Everybody who comes to Yosemite National Park wants to stay in Yosemite–unless they know better and find less expensive, nicer, or less crowded lodgings near the park but not in the park.
Yosemite has plenty of in-park lodging options ranging from campsites to high end hotel suites. But mostly what Yosemite’s got lots of, for not really so cheap, is tent cabins. I hate tent cabins. They’re small, they’re drafty, they’re cold, they’re miserably far away from the bathroom at night. Chamber pots don’t work in tent cabins unless you’re comfortable peeing right in front of your cabin-mate, and even then there’s not always room to squat next to the bed. Seriously–they can be that small.
But I digress.
Wanna camp Yosemite in your own shelter? Either plan your trip half a year in advance and reserve a space in one of the by-reservation campgrounds, or plan to be in the park scouting the first-come, first-served campgrounds by about 8 a.m. and have a back-up plan (like camping outside the park). If you’re driving a giganto-RV, check the length limits (especially for first-come campsites). The good news: campsites run $5-$20 per night.
For my healthier readers who may want to try the backpacking/high country camps, be aware that the dozens of miles of hiking at 6000+ feet may seem easy compared to getting reservations in one of the (natch) High Sierra tent cabins. To stay at a High Sierra Camp in Yosemite is like dining at The French Laundry or making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem–a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Unless you’re really really aggro.) Plan to attempt to get your reservations 366 days before your hike, expect not to get exactly the dates you want, and prepare for the possibility that you may end up in a lottery with a cot in a canvas tent for a prize.
Regular ol’ tent cabins in the car-accessible parts of Yosemite cost $110-$180 per night. You can get on up in Tuolumne Meadows or down in historic Curry Village. The Housekeeping Camp cabins are a bizarre combination of cement and canvas, and don’t come with bed linens (you can rent sheets and a pillowcase for $2.50 a night).
Motel rooms crop up all over greater Yosemite Valley–in Curry Village, at the elegant Ahwahnee up at Yosemite Lodge by the Falls, and down at Wawona (a few miles south of the Valley proper). White Wolf Lodge offers the only hard-walled rooms on Tioga Pass. Expect to pay $120-$300 per night or more for the privilege of sleeping indoors and in-park, but don’t expect necessarily to have a private bath in your room. Also, take note of bed sizes–lots of the rooms in Yosemite hotels have only double-sized beds. If you’re tall (my fiance is 6-foot 4-inches tall), you’ll dangle off the edge of the bed.
Of the lot of the lodges and hotels in Yosemite, I like Wawona best. The minimal amenities suit the Old West atmosphere of the hotel quite well. And the old dude playing the piano in the lounge adds to the ambiance. Certainly the Ahwahnee has fancier appointments, but I find the Ahwahnee a touch overwrought while the Wawona owns its kitsch appeal.
Then there’s the wide world of campgrounds, motels, lodges, and resorts outside the park boundaries–so many in fact that I’d have to write another post to describe all the options. Just know that to the east of Tioga Pass, the odd little town of Lee Vining stretches along Highway 395, skirting Mono Lake. Motels in Lee Vining tend toward a, er…minimalist sensibility. Cushier resorts cluster to the west of Yosemite’s main entrances. I had a lovely time at the Tenaya Lodge, a fancy place outside of Fish Camp.
Need more info on where to stay in and around Yosemite? Check out my books Moon California and Moon Northern California. Oh, and the online booking site (http://www.yosemitepark.com/Accommodations.aspx) for in-park accommodations is awful. Skip it and make a phone call to the reservation line 801-559-4884 to spare yourself some needless aggravation.
Worried about paying the park entrance fee every day if you’re staying outside the park? Check out the National Park Pass options, which include a lifetime free pass for permanently disabled people.