Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country and with good reason. Situated in California’s vast Sierra Nevada Mountains, this epic park is home to 1,200 square miles of famous waterfalls, meadows, ancient giant sequoias, vast valleys and some of the most iconic rock formations in the world.
Despite growing up in San Francisco, we didn’t head up to Yosemite too often so I’m definitely making up for lost time now that I’m grown. No matter how many times you visit the park, the scenery is constantly evolving. The ancient giant sequoias are forever growing; the waterfalls are always gushing; and no sunrise or sunset is ever the same, but each is simply magical.
From San Francisco it’s about a 3.5 hour drive and a 4.5 hour drive if you’re coming from the Los Angeles area. To enter the park during peak hours (6am – 4pm), you’ll need to pay the park entrance fee which is $35/ per car. If you plan on entering the park more than a couple times, however, or plan on exploring other national parks within a year, it makes more sense to buy an annual National Parks Pass for $80.
Where to Stay
When it comes to planning a trip, lodging is important as there aren’t too many options within the park itself. Located in the southern heart of the Sierras is Tenaya Lodge, just two miles away from the south entrance of Yosemite along Highway 41. Being so close to the entrance is clutch, giving you ample time to explore everything the park has to offer.
Situated at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, Tenaya Lodge offers guests gorgeous views of the surrounding Sierras. The property features 352 guest rooms and suites, including charming Cottage Rooms that each include three separate guest room units. And for those looking for a more secluded experience, the property recently built 50 Explorer Cabins, which opened in 2019.
These stand-alone, two bedroom cabins are modern, rustic and immersed in nature. The best part is that you still have access to all the amenities of the lodge. Each cozy cabin has its own fireplace; kitchenette; living room and private deck looking out towards nature.
Staying in the Explorer Cabins is ideal for families or groups up to four or five. My favorite aspect of the cabin was having access to a private deck. Ours looked out towards a river, while most cabins are spaced out enough so that you’re not worried about your neighbors.
The sprawling property features countless fire pits; indoor and outdoor pools; saunas and hot tubs; and a 10,000 square foot LEED Silver Certified Ascent Spa. Tenaya Lodge offers its guests on-site activities such as guided hikes, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and more, dependent on the season.
On property is a gorgeous four-mile trail, which cuts through the forest and ends in the stunning Tenaya Falls. I enjoyed hiking and running on this trail during our downtime, after returning from the park. Guests can also use the property’s e-bikes for a ride.
In addition, in addition, Tenaya Lodge offers four dining options that include Jackalopes Bar and Grill for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering a menu of locally grown, sustainable and organic menu items; Timberloft Pizzeria, a seasonal pizzeria serving brick oven-pizzas, pastas and Italian fare; Gold Rush Barbeque which serves bbq classics, s’mores and live music; and Parkside Deli, a grab-and-go spot with gourmet foods.
Exploring Yosemite National Park
Guests can explore Yosemite National Park on their own, or opt for a guided Yosemite 360 Bus Tour on one of an all-new fleet of buses that are open to both resort guests and non-guests. It’s good to note that those on the tour don’t need a park reservation to participate.
Spending time on a tour bus isn’t normally my go-to when it comes to exploring the great outdoors. That said, this is a great way to see most of the park without navigating crowds, tedious driving, or parking. The local guides are extremely knowledgeable of the park, its history and the best vantage points and views to see. The tour is also a good way to get a grasp on how vast the park is.
Highlights of the park include Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias; Tunnel View with its unobstructed views of Horsetail Fall, Sentinel Rock, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome and El Capitan; the epic Glacier Point and it’s view of the High Sierra; Half Dome and El Capitan, the two absolute must-sees of the park; the gushing Yosemite Falls, both upper and lower; rolling Tuolumne Meadows and the winding Tuolumne River and so much more.
My favorite, easy-to-get-to vantage point is Valley View. From this vantage you can see the iconic El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Bridalveil Fall and Cathedral Rocks. It’s truly a picture-perfect scene!
Exploring Nearby Oakhurst
In the nearby town of Oakhurst, also known as the Gateway to Yosemite, visitors can spend some time away from the park. Located in Madera County, its a charming little town that offers some great places to eat, drink and see.
To get around town, hop on the new Oakhurst Trolley, which offers free rides around town. It gets super hot in the summer, so this is a great way too cool off. When hunger hits, stop by South Gate Brewing Company, a popular restaurant that’s known for handcrafted, small-batch brews and menus featuring local sourced ingredients. And for those with a sweet tooth, Reimers Candies is an old-world sweet shop with the best ice cream, in-house made chocolates, candies and more.
While in town I tried my hand at axe throwing for the first time at Yosemite Axe Throwing Adventures, which is the only company in the world that uses 100% deceased trees as targets. It was surprisingly super fun and addictive!
Another fun activity, that’s family friendly is hopping aboard the nearby Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a historic three foot narrow gauge railroad with two operating steam train locomotives located nearby in Fish Camp. Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is just around the bend from Tenaya. Vintage Shay locomotives provide the motive power for a one hour narrated excursion over tracks once used for logging trains at the turn of the century.
For highlights of this trip, click here.
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