Travelers go to Yosemite to experience nature, the towering waterfalls and granite cliffs immortlized by Ansel Adams’ black and white photographs. Longing to experience Yosemite’s wild places, but still want those creature comforts like high thread count sheets and clean bathrooms? Tenaya Lodge is one of the best Yosemite family hotel options. Near Yosemite’s south gate entrance, it’s that perfect combination of luxury and serenity, with a whole list of fun activities for the kids!
Being a scenery starved Chicagoan, I love answering the call of the wild on my vacations. However, roughing it isn’t my idea of relaxation. I want adventure, but a good night’s sleep as well. Yosemite National Park had long been on our family’s bucket list. Here’s how we had a wild adventure, while resting easy at one of the best Yosemite family hotel options- Tenaya Lodge.
Of course, nearby Yosemite National Park is the main attraction, but after a long day hiking or driving, it’s nice to be able to relax by a pool, climb into a clean bed and have a hot shower. Landscaped pool? Check! Western-themed barbecue dinners with live music? Check! Plenty of on-site dining options, from rustic to romantic? Check! Luxurious bedding and bathrooms? Check! Lots of activities for the kids? Yep!
1. Kid-Friendly Amenities
Named the best hotel for families by Sunset magazine in 2016, Tenaya Lodge has plenty for every age and interest, no matter the season. Think of it as a destination within a destination. With biking and swimming in the warmer months and hiking and horseback riding in the fall and spring, your kids will never get bored here. Archery, climbing walls, movies by the pool and more filled our evenings with fun after spending the day at nearby Yosemite National Park. Our favorite evening was spent enjoying the western-themed barbecue, complete with cowboy crooners. Complimentary archery lessons were fun for the adults and kept the kids entertained so that we could relax during dinner.
2. Lots for Mom and Dad
While the kids are busy having fun, parents can relax with a drink in a chaise lounge by the pool or get pampered at the resort’s luxurious Ascent Spa. The hotel lobby with its roaring fireplace and cozy Native American-themed furnishings makes for a great place to start or end the day with a good book or the complimentary newspapers.
3. Sierra National Forest
Being surrounded by the Sierra National Forest means there are terrific hiking trails on the property. Unlike Yosemite Valley, these trails are not crowded. Yep, this is where you’ll finally have that John Muir moment of solitude. We particularly enjoyed the trail directly behind the hotel. We rented the hotel’s mountain bikes for two hours, rode them about one mile to the trailhead.
We then hiked for about a mile, passing creeks and other screenshot-worthy settings. We spent about a blissful half hour at our own private swimming hole before heading back to the hotel. This is my idea of communing with nature!
Tenaya Lodge has an onsite recreation department to help guests explore Yosemite and the surrounding wilderness. They offer guided excursions and will help guests book other activities. We had the ride of our lives when we took their advice and went white water rafting with Zephyr Whitewater Rafting.
We booked a half day rafting trip along the Merced River. Normally, the minimum age to do the trip is 12. Due to that season’s massive snowfall and rain, the water levels were high and powerful, pushing the age limit up to 14. If you’ve ever considered trying to sneak your kid in under the age limit for a trip like this, don’t. We had an exciting rafting experience. In fact, it was the most memorable part of our trip. However, three people in our family (2 adults and a 17-year-old) fell out of the raft and were being tossed down the river in the rapids.
They were only out of the raft for a minute or two before they were quickly picked up, but it was enough to have all of us pretty frightened. Our Zephyr guides did everything correctly. And like I said, it was definitely the most memorable and exciting part of our trip. But there’s no way I would have wanted a 12 year being tossed around in that water. If they change the age limit, take it seriously.
5. Horseback Riding
On-site horseback riding stables are another wonderful Tenaya Lodge feature. We walked over to Yosemite Trails and enjoyed a one hour trail ride ($50) through Sierra National Forest. An easy ride with no galloping, riders cross streams and follow switchbacks along the side of the mountains. Some of those switchbacks were pretty darn steep, requiring the riders to be acutely aware of their horse and what they’re doing. They say the minimum age to ride is 7. Call me cautious, but I’d say it’s closer to 10 for most kids.
With so much to do, we could easily have spent our vacation just enjoying Tenaya Lodge, but as John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Tenaya Lodge provided the perfect base camp for our Yosemite vacation.