As one of the most visited natural attractions in California, Yosemite National Park plays an important role. Named a “national park” in 1890, it is one of the great treasures of the state, drawing tourists in great numbers every year, who are attracted by its roaring waterfalls, immense granite monoliths and steep cliffs.
As if visiting Yosemite isn’t already a challenging feat due to the size of the park, finding satisfactory accommodations in the area can be even more difficult. This is because the lodgings within the park tend to fill up early and often the prices are quite high, discouraging some people from visiting this beautiful park in California. So here are a few tips on where to stay in and around Yosemite, with tips on nearby towns and value for money areas.
Where to stay in Yosemite: Lodging inside the Park
Staying in Yosemite can be a great idea, as long as you book well in advance and are willing to spend a significant amount of money. The hotels to consider are the following:
- Founded in 1920, the historic Majestic Yosemite Hotel (known until 2016 as Ahwahnee Hotel) is the pride and joy of the park. Located in the heart of the valley, this beautiful hotel nestled in the woods is built in a rustic style. The charm of the hotel is found in the fascinating exterior design built in wood, stone and iron, in the attention to detail of the rooms and in the interior design of the common areas. Besides the aesthetics, the excellent strategic position inside the park is certainly ideal for visiting the main attractions. There are various types of accommodations, from traditional rooms to suites, even cottages. Open all year round.
- Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is not as upscale, as it is specifically designed to accommodate groups and families. As the name suggests, the facility is located near the trail that leads to Yosemite Falls. If you’re not familiar with these waterfalls, have a look at our article about hiking in Yosemite. The Lodge has a good number of standard rooms (about 240) and 4 large family rooms. The wi-fi is slow (turn off Netflix and go out to see the view!) and there is no air conditioning, just fans. Open all year round.
- The Big Trees Lodge is located in Wawona, in southern Yosemite, not far from the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove. This lodge is perhaps the most original in the park, as it has an elegant Victorian style that offers a unique contrast to the quintessential Wawona woodland landscape. This historic hotel is smaller, for between rooms with private and shared bathroom there are about a hundred rooms, give or take. The hotel is open from March to November.
In addition to these three facilities, there are numerous villages, campgrounds, shelters and more isolated lodges in the park, suitable for all the needs of travelers and hikers. I include two of them below:
- Half Dome Village: Also known as Curry Village (named after the last name of the couple who founded it at the end of the 19th century), this village offers a large number of accommodation in more spartan structures. There are cottage/motel rooms, cabins with or without bathroom, and heated and unheated tents. The location is fantastic, as it is in the most open area of the valley, and looking up to the sky you can see the majestic granite peaks.
- White Wolf Lodge: Not far from Tioga Road, in a remote and isolated pine forest divided by White Wolf Road, you will find a clearing with tents and cabins scattered here and there. This is the White Wolf Lodge: ideal for those who want to sleep in absolute silence and go hiking alone in the most pristine natural area.
Hotels Near Yosemite Park
Thankfully, there are also many other forms of accommodations in Yosemite, especially outside the park, which is a great solution both in terms of cost and logistics, depending on the itinerary you are following.
Where to Stay between San Francisco and Yosemite
Not including the traffic that can be found approaching the park, the drive between San Francisco and Yosemite is about 3.5 hours, almost 4 hours if you really want to get to the heart of the Yosemite Valley. Considering the average distances of road trips, this is not one of the most alarming, but it is generally advised not to set aside only one day to travel from San Francisco, visit the park and maybe even drive to the next stop (Sequoia or Death Valley). Of course, there are those who choose to do this because they have little time, but it is definitely not the best solution, because you would spend many hours in the car and you see very little of the park.
For this reason, it is better to leave San Francisco during the last day of your stay in the city and head towards Yosemite and spend the night in one of the small towns on the outskirts of the park, west of the Sierra Nevada. In this way, the next day you can arrive in Yosemite early in the morning and enjoy it without haste. The towns or localities that we indicate below are the closest to the park, so the prices that you will find will generally be a bit higher. El Portal and Mariposa are ideal for approaching the West Gate, while Groveland, Buck Meadows and Sonora are closer to the North Gate.
If you enter through the West Gate
The closest accommodations just outside the Yosemite Valley are in this small village known as El Portal. This is only 7 minutes from the Arch Rock Entrance in Yosemite (West Gate)!
The closest town to Yosemite is Mariposa, which is right on Highway 140. The charm of this location lies in its connection with the Gold Rush period, of which traces can still be found. It is located southwest of the park, a 45 minutes drive from Yosemite National Park.
If you enter through the North Gate
Groveland and Buck Meadows
Like Mariposa, Groveland also dates back to the Gold Rush (and claims to have one of the oldest bars still in operation from that period). It is 23 miles away from the park. There are not many conventional hotels, but on Booking you may find many cottages, cabins, shelters and mountain lodges in the surrounding woods.
Buck Meadows is a little closer (12 miles) but has a very limited number of accommodations.
Being small mountain resort towns, the presence of hotels, motels and budget hotels in Groveland and Buck Meadows is certainly scarce, so you should also look in the surrounding area. One solution is to look in Sonora, a pleasant historical that we also talked about in our article on the Gold Rush. The drive from Sonora to the Big Oak Flat Entrance Gate (North Gate), a distance of about 50 miles, takes just over an hour. Sonora is also a good location for those coming from the north (Sacramento).
Cheaper Accommodations, But in Farther Locations
If hotel prices in these locations seem too high or if the hotels there are completely booked, the best thing to do is find accommodations further away from Yosemite. Two strategically located cities are Modesto e Merced, where you can find motels at much lower prices. You will not be near the entrance of the park, but you will have considerably reduced the number of miles to reach it, especially in the case of Merced. In either case, it will be most convenient to enter Yosemite Park from the West Gate.
If you want to enter through the North Gate, look for accommodation ins one of the following locations:
Where to Stay between Sequoia and Yosemite
Here are tips are for those who want to travel to Yosemite from the south (Los Angeles), the southeast (Las Vegas) or the Pacific coast (for example, the Monterey-Yosemite road is beautiful). More specifically, we are speaking to those who want to visit both Yosemite and Sequoia, not only if they are visiting Yosemite in the winter, when Tioga Road is closed, but also during the rest of the year. In all of these scenarios, you will find yourself passing through Yosemite’s South Gate.
The small community of Fish Camp is a few minutes away from the southern entrance, and very close to the giant sequoias of Yosemite (Mariposa Grove). If you are looking for a unique experience, I recommend staying at the Tin Lizzie Inn Fish Camp, a charming old-fashioned bed and breakfast with all amenities included.
A little further south, about 30 minutes from the entrance to Yosemite Park, you will find Oakhurst, a town with more hotels and restaurants than Fish Camp. There are more choices for accommodations, but that doesn’t mean you can delay booking – the best rooms go very fast.
Fresno is a bigger city; it’s definitely a strategic solution for those who don’t know how to choose between Yosemite and Sequoia and want to visit both of them. It is convenient from a “geographical” standpoint, because is that it is practically halfway between the two parks (and is very close to Kings Canyon). However, the advantage is the affordability of the options. There is no shortage of cheap motels and hotels compare to Oakhurst and Fish Camp. Moreover, the city has some historical and naturalistic attractions. To find out more read our article about things to do in Fresno.
Where to Stay between Yosemite and Death Valley
This section concerns 90% of the readers, travelers who will have to use the East Gate, who will go through the Tioga Pass in one direction or the other by means of the beautiful panoramic road by the same name that crosses the Sierra Nevada. You will find specific advice on this route and overnight stays in our article on the Eastern Sierra and in the in-depth article on hotels near Death Valley, but in the meantime make a note of these locations and look them up on the map.
If instead you are part of the 10% that – by choice or forced by the winter closure of the Tioga Road – will reach Death Valley from the south (direction Sequoia/Bakersfield), you will find tips for your itinerary and overnight stay in our article from Sequoia to Death Valley. For the stretch of road between Yosemite and Sequoia, see the previous paragraph.
Ski resort south-east of the park 45 minutes away. From here you can leave the next morning in the direction of Death Valley. The natural location is beautiful and the many attractions in the surrounding area make it deserve more than just a quick stop. To find out more take a look at our in-depth look at Mammoth Lakes.
Certainly less popular than Mammoth Lakes, Independence is a tiny town located right on US-395, surrounded by beautiful natural areas (as you read here). Independence is small, of course, but it is the capital of Inyo County. In addition to a picturesque post office, there is the courthouse, and in front of the courthouse, you will see the Courthouse Motel. We stayed there: you can’t expect a palace, but it’s a convenient base for those travelling between Death Valley and Yosemite Park, although it’s quite far away from the latter.
Even further away from Yosemite (2 hours and 15 minutes from the Tioga Pass Entrance), Lone Pine can be a good solution for those looking for a stop not too far from Death Valley. Also, around Lone Pine is the surreal rocky landscape of the Alabama Hills.
3 Final Tips for Planning Your Stay in Yosemite
Finally, here are 3 tips that will help you plan your visit to Yosemite National Park:
- The season you go to Yosemite might affect how you access the park! Tioga Road, which crosses the park from east to west, is closed from early November until late May/early June.
- Before leaving always consult the official website of the park and check the last-minute advisories (red alerts), so that you are prepared for unforeseen events such as closure of trails.
- Read a guide on things to do in Yosemite so you can enjoy the beauty of the park.