National Park Road Trip 2011: Yosemite Valley
Editor's note: From Wawona Hotel near the south entrance of Yosemite National Park the ride to the Yosemite Valley is relatively short, but the scenery is incredibly different...and so are the lodging possibilities, as David and Kay Scott relate in the following dispatch.
Yosemite Valley is crowded. The shuttles, lodges, campgrounds, and parking lots are teeming with people and their vehicles. The valley may well be the most beautiful location in America, but it isn’t always the most pleasant place to visit. The valley is simply overwhelmed with people and vehicles. We have talked with several travelers who prefer to stay at the Wawona Hotel near the park’s south entrance and either drive or take the free shuttle to Yosemite Valley for the day. This is actually a pretty good idea, especially on busy weekends. Having said this, the waterfalls this year are spectacular due to the large amount of winter snowfall.
The other morning we drove from the Wawona Hotel into the valley for a night at Stoneman, a motel-type unit in Curry Village. We have previously stayed in Curry, but never at Stoneman. We thought about trying for a second night here, but the forecast is for rain and cooler temperatures so we have decided to head out of the park. It doesn’t seem rational to pay $200 a night when the weather is likely to be lousy and we are unable to enjoy the scenery.
Yosemite Valley has four lodging facilities that include the historic Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Curry Village, and Housekeeping Camp. Delaware-North, concessionaire for Yosemite, late in 2008 lost 233 lodging units at Curry Village due to rockslides and the potential for new slides. The closed cabins have been fenced off and are unavailable for rent.
It is a strange sensation to walk through Curry Village beside the empty cabins that are normally filled with guests. Following our 1996 visit, the valley lost nearly 200 lodging units to flooding. These units were in the Yosemite Lodge area. Several campgrounds were also taken out. The recent loss makes a total of more than 400 lodging units in Yosemite Valley that have been taken out of service. This large reduction in lodging units is a major reason why rooms in Yosemite Valley have become so difficult to book.
The Ahwahnee, considered by many travelers as the crown jewel of national park lodges, is Yosemite’s flagship property. Opened in 1927 as a luxury hotel, the Ahwahnee has 99 rooms in the main hotel plus 24 nearby cottages. Rooms are upscale and rent for $449 and up per night. Suites cost more than double this. The Ahwahnee dining room is one of the most beautiful we have visited and the Great Lounge is a wonderful place to read a book or enjoy afternoon tea. The Ahwahnee was built to be a first-class hotel, and it has retained its original grandeur. Nearly $12 million was spent on refurbishing the hotel during the last several years.
Curry Village, where we spent the night, offers a variety of lodging options including tent cabins ($112 to $120), hard-sided cabins with or without a private bath ($127-$168), and motel-type units ($191). The cabins and motel units are tightly clustered around a commercial area that offers a market, an outdoor shop, and several types of restaurants. Curry is a busy area even with the loss of the cabins taken out of service in recent years.
Yosemite Lodge is a series of one- and two-story motel-type buildings centered around a registration building and a small commercial area. The rooms are generally comfortable and rent for about $200 per night. The buildings at Yosemite Lodge are fairly close together, but not to the extent of those at Curry Village. We have stayed in the lodge on three or four occasions and prefer these rooms to those at Curry.
Housekeeping Camp offers lodging at its most basic. Here you will find a series of H-shaped concrete walls on a concrete floor covered with a heavy canvas roof. Each H makes up two units that share a back wall. Units are entered through a front canvas flap. Housekeeping units each have a bunk bed and a double bed. Sheets, pillows, and towels can be rented. Community bathhouses are used by guests. Housekeeping units rent for $93 per night.
A free shuttle system operates throughout Yosemite Valley is the best way to get around and it has been effective in getting cars off the valley’s roads. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes until 7 p.m. when service is decreased to every 20 minutes. Most of the shuttle we rode yesterday were crowded and standing room only.
From Yosemite we're off for an uncertain destination. Our original plan was to drive to Reno for a two-night stay before moving on to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. However, the main Lassen road remains closed by snow and we will have to enter the park from the northwest. In addition, there is a possibility of rain and snow and we are concerned about crossing the mountains to Reno and then being required to circle back over Lassen to enter the park.
So, what to do? We will let you know how it turns out.