Yosemite in the “off season”? Rock on

There was nothing “off-season” about our “off-season” visit to Yosemite National Park. In fact, I would say our two day fall stay rivaled any spring or summer itinerary.

Instead of hot weather, we got crisp, cool air. Evergreen ponderosa pines stood against oaks and dogwoods turning deep yellow and deep red. A few small groups have replaced the peak season crowds. And the waterfalls roared with life thanks to a recent thunderstorm. The timing of it all seemed to be an as yet undiscovered secret.

Credit: Courtesy of Aramark

We stayed at the newly renovated Wawona Hotel, which was built in 1856 as one of the first mountain lodges in California. He breathes with history. Located near the southern branch of the Merced River and a few miles down the road from Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, the Wawona has 104 guest rooms fitted with Victorian-era furnishings and decorations, and the lobby features a fireplace. double sided surrounded by deep seated sofas perfect for reading or chatting. Wi-Fi is available, but we did ourselves the favor of putting our phones away.

On the first morning we hiked the 27 miles up the valley (which takes about 45 minutes), stopping at the Tunnel View point to take in El Capitan, Half Dome, and all the beauty in between. We made our way to the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead and the base of the iconic drop off, and as we craned our necks up to watch the spray form a rainbow at dawn, we heard a slight exclamation behind us. Another couple had spotted a black bear snaking 50 yards into the creek. We were much more interested in him than he was in us, and he kept his attention on the fish before turning a turn out of sight.

Lunch was at the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we dropped half pound burgers at tables visited by queens and presidents. Outside, a squirrel the size of a small cat was scurrying back and forth, picking up leaves to make a nest. The Ahwahnee, considered Yosemite’s ‘premier’ accommodation, is another time machine to a bygone era of elegance in the wild. High ceilings contain intricately carved beams and handcrafted stained glass, while massive stone fireplaces cast warm light through wood chandeliers and lavish seating areas. Native art and basketry line the walls.

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The afternoon took us to the Ansel Adams Gallery, where I was happy to find and purchase a few prints from the famous photographer that I hadn’t seen a million times before. The gift shop was great for a few Christmas presents ahead of time, and there was even a small but cleverly curated collection of books to browse. As it was Halloween weekend, we visited the nearby historic cemetery, which was well populated that day with a small group of crows.

After a deep and completely peaceful sleep in our king-size bed – the wall heaters made the room a cozy retreat from the 36 degree night outside – we decided the next day to hike the Mirror Lake trail to the outside. east end of the valley. Challenging but not difficult, the five mile loop took us just under Yosemite’s most spectacular formations and along the road’s namesake body of water which mirrored the granite walls in perfect detail. That night, we took a ‘stargazing’ tour of the constellations through a brilliantly luminous Milky Way splashing an inky black sky.

Closer to “home” at Wawona, nearby attractions include an impressive covered bridge (one of only 12 in the state); a cluster of historic buildings, including a former Wells Fargo office, bakery, blacksmith, powder magazine, and prison; and the scenic Wawona Meadow Loop Trail that winds through lush forest surrounding a vast meadow. The hotel serves a buffet breakfast and dinner and has a full bar for relaxing at the end of the day.

If you decide to travel during the October to November period that has worked so well for us, be sure to keep an eye out for road closures and seasonal weather-related amenities like bike rentals and access to Glacier Point. But the compromise is worth it. Go see for yourself.

For more information and to book your trip, visit travelyosemite.com.

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