Yosemite National Park celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, putting the park in the spotlight more than ever. But figuring out where to stay—Under the stars at a campsite? In a rustic cabin with shared bathrooms? Within the luxe digs of its majestic Ahwahnee Hotel?—can be head-spinning, especially for first-time visitors. Here are some insider tips on where (and how) to stay, depending on your travel style.
Best for Visitors Craving Laid-Back Comfort: Tenaya Lodge
Located just two miles from the park’s South Gate, the 302-room Tenaya Lodge is a great way to escape the crowds of Yosemite Valley and explore some of the park’s less crowded hiking trails, including the Wawona Meadow Loop and the Chilnualna Falls, an excellent, but strenuous, alternative to the always-crowded Mist Trail. (Also nearby is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, with more than 500 of the ancient trees.) Make sure to save a day or two to enjoy the on-property activities, including nature walks, flashlight hikes, and mountain biking on more than 20 miles of trails. Relieve tired muscles with a massage at the beautiful on-property Ascent Spa, with 12 treatment rooms plus a steam room and sauna. Later this year, the hotel will unveil renovations in all of its rooms (from $189), with brand-new bathrooms and rustic yet modern décor (for now, request a room on the third floor to avoid overhead noise).
Best for Adrenaline Junkies: Pitching a Tent at Camp 4
A number of the cons of Camp 4: You will most probably be waiting in a long line within the wee hours for a location, you’ll have to schlep your equipment towards the site, and odds are you may be sharing your campsite with strangers. But for outdoorsy types, remaining overnight at Camp 4, a no-reservations area known as the birthplace of modern hiking, is well worth the trouble. With a worldly, welcoming vibe not unlike that of your European hostel, Camp 4 attracts hardcore hikers and climbers lured by companies such monoliths as 3, 593-foot El Capitan. As well as, it’s just $5 per individual per night, cars are parked off-site (hence the schlepping), in addition to RVs and trailers aren’t granted. By day, enjoy easy access to the among the best hikes in the valley; through night, share your adventures with newfound friends across the fire pit.
Best for History Buffs: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls
The original site of headquarters of the U.S. Cavalry, the park’s first protectors, the 245-room Yosemite Lodge at the Falls (from about $200/night) will mark its 100th anniversary in 2015. A recent multimillion upgrade has spiffed up the interior, with eco-friendly touches like wood flooring made with recycled materials and low-VOC paint and carpet. Plus, you can’t beat the location, right in front of Yosemite Falls, with easy access to many sites around Yosemite Valley; guided tours also meet right out front.
Best for a Family Adventure: Tuolumne Meadows Lodge
Explore the less-crowded Yosemite high country from the rustic comfort of the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, made up of clusters of canvas tents equipped with wire-spring beds, clean linens, and wood-burning stoves (from around $148/night for two adults/two kids). Kids will love the experience of camping, while adults will appreciate avoiding the hassle of carting around tents and gear. Explore some epic hiking around Tuolumne Meadow (take advantage of the shuttle bus, which conveniently drops off hikers at trailheads), then return to camp for a hearty meal cooked by lodge staffers. Dishes are likely to include veal, salmon, or steak. Following dinner, join fellow campers around the fire pit and take in the star-filled Sierra sky.
Best for Luxe-Loving Travelers: The Ahwahnee Hotel
The spectacular views of Half Dome, seen from the Ahwahnee’s beautiful patio and majestic Great Room, have always been a selling point for Yosemite’s most upscale property, The Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark that was completed in 1927. Plus, a $12 million renovation in 2011 put a fresh face on the 123 rooms (from around $471/night) and lobby, with new paint, drapes, and carpeting. Still, the vibe is way more historic than hip, since décor must be in line with the original furnishings of the hotel, which feature an American Indian motif, stained glass windows, and historic artwork featuring the park. For a budget-friendly way to savor the Ahwahnee’s splendor, grab dinner in the spectacular dining room or a late afternoon drink on the patio (try the Sesquicentini, in honor of the 150th anniversary, made with gin, lavender syrup, and fresh lemon juice) and watch the setting sun reflect brilliantly on Half Dome.