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Kid Friendly Activities in Yosemite – Adventure 2 – Church Bowl Picnic Area

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Church Bowl Picnic Area is located in the Yosemite Valley just off the road on the way to the Ahwahnee Hotel and after passing the Medical Center. In fact, most maps of Yosemite Valley don’t even label the Picnic Area by name, but rather simply mark it with the standard picnic table and chairs icon. It’s going to be the one closest to the “Medical Center” label on most maps, like this one of the Yosemite Valley issued by the park.

Here is a map of the Yosemite Valley published by the NPS. The Church Bowl Picnic Area can be identified by the picnic table icon found under the green "Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Theater" label.

BUT just because this lesser known Picnic Area isn’t important enough to be given a name on the map doesn’t mean it's not worth a stop for a nice picnic lunch. I mean, after all, the National Park Service did at least provide it with a picnic icon. Also, it gets this Fat Mama’s quack of approval as an AMAZING place to explore with kids.

Uncle Andy, Itsy Bitsy, E-Man, Fat Papa, and Fat Mama enjoying our picnic at Church Bowl Picnic Area (Sep. 2021)

What You Will Find At Church Bowl Picnic Area

As far as picnic facilities, you could not ask for a nicer spot. To accompany the amazing views, you have your choice of picnicking options. There are plenty of picnic tables available to choose from. The entire area is flat so if you prefer a romantic picnic under a tree with a blanket on the ground, this is a great place to live out your rustic fantasy (or if all the tables are taken). Or you can do what we did and claim a giant boulder as your picnic island. Additionally, if you prefer to do a little cooking, grills are also available throughout the site.

Church Bowl Picnic Area has everything ... parking, bathrooms, running water, picnic tables, grills, trash and recycling facilities ... and all of it is relatively flat so it is even easily accessible for the mobility challenged!

Fat Mama Tip: If you plan to use one of the publicly available grills in Church Bowl Picnic Area, or throughout Yosemite National Park, check with Park Rangers first. California regularly enforces “no burn days” and the National Park Service may implement additional fire safety standards during drought, windy, or other wildfire-friendly conditions. It is best to plan your picnics and outdoor dining assuming that you will not be able to use an open flame.

Fire danger in Yosemite is a very real threat and should be kept in mind when you make your dining and activity plans. As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

Church Bowl Picnic Area also boasts real bathrooms not spiffed-up port-o-potties. These are available close to the parking lot. No mad dash up a quarter-mile hill just to relieve yourself here (been-there-done-that-over-it). So for anyone traveling with little ones, or who like me, doesn’t want to have to pop-a-squat in nature, having adequate facilities with running water is always nice!

Adventure Awaits

What really makes Church Bowl Picnic Area a must stop for an Adventure with Kids is all the cool stuff to see and do and climb and discover. Itsy Bitsy and E-Man LOVED the large boulders they could climb on. The trees they could run around. The wildlife they could watch (we saw plenty of birds, squirrels, bugs, and up the road driving back we even saw deer). Maybe most fascinating of all were the beginning rock climbing classes going on that the kids watched for a while.

But we almost didn’t stop here!

Uncle Andy, Aunty Coco, Jackalope, Itsy Bitsy, Pappy, E-Man, Gigi, Fat Mama, and Fat Papa (Sep. 2021)
E-Man and Itsy Bitsy nervous to meet a bear (Sep. 2021)

Our plan for the day had been to park in Curry Village, hike with the kids around Mirror Lake (as much as two 5-year olds could stand) and then find a place along the trail for lunch. Of course, as things do with 5-year olds, plans changed. The kids really enjoyed exploring the area around Curry Village.

Itsy Bitsy and E-Man found a sign warning about bears in the area, which was PERFECT because Gigi had brought counting bears which we then hid in the area for the kids to find! Rather than hiking Mirror Lake, to the disappointment of Pappy, we went on a bear hunt, to the delight of everyone else. But this meant we needed a new picnic spot.