Updated: Jun 9
In September 2021, my whole family (Fat Papa, Itsy Bitsy, Jackalope, Aunty Coco, E-man, Uncle Andy, Gigi, Pappy, and of course this Fat Mama) all went to Yosemite National Park for a fun multi-generational vacation in the great outdoors. And WOW. It didn’t disappoint!
Growing up, Gigi and Pappy took Jackalope and me to State and National Parks regularly. I have incredibly fond memories of family vacations exploring Yosemite, and one summer we did an epic road trip where we visited Bryce, Zion, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone National Parks. We also did a ton of camping every summer at some of our favorite State Parks and beaches in Southern California.
Despite how much I LOVE our State and National Parks, and clearly had a childhood full of outdoor adventures, Fat Papa and I have had a hard time getting outside with Itsy Bitsy. It’s really only been because of COVID that we started to do more outdoorsy and nature embracing vacations or outings. But our trip to Yosemite with my whole family has definitely inspired me to WANT to get Itsy Bitsy and myself outside more.
I regularly get in my own head about being fat. Yes, I have come to embrace my fatness. When I set my mind to do something, I do not let being fat get in the way of doing whatever it is I have decided to do. BUT … and it’s a big butt … the very first hurdle I have to get my Fat Mama butt (and brain) over is the age-old question “is this something for fat people?”
Now, through years of asking myself that very question, testing the theory, and documenting the outcome, I KNOW the answer is a resounding YES 99% of the time. But that doesn’t shut up that little voice in my head that says, “You’re fat, people don’t want to see you doing this and don’t want to deal with your bulk!”
I think like most of us, I have a little mean voice inside my head. I also have very loud nice voices that overrule the mean voice … most times. And yes, I am working with my therapist on silencing that little mean voice once and for all, but I’m just not there yet.
So when thinking about getting out and doing a vacation that actually requires DOING rather than relaxing, I sometimes let the mean voice in my head overrule me. But I am here today to tell you that NO ONE should let that mean voice overrule them and stop them from a vacation to Yosemite or any of the other amazing State and National Parks our country has to offer.
Fat Papa and I almost didn’t join my family in Yosemite. We had a whole different vacation planned. In fact, we only went to Yosemite because we canceled our Hawaiian vacation due to the Governor of Hawaii’s request that tourists stay away (you can read about that in my blog How Do You Decide When To Cancel A Trip?). But now, I am so glad we did get to go with everyone.
On our trip to Yosemite, I learned a TON about Traveling While Fat (TWF) in a National Park. Most importantly, that it is fun and easy. But going into the vacation, I had some major trepidation including:
Was I going to feel comfortable?
How much of the park could I really enjoy as a fat person?
Is there enough to do in Yosemite if I am not wanting to hike?
I felt like if the answer to any of these questions was going to be "no," then why was I even going on this vacation? After all, it had been nearly 10 years since I had been to Yosemite as an adult and before that I had been a kid. This was going to be my first time TWF to Yosemite.
But of course, those doubts were the mean voice in my head talking. I was VERY pleasantly surprised to find that not only was the answer to all my questions "YES," but that the accessibility of Yosemite was far greater than I had expected.
TWF in Yosemite and Feeling Comfortable
Obviously, everyone has a different comfort tolerance level, and mine is fairly extreme. I will put up with a lot if it means I am getting a good experience in the end. But I never once felt awkward or out of place in Yosemite. And as someone who has had to use a mobility scooter in the past due to my own issues with walking long distances, I was very impressed with how many paved walkways and trails Yosemite offers.
According to AllTrails.com there are 4 different hikes that they classify as “wheelchair accessible” including:
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
Glacier Point Trail
Sentinel Meadow Cook's Meadow Loop Trail
Mirror Lake Paved Trail
Additionally, YosemiteHikes.com is another great resource for info about hiking trails in the Park. While I didn’t have the opportunity to take all of these hikes, the ones we did go on were fabulous!
Dr. Fabby Note: Our National Parks are for everyone! For those with mobility or other accessibility issues who are embarking on an adventure to a National Park, check the Park's website while planning your trip. Every National Park official website is set up the same way with the same menu: under "Plan Your Visit," there is a drop-down menu that includes a section on accessibility, which has general information for those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters, as well as location-specific information.
While the National Park Service has made concerted efforts to meet these challenges, and newer construction is reliably accessible, many parks have some visitor centers, restrooms, water fountains, and entrances which are not compliant with ADA standards (which was passed in 1990).
Due to COVID and maintenance, the Yosemite Shuttle was not in operation during our visit, but had it been running, this would have added to my comfort as well. The shuttle is great because it can get you into parts of the park that otherwise require a bit of a hike. Mariposa Grove is a great example.
Mariposa Gove is an ABSOLUTE must see if you love giant trees … and even if you don’t, this hiking trail is very impressive. When the shuttle is running you can ride from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Center right up to the famous Grove trailhead; however, the shuttle isn’t running for the 2021 season. But, most of the trail is paved and, therefore, easy to hike and accessible for mobility challenged individuals.
Fat Mama Tip: When we visited in September 2021, the road from the Mariposa Grove Visitor Center to the Grove itself was closed to vehicles UNLESS you had a Disability Placard (Pappy and I both have placards). Because both cars in our party had placards, we were able to drive and park in the parking lot at the start of the Grizzly Giant Tree trailhead (this is where all the trails around Mariposa Grove begin). This is where the Wawona-Mariposa Grove shuttle (part of the extensive park shuttle system) would have taken you had it been running.
But either way, being able to drive up to the trailhead was the ONLY way our party was going to see these trees. It took 2.5 miles and about 1,000 feet of elevation change off a hike that ended up taking us 2 hours anyways. So, use any advantage that you’ve got to make sure your hiking experience is enjoyable!
So did I feel comfortable in Yosemite as a fat person? Yes, absolutely. At no point did I feel like Yosemite wasn’t for me as a TWF person. It was such a lovely experience!
But … that still begs the question … how much of the Park did I get to see if I wasn’t willing or able to hike?
Oh Say What Can You See?
If you can afford to rent a convertible for your trip to Yosemite, then you should! Years ago, before Itsy Bitsy was born, Fat Papa and I splurged on a vacation to Yosemite and rented a convertible so we could fully enjoy the vistas and all the park has to offer … worth EVERY PENNY! Now traveling with Itsy Bitsy, a convertible just isn’t practical. We really need the trunk and back seat space that a convertible can’t provide.
That being said, the views from our Pacific mini-van were still absolutely breathtaking!
Yosemite boasts an impressive 214 miles of paved roads, 20 miles of paved walking and biking trails, plus an additional 800 miles of unpaved hiking trails according to the National Park Services. This means that even if you NEVER leave your vehicle, more than ¼ of Yosemite is still accessible to you.
One of Fat Papa’s and my favorite things to do on any vacation, but especially Parks vacations, is to drive around the area. Yosemite is one of the best places to do this because there is just so much to see. Our favorite drive through Yosemite is from the South Entrance at Fish Camp (HWY 41) north to the Yosemite Valley Loop, continue toward HWY 120 and Crane Flat, then follow HWY 120 through the high Sierra to the Tioga Pass Entrance.
This drive is incredible for so many reasons, not least of which is because you see nearly the entire Park (minus Glacier Point, which you can add on before Yosemite Valley if you want, but I suggest making the Point its own stop). Here is a video of part of this drive.
Driving HWYs 41 and 120 through Yosemite is a long drive, but so worth it. You will see everything from giant sequoias, sheer granite cliffs, one of the world’s tallest waterfalls (in spring or early summer), the alpine tree line, glacier lakes, rushing rivers, expansive meadows, breathtaking vistas, horn-honking fun tunnels, and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.
All of this can be yours for the exorbitant price of a tank of gas and without ever stepping foot outside of your vehicle. Although, I do highly recommend getting out of your car as there are many picnic areas, turn-outs, viewpoints, trail heads, lodges, restaurants, welcome centers, and even gift shops along this route.
So, whether you are TWF, mobility challenged, or just don’t like hiking, Yosemite still has a TON to offer even without the need to be super active ... unless you want to be of course.
Let’s Not Get Physical
Don’t like hiking or breaking a sweat? Neither do I! You can still have an amazing vacation in Yosemite and enjoy the great outdoors without actually having to go outdoors. Okay, that’s not true, you do have to at least walk from your car to the restaurant or activity you are participating in. But still, you get my point.
First, Yosemite offers quite a few unique dining opportunities. All of which are set in beautiful accommodations or provide outdoor options for the opportunity to enjoy Yosemite while also enjoying a drink, snack, or meal. Check out all lodging and dining options Yosemite offers and remember, some require advance reservations. Whether it’s pizza in Curry Village, fine dinning at the Ahwahnee, or a picnic lunch in Tuolumne Meadows, you never have to leave civilization behind to commune with nature.
Second, easy walking or biking trails aside, there is plenty to see, learn, and do no matter your shape or activity level. For example, if you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend taking full advantage of the Jr. Rangers program where kids can learn about Yosemite’s history, ecology, and geology while earning fun badges. You can get information about these programs from any of the Ranger Stations or Welcome Centers.
The Park also publishes a visitor’s guide newspaper that is available at most locations around the park (including the entrances) which will contain the current events calendar. In this publication, you will find updates about current art and photography exhibits, docent- or ranger-led informative talks, and interactive or education programs. The Park has a TON to offer, and I recommend checking out the schedule before you visit.
Third, if you have time to go outside the park, the communities surrounding each of the entrances have their own unique adventures. Our family’s personal favorite is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railway in Fish Camp on HWY 41. This is a great experience for travelers of all ages. The railway offers a variety of programs, but all include a guided tour on a big steam engine. We have done both the afternoon train ride and the evening dinner train ride and thoroughly enjoyed both!
So there you have it. I don’t care what size or shape you are. I don’t care what level of physical activity you are capable of completing. I don’t care if you are a tree hugger or just want to be friends with trees. Yosemite has something for everyone at every point in their life. Don’t let the little mean voice in your head stop you from getting out and enjoying everything nature has to offer.
Yosemite is a wonderful place to start exploring the great outdoors.