Lodging in the Parks: Tioga Pass Resort

Located just about 3 miles east of Yosemite National Park's Tioga Entrance Station, the Tioga Pass Resort is a good basecamp for hiking in the park. Kurt Repanshek photos.

Though geographically outside Yosemite National Park in the Inyo National Forest, this historic way station is rightly part of the park experience if your visit at all touches on the eastern side near Tioga Pass. Dating to the early 1910s when it didn’t take a hardscrabble miner too long to realize he could make more money from the fledgling tourist industry than from hard-to-find ore bodies, the Tioga Pass Resort is a rustic melting pot of travelers.

Hunters and anglers, travelers who speak more comfortably in foreign languages than English, and folks going from Point A to Point F with a side trip through the park are likely to wind up elbow-to-elbow with you at the historic cafe that offers three hearty meals a day for a relative pittance. One night we dined next to a plastic surgeon and his significant other (also on her way to becoming a plastic surgeon), breakfast one day was spent chatting with two young Frauleins who were enjoying semester break with a jaunt around America, and another dinner was enjoyed with a park ranger.

Perhaps it's the fact that accommodations on the eastern side of Yosemite are so infrequent, or maybe it's the location of Tioga Pass Resort just three miles from Yosemite's Tioga Entrance, or maybe it's due to the scrumptious pies that greet you when it's time for dessert, but this log lodge and its scattered cabins is a pretty good place to use as a base camp for exploring the area immediately surrounding Tuolumne Meadows in the park.

Now, bear in mind that the accommodations are nothing terribly special. If you're accustomed to Best Western or envisioning something akin to the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park, you'll be sorely disappointed. But if you don't mind a touch of rustic, a place set at 9,600 feet in elevation with a rushing creek out the front door and a cliff band out the rear window, then these log cabins won't disappoint. Oh, some have bathrooms, others require a short walk to communal facilities, and some have kitchenettes, while others offer no more than bed and bath. But they’re weather-tight, charmingly rustic with thick log walls and plank ceilings and floors, and close by some of the finest hiking in Yosemite's High Sierra.

You'll find no fireplaces in the cabins, just space heaters and thick quilts and comforters. Ours, Cabin 4, was perhaps 20 feet by 16 feet, with mini-fridge, gas stove, and microwave. Although, with the lodge’s restaurant less than a two-minute walk across the plank-bridge that spanned the unnamed tributary to Lee Vining Creek, we really didn’t need the cooking options.

But there are some things you need to come prepared for. For example, a flashlight or two are wise to pack for middle-of-the-night excursions, be they to the bathroom, the cafe, or to enjoy the stars, and for those odd occasions when high winds temporary knock out the resort’s power. They say mice can be an issue -- cabins contain plastic tubs for food storage to foil the rodents, and there’s a supply of traps under the sink -- though we didn’t encounter any. Some cobwebs did hang from nooks in the overhead beams and in one window pane, but all-in-all the place was clean and suitable.

There's no daily maid service, so be prepared to make your own bed and sweep the floor if you tracked dirt or pine needles in from your hike. And more than likely if you're staying here you'll be doing some considerable hiking. The Tioga Pass Resort is less than a half-hour’s drive from trailheads that access the John Muir Trail, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Unicorn Peak, Cathedral Lakes, Gaylor Lakes, Cold Canyon, and the Canyon of the Tuolumne River.

And fall is the perfect time to be exploring these areas, for while it can still push, or surpass, 90 degrees in Yosemite Valley in mid-September, in and around Tuolumne early fall temps don't venture much past the low 80s while overnight lows can plummet into the mid-20s. This side of Yosemite is more raw, rugged, and demanding than that of the Yosemite Valley and Wawona. Here you quickly can lose yourself in a landscape of thick forests, jagged peaks, open meadows, rushing streams, picturesque lakes, and domes of granite perfect for scampering across.

Tioga Pass Resort quite literally squeezes you into this landscape. Not only are you facing national Forest Service lands on one side, park lands on the other, and with numerous trailheads nearby, but California 120 -- the Tioga Road -- and a band of rock pinches the lodge and its outlying cabins onto a slender finger of land. Despite the proximity of the two-lane road, quiet does wrap the cabins and lodge come sundown, as traffic coming up from, or down to, Lee Vining on the steeply pitched road seems to set as well.

With no phone service outside of a satellite phone, you contact the lodge via email to make reservations. No money passes hands until you reach the lodge; they operate on an honor system that, understandably, places a great deal of trust in you upholding your end of the bargain. The restaurant reflects this same laid-back atmosphere, taking you on a first-come, first-served basis. While you're waiting, you can enjoy a drink around the fireplace that sometimes attracts a passing musician, admire the photography of Tony Rowell (Galen's boy), or lose yourself in a book or writing postcards.

While the cafe's tables line the walls of the small dining room, the heart is a crescent-moon-shaped wooden counter that you address while seated on hefty rounds of tree trunk topped by a padded seat. With a steady flow of customers both from the cabins and the nearby Tioga Junction and Ellery Lake campgrounds, the wait staff has no time for chit-chat or your dallying over the menu.

Of course, the menu doesn't take long to reconnoiter. Dinners offer a small handful of entrees -- chicken, meat loaf, pot roast, and a nightly special -- but the portions are large and the cooking a few notches above roadhouse. Lunches -- which you also can order for dinner -- offer a wide range of burgers and sandwiches -- some vegetarian -- while breakfasts are your typical grill fare -- eggs, French toast, pancakes, along with options for homemade granola with yogurt and fresh fruit.

Once upon a time the resort was open year-round, which staked its fame with backcountry skiers. Unfortunately, the winter season currently is on hiatus, though I overhead that it might return for 2010-2011.

The fine print: There are 10 cabins and four lodge rooms. 2009 rates ranged from $105 to $227.50 per night, depending on length of stay; there's an eye-catching 12 percent Mono County Transient Occupancy Tax; no pets or smoking allowed in the rooms. This being California, and the atmosphere mountain laidback, there's wonderfully no corkage!


Is the Tioga Pass Resort Cafe already shut down for the Winter? If not, will it be open through October?

I believe it's open through mid-October, if not the end of October. You can try reaching them at .

When I worked in Tuolumne in the 70's, the resort was famous for its pies. I am glad that Kurt says that they are still good.

Rick Smith

We would really love to go there this summer but nobody is replying to our emails (sent to the above email address?)
Is it because it is still winter and they are closed or do you know of another way of contacting them?

Hi Domi,

Wish I had a good answer for you, but the only contact information we have is the lodge's email address. My guess is they didn't open this winter and so no one is staffing the reservations desk yet. You might try writing them a letter, though I know the wait for a response can be frustrating.

Tioga Pass Resort
PO Box 7
Lee Vining, California 93541

Hang in there. It's a great basecamp for visiting Yosemite's high country!

Has anyone stayed at the lodge during past winter seasons? Does the location offer good snowshoeing excursions? I guess whatever activities one chooses to partake, you are responsible to bring your own gears. Am I correct?