California's Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited in the national park system, averaging roughly 4.5 million visitors a year. And with the debut of El Capitan Hotel, a Joie de Vivre by Hyatt Hotels property that opened on March 31, there's one more place for Yosemite-bound travelers to stay near the park.
Located just over an hour from Yosemite's western El Portal (Arch Rock) park entrance, the 114-room property is actually on the site of an historic hotel of the same name, originally built in 1924 to house park visitors. The hotel has three restaurants, and all rooms were designed to celebrate the town's blend of western and agricultural history; guests will find details such as faux-fur throw pillows, nature-inspired art, and wallpaper of historical buildings and wooded scenes. Even the hotel's restaurants pay homage to the region's history and culture; the cafe/bar is named after the park's famous "Native Son" rock-climbing route, and the higher-end Rainbird uses locally sourced ingredients from the agriculturally rich Central Valley.
The hotel is pet-friendly, making it an ideal place to stay for park guests planning to explore Yosemite's dog-friendly trails. Room amenities include pour-over coffee supplies and record players in homage to Merced's artistic scene. Restaurants have outdoor dining spaces, and the hotel's large courtyard can seat around 200 guests. Guests can take advantage of both remote check-in and keyless room entry via the "World of Hyatt" mobile phone app.
The first "El Capitan" hotel in Merced was built in 1872 by the Southern Pacific Railroad to house guests arriving on the rail from Sacramento. The following day, they'd board a stagecoach (later the Yosemite Valley Railroad) to carry them into the park before reversing the journey to return home.
The original El Capitan hotel was demolished when the railroad sold it in 1900, and over a decade passed before it was rebuilt in its current location in 1912. That hotel was expanded and sold several times, serving as an independent hotel and residential building until Hyatt Hotels purchased the building four years ago. The three-year renovation project updated and expanded the property as well as the neighboring Art Deco-style Manzier Theater built in the early 1920s. The theater, which Hyatt Corporation also manages, offers a live music and performance venue as well as a restaurant and tap house.
Driving to the park takes just over an hour, offering the chance to stop in mountain towns like Midpines and Mariposa on the way. Guests planning to spend a day outside of the park can take advantage of Merced's nearby wineries and farmsteads or the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, a sprawling reserve with nature trails through several protected wetland and bird habitats.
As the new hotel is on Yosemite's western side, guests driving to the park would be well-served by using the park's extensive (and free) shuttle system. Parking near the El Portal park entrance and taking the shuttle farther into the valley is a quicker and more convenient way to travel during the park's busy months when parking is at a premium. Once in the park, guests can also opt to take the quick drive north from El Portal to Yosemite's Merced and Tuolumne sequoia groves, which tend to be far less crowded than the larger Mariposa Grove near the park's southern entrance.