©Travis J. Andrews

A former student who attended the same college I did first got me interested in seeing Yosemite National Park. Naturalist John Muir took his first botany lesson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under a black locust tree on Bascom Hill, although we were enrolled about a 110 years apart. I had always taken such pride in the fact that environmental visionaries such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold (the man who formulated a “land ethic”) and Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day, were fellow students and teachers at my alma mater. So visiting the place that Muir had written about so eloquently in his book The Yosemite (1912) seemed like a natural pilgrimage for me.

A few weeks before my husband and I left our home in Wisconsin to travel to northern California, my 26-year-old son Travis, who lives in San Francisco, asked if he could tag along. I was surprised that at his age he would even want to travel with us. Living within driving distance of the park, he could have gone anytime he liked—with same-age friends. Pleased that he would ask, we took him up on his offer.

Tips for traveling with older children: forget them

Travis at 10 years old, scoping out the Grand Canyon. ©John T. Andrews

There’s no shortage of tips in books and online for “traveling with an adult child.” But one of the most repeated ones is to make sure you each maintain your privacy with your own hotel rooms. Or alternatively, share a hotel room, but then spend your days separately to avoid suffocating each other. Except for one day during our Yosemite adventure when father and son took a long, morning hike up to Yosemite Falls—halfway through which my husband turned back and Travis went on alone—we threw such tips out the window. We did share a hotel room, and we did spend the vast majority of our time together. We slept, ate our meals and hiked as a threesome.

We had three days in the glorious surroundings of El Capitan and Half Dome. There were many families in the park—most with young children; half of which were still in strollers. While I admired the parents for taking their young children out to experience such a wondrous, natural place, I was happy not to be burdened with all the paraphernalia that’s inherent when traveling with babies and toddlers.

I knew I had the better end of the deal. I didn’t have to plan my child’s activities or carry his stuff. He didn’t cry when he was hot and tired. In fact, when the trail got a little too narrow and the drop-off a little too steep for my liking, Travis positioned himself so that he was walking on the “outside” side of the trail. That’s admirable in my book.

And when my husband and I wanted to walk the two miles to Mariposa Grove (the road was closed due to spring thaw) and then another mile in to see the giant sequoias, Travis was happy to wait for his father and me on the porch of the Wawona Hotel for four hours. At the end of our six-mile hike, he was there to pick us up in his car long after the shuttle buses had stopped running.

The maturity to make memories

When our two children were 10 and 12 years old, we visited the Grand Canyon. Our family stood on the top of the South Rim, took a Grand Canyon Railway ride and came home with T-shirts. We did the things young kids like to do.

In Yosemite, however, our pace was slower. Now in his mid 20s, Travis wanted to linger a while at the spot in front of lower Yosemite Falls where John Muir built a sawmill and lived for a few years. On the Happy Isles Trail, he stopped to gaze at the rushing Merced River for a very long time. I stood silently beside him at both places and sensed we shared a peace we never had before. Eventually, we talked about what John Muir must have felt, seeing this place for the first time. I mentioned some of Muir’s writings, and I saw my son in deep contemplation. If Travis were 10 years old, these things wouldn’t have happened.

In many ways, my son and I covered a lot of ground. ©John T. Andrews

Ground cover

Of course, there were times when I wanted to slip into Mom Mode. I had to fight the urge to tell Travis not to sit on the stone wall overlooking the valley for fear he’d fall. And I failed to resist buying him a Yosemite T-shirt.

Another one of those often-repeated tips for traveling with older children is to split up the activities you’d like to do between you, so that as a family you’ll feel as if you’ve seen and done twice as many things.

Although we didn’t go separate ways, I’d say that on that spot where John Muir had once spent his days and wrote, my son and I covered a lot of ground.

Have you ever traveled with your adult children, or traveled with your parents when you were an adult? If so, how did your experience differ from travels when your family was younger?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Jack June 4, 2010 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Big Kids Rule.

  2. Travis June 4, 2010 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I did have a good time on this one…

  3. Kris June 3, 2010 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    I find that the older I get, the more I enjoy the travel time with my family. We can do more things together and we know each others’ likes and dislikes a bit more. Also, we enjoy comparing our trips and laughing at the memories. I loved your article, as it painted a picture of how your trips have changed over time with your loved ones, and how each one is special, no matter where our destination is or how old we get! Thanks, Candy!

  4. Janet Clark June 3, 2010 at 8:21 am - Reply

    Neat article, Candice. We’re taking our first vacation in years with the whole family- two adult kids and us parents. I’m really looking forward to having experiences similar to what you described, and making those types of irreplaceable memories.

    (Originally posted on LinkedIn)

  5. Carlyn Kline June 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Our oldest daughter, Kathy, and I shared a memorable adventure in 1988, my first trip to China. Ed (who had to stay home and work) and I had just begun to recover from putting our four children through college (two from medical school as well), so travel to such an exotic place with an equally curious and eager companion was beyond wonderful.
    We also had the privilege of backpacking in Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness with Kathy and her husband and later camping in Colorado on several occasions with them and their two daughters. Roughing it teaches you a lot about yourself and those around you. Since the backpacking trips were what restored my soul each summer, sharing this special time with them strengthened what were already strong bonds. Kathy was the most avid fisherman of all of our kids, and it was such fun watching her impart her knowledge and enjoyment to her own children.
    We feel that our love and concern for our amazing world is part of our legacy
    to our progeny.

  6. NineQuietLessons June 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I don’t have any children, but I do enjoy traveling more myself as an adult. Actually, I’m not sure I would want to travel with young children at all.

  7. Dorothy Klinefelter June 1, 2010 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    I was lucky to have several wonderful trips with my parents after I reached adulthood. For memory building I don’t think there is much that can beat escorting your parents to a wonderful place that you love and being able to show it to them. They absolutely loved spending a week in Grand Teton Natl Park. I will always remember our heating hotdogs on a little one burner stove sitting on the picnic table alongside Jackson Lake and watching the evening shadows approach over the silvery lake. Equally great was the trip to Hawaii on their 50th anniversary. The tropical environment was all new to them and they marveled at things like pineapples growing on a short plant and sea turtles hauling out on shore. They are both gone now, but the memories are still fresh and sustaining.

  8. Mary June 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    There is nothing more wonderful than sharing a special adventure with an adult child. I have been fortunate enough to visit London with my daughter and Paris with a son, and there is an unspoken bond that simply blossoms in such a one-on-one experience. Yes, “sharing is fun!”

  9. Art Hardy June 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Recently I also took a trip with a son in his mid 20’s. It was the first time we’d really been on any kind of road trip since he had grown up and moved away. On trips with the children, I always felt it was my responsibility to get the family to our destination and home safely. I never liked sharing driving the car with my wife or the kids as they got older. On this trip I did very little of the driving or planning. I finally am able to admit that sharing is fun!

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