Over President’s weekend, we took the kids to Yosemite to see snow. Wintertime is turning out to be my favorite season to visit Yosemite. Gone are the crowds and bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s beautiful to see the snow-covered boulders and trees made famous in Ansel Adams photos. In spring, when the waterfalls are flowing in full-force, Yosemite becomes a theme park with hordes of tourists being shuttled around in buses. Come summertime, the waterfalls dry up and Yosemite Valley is buzzing with kids on summer break. In winter, the air is crisp and quiet, allowing you to enjoy the awe-inspiring nature, the reason why this is Yosemite. Being a holiday weekend, accommodations inside the park, like Yosemite Lodge, the Ahwahnee, and Wawona were either all booked or prohibitively expensive. No matter. We stayed at the Evergreen Lodge located just outside the west entrance of the park. We’ve stayed at the historic Wawona hotel at the south entrance of the park before, and really enjoyed its charm. But when we can’t get a room at the Wawona and the Ahwahnee is just too expensive (as it always is for us), the Evergreen is my go-to spot. I’ve recommended it to many friends. I’ve stayed at the Evergreen a few times in the past, before we had kids. I always thought it would be a good place to come with kids, when the time came. This visit to Evergreen confirmed that it’s the perfect place for a family trip to Yosemite. I could (and wanted to) stay for a week. The cabins are ideal for families. We stayed in a two-bedroom cabin which was pretty new, clean and decorated in classic cabin chic: not too fancy, but not too shabby either. There’s a a coffeemaker, mini-fridge and satellite radio in the cabins, but no TV (you can rent a DVD player and DVDs from the lodge rec room). There was also a basket of games (Yahtzee, dominoes, cards) for a cozy game night in. They thought of everything.
The common areas of Evergreen cater to families without being too Disneyland-ish. There is a rec room with overstuffed leather sofas and a huge indoor/outdoor stone hearth where you can roast marshmallows and make s’mores in the evening. It’s a great place to read or do a puzzle with the kids (puzzles provided). Outside the rec room in the courtyard are ping pong tables and a play area with a few teepees and sand box (dump truck and shovels for digging included). If I were a kid, I’d have a blast here. Across from the rec room is another room that is the ultimate play area for adults and kids. There’s foosball, a pool table, shuffleboard, lots of books, puppets, and a play area for wee little ones with padded flooring and a mini-slide. I felt like a kid myself seeing all the goodies to play with. We spent one evening here sipping wine while the kids played. It’s all a parent can wish for in a vacation. There aren’t any food options within a 30 minute drive, but the lodge restaurant serves pretty good food that goes a bit further than your average lodge fare. I had duck for dinner one night and it came with a deliciously breaded sweet potato cake. Also had some totally legit biscuits & gravy the next morning for breakfast. There were other couples staying at the Evergreen, as we did when we didn’t have kids, and I think it still makes for a romantic place despite being so accommodating to kids and families. I hope we weren’t bothering the other couples dining/staying there. But we probably were.
This time we visited Hetch Hetchy, which is just a couple miles from the Evergreen. It’s described as a mini Yosemite Valley, but I was more curious to see it because I’d heard about the controversial Hetch Hetchy dam bringing water to us greedy Bay Area residents. As promised, Hetch Hetchy was a beautiful smaller version of Yosemite Valley with giant rocks and even its own waterfall (or two, but we only saw one flowing this time of year). The area is small enough for a quick less than 1-hour visit, driving the loop to the reservoir and back. I’m sure you could spend more time here to do a hike or maybe even a backpacking trip. If you have an extra day or are staying nearby at the Evergreen, it’s definitely worth a side-trip to visit Hetch Hetchy. Plus, it’s just fun to say Hetch Hetchy.
Evergreen Lodge is now my favorite place to stay when coming to Yosemite. It’s a nice way to escape the crowds in the Valley. I would come back just to stay at the Evergreen and not only to see Yosemite. Although Yosemite is pretty cool too. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and still marvel at the sight of El Capitan and Half Dome every time. I can’t help but ooh and ahh when I see the waterfalls. It is a magical place if you look beyond all the tourists and shuttle buses. And wintertime in Yosemite allows for some great activities in the snow. We’ve gone snowshoeing on prior trips. You can rent snowshoes at the Crane Flat gas station, near the west entrance of the park, for a nominal fee, then head up the Crane Flat Lookout Trail. It’s a moderate climb that’s easy enough for first-time snowshoers with 360 degree views at the top that are worth all the effort. And did you know there’s a ski resort in Yosemite? I didn’t, until a few years ago when we went to Yosemite for a pre-baby Valentine’s day weekend trip. We stayed at the Wawona which is close to Badger Pass, Yosemite’s ski area. We rented cross-country skis and I cross-country skied for the first time while I was 6 months pregnant. This year has been a dry winter, so we didn’t get to see too much snow. But the kids were just as impressed with the little amount of snow that they did see. And the waterfalls were in full effect. Our two-year old was able to do the 1-mile hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, no problem, while Hubs carried the baby in a backpack carrier. We didn’t do any snowshoeing or cross-country skiing this trip, but we did manage to head up to Badger Pass to put our two-year old on skis for the first time. We rented the smallest set of skis and boots they had at the rental shop (toddler size 9) and pushed him around on the snow. He loved it. We thought it was the perfect place for a kid to learn to ski – a small mountain without any crowds. A winter trip to Yosemite could become a habit for us.
Also, if you ever find yourself in this area, treat yourself to a fine dining experience at Erna’s Elderberry House restaurant in Oakhurst, just outside the south entrance of the park. It is consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in Northern California, and a truly romantic place (not for kids). But I always wondered who makes it out to this neck of the woods for a fancy meal? Only people on their way to and from Yosemite. On our previous Valentine’s trip, we dined here and had a top-notch experience. I would say a perfect winter weekend in Yosemite would include a stay at the Wawona or Ahwahnee or Evergreen depending on your budget, snowshoeing and/or cross-country/downhill skiing at Badger Pass, topped off with some outstanding meals at the Wawona and Evergreen, Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee and dinner at Erna’s Elderberry House.
I started this blog almost two months ago, and I wanted to see if I could keep it up. Give me a shout out if you like what you read/see and keep me motivated to continue doing it.