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Unwind naturally at Yosemite National Park

When you need a quick escape to recharge, there's no better place to find inspiration than among the towering granite spires of Yosemite National Park. On two recent trips to Yosemite, my family and I managed to do just that: first in May for a friend's wedding in Yosemite Valley, then a month later on a journey through the park's high country. Expect to pay more this year to experience Yosemite's magic: Park entrance fees have increased to $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass (although you'll pay less in the off-season: $25 from November through March).

The bed

One of our favorite places to stay is the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort (6979 California Highway 140, Midpines; [866] 826-7108, http://www.yosemitebug.com), which has accommodations for every budget. The Bug, the site of the wedding reception we attended, is outside the park about 25 miles from Yosemite Valley. The hip resort and hostel has a health spa and cafe on the grounds, making it feel like a mountain retreat. During the summer months, expect to pay $33 for a bed in the hostel, $66 for a canvas tent cabin or $155 for a private room with two queen beds.

The meal

The resort's June Bug Cafe has a comfortable lounge where families, backpackers and international travelers can mingle beneath the kayaks and snowshoes that hang from the ceiling. For breakfast, try the buckwheat pancake with a side of fruit for $6.50, or later in the day, a vegan black bean and sweet potato burrito with eggplant chile verde for $12. Wash it down with a glass of hibiscus tea for $2.

The find

Although I've been to Yosemite Valley numerous times, I had yet to visit Sentinel Beach. This sandy hangout on the Merced River, with a few picnic tables and toilets nearby, was relatively secluded and not too crowded. It's marked only by a small sign at the turnoff for the short, dusty road that leads to the parking area. As for the park's high-elevation Tioga Road corridor, our young daughter couldn't resist taking a dip in Tenaya Lake's chilly waters.

The lesson learned

If you want to spend more time in Yosemite communing with nature and less time stuck in traffic, plan to arrive earlier or later in the day. Avoid arriving in the park during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (as we did). Next time we'll also plan an escape for the less crowded off-season.



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