Can I See Half Dome From The House?....
May 8, 2016 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I waited too long to try to book my trip to the Yosemite area, and now the only accommodations I can find are in places that are 90 minutes' drive from Yosemite Valley. Is that going to suck? Should I give up and go somewhere else instead?

Yes, I know I'm dumb. (Actually, in my defense, I was sorting out the exact timing of the ticket first.)

I wasn't planning on spending the whole time in the valley, actually - maybe take a quick look there, but I wanted to check out other parts of the park as well. But yikes, that 90-minute-drive just to GET to the park...that has me really spooked, and I'm afraid I'd just get sick to death of driving all the time.

I'm looking at either a really funky AirBnB place in Columbia, CA, or a motel in Merced. Is one closer than the other? Is Columbia closer to other weird parts of the park that are off the beaten path?

Thanks - the place I WAS thinking of staying apparently sold totally out like three days ago and I'm kicking myself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Travel & Transportation around Yosemite Valley, CA (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go somewhere else. Yosemite's great but accommodation that far away is going to ruin your trip (it's not just as the crow flies distance; there is thick traffic getting into the park.) There are wonderful parks much less crowded and not even that far away, like Sequoia/Kings Canyon. Where are you coming from? We can help you figure out an alternative.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:29 PM on May 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Would you consider camping? Renting a camper?
You could stay at a campground outside the valley that will be much closer. I camped in Wawona during our Yosemite week a few years ago and it was great.
If you are coming through LA, I can loan you some equipment.

All that being pretty dubious -- hotel wise, Merced looks like a straighter shot than Columbia.
Mariposa is full up?
posted by SLC Mom at 8:32 PM on May 8, 2016

Can't find anything in Mariposa.

Camping isn't an option (unless there's a place with tent cabins). I am not an experienced enough solo camper.

I am budgeted for about $100 per night.

I am flying to SFO from NYC, and driving to....whereever.

I just looked at some places around Oakhurst and am considering an AirBnB place around there now.

I already made a "whoashit" reservation in Merced for super cheap, but I can cancel if I find something better (and I'm trying to).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 PM on May 8, 2016

Check out Yosemite Bug. It's in your budget, and we found the trip doable! You can check availability online.
posted by theantikitty at 9:04 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I did the same thing last year; after a lot of searching I wound up renting a house here: Redwoods in Yosemite, which is in Wawona. It was a very nice place to stay. We rented a multi-person house but they had a lot of cute little cabins too.

Everyone warned me about the terrible traffic & crowds in the valley but neither one seemed very extreme at all. According to google maps the drive up is about an hour, but it didn't really feel that long. There's also stuff to do down by Wawona. We went swimming in a swimming hole, and horse back riding, and there's a nice restaurant right there.
posted by bleep at 9:05 PM on May 8, 2016

I don't know how long you plan on being out there, but I would tough it out and spend a day in Yosemite, especially if you don't know when you can get back. Get up super early, hit Glacier Point, go down to the Valley and at least walk to Yosemite Falls, and then head up 120 as far as you want to go (I'd go at least to Tenaya Lake, but no farther than Tuolumne Meadows Lodge). Note that if you're going in August or something, a lot of the falls will be dry or very diminished in flow.

I'm looking at either a really funky AirBnB place in Columbia, CA, or a motel in Merced. Is one closer than the other? Is Columbia closer to other weird parts of the park that are off the beaten path?

There's really only two ways to access the park on the west side by car - either heading to the high country via 120 or heading to the Valley - and they're relatively close together. You could drive up to Hetch Hetchy, but that's still off the 120. To get off the beaten path, you're going to have to walk a ways. Only reason I'd give the nod to Columbia is because it's a gold rush town, but that's personal preference.
posted by LionIndex at 9:09 PM on May 8, 2016

Redwoods in Yosemite is starting at $170 a night.

Yosemite Bug is the place I WANTED to stay but they are sold out, as of four days ago.

Alternate question - if I visited in SEPTEMBER, instead, would that give me a better shot?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 PM on May 8, 2016

I'm sure September would, but it might be chillier?

Did you try the Tenaya Lodge?
posted by salvia at 9:16 PM on May 8, 2016

Motel rooms at Tioga Pass resort (on the other side of the park) go for $125/night. Does that work?
posted by LionIndex at 9:16 PM on May 8, 2016

Are you currently looking in the summer? If so, yes, September would probably be better. In the summer, you're signing up for this to get in and this once you get in.

(September is apparently still busy, but it almost has to be better than June-July-August. We actually went in December to avoid crowds. It was GREAT. The only problem was staying at Yosemite Bug. I liked it, but it's not fun to drive that curvy road in the dark with ice on the road.)
posted by wintersweet at 9:30 PM on May 8, 2016

I stayed in Yosemite Bug and it was great, but that was a good 45 minutes drive from the main park? And that was a lot of driving. I would still consider it if it was 90 minutes, but that will be a serious drain on your energy. It will feel like half your day is spent in the car. You won't really be able to walk around freely; you'll have to budget your time end energy for the drive back.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:31 PM on May 8, 2016

I'm trying not to threadsit, but - dude, the Tenaya Lodge starts at $365 a night. Stating again that my budget is a HARD $100 a night. (I did consider the Tioga Lodge at $125 after lions suggested it, but even that would probably be too much, ultimately.)

And the drive from Yosemite Bug to the park entrance only took me 30 minutes the last time I was there, so that was acceptable. I am thinking more and more about postponing until September; I may have a much better shot at lodging, and the hiking will still be good. About the only downside to September is that the waterfalls will have dried up, but I've seen the two biggest falls before, and wanted to explore more of the park itself this time anyway....

Mind you, if someone knows of a super-cheap motel, i'm still all ears.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 PM on May 8, 2016

(Oh snap, sorry about the Tenaya Lodge prices. It must've been some off season group rate I had when I was there because my faint memory is something like $140).
posted by salvia at 9:55 PM on May 8, 2016

There are tent-cabins in Tuolumne Meadows that seemed pretty nice (I walked by them but did not stay in them). The actual campsite is very well-developed and has lots of amenities, so I'm sure the tent-cabins are as well. Here's the link. Not sure about prices (wouldn't load on mobile) but can't imagine it would exceed your budget?
posted by charmcityblues at 11:55 PM on May 8, 2016

If my memory serves, there's not much different between the tent cabins in Yosemite and the normal camp sites. Both have potable water, bathrooms, places to cook, and you have to keep your food in a bear box onsite (which is provided). Last time I was there in 2013 there was still a hantavirus problem in the tent cabins, but not in the regular sites.

It's not backcountry camping, so you won't be in danger if you find yourself in a minor jam- there will be a dozen other campers within sight in the summer season, plus park rangers.

This is the perfect way to ease into camping, especially if you can borrow gear or convince a more experienced friend to join.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:33 AM on May 9, 2016

September will be significantly better crowd-wise. It should still be very pleasant in the Valley during the day (nicer for hiking actually - summer is pretty hot in the Valley), and a bit chillier up in Tuolumne Meadows, but not unbearably so (it can change temperature drastically at that elevation - I've had it go from 80ish and sunny to hailing and mid-30s in about an hour in late August).

How many days are you looking at spending in the great outdoors on this trip? What other outdoor spots have you visited in California (given that it sounds like you've been to Yosemite at least once before)? How comfortable are you driving windy mountain roads, particularly at night? Are you okay bouncing around from spot to spot each night, or do you want one base to come back to each day? What sort of activities are you interested in doing, and how physically strenuous do you want them to be? How okay are you doing day hikes where you see few to no people - is that awesome, or will it make you uncomfortable, given that you're a solo traveler? Knowing the answers to those sort of questions will let us suggest alternatives to Yosemite that might be appealing.
posted by Jaclyn at 1:44 AM on May 9, 2016

You might want to check out the two motels in El Portal. About 30 minutes from the valley. Prices are a bit above $100 most likely. It's pretty hard to find places that are cheap and close.
posted by goodsearch at 3:38 AM on May 9, 2016

The hotels in El Portal are all coming up with total costs of about $1.095 for six nights on That is much more than "a bit" above $100 per night. Asking everyone once more to please, please not make a hotel recommendation unless you know for a fact that the rates would be $100 a night or less in July.

Jaclyn had some good questions, though -

How many days are you looking at spending in the great outdoors on this trip?

Almost all. I may want the option of a day where I say "screw trees" and take a day trip to a quirky town or museum, but most of this would be outdoorsy.

What other outdoor spots have you visited in California (given that it sounds like you've been to Yosemite at least once before)?

I drove up the Pacific Coast from San Luis Obispo, through Big Sur and up to San Francisco about ten years ago (that's also the same trip where I first went to Yosemite, spent only two days there and am kicking myself for that). I also have poked my nose into Muir Woods. Day trips in all cases (on the road trip I spent only a day or so in each place before driving on to the next hotel).

How comfortable are you driving windy mountain roads, particularly at night?

If I can go slow, I'm okay. The trip where I spent a day and a half in the Yosemite area I stayed in Yosemite Bug, and drove to and from the Bug, getting up early in the morning and coming back at like dusk.

Are you okay bouncing around from spot to spot each night, or do you want one base to come back to each day?

Ideally I'd like one base to come back to,'ve given me the idea of looking at two or three bases for THIS trip, so I may also look into that and see if it helps finding rooms. Hmm. (But no more than three bases; I don't want to move each night.)

What sort of activities are you interested in doing, and how physically strenuous do you want them to be? How okay are you doing day hikes where you see few to no people - is that awesome, or will it make you uncomfortable, given that you're a solo traveler?

Hiking is kind of it, and I am pretty much beginner-to-advanced-beginner. I would relish day hikes where I'm the only person. I know that there would be the big popular hikes in Yosemite where I'd see a ton of people, but I also know that some of the places I wanted to check out are low-traffic.

I might also be interested in easy kayaking, but that would be a cost factor which has me a bit spooked.

Finally - tent cabins are no problem at all. That's the kind of accommodation I was looking to score at Yosemite Bug this time (I just waited too long and they were sold out. AirBnB is no problem, little motels no problem. I wouldn't be able to do the kind of camping where I would have to backpack in, or set up my own tent or bring my own food, for more than a night or two; and I'd have to do car camping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 AM on May 9, 2016

Sadly, you are just not going to find someplace in or very near in one of the most popular national parks for $100, probably at any time of the year. The tent cabins in the valley and up in Tuolumne Meadows go for more than that *if you can even get them*.

How much money are you going to spend in gas if you stay at one of the further out places? Gas is more expensive out there. Driving that far in, around the park, sitting in traffic and then back out of the park may end up costing you more than if you expanded your nightly accommodations budget.

I would consider the $125/night place someone recommended if you can get in and shorten the trip by 1 night to make up the difference. Get a cheap motel somewhere on the way back towards SFO before your flight out.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 7:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would relish day hikes where I'm the only person. I know that there would be the big popular hikes in Yosemite where I'd see a ton of people, but I also know that some of the places I wanted to check out are low-traffic.

I'll second that you should consider Sequoia and King's Canyon NP. It is only 90-120 minutes south of Yosemite and it is stunningly beautiful and remarkably less visited. Mrs. mmascolino and I visited there in June a few years ago and was impressed by the solitude. For Sequoia, once we got off of the 1/2 mile of trail that surrounds the most well known and most accessible trees, we saw maybe 2 or 3 people for the rest of the day. We weren't even really trying to avoid people by taking obscure trails. If you really wanted to ensure solitude there are certainly even more remote places you could go.

The valley floor of King's Canyon was even more desolate. Starting out in the morning, we hike up to a lookout of the canyon and we say no one save for a German couple on our way back down to the car. I should add that the King's Canyon valley is stunningly beautiful and dramatic. We saw very few people on other hikes during mid day and saw a few handfuls of people at the end of day when everyone was coming out of the hills before they lost light for the day.
posted by mmascolino at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think there's no substitute for Yosemite. But Lassen Volcanic National Park is beautiful and way less crowded (it gets 1/10 of the visitors as Yosemite). There aren't so many trees, but there are beautiful highlands meadows, fascinating volcanic features, and lots of low-stress hikes. We went in the third week of August last time, and the spring wildflowers were just blooming (!), and the alpine lakes were still overhung with shelves of snow. The temperature was great, though! Very mild, with blue skies and sun. We stayed at the St. Bernard Lodge, which has rooms in the $99-106 range including a hot, cooked-to-order breakfast. It's quiet and does not have the lively buzz or college-kid backpacker buzz of Yosemite Bug, for better or worse. They aren't sold out for August yet, though some days are. Bidwell House was also on our list; it looks like they might have some $105 rooms, but it does include breakfast. Mill Creek Resort (keep in mind this is the "rustic cabin with fishing nearby" definition of "resort") has rooms for $85-95. Cedar Lodge starts at $59. There are probably more if you check out TripAdvisor, though the more mom-and-pop a place is, the more likely that you'll have to dig up the individual websites to check prices and availability.

I hope you have a great time wherever you go.
posted by wintersweet at 8:46 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Both times I've been to Yosemite I've had good luck staying in rentals in Yosemite West, but I've also been with larger groups that cut down on the cost. Not sure that's helpful, but thought I'd send it along anyway.
posted by maryr at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2016

Yosemite West is awesome, I have stayed there. They are more than $100/night though. *But* because they are *in* the park, you are going to be saving drive time and gas costs so it may be an option if you can get into one of their cheapest condo and reallocate gas funds to accommodation funds. You can also save on food costs because those have kitchens and you can make your own food. (Just don't leave any in your car anywhere in the park because: bears.)
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2016

Okay, so, still brainstorming solutions for Yosemite: have you looked at motels/AirBnb on the east side of Yosemite? I'm thinking specifically of the town of Lee Vining, where it looks like there's at least four to five motels, some with some availability during random weeks I picked out in July, and priced at $80 to $120 per night. Getting the the Valley from Lee Vining would be a total slog, but it's a great place to stay to check out Tuolumne Meadows, which has all the cool domes, and is my favorite part of Yosemite.

Another idea would be to spend one or two nights bunking in your car/sleeping in the great outdoors to bring down the total cost of the trip and allow you to spend more on the nights you're in a motel. I'm incredibly biased to this solution because this is what I do at least one night nearly every trip to Yosemite (which happens 5 - 15 times a year for rock climbing). This is one aspect of what is fondly known as dirtbagging in the climbing community. Honestly, this is really, really easy (cushy, even) to do during the summer in Yosemite - there are a couple spots just outside the park (memail me) on the west and east sides where you can pull off the highway, lay down your pad & sleeping bag, and just crash, and the park rangers won't bother you. Then you drive into the park in the morning for bathrooms and to brush your teeth, get meals at the Yosemite cafeterias, and spend your day doing a bunch of physical activity so that you happily crash right after dinner. Bugs really aren't an issue at that elevation once the snow melt is all done, and animals aren't an issue either, since no one cooks in these spots or leaves trash.

I'll be back later today with some ideas of non-Yosemite trips (or trips that could be combined with a couple of days in Yosemite), but I'd encourage you to think about the two ideas above.
posted by Jaclyn at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Non-Yosemite-but-also-Yosemite idea: drive all the way through Yosemite on Tioga Road, stop where you want for brief periods, then get to US 395 and head south to Mammoth Lakes, stay at the Motel 6 there, spend a couple days exploring Devil's Postpone and hiking up to Duck Pass.
posted by LionIndex at 11:24 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

D'oh, that should be Devil's Postpile.
posted by LionIndex at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2016

Sorry for the snark earlier; I was already really frustrated with myself because I missed out on the hotel I wanted by, like, TWO DAYS and some of that self-ire spilled over onto y'all.

I am increasingly leaning more towards going in September, actually; two non-Mefites I trust implicitly with outdoors experience got very enthusiastic when I told them I was considering that change. One even said that if he ever went back to Yosemite, that would be exactly the time he'd go. It would give more time to select the place, and the cost of the plane ticket is about the same. Not 100% sold, but it's looking kind of likely. (Hell, maybe I can get one of the tent cabins in Yosemite proper!)

Giving it a couple days before I call this "resolved," but thank you all for helping me bash my head against this problem. (And hey, if anyone knows that their buddy in Midpines is opening up an Airbnb, lemme know!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2016

September in Yosemite will be AWESOME. Do that.
posted by Mrs Roy G Biv at 3:29 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are a couple AirBNB places around Groveland for under $100 in July. (Edit: This is without taxes and fees.) Groveland itself is ~30 Minutes from the Big Oak Flat entrance and about an hour from Yosemite Valley. You would be fairly close to the Tuolumne Grove and Tioga Road.

On Tioga Road, climb to the top of Olmsted Point, stop at Tenaya Lake and do the Cathedral Peak hike. There are other excellent hikes in Tuolumne Meadows as well.

September will be cooler during the day (this is a good thing) and much less crowded than July. But waterfalls will be mostly dried up. Avoid the valley on the weekends if at all possible.
posted by cnc at 5:01 PM on May 9, 2016

If you are going to do Yosemite in Sept, this is the year to do it because it actually rained here in California so if there is any glimmer of hope for waterfalls that have traditionally run year round, this is the fall to try and see them. Yosemite falls will most likely be dry but Vernal falls and Nevada falls do run year round. You can see them both from Glacier Point, which also has a great view of Half Dome. A good hike up there is to park at the Taft Point/Sentinal Dome trailhead a little ways below the top of Glacier Point and hike over to Sentinel Dome, over to Taft Point (great views of the valley and El Capitan!) then back to your car. You can also do a paved trail hike, about a mile from the valley floor to see Vernal falls closer. This trail is what people climbing Half Dome use and is probably the single busiest mile in all of Yosemite though so if you want some solitude go early. Like 30 minutes before sunrise early. I did that Labor Day weekend a couple years ago and saw less than 10 people on the way up. (The way down however was like swimming the wrong way in a stream of spawning salmon!) :-/

I really hope you can make it work!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 6:40 PM on May 9, 2016

I think September will be great, as long as it's not smoky from nearby fires but that could happen in July too. I've been camping in Yosemite twice in early October and it's been really nice. I highly recommend spending time in Tuolomne Meadows and climbing up one of the domes there; it's not quite as spectacular and dramatic as the valley but it's really special up there. The hike to North Dome from the top is also a good one. And go see the giant sequoias too. This is besides from the obvious Yosemite Falls and Mist Trail hikes. You could always rent camping gear from REI and I bet they would teach you how to set up the tent, plus you can cheat and get pizza for dinner. Most of the camping in Yosemite is car camping and the campsites all have bear boxes for your food. Enjoy your trip! Yosemite is the best and it's amazing you're getting to spend so much time there.
posted by carolr at 10:35 PM on May 9, 2016

The saga continues - I'm finding SLIGHTLY more options in September, but not by much. Yosemite Bug only has the $175 luxe private spaces available. As for spaces INSIDE the park, they're also financially out of reach.

So. I am now seriously considering splitting my time between two AirBnB options, or one AirBnB and one....other place. I found a lovely rustic AirBnB place close to the park that is like a little cabin built on the side of a mountain; I'd definitely be happy with a few days there, but I think I'd also like a few days...not there. So let's expand this - any suggestions for other little towns to hit up as a base? Focusing on the west side of the park.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on May 13, 2016


Okay. I am now expanding my search to ask if there is any other homestay kind of web site that is NOT AirBnB that I can try searching in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2016

VRBO? It definitely used to be (still is?) a great place to find Sierra country vacation rentals though I think your budget may require adjustment. Can you stay for a shorter period and therefore afford a slightly higher per night amount?
posted by Mrs Roy G Biv at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2016


I tried VRBO, but the only thing I could find that was near my range was a place that promised a discount rate on a Comfort Inn - but they pulled a bait-and-switch on me.

So then I went back to AirBnB and started playing with the dates a bit - I was already planning on heading back in to San Francisco for the last night I was out there, so I could get to the airport sooner - and I tried also adjusting for a later arrival in Yosemite and finally found a place 14 miles from the south entrance for only $85 a night, for four nights. Booked, confirmed, DONE.

Now I only need to worry about the first three days, but that should be an easier search, and since I'm flying into San Francisco I could even just add a couple extra days to the start there. But we have established a toehold in Oakhurst.

(now of course the rest of the plans for my other trip have also started going pear-shaped this day has been ONE LONG-ASS BIT OF FRUSTRATION let me tell you)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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