My 5-year-old grandson, a "Winnie the Pooh" fan, was eager to visit a forest with bears and other critters, like those in the book's Hundred Acre Wood. When I read about the June opening of Rush Creek Lodge, the first new resort near Yosemite National Park in 25 years, I booked a room. During our July stay, the lodge was experiencing opening-month hiccups and the park was teeming with tourists. Still, our visit surpassed grandson's and grandparents' expectations. We even saw a real mama bear and her Pooh-like cub. The tab: $584, including tax, for two nights at the lodge and $175 for food, plus gas and taxes.
Rush Creek Lodge [34001 Highway 120, Groveland, Calif.; (209) 379-2373, www.rushcreeklodge.com], a mile from the California 120 West entrance to Yosemite, is geared to families. The 143 rooms are spread among a lodge and villas with a "contemporary rustic" design — lots of wood, simple furnishings and nature-themed art installations. Our king-bed room had a queen sleeper sofa, a deck and board games in lieu of a TV. We took advantage of the resort's kid-friendly amenities, including an 80-foot-long swimming pool, ping-pong and foosball tables and complimentary evening s'mores. My grandson missed out on the playground and game room, which were under construction.
The lodge restaurant opened the day we arrived. Service was friendly, but the high-ceilinged dining room echoed with the din of antsy kids waiting a long time for dinner. The menu offered ambitious entrees such as line-caught halibut with ginger-lime beurre blanc, but we stuck with the basics — burgers, mac 'n' cheese and hot dogs. On our second night, I ordered dinner to go and we happily ate on our deck.
Yosemite is thrilling for little kids, but not because of the waterfalls, cliffs and meadows that awed my husband and me. Our grandson loved scrambling on boulders and trying to see all the way to the top of towering trees that, to his surprise were: "taller than my daddy!" Most of all, he relished looking through our binoculars, spotting bluejays, squirrels — and rabbits and foxes that may, or may not, actually have been there.
The lesson learned
More than half of Yosemite's 3.8 million annual visitors come in the summer. If you go then, start your day early. We left the lodge at 7 a.m. and were the only car on the road; it enabled us to stop when I spotted the bears. We also were alone at the foot of scenic Bridalveil Fall. By 10 a.m. the roads and the trails were gridlocked in Yosemite Valley. That afternoon, when we returned to Rush Creek Lodge, we gratefully headed straight for the pool.