Driving up the mountains on my way to Tenaya Lodge in early December there was still a lot of gorgeous fall foliage to see. As we continued to climb up the mountain, though, the golden leaves began to disappear, replaced by freshly fallen snow. That is when I knew this trip to Yosemite National Park would be unlike any of my previous visits.
Growing up, my dad loaded our family into his pick up truck every summer to go camping in Yosemite. I remember hiking, making campfires and sing-alongs with the park rangers. I also remember uncomfortable sleeping bags (or a cot if I was lucky), bears in our campsite and cold outdoor restrooms. It was the price for enjoying the natural beauty of one of America’s most iconic National Parks. Or was it?
This time I was visiting in wintertime and staying in a luxurious lodge. And what a difference it made! I was at the *Tenaya Lodge for less than ten minutes when I realized I had been doing Yosemite all wrong. Below are the three reasons my son and I loved Tenaya Lodge.
1. Experience Yosemite without roughing it
My son and I pulled into the Tenaya Lodge driveway and immediately a very cheerful bell hop unloaded my car as we warmed up by a massive outdoor fireplace. The resort itself was picture perfect, beautifully adorned for the holidays and wrapped in a blanket of snow. Inside a 30-foot tall (real!) Christmas Tree welcomed us with lights and ornaments and a front desk clerk eagerly told me about the hotel’s many amenities. These include a full-service spa, indoor and outdoor pools, five stylish onsite restaurants, plus a kids club and babysitting services if I needed them.
It was quite a change from s’mores and a lumpy sleeping bag, and a complete game changer. As incredible as Yosemite may be, I hadn’t taken my own family yet because the thought of taking five kids camping sounded more like torture than a vacation. At Tenaya we still enjoyed all the beauty of the park, which begins two miles from the lodge. But after a day activities in the cold outdoors we would return to the lodge where I could soak in the hot tub while my son splashed in the pool, get a spa treatment, have an elegant dinner, and retreat to a plush bed, a remarkable experience!
Note: The valet is complimentary and excellent. Definitely use it!
2. A variety of rooms for families
Having enough space for everyone to relax and unwind on their own is crucial when traveling with a large family. It allows everyone to stay sane and enjoy our together time. I was keen to check out all the different room options at Tenaya Lodge and it did not disappoint with standard rooms, suites and cottages. Last spring the resort completed a $5-million guest-room remodel that included flat screen tvs, granite bathroom counter tops, barn-inspired doors, and plush new bedding, carpets and plantation style window treatments, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The extended two-queen lodge room is a good choice for a family of four or tive. It has the same amenities as the standard two-queen room plus an additional 75 square-feet of space and a pull-out sofa bed. The rooms also have a mini fridge and some suites have microwaves, which come in handy for making simple breakfasts and snacks.
Note: They’re planning to remodel some of the cottages to create multi-room cabins–perfect for large families and multi-generation trips. I’m dreaming of returning with our whole family once those cottages are finished.
3. Tons of family activities onsite
Wintertime is an excellent season to visit Yosemite. The crowds and traffic are a lot thinner. And of course everything looks a little more magical coated in a dusting of fresh snow.
Activities: As much as I could spend all day, every day in Yosemite, kids can only take so much scenery and hiking. Thankfully, Tenaya Lodge has plenty keep a family entertained. Depending on the season you might find mountain-biking, hiking, archery, rock climbing or ice skating. You can decompress in one of five hot tubs. My son loved the indoor pool. In summer there are also three outdoor pools, including a kids pool with water features and a new adults-only pool. This summer they plan to open a ropes course and zipline, too.
Note: Our December visit meant we got to experience some special holiday time activities like gingerbread workshops, ornament or cookie decorating classes. There’s also a kids dinner with Santa and a reading by Mrs. Claus of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.
My Advice: I actually recommend that families plan a day or two more than they think they need for the park to make sure they experience everything the resort has to offer.
Dining: Tenaya’s timbered lodge vibe carries over to all five of its onsite restaurants. Embers is an intimate adults-only dining room with a large fireplace at its center. I will surely visit when I return with my husband. Sierra, Jackalope’s Bar & Grill and Timberloft Pizzeria are casual and ideal for families. They all have kids menus. Portions in all three are pretty big; if your kids don’t do kids menus, they can definitely share entrees.
In winter you can order bar items and food at the ice skating rink (use the phone at the entrance to the rink). For a real treat you can also buy s’mores kits and toast the marshmallows outside next to the rink.
My Advice: The room service here is fantastic! Start one of your days with it as a super fun way to treat the family to something special.
Spa: Adults should take advantage of Tenaya Lodge’s 10,000-square-foot Ascent Spa with its indulgent facials and body treatments. You can detox in one of the spacious dry saunas or steam rooms or take a yoga class, too. I can confidently say this was the best resort spa treatment I’ve had. And I was also excited to see they also Mommy ‘N’ Me sessions. My daughter and I tried this in Puerto Rico last summer and it has become one of our favorite things to do together on vacation. We will definitely check it out when we return!
My Advice: The counselors in the Kids Club are fantastic. I highly recommend parents treat themselves to a couple’s massage and a quiet meal at Embers. Don’t miss the flaming bananas diablo for dessert. Made tableside, it’s a delight for the eyes and the palette.
Tenaya Lodge In Short
Tenaya Lodge showed me that my family could experience the outdoor wonders of Yosemite National Park and come back rested and rejuvenated (rather than achy and mosquito-bitten). This resort is easily one of the best hotel stays I’ve had all year. I highly recommend it to families who have Yosemite in their plans. (Check hotel rates and availability on *Travelocity.)
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Amber Mamian is a freelance luxury travel writer, family travel expert and founder of GlobalMunchkins.com. Her work has been featured in Lonely Planet and on The Today Show, Red Tricycle and various news publications. Amber’s main passion is traveling the world and she shares that zeal with her husband and five kids. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
*Amber received a complementary stay at the Tenaya Lodge. We did not agree to any particular coverage in exchange for the stay. Our opinions are always our own.
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