Yosemite Lodging: A Complete Guide

Cabin in the sequoia forest of Yosemite National Park
Bartfett / Getty Images

Yosemite is one of the oldest, most visited, and grandest national parks in the country. Just getting the chance to step foot in the park is a dream, but you'll need to spend at least a night—or several—to truly make the most of it. If you've never been, however, the choices can be a bit overwhelming.

For starters, the whole park is roughly the same size as Rhode Island, so choosing accommodations requires some planning. The vast majority of visitors only stay in a tiny area known as Yosemite Valley, which is less than 1 percent of the whole park. Yosemite Valley is the most convenient place to stay for easy access to iconic attractions like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan, but unless you're camping, hotel rates in Yosemite Valley can be prohibitively high.

If the valley hotels are out of your budget but you aren't much of a camper, don't fret. There are plenty of options along the many roads that lead to Yosemite. You may not get the experience of waking up under Half Dome, but staying outside of the valley means more affordable and less crowded.

Yosemite National Park Lodging

If you want to open your door and step right onto Yosemite grounds, you can't beat staying inside the park. The lodging options range from the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel with its grand dining room to motel-style rooms at Yosemite Valley Lodge, both of which are in Yosemite Valley. For an unplugged experience reminiscent of yesteryear, try the Wawona Hotel, which is about an hour outside of the valley but very close to the sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

The Yosemite West High Sierra Bed and Breakfast is just 8 miles from the famous Tunnel View entrance into the park. If you're curious about backpacking but don't want to camp, the High Sierra Camps are cabins strategically placed around the park so you can hike between them in a day, letting visitors explore the backcountry without having to lug a tent and cooking gear. They are very popular, however, and guests are chosen via a lottery system.

Lodging on Highway 41

If you're coming from Los Angeles or the Fresno Yosemite Airport, Highway 41 is the most direct way to enter the park. The town of Fish Camp is just 3 miles from Yosemite's south entrance and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. However, it's still about an hour's drive from the Yosemite Valley, although you'll have access to a food market, gas station, and some restaurants.

Since Fish Camp is one of the closest towns to Yosemite, there are a variety of lodging options that are much more affordable than sleeping in the valley. Tenaya Lodge is a privately-owned hotel with a main lodge as well as cabins in case you want something more intimate. It's one of the biggest options in Fish Camp and offers amenities like a spa, fitness center, and restaurants. Tin Lizzie is a quaint bed and breakfast in an old Victorian-style home that's nestled in the pine trees.

If you want the conveniences of a bigger town, Oakhurst is the biggest city along Highway 41 and just an hour and 30 minutes outside of the valley. It has a major supermarket as well as a number of familiar motel chains, like Best Western and Comfort Inn. The locally-owned Queen's Inn by the River isn't just a scenic place to sleep, but also a working winery and beer garden open to the whole community.

Lodging on Highway 120

Visitors coming from San Francisco or other parts of Northern California use Highway 120 to get into the park, passing through the gateway town of Groveland. It's just over an hour from Groveland to the valley floor by car, but it's a charming town with several historic hotels, restaurants, a brewery, the oldest still-operating saloon in California, and plenty of nature.

The Groveland Hotel is a boutique bed and breakfast with a history dating back to the California Gold Rush and guestrooms that are cozy and pet-friendly. The Hotel Charlotte across the street isn't quite as old, but the 1920s Victorian building is still a historic part of the town and the individually decorated rooms feature plush extras like clawfoot bathtubs. The Rush Creek Lodge is further east on Highway 120 and closer to the park. You won't have the conveniences of Groveland, but staying in this forest lodge among the trees is well worth the sacrifice.

Lodging on Highway 140

For most visitors, Highway 140 is the best place to stay outside the park. It's one of the lesser-used entrances into Yosemite and incredibly scenic, so the ambiance is more rustic and unspoiled. Another perk for sleeping along Highway 140 is that it is the only route with a year-round public transportation option into Yosemite Valley, so you don't have to worry about driving in and out every day.

The Yosemite location of the hip AutoCamp includes fun accommodations like airstreams or luxury tents. Easily one of the coolest places to stay outside the park, it's located in the town of Midpines and about an hour from the valley. Further east and closer to the park is Yosemite View Lodge in the town of El Portal. It's a bigger property with 335 rooms, but it's built right on the banks of the Merced River for awesome views and playing in the water.

Cell reception and Wi-Fi along the Highway 140 route are spotty at best. If you need to stay connected, the town of Mariposa is the last place with reliable coverage before entering the park. It's over an hour from the valley by car, but quaint motels like the Mariposa Lodge or 5th Street Inn offer convenient accommodations with nearby stores and restaurants.

Lodging on Tioga Pass

The part of Highway 120 east of the Sierras is known as Tioga Pass, which is the entrance most commonly used for visitors coming from Nevada or taking a road trip along scenic Highway 395. However, the Tioga Pass entrance into Yosemite is closed for about half the year, typically from late fall to late spring.

The main town, Lee Vining, is at the junction of highways 395 and 120. When Tioga Pass is open, it's still about a two-hour drive to Yosemite Valley, so it's best suited as a stop on the way to or from the national park. The El Mono Motel is a family-run lodge in town with 11 guest rooms and an on-site cafe with freshly brewed coffee and homemade snacks. It also overlooks the scenic Mono Lake. As you drive west and get closer to the park, the Tioga Pass Resort is a remote lodge located at almost 10,000 feet of elevation. The log cabins are an ideal getaway for families or couples who want to be completely disconnected.

Other Towns Outside of Yosemite

Outside of the main highways entering Yosemite National Park, there are several other towns with lodging options to choose from. Most of them are at least 90 minutes outside of the park, so they aren't really suitable for multiple days of going back and forth. The Homestead Cottages in the town of Ahwahnee are just a few miles outside of Oakhurst near the Highway 41 junction. Further north near the Highway 120 junction are gold rush towns like Jamestown and Sonora that are worth visiting in their own right. Try the Jamestown Hotel or Knowles Hill Bed and Breakfast for an authentic old frontier feel.

Renting a Cabin in Yosemite

Renting a Yosemite cabin is a popular way to enjoy the park. Cabin options include housekeeping camps in Yosemite Valley and privately-owned cabin options around the park. One of the biggest perks to renting a cabin within the park boundaries is that you won't have to wait in long lines at the entrance gates, which can get very backed up during the high season. The Redwoods in Yosemite cabins are in the town of Wawona near the South Entrance, while the Yosemite Rental Homes are the closest private cabins to the valley. If you plan to rent a Yosemite cabin, plan ahead as rentals fill up fast.

Renting a Cabin Outside of Yosemite

There are many more cabin options outside of the park, which typically are a much better value than those inside the entrance gates. Just outside of the town of Groveland is Pine Mountain Lake with all kinds of lakeside cabin options, while further east on Highway 120 are the homey cabins of Sunset Inn available to rent. Yosemite Pines is an RV resort, but they also have cabins and yurts for rent. For a uniquely fun stay, rent one of their Conestoga covered wagon replicas, as the pioneers used, but with all the luxury amenities, so you don't feel like you've trekked across the country. At Yosemite Bug on Highway 140, choose between private cabins or dorm-style cabins to save money.