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No Reservations When it Comes to Yosemite

View of Yosemite Valley
By Pati Navalta

It was a late Thursday afternoon, after hours of sitting in my home office glued to my computer, when I decided I needed to reconnect with nature—beyond watering plants in my backyard. Working from home was great the first few months, but somewhere along the way, hours, days and weeks started to blur together, and before I knew it, seven months had gone by without having taken one vacation, or even a short getaway. Where was there to go, after all? My husband and I usually take two big international trips a year, but never thought of exploring what was around us. Road trips weren’t high on our list—until now. 

And then I remembered Yosemite. I had never been there before and it had everything I was looking for: nature, hiking, trees, water, and poor cell service. I booked a two-night stay at Tenaya Lodge, packed a small bag, and made a playlist for the four-hour drive. 

The lodge is nestled in the mountains two miles away from Yosemite National Park, and features personalized services, modern amenities and a full-service spa (currently closed due to safety precautions). The lodge’s onsite restaurant, Jackalope’s Bar and Grill, features seasonal specials as well as menu regulars, such as Chicken Peri Peri, an African-spiced half chicken; Harris Ranch grilled rib-eye; and Angus beef short ribs with white cheddar polenta. Also found onsite is a fitness center, retail stores, pet-sitting services, bike rentals, rock climbing, horseback riding and scenic hikes. If you’re looking for a nearby moderate hike, ask the front desk for a map of the Tenaya Falls trail, which takes you to a tranquil, cool, spot where you can picnic and swim in small pools along the falls.

Tenaya Lodge lobby

Disclaimer: As a Yosemite-in-the-time-of-COVID newbie, I didn’t know reservations were required to even get into the national park. In an effort to prevent large crowds, no cars are permitted through any entrance without reservations. And no, an Uber or Lyft cannot drop you off—I asked. If you’re planning to drive in and explore on your own, and on your own schedule, be sure to plan ahead and make a reservation far in advance. They book up quickly. 

There are other options if you don’t have a reservation, including entering by the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System. The buses stop in numerous outlying areas and bring you into the park and back. You can make a reservation for a round-trip ticket online, but be sure to do it as soon as possible since the buses also book up quickly. The last option is to sign up for one of the tours, which is what we opted for since the bus was indeed all booked.

If you’re anything like me, the thought of being part of a tour is less than desirable. I like to explore without a timeline, and I’m always fearful of wandering off and getting left behind. But I wasn’t about to leave without seeing what I came here for, so we signed up. There are numerous tours to choose from, including one offered by our hotel, which we chose. I did not regret it. 

View of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Our Tenaya Lodge Yosemite Tour was limited to 14 people in an exclusive convertible bus that provided unobstructed views of the park’s iconic highlights—Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, Bridalveil Fall, and all the giant Sequoia-lined roads along the way. During each stop, you’re allowed, and welcomed, to venture on your own and given a time to return to the bus. Lunch is included on the tour, and even then you’re pleasantly left on your own to find a nice spot along the Merced River, surrounded by meadows, to enjoy your bagged lunch.

In total, the tour took 9 hours, during which we not only witnessed breathtaking views of Yosemite, but we learned a lot about it through our friendly guide. If you’re coming to see the falls be sure to go in the spring. They weren’t flowing during this trip, but it was a natural masterpiece, nonetheless. The popular sites are popular for a reason, but just as beautiful are all the meadows on the valley floor with dramatic, glacier-cut rock formations surrounding them. It was exactly what I needed to rejuvenate my work-at-home, weary soul. 

Not bad for a worst-laid plan.

Photo credits: Yosemite by Pati Navalta. Courtesy of Tenaya Lodge.

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