Yosemite offers an incredible diversity of lodging possibilities, from the palatial Ahwahnee Hotel to the barebones "Housekeeping Camp." Where you wind up depends as much on your budget as on your timing. Between the Wawona Hotel near the south entrance of the park to the tent cabins at Tuolumne Meadows, the park's lodging possibilities reflect the tastes and personalities of Yosemite visitors.
Of course, while there are hundreds of room in the park, the popularity of Yosemite requires that you make your reservations many months in advance if you wish to be in the park in the room of your choice on the dates of your choice. You can, however, find plenty of wonderful accommodations in the landscape surrounding the park.
Managing most of the in-park lodging is managed by DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, which offers you tent cabins, wood cabins, motel rooms, and palatial suites.
The tent cabins that you'll find in Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley, White Wolf Lodge, and Tuolumne Meadows are just that: canvass tents large enough to hold a bed or two and a table set on a wooden platform. They are illuminated by a single light bulb, there are no electrical outlets, and only some are heated.
Though Curry Village has a long favored status with many Yosemite visitors, no doubt in large part due to its valley location, these facilities are over-rated. What you have is a crowded city of tents and cabins with little privacy, the sounds of shouting and laughing kids, and community bathhouses that struggle to handle the traffic.
The facilities at White Wolf and Tuolumne Meadows, while the same tent cabins found at Curry Village, offer a more relaxed, less crowded feel.
Rates start at $95 a night in Curry Village (depending on the season). Tent cabins are $107 for a heated one at Tuolumne, and $99 at White Wolf, which also offers cabins with a bathroom for $120 a night.
Housekeeping Camp units are enough more rustic, consisting of three concrete walls, a concrete floor, a canvass ceiling, and a canvass curtain you can pull across the opening. there are 266 of these units, with rates a somewhat eye-popping $93 before taxes.
The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls offers 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, during the off-season for about $150 per night. Peak season rates in summer climb to $218 per night. The buildings at Yosemite Lodge are fairly close together, but not to the extent of those at Curry Village.
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 during peak season. Suites can cost more than double this.
The Wawona Hotel features six one- and two-story white frame buildings surrounded by cedar and pine trees. The six buildings contain 104 guest rooms, about half with a private bathroom and half without. The main building with the registration desk, lobby, and dining room has 28 guest rooms, all but one on the second floor.
The other five buildings vary in size and contain from 3 to 39 guest rooms. Some rooms are large, some rooms are small, some rooms without a bath have a sink, some have no sink. Despite these differences, all rooms at Wawona are rented as either rooms with a private bath or rooms without. In 2011 rooms with a bath rented for $217, $70 per night more than rooms without a private bathroom. A buffet breakfast is included with the price of a room.
There's also a more unique lodging option in Yosemite, but you have to hike to reach it. The High Sierra Camps offer a nice alternative to sleeping on the ground when traveling through the park's backcountry. These camps -- Glen Aulin, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, and Vogelsang -- are roughly 5.7-10 miles apart from one another. Once you reach camp, you have a tent cabin for sleeping and a main tent to take meals.
To land a cot in one of these camps, though, you must enter a lottery.
Now, there are other lodgings in the park that you can call home during your stay. The Redwoods in Yosemite offers year-round vacation rentals in Wawona, California, inside of the national park. Whether you are looking for a cozy cabin for two or a large home for the entire family, Redwoods in Yosemite offers all types of Yosemite lodging.
Elsewhere, outside the park's Tioga Road entrance station you'll find the Tioga Pass Resort.
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.
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. 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. Some cabins are equipped 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, you might not 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.
Now, the main drawback to the Tioga Pass Resort is landing a reservation. With no phone service outside of a satellite phone, you contact the lodge via email to make reservations. There are times when it seems your email goes off into cyberspace. It can be frustrating.
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.
Once upon a time the resort was open year-round, which staked its fame with backcountry skiers. While the resort's website indicates that it's open in winter, we can verify that at this time.