A recent October trip to Yosemite and Mariposa County, CA followed a huge rain storm. The robust waterfalls thundered all around and the scenery was more striking than I had remembered from my last trip at the end of July. Autumn colors enhanced the spectacular vistas and there was a crisp feel in the air. Not more than 50 yards from the trail two rutting male deer banged their antlers together putting on a great show. I had packed for winter; fleece, down jacket, hat and gloves. It was in the 70’s and I was in a sweat during the day; the weather can be so changeable. I was stressing before I left, worrying about whether I needed chains or not for the drive up; instead I swam in the hotel pools and applied sunscreen liberally.
My first night I spent at the Tenaya Lodge, right outside the park. The Tenaya had the feel of a Park Lodge, animal heads on the common room walls, giant beams and an outdoorsy style, but was considerably fancier than a rustic lodge. The bed was big and comfortable but unfortunately I slept poorly due to the altitude and a late night specialty coffee (decaf) that I suspect had more alcohol in it than I could tolerate. Elk was on the menu (which my kids were excited about) and I would love to take my family back to explore all the Lodge’s offerings.
The Tenaya is very family friendly and even welcomes pets! The holiday schedule at the Tenaya sounds magical; horse drawn sleighs, gingerbread house making workshops and Santa on Ice to name a few. Although not guaranteed, there is often snow on the ground here from December through February.
Next we took a whirlwind tour of the Wawona Hotel. This Victorian-style lodge in Yosemite is a favorite of those who prefer a more authentic Yosemite stay. Walking the grounds I felt like I could be carrying a parasol and negotiating the narrow walkways with a big hoop skirt. It is a National Historic Landmark and worth a visit just to get a taste of what it was like to visit the park in the early days. I met a couple who were celebrating their 20th anniversary and were relishing the slow place and the lack of technology. The facilities really seeks to maintain the 19th century feel but the fare is purposely 21st century, offering local, primarily organic products. We had breakfast there and the homemade ginger granola and frittata were scrumptious. Renovation work was going on which distracted from the Victorian charm and I discovered the Wawona is closing its doors for parts of 2009/2010 season so make sure to check the website for details.
No trip to Yosemite would be complete without at least a tour of the famed Ahwahnee Lodge. Built to blend into the granite cliffs, this is a premier National Park lodge and has welcomed many a statesman and celebrity. If you can’t swing a stay, at least cozy up by the giant hearth with a good book and a hot toddy or treat yourself to lunch in the majestic dining room. The Ahwanee chef is a charismatic wizard and a tour of the kitchen was a high point of my trip. There are a number of special holiday events at the Ahwahnee, the signature event being the Bracebridge dinner and performance. Celebrated annually since 1927, the Bracebridge Dinner transforms The Ahwahnee into a 17th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth. The inspiration for this yuletide ceremony was Washington Irving’s Sketch Book that described Squire Bracebridge and English Christmas traditions of that period. Both the Tenaya and the Ahwanee are not cheap but there are deals to be had and for what you can experience they are worth the splurge.
If you’d like the Yosemite experience at an affordable price you might consider the tent cabins. All guests who book the Temp-RATE-ture Special will receive a reduced rate in a tent cabin based on the previous night’s recorded low. If the temperature is 17 degrees, you pay $17 per night. And yes, if the Fahrenheit temperature falls below zero, they’ll pay YOU the difference to stay overnight. This sounded like an adventure to me but for my money I was most excited about The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. Run by a dynamic Bay Area refugee who has whipped an old Boy Scout camp into shape, this spot captured my fancy. Maybe it was the Euro-hostel feel infused with California panache, or maybe it’s my desire to travel like I did in my twenties (not really). Nestled in the forest, the Bug as it is called, offers quirky but very comfortable accommodations, a yoga studio and lovely spa and the biggest surprise… phenomenal food. I had eaten so much meat I went for a butternut squash risotto. It was topped with Asian pears and paired with a local red and a green salad it made a yummy meal! The place had a bit of hostel feel, probably because a busload of SF Art students had just arrived for an annual retreat. I found the atmosphere appealing; nice lighting, lots of board games and laughter in the main room. I noticed this guy setting up his dominoes run; certainly not something you see in every hotel lobby. Rates are affordable and although not for everyone, I will definitely head back there, maybe for a big birthday bash as there is a newly remodeled common room which is used for parties and weddings.
So if you’d like to visit Yosemite, there are accommodations for every budget or taste, but most importantly, get out and witness the incredible national treasure that is Yosemite! I recommend Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea to really learn the history of the Park.