By Christopher Reynolds
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 24, 2007
By day, you gape at falling water and soaring granite. But when night comes, do you stoke a campfire or repair to a formal dining room? Sleep on the ground or in an upstairs suite? These were questions for John Muir in the 19th century — you didn't think he slept every night under the stars, did you? — and they're questions now.
Given the dwindling of park lodgings in the last century, you could say these choices are simpler today. (Black's Hotel, leveled in the 1880s; Stoneman House, burned in 1896; Del Portal Hotel, burned in 1917; Sentinel Hotel, leveled in the 1920s; Glacier Point Hotel, burned in 1969; and scores of campsites were lost in the floods of 1997.)
But still, this summer Yosemite National Park offers nine kinds of lodgings and 13 campgrounds. You can pay $5 per night (for one camper in the rock-climbers' haven of Camp 4) or $984 (for the best suite in the Ahwahnee Hotel). Aside from wilderness permits for those bedding down in the back country, the park has overnight room for 12,489 people and 54 horses on most summer nights (assuming two people per hotel room and full stables at the park's three horse camps).
Yet most of the best places, especially those in Yosemite Valley, are grabbed within hours of becoming available, from five to 12 months ahead. Yes, there are scores of further options outside park boundaries along California 41, 120 and 140. But the most convenient of those book quickly too.
And no place, inside the park or out, can match the menu that won over Muir in 1884. At the time, Leidig and Black's hotels were rivals, but Leidig's won Muir's allegiance by offering catfish, milk, mutton, venison, ham and eggs, and ice cream for breakfast. (Alas, Leidig's was leveled about the same time as Black's, about 90 years ago. So bring your own breakfast mutton.)
Here's the story on sleeping in Yosemite in 2007.
Lodging in the park
Curry Village is dominated by 427 canvas tent cabins without phones, TVs or plumbing (they share five restroom hubs and two shower facilities) — but about 70 of them do have propane heaters, and 11 are outfitted for disabled visitors.
The village also includes 100 heated wood cabins with private baths (no phones or TVs); 80 wood cabins sharing central bathhouses (no phones, TVs or plumbing), 18 motel rooms (in the building known as Stoneman Cottage); and three one-bedroom wooden "specialty cabins" with private baths and DVD players and monitors. Summer rates run from $74 for an unheated canvas tent cabin to $249 for the largest specialty cabin, known as the Foster Curry Cabin. (No cooking is allowed anywhere in Curry Village.)
Housekeeping Camp includes 266 units near the Merced River, with cinder-block walls and canvas roofs. Units have no phones or TVs, and showers and bathrooms are shared, but the units do have fire rings, and cooking is allowed on camp stoves. Rates are $72 nightly.
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, which has 245 rooms in about a dozen separate buildings, is a classic trade-off: not much character but plenty of convenience. The rooms are spread out around a 1956 campus of restaurants and shops, all a short stroll from the valley Visitor Center. The swimming pool is open from Memorial Day to mid-September, weather permitting. And many units have impressive views of Yosemite Falls. Rates from $98 to $176 per night.
The Ahwahnee Hotel has 99 rooms and 24 cottages, and if you're going in high style, this is the choice (and for that reason, it's 95% occupied year-round). Along with its fancy restaurant and clubby Great Lounge, the hotel has a pool that's heated summer and winter. Rates are $426 for standard rooms, up to $984 for a suite with balcony deck.
The Wawona Hotel is the oldest hotel in the park and nearly as stately and scenic as the Ahwahnee. But it comes with two substantial drawbacks: First, unlike those listed above, it's about 45 minutes (27 miles) from the attractions of Yosemite Valley. Second, because it dates back to 1879, about half of its 104 rooms share bathrooms. (There are also no phones or televisions in rooms.) But it has character, and a nine-hole golf course as its front yard, stables and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias six miles away. If you're headed into the park from the south, you'll pass it about four miles after the entrance. Rates from $119 to $183 nightly.
The Redwoods in Yosemite. ( 375-6666; www.redwoodsinyosemite.com) gets left off some lists but deserves attention. This is a collection of cabins in Wawona, about 22 miles from Yosemite Valley, that are private property, left over from the days when park boundaries were different. But about 125 of the cabins are rentable through one management company (whose office is a wireless hot spot). The furnished cabins, which include equipped kitchens and linens, vary widely in size and in price, depending on the season. From June through August, rates range from $183 (one bedroom) to $655 (up to 12 people in six bedrooms).
Northeast of Yosemite Valley, where just about everything depends on when Tioga Road opens, is the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (60 miles from the valley, 69 wood-framed canvas tent cabins without electricity, $78 per night, through mid-September, weather permitting); and White Wolf Lodge (30 miles from the valley, four wood cabins with electricity and 24 canvas tent cabins without, $73 nightly for tent cabins, $105 for wood cabins, open through mid-September, weather permitting).
The park also has five High Sierra Camps — collections of tent cabins reachable only on foot or hoof, from an elevation of 7,100 to 10,300 feet. The camps are arranged on a loop trail, 5.7 to 10 miles apart. Guided trips are available with and without mules. From $136 per night (meals included) to $1,315 for a six-day saddle trip. This year, Glen Aulin opened June 15, with Merced Lake, Sunrise, Vogelsang and May Lake to follow this week.
Camping in the park
All but one of the park's campgrounds accommodate recreational vehicles, but length limits vary. For those and other details not specified here, try www.recreation.gov.
In Yosemite Valley: Most of the 238-site Upper Pines and all 35 sites at Camp 4 are open year-round. The 60-site Lower Pines area (which used to be twice the size until the flood of '97) is open March to October, and the North Pines area is open April to October. All require reservations except Camp 4, which is first-come, first-served (the window usually opens at 8:30 a.m.) and RV-free. Rates run $20 per site, $5 per person at Camp 4.
Northeast of Yosemite Valley, Hodgdon Meadow, 25 miles from the valley, 105 sites, $14 to $20 each, is open year-round, with reservations required May through September. Seasonal campgrounds include Crane Flat (17 miles from the valley, 166 sites, $20 each, June through September); Tamarack Flat (23 miles from the valley, 52 sites, $10 each, June through September, first-come, first-served); White Wolf (31 miles from the valley, 74 sites, $14 each, July through early September, first-come, first-served); Yosemite Creek (35 miles from the valley, 40 sites, $10 each, July through early September, first-come, first-served); Porcupine Flat (38 miles from the valley, 52 sites, $10 each, July through September, first-come, first-served); Tuolumne Meadows (55 miles from the valley, 304 sites, $20 each, July through September, half advance reservations, half first-come, first-served).
South of Yosemite Valley: Wawona (27 miles from the valley, 93 sites, $14 to $20 each, reservations required May through September) is open year-round. Bridalveil Creek (25 miles from the valley, 110 sites, $14, July through early September, first-come, first-served).
Lodging outside the park
There are dozens of lodgings and campgrounds within day-trip distance of the park, including Fish Camp, Oakhurst and Bass Lake (if you're driving from Southern California) and Groveland and Mariposa (if you're driving from the Bay Area). But here are some of the most convenient hotels:
In Fish Camp, two miles south of Yosemite's southern entrance on California 41, there's the 244-room Tenaya Lodge. ( 514-2167, www.tenayalodge.com), built in the early 1990s and refurbished last year. The lodge is the most upscale of park-adjacent options. Summer rates: $265 to $359.
In El Portal on California 140 just west of the park, two big hotels (owned by the same family) offer many family-friendly features and are more handy to the valley than anything in Wawona. The Yosemite View Lodge ( 742-4371; www.yosemite-motels.com/yosemiteviewlodge) includes 336 rooms, most with kitchenettes; two restaurants; indoor and outdoor pools; about 200 rooms feature fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and balconies overlooking the Merced River. It's about 14 miles from Yosemite Valley. Summer rates: $159 to $709.
About six miles farther down the hill, you will find the Cedar Lodge ( 742-4371, (www.yosemite-motels.com/cedarlodge) with 210 rooms (22 with kitchenettes), indoor and outdoor pools, a restaurant adjacent and access to a beach along the Merced River. Summer rates run $110 to $470 (which gets you a four-bedroom unit with private pool).
I would stay at either hotel without hesitation, but the Cedar Lodge does have a history that might spook some travelers: In 1999, a lodge handyman named Cary Stayner killed four women, two of them in their guest room at the lodge. Stayner is locked away on San Quentin's Death Row, and hotel management has found nonpublic uses for the room where the killings occurred.
Also off the 140, about 25 miles from the valley, is the Yosemite Bug Lodge and Hostel ( 826-7108; www.yosemitebug.com) with cabins, hostel rooms and a cafe; and the community of Yosemite West (about 19 miles from the valley), which includes vacation rentals ( 642-2211, yosemitewestreservations.com) and Yosemite's Four Seasons Vacation Rentals ( 669-9300, yosemitelodging.com). Off the 120 near Groveland and Hetch Hetchy is the Evergreen Lodge ( 379-2606, www.evergreenlodge.com), which includes cabins and an eatery in a 1921 lodge.
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