The Tenaya Lodge almost touts itself as being a part of Yosemite National Park—the name on their website is Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. But the truth is, from most of the sites inside the park, you have at least an hour to drive before you reach Tenaya Lodge in a town called Fish Camp. So, the name is a little misleading.
That said, between the glamping-esque accommodations, three pools, hiking trails, horseback riding and the mountains surrounding it, Tenaya has enough to offer on its own. So losing the Yosemite label shouldn’t be such a big deal (or changing it to, Near Yosemite, but that doesn’t have as much of a ring to it …). And, unless you want to deal with the bad cell service inside the park, an hour really isn’t that bad a drive to get to a full-service hotel after a day roughing it in the wilderness (yes, this non-hiker considers national parks wilderness).
Whether you’ve finished your Yosemite exploring and want some extra crowd-free adventure and relaxation or plan on spending your days at the park and nights at Tenaya, you’ll find pretty much everything you need, including solace, at this all-season resort-meets-lodge.
After a long and windy drive, during which you almost puked and crashed multiple times, you’ll be happy to make your last turn under a peaked wooden gazebo that serves as Tenaya’s gate and says a lot about what’s to come. Drive up to the lodge, hop out of the car and the first thing you see is an awning that looks exactly like an extended version of the one at the entrance, held up by stone pillars and dotted with outdoor fireplaces. It’s covering a long walkway, and you think, “really? More walking?” But unlike in the park, you swap the end-of-the-road views for comfort. Fair trade. This little stroll leads to a forest-themed lobby with all the amenities of a resort: plenty of comfortable places to sit (read: not rocks or patches of grass), high vaulted wood ceilings, crackling fireplaces, convenience shops selling anything you might possibly need and restaurants in every corner. The sprawling space is filled with natural light from windows that stretch from the middle of the walls to the top of the peaked roof, patterned furniture resembling that of your grandparents’ cabin (minus the dust), tall green plants, taxidermied deer heads and lots of activity. It’s like a cozy lodge living room, just 10-times the size. The perfect place for a post-dinner glass of red wine, if you don’t mind sharing the couch with strangers.
Once you’ve checked in, prepare to be overwhelmed, as the accommodations are peppered all over the property’s 48 acres. The lodge rooms are located in the main building, in wings off the lobby. They are your typical resort rooms, with colorful carpeting, wooden furniture, granite or marble bathroom counters and enough space to get dressed in the morning. What’s nice about even the lower level rooms is there is a lot of natural light thanks to balconies and patios. The rooms all have touches—whether it’s on the throw pillows, furniture upholstery or bedding—of geometric patterns that could be described as Native American style (if that’s a thing). They match that of the rugs and seating in the lobby and carpeting and wall art in the halls. The color scheme is called, “High Sierra Tones,” which basically means lots of burnt orange, maroon, brown and tan. Some might say they’re trying too hard, others might appreciate the effort to blend in.
Now, onto the much cooler cottage rooms (pictured above). Little yellow two-floor cottages (pictured at top) sit in the property’s evergreen forest a short walk away from the main lodge, although it feels worlds away. Say goodbye to the high-tech modern amenities (don’t worry, everything at the main lodge is still available to you) and hello to your own (sort of) little cabin in the woods. Cottage rooms are a little smaller, and it’s noticeable, especially in the bathroom. And the décor is a bit dated—imagine if your carefree friend or grandma (not mine though, she’s way too fancy) bought an old furnished cottage, and had neither the desire or style to redecorate; think yellow and red plaid bedding, dull yellows elsewhere that match said bedding and frilly valance-curtain sets. But, thanks in part to the fireplace, there’s something charming about these closer quarters. Besides the fact that you only have one room (unless you book the cottage suites), it really does feel like you’ve rented a house, as you have a front porch and a back door with a little backyard.
While the rooms themselves aren’t that impressive (unless they were going for the cheapy cottage feel, than, yes they were very impressive), it’s every bit worth waking up within the towering Sugar Pines and Incense Cedars, opening your door and stepping out into the Sierra National Forest without having to pitch a tent or see a bunch of other hotel-goers in robes.
I stayed in a cottage room, and I rarely come across a resort that has the options of regular hotel rooms and rustic cottages right on the same property. I loved the short walk that took me from resort to glamping in five minutes, and I loved the way my little yellow cottage glowed at night tucked within the tall trees. They are a great option for those looking for a more rustic stay but aren’t willing to sacrifice the amenities; there is plenty of distance in between the cottages so you feel like you’re on your own, but five restaurants, a spa and pools are just a quick walk through the woods away.
Aside from that, I was impressed by the on-site activities always going on. You could be walking back to your room from dinner and stumble upon a stargazing extravaganza on the lodge’s back terrace—which is exactly what happened to me. It chanced to be when a space station was passing, so our very knowledgeable star-guide took us on a sedentary tour of the galaxy, pointing out many a shooting star along the way. And while I’m not one for corny hotel activities, I was impressed with the level of maturity within this group of amateur gazers. What would have been an early night under the covers turned into a romantic evening under the stars.
When we arrived at the hotel, they were also touting a big barbecue dinner. So, I guess what pops is Tenaya’s ability to go from quiet secluded cottage retreat to activity-filled resort seamlessly.
The hotel is situated in between Yosemite National Park and the Sierra National Forest. And while it’s at least an hour from frequented sites in Yosemite National Park, it’s popular for being one of the closest full-service resorts to the park. It’s only 20 minutes away from The Mariposa Grove of the Sequoias. And if you’re hoping to find conveniences at cheaper prices than what’s offered in the lobby shops and restaurants, you can drive about five minutes back down the road to a little store and stock up on snacks and beer. But that’s pretty much all you’ll find nearby (aside from other hotels). And I kind of liked it that way.
Address: 1122 Highway 41
Website: Tenaya Lodge
Room Rates: $212 – $530
Maggie Parker is Paste Magazine’s assistant travel editor.