We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is just 4 hours away from one of the most stunning, jaw-dropping, and downright awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world: Yosemite National Park. With its soaring granite cliffs, gushing waterfalls, and majestic sequoias, you could visit Yosemite. a million times and still not have seen enough of it. Plus, it’s huge. We’re talking 20x the size of Manhattan huge. HUGE.
And yet, for all of that pristine outdoor space, it’s incredibly difficult to find a place to stay. Snagging a campsite or hotel room in the park proper in the summer is like winning the lottery. Yosemite is an incredibly popular summer destination, and there are only so many campsites and hotel rooms to go around!
What we’ve found is that we’re much more likely to snag a spot in the park itself when booking during Yosemite’s quiet, beautiful off-seasons (which is anytime other than summer). During high season, we typically end up booking a hotel NEAR Yosemite rather than directly in the park. Thankfully, there are plenty of wonderful places to stay near Yosemite’s five entrances!
In this post, we’ve covered all of the options near each of Yosemite’s five entrances, a rundown on the campgrounds within the park (just in case you get lucky), and our personal pick for the BEST place to stay near Yosemite.
Table of Contents
Hey, Looking for more fantastic getaways in California? We have tons of posts about our home state. Check them all out or take a look at these:
- 14 Epic Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California and 12 Stunning Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California in Winter
- The Ultimate Lake Tahoe Summer Guide: Complete Guide to the Perfect Summer at Lake Tahoe
- 12 Things to do in the Charming Mountain Town of June Lake, California
- How to Plan an Amazing Lake Tahoe Winter Trip (on a Budget)
Travel Tip: If you’re planning to visit multiple National Parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! One pass to enter the park will cover your whole party for 7 days, so you can visit the park as much as you want even when you’re staying outside of Yosemite. You can pick up a pass online at REI.
Psst Looking for more California tips? Sign up and we’ll send you travel tips for our favorite spots in California!
The 5 Yosemite Park Entrances
There are five entrances to Yosemite National Park. This can seem overwhelming – which one should you stay near? Let us help you break it down a little bit.
Coming to Yosemite from San Francisco
Most of Yosemite’s entrances are on the Western side of the park, and they’re all about equidistant from the Bay Area: about 4-5 hours, depending on traffic.
- Arch Rock Entrance: The closest entrance to Yosemite Valley, on Highway 140 driving through El Portal. If you’ll be doing a lot of stuff in or near Yosemite Valley, this is a great spot to base yourself in – but that proximity can also mean crowds and traffic.
- Big Flat Oak Entrance: Less visited and less crowded, this entrance on Highway 120 is about an hour from Yosemite Valley. It’s one of our favorite entrances because it’s never crowded.
- Hetch-Hetchy Entrance: The most remote entrance, this entrance is isolated from the rest of the park — you can only access Hetch-Hetchy Valley and a few trailheads. You’ll likely only want to base yourself here if you’re planning to go hiking or back-country camping, or you really want peace and quiet.
Coming to Yosemite from Los Angeles
- South Entrance: Driving north through Bakersfield & Fresno on Highway 99 and Oakhurst on Highway 41 leads you here in about 5 hours. The downside is that your route isn’t very pretty until you pass out of the valley and hit the Sierras at the very end.
- Tioga Pass Entrance: If you like a long, scenic drive, the almost-6 hour route to Tioga Pass is well worth it for the scenery. You’ll be driving past Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and the Eastern Sierras with plenty of opportunities to pull off for a pit stop or jump in a hot spring! Be sure to stop at June Lake, Bodie Ghost Town, and Travertine Hot Springs – read more.
Coming to Yosemite from Nevada or the Eastern Sierras
- Tioga Pass Entrance: This is the only eastern entrance to Yosemite, and it’s only passable to the rest of the park during the summer months. You’ll be close to Tuolumne Meadows, but it’s nearly a two-hour drive down into Yosemite Valley. The closest town to stay in is tiny Lee Vining, or you can drive all the way through the park and basing yourself near a more accessible western entrance.
Where to Stay Near Yosemite by Park Entrance
We’ve selected a few options depending on which entrance you want to be closest to, so you can pick the perfect place to enter the park. Keep in mind that driving in between park entrances in Yosemite can take quite a while so factor in what’s close or far from your entrance when figuring out your itinerary!
Although there are a lot of options, if you want to save some time we have a recommendation for what we consider the best place to stay near Yosemite: Rush Creek Lodge, near the Big Flat Oak entrance. We’ve included a full review of Rush Creek at the end of this post!
Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance
The Big Oak Flat Entrance sits on Yosemite’s west side along Highway 120, and is one of the entrances that’s easily accessible from the Bay Area via Modesto. From the Big Oak Flat Entrance, it’s about a 25 mile drive to Yosemite Valley.
Driving into the park from this entrance will take you past the trailhead for the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias before meeting the junction with Tioga Road.
In the summer, you can take Tioga Road all the way up through the park into Tuolumne Meadows, a high-elevation meadow with miles and miles of glorious alpine trails on the far eastern side of the park. The drive is stunning, but leave yourself plenty of time to drive back down again!
Heading the other direction at the junction on Big Oak Flat Road, you’ll converge with other roads near the entrance to Yosemite Valley — full of incredible views, park highlights, and of course, crowds.
If you plan to enter from the Big Oak Flat entrance, the closest town will be Groveland. It’s an hour’s drive from the park entrance and was founded in the 1840s, and has maintained it’s Gold Rush-era appearance ever since. It was known for its first few decades as a slightly rough and tumble mining town dotted with brothels. It became a bit more reputable in the second half of the 19th century during the California Gold Rush and later in the early 20th century served as a home for men building the dam at Hetch Hetchy. Staying in Groveland is a bit like stepping back in time to what it would have been like to visit the park 100 years ago!
Here are our recommendations for where to stay near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance:
- Rush Creek Lodge: This is our #1 pick for where to stay near Yosemite National Park, just minutes from the park entrance. The lodge itself is stunning, with amenities like a pool and hot tub, unlimited s’mores, a gorgeous spa, and tours in and out of the park. Plus, the lodge is a Social Enterprise and certified B-Corporation with a social mission and a program that provides jobs to urban youth – we LOVE supporting them. We’ve included a full review below gushing about why we love this lodge – scroll down to take a look.
- Charming Mountain View Cabin: The windows on this cabin — I mean, come ON! If you want wooded views, lots of light, and a spacious private balcony, this is the place for you. Just outside of Groveland, this cabin sleeps 6 and provides all the comforts of home. It’s also part of a gated community that provides access to amenities – fishing, golf, archery, private trails, and a pool!
- Groveland Hotel: If staying in the middle of a historic Gold Rush town sounds like the move to you, stay at the adorable Groveland Hotel. The building was originally a trading post from 1849 and has had many identities since, and is located right next door to the Iron Door Saloon – California’s longest continuously operating bar. Lucky for you, it’s now a super cute hotel! The hotel features lovely rooms, live music, a gorgeous patio, and a taproom with local beer, cider, and wine.
Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance (aka El Portal)
The iconic Arch Rock Entrance makes for one of the most dramatic entrances to the park, through a precariously balanced rock arch that feels like a portal to a mysterious valley. It’s the closest entrance to the Yosemite Valley and all of its amenities, like Curry Village, the Ahwahnee, the Visitor’s Center, several campgrounds and trailhead entrances, and many of the best views in the park. Many visitors choose to stay in this area as it has the most amenities and the El Portal gate leads directly into the Yosemite Valley.
Entering the park through Arch Rock will take you along the clear, glacial waters of the Merced River before meeting up with the main loop inside Yosemite Valley. The short, scenic drive means you can hit the most popular trails before the crowds arrive.
Outside the El Portal/Arch Rock entrance are several small towns. The largest town on this side is Mariposa (about an hour from the park). It has a small “western town” downtown area with some souvenir shops as well as a few restaurants and bars, though most close by 9 or 10 pm.
Here are a few yummy spots to eat and drink in Mariposa worth a stop:
The El Portal entrance is just west of the small towns of Mariposa and El Portal, small communities in the Merced River Canyon along Highway 140. El Portal is only 30 minutes from Yosemite Valley, and with several options for dining and lodging, it’s a great place to stay. But Mariposa is larger with more amenities and lodging options – though it’s a further drive from the park entrance!
To the east of Mariposa is Midpines, which has no more than a few hotels randomly dotting the highway. After that, you’ll find Incline and the town of El Portal. Prices for hotels generally rise the closer you get to the park entrance.
Here are our recommendations for where to stay near Yosemite’s El Portal entrance:
- Yosemite View Lodge: Yosemite View Lodge’s name doesn’t lie — seriously, the views from this place are incredible. Just two miles from Yosemite’s Arch Rock entrance, this is the hotel for those who want to get to the park in a hurry. It’s also close to (limited) shops and dining in El Portal.
- Indian Flat RV Park & Campground: Indian Flat Campground is still less than 15 minutes from the park entrance. It’s a great option if you’re interested in camping or RV parking, and they also have a couple of tent cabins and cottages.
- Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort: Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort is 35 minutes outside of the park, but it’s got a range of accommodations that can suit tighter budgets, including tent cabins. You’ll find a spa with hot tubs, massages, saunas and yoga as well as and the adorably named June Bug Cafe onsite, where guests can get locally sourced dinners, breakfast, and to-go lunches made with fresh California ingredients.
- AutoCamp in Midpines is a hipster interior design dream, with trendy lux safari-style tents or modernized Airstream trailers for phenomenal glamping – all with mountain views and private patios. The hotel has a pool, beer and wine tastings, a hip lobby, a shop, bike rentals and more. It can be a little pricey, but it’s a destination unto itself. Plus, it’s pet-friendly!
Can’t find any availability near El Portal? If you go west (further from the park) from Mariposa, you hit Merced, an old railroad town where guests would spend the night in the late 1800s before beginning the wagon ride the next day to the Yosemite Valley. Today, it’s about 90 minutes by car from the park entrance. While it’s not a large city, it does have enough restaurants, wineries, bars, and shops that you won’t have to eat dinner at the same place twice. There are also plenty of chain hotels here, which means a higher likelihood of snagging a room during the high season.
Yosemite’s South Entrance
Yosemite’s South Entrance is where you’ll head if you’re coming from — you guessed it — the south. This entrance is about an hour north of Fresno and 30 minutes north of Oakhurst — but if you want to stay closer to the park, there are plenty of great options within a couple miles of the entrance in Fish Camp and Yosemite Forks. Just 5 minutes from the park entrance in Fish Camp you’ll find a quaint general store, the Pioneer Yosemite History Museum, and the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.You can also stay within the park at Yosemite West.
After entering Yosemite’s South Entrance, you’ll drive through Wawona, a settlement in a beautiful basin with several attractions, including the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, Chilnualna Falls, and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
From Wawona, it’s about an hour’s drive to Yosemite Valley, passing several trailheads on the way. Along the drive you’ll pass through Wawona Tunnel and the famous Tunnel View (made famous by Ansel Adam) — a major highlight of this route into the park. The highway tunnel itself is the longest in California, but it’s the view that’s iconic! Pull over to appreciate the sweeping view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.
Here’s where to stay near Yosemite’s South Entrance:
- Tenaya Lodge: Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp is a bit of a splurge, but for good reason. This hotel offers spacious rooms, a luxurious spa, yoga classes, guided hikes, indoor and outdoor pools, and a range of onsite dining options. It’s also just 10 minutes from the park, though you may never feel the need to ever leave the lodge!
- Narrow Gauge Inn: The Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp is a rustic but quaint hotel 10 minutes from the South Gate Entrance. The grounds and gardens are impeccable, complete with a creekside trail. There’s also a pool, hot tub, and onsite dining.
- This rustic cottage is a vacation rental located INSIDE Yosemite National Park in the small community of Yosemite West. The Crafstman details and whirlpool tub are great and all, but look at that VIEW! You’re right in the heart of Yosemite – it doesn’t get any more incredible than that. Located at 6000′ of elevation, you’ll be close to Yosemite Valley and a 90-minute drive to Tuolumne Meadows through mountain vistas, alpine lakes, and forests of giant sequoia trees.
- Summerdale Campground: Summerdale Campground is only a mile and half from Yosemite, though you wouldn’t know it based on how private it seems. There aren’t any special amenities here, but the setting is gorgeous, with wildflower meadows and Big Creek flowing by. If campsites are full in the valley (which is typical), this is great option close by.
Yosemite’s Hetch-Hetchy Entrance
The Hetch-Hetchy entrance to Yosemite is tucked away in the park’s quiet northwest corner. This entrance has limited hours, so check ahead of time to make sure it’s open.
If you plan to visit Hetch Hetchy, the closest town will be Groveland. It’s an hour’s drive from the park entrance and was founded during the Gold Rush. Staying in Groveland is a bit like stepping back in time to what it would have been like to visit the park 100 years ago, complete with a visit to th Iron Door Saloon, California’s longest continuously operating bar.
Also note that this entrance is isolated from the rest of the park — from this entrance, you can only access Hetch Hetchy Valley and its trails. To get to Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne meadows by car, you’ll have to leave the park and come in a different entrance. To get here, you’ll make a left turn one mile before the Big Oak Flat entrance.
Because of this area’s relatively low elevation, the trails here are accessible for a longer season. This is also a great area visit if you’re into waterfalls — it’s got lots of ‘em! There are plenty of hikes you can access from this entrance: Wapama Falls, Smith Peak, and the Poopenaut Trail (heh) are all excellent destinations.
This entrance is a little out of the way, but still a gorgeous place to visit. And if you’re seeking some peace and quiet, this might be the place for you.
- Evergreen Lodge: If you’re interested in staying in this quieter corner of the park, there are two reasons you’ll want to check out Evergreen Lodge: One, there aren’t many other options, and two, it’s paradise. Evergreen Lodge is a collection of cabins nestled into the woods just outside the park. When not enjoying the park, you can soak in the natural solitude outside your cabin (each has a private balcony) or join any of the lodge’s myriad activities — s’mores, stargazing, s’mores, disc golf, live music, and, um, s’mores. Plus, the lodge is a Social Enterprise and certified B-Corporation with a social mission and a program that provides jobs to urban youth – we LOVE supporting them.
Tioga Pass Entrance
The Tioga Pass Entrance is the only entrance on the eastern side of the park, so if you’re coming from anywhere on the eastern side of the Sierra or from anywhere east of California, you’ll be coming through this entrance.
Driving into Yosemite via Tioga Pass begins with a long, scenic climb up from the Mono Basin. You’ll pass a couple of lakes and trailheads before entering the park. This entrance sits at close to 10,000 feet in elevation, and the landscape is dramatically different from the basin below.
Continuing on Tioga Road through Yosemite takes you through the wonderland of Tuolumne Meadows, with its alpine lakes, granite peaks, and thinner crowds. After crossing Tuolumne Meadows, you can hop on Big Flat Road and head back east into Yosemite Valley – but note that it will typically take a few hours to get down into Yosemite Valley from the Tioga Pass entrance!
One notable exception is during the winter months when heavy Sierra snow closes Tioga Road and you won’t be able to drive into or through the park from this route. When the road is open depends on snow conditions each year, though I would check the road conditions if you’re trip is between October/November through May/June. If there’s any snow at a high altitude in the Sierra Nevadas, Tioga Pass is typically closed and impassable.
While most accommodations outside of the Tioga Pass Road will require a significant drive over the mountain pass, there’s no shortage of scenery and things to do on the way! You’ll most likely want to base yourself in the eastern Sierra town of Lee Vining, but if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, Mono Lake, Bridgeport, or June Lake are all within an hour’s drive of the park entrance – though allow for another few hours if you’re heading down into Yosemite Valley. (June Lake is also one of my all-time favorite weekend getaways in Northern California, especially during the fall! Read our June Lake travel guide.)
Here are the best places to stay near the Tioga Pass entrance of Yosemite:
- Lake View Lodge: Lake View Lodge is in the little town of Lee Vining, just 13 miles from the park entrance. The lodge has a variety of accommodations — rooms, cabins, and cottages — and is within walking distance of Lee Vining’s restaurants. The lodge is surrounded by a beautiful parklike lawn – perfect for watching the sunrise or relaxing after the day’s adventure. Stop by Latte Da Coffee Cafe for a coffee and head into the park early!
- This gorgeous vacation rental in Mammoth Lakes is perfect for a group stay. You’ll be in the park in under an hour, and LOOK at this place! Everything about this modern ski cabin is luxe, from the decor to the sauna to the pool.
- This dog-friendly Mountain Chalet in June Lake has huge vaulted windows and a gorgeous deck looking directly out on a sheer mountain face with a gushing natural waterfall! The decor is perfectly log cabin themed, and with 4 bedrooms, it’s the perfect pick for a group trip. (Read our June Lake travel guide for more!)
- Heidelberg Inn is where old movie stars used to stay in June Lake. It’s within walking distance to everything, and has a beautiful view of the lake itself!
- Virginia Creek Settlement: Staying at the Virginia Creek Settlement in Bridgeport is like stepping back in time — in the best way. You can choose to stay in a motel, cabin, or even a covered wagon – just like ye olde ’49ers hauled over the Sierras in search of Gold. Eureka! The Settlement sits along the Virginia Creek, a peaceful setting for enjoying an evening campfire around one of the many fire pits. There’s also a restaurant onsite with hearty options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Travel Tip: While you’re in the area, don’t miss a dip in the natural hot springs nearby: Travertine and Wild Willy’s. You’re also close to Mono Lake, with its otherworldly tufas, and the scenic June Lake Loop. There is also a ton of gorgeous hiking in the area – check out our Eastern Sierra hiking guide for details!
Glamping & Camping in Yosemite National Park
Every year, 6 months in advance, Jeremy and I schedule an alarm on our phones to alert us that the campsites inside Yosemite Valley have opened up for reservations in the summer. And then… we attempt to book campsites. In Yosemite. During the summer.
If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing our frustration, let me explain: EVERYONE wants to camp in Yosemite Valley during the summer. Like, all 7 million of us here in the Bay Area, PLUS a everyone else in the country.
And there simply aren’t enough campsites to go around (*insert pointed political commentary about the housing shortage in the Bay Area here*).
Still, although it’s frustrating and nerve-wracking, it’s well worth it. The campgrounds in Yosemite are phenomenal, and being able to wake up to the sheer granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley on all sides is a bucket list dream come true.
Yosemite National Park has 13 maintained campgrounds with modern bathrooms, potable water, fire pits, and designated sites. Expert hikers can also opt for backcountry camping, and non-expert campers can try canvas tent glamping in tent cabins. RVs are allowed in all drive-in campgrounds, but you’ll need to make sure the site you’ve reserved will fit your vehicle.
Oh, and one tip for the campground lotteries: book in the off-season! Your chances. of snagging a tent cabin in December are pretty darn high! Just … bring a down sleeping bag or two 😉
Glamping in Yosemite National Park
There are two options for glamping in Yosemite Valley:
- At Curry Village, you’ll find over 100 raised, permanent canvas tents with cot-style beds and mattresses, though you’ll need to bring your own (warm) sleeping bag! Not all sites have private fire pits or picnic tables, but you can walk to a large camp store, cafeteria, and bar/restaurant. Note that the tents are very close to each other, and though they have “quiet hours” after 9 p.m., it’s still easy to hear noise from your fellow campers. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want to bring earplugs. You can even glamp at Curry Village in the winter: some cabins are heated, and for. the unheated cabins, you’ll only pay the evening temerature.
- The 266 cabins at Housekeeping Camp are located near sandy beaches along the Merced River. Each 3-sided concrete structure has a privacy curtain, cots with mattresses, electrical outlets, and a covered patio and firepit – it’s honestly pretty cushy. You’ll be walking distance to a camp store, and best of all, you’ll have phenomenal views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome! Try. to snag a riverfront unit, if you can.
There’s also one option for glamping on the eastern side of the park:
- In Tuolumne Meadows near the eastern entrance at Tioga Pass, you can glamp during the summer at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge*, roughly 60 miles from the Yosemite Valley. Tents can fit up to four guests, and are equipped with wood-burning stoves (firewood included) but no electricity. You’ll eat meals in the riverside dining tent.
*Closed summer 2021
Camping in Yosemite National Park
Maintained campsites are spread throughout the park, and nearly all require a reservation. They fill up very far in advance (months or up to a year out), so it’s best to make your reservations as soon as possible on Recreation.gov. These are not hike-in campsites with the exception of Camp 4, where you’ll have to park about 100 yards from your campsite.
- Camping In Yosemite Valley: Options in the Valley include Camp 4* and the North, Upper, and Lower Pines campgrounds. Upper Pines is the only one open year-round. Reservations are required for all, though a few day-off sites may be available if you wait at the ranger office around 6 a.m. *Camp 4 is normally first-come, first-serve but is currently operating a daily campsite lottery one day in advance.
- Camping North of Yosemite Valley: your campsite options are Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat, and Tuolumne Meadows. It’s best to check a campsite map to figure out where in the park you want to stay. Except for Hodgdon Meadow, these sites are only open in the summer and fall, though early or late-season snowfall can drastically change the opening and closing dates. Check this page for current statuses. When open, the sites offer a mix of reservable and first-come, first-serve sites.
- Camping South of Yosemite Valley: South of Yosemite Valley are the Wawona campground and Bridalveil Creek campground; the latter is a good option reasonably close to the Yosemite Valley if all campgrounds in the valley are full.
- Backcountry Camping in Yosemite: Unlike other national parks, backcountry camping in Yosemite doesn’t need to be in a backcountry campsite. You will need a wilderness permit, and you’ll need to declare your dates and select a trailhead to start from in advance. However, there are no designated backcountry campsites so you can camp anywhere you want along your route. Note that backcountry hikers will find no resources, no amenities, and no assistance along their routes. You’ll need to pack in everything you’ll need, including food and water. Many of Yosemite’s backcountry trails are roughly maintained and include significant elevation changes, so novice hikers or backpackers should not attempt multi-day routes.
If you manage to snag a camping spot in Yosemite (you lucky duck!), head over to our camping essentials guide to make sure you don’t forget anything!
Review: Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite National Park
Out of all the options on our list, we have one favorite option that we highly recommend: Rush Creek Lodge near the Big Oak Flat entrance of Yosemite National Park, on the west side. We’ve included a full review below.
Rush Creek Lodge is located a hop, skip and a jump away from the entrance of Yosemite National Park. It’s literally like a 5 minute drive from the entrance on Highway 120. Which means it’s pretty much the closest you can get to the park without actually staying INSIDE Yosemite. We’ve done both, for what it’s worth. We still recommend Rush Creek Lodge. Just sayin’.
The lodge itself is actually brand new, and is the first lodge near Yosemite to open in over 25 years. It’s also a sister property to the older and more established Evergreen Lodge.
Rush Creek Lodge has the aesthetic of every lodge I’ve ever loved: everything is wood, pine, burlap, and plaid. There are mirrors in decorative wood slice frames. There is wood trim on EVERYTHING, which makes the entire lodge just smell like wood and Christmas and forest and heaven.
During our visit in December, the lodge was decorated like a lumberjack Christmas playland. The grounds were decorated with twinkling Christmas lights and giant hanging wooden carved snowflakes.
It made me want to wear flannel and skip around chopping down trees and hugging stumps, or whatever lumberjacks do. FWIW, I did not chop down any trees during our time at Rush Creek Lodge, but I did wear a LOT of flannel.
Why We Love Rush Creek Lodge
It’s hard to say what our favorite thing about our stay at Rush Creek was, because there was so much to fall in love with.
Maybe our favorite thing was the cozy lodge, filled with board games and books and a crackling fire. We spent one cozy night curled up on one of the couches playing a Carmen Sandiego card game (by the way, can we just talk about how awesome Carmen Sandiego is? She’s like, my favorite bada$$ imaginary travel babe, and it’s not just because we both have cartoony rhyming names. She’s so fierce and fabulous! But I’m getting off topic).
Anyway, maybe it was the cozy lodge and game room. But maybe it was the incredible spa services (you guys, it was our anniversary! #treatyoself). Jeremy described his Signature Massage as “the best massage of his life,” with that I’m-so-relaxed-right-now voice and droopy eyelid thing you only get after you just fell asleep on someone’s massage table while they rubbed yummy smelling oils into your skin and placed warm, flat rocks on your back.
Or maybe our favorite thing at Rush Creek was the unlimited smores by the fire every night. Because let’s be honest, we are gluttons and it’s really easy to win us over with food. Imagine this: you’ve just spent a day snowshoeing or hiking or ice-skating in Yosemite National Park. You come back to your lodge, which is like, 8 feet away from the park entrance. And there is a bottomless, unlimited s’more buffet waiting for you, next to a crackling outdoor fire.
UM YES. THIS IS A REAL THING.
Every night at 8pm, Rush Creek allows its guests to guiltlessly indulge in a s’more-gasboard (get it?!) of bottomless gooey marshmallow and chocolate goodness. Polite employees kept coming out to refill the bowls of s’more supplies, for like, HOURS. If you’re imagining us gorging ourselves on s’mores for hours a la Spirited Away, you’re not wrong.
There is something about s’mores and fires and being outside after dark among giant, ancient sequoias that has a magical effect, and Jeremy and I are lucky enough to find ourselves in this situation frequently as avid campers. And, because we have a tendency to turn absolutely everything into a competition, over the years we’ve gotten REALLY extra about our s’mores. Every chance we get to eat a s’more is also a chance to create a ridiculous s’more recipe to try to one-up one another.
Yes, that’s right: my husband and I have been competing for years to see who can create the best s’more. Because we’re grown ups and marriage is a very mature and serious thing.
See, it’s not just about the ingredients of the s’more. It starts with the marshmallow. There are 2 strategies to marshmallow roasting. Jeremy’s approach is to carefully toast the marshmallow just outside of the flame, slowly turning it and browning it to perfection before finishing it off with a good toasting. It’s perfectly oozy with just the right amount of crunch on the outside. But it takes freaking forever.
My approach is to stick the whole marshmallow in the fire, burn it to a crisp, and then eat the oozy outside (because the middle is still totally uncooked). This way, I can go through like 5 s’mores before Jeremy even gets to eat ONE. Quantity over quality, you guys. If I’m being honest, we both know that Jeremy’s way is better. I just have no patience.
One of our favorite s’more recipes is something we call the S’maurice. What you do is sandwich a Reese’s cup between 2 toasted marshmallows on your graham cracker. The Reese’s melts WAY better than plain old Hershey’s chocolate, and the 2 marshmallows balance out the chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
Did I just blow your mind?
Here’s anotha one, to quote DJ Khaled. Get a sea salt caramel filled Ghirardelli square. Use that instead of plain chocolate. BOOM.
Our s’mores cookbook will be coming out any day now.
Anyway, unlimited s’mores are definitely close to the top of the Things We Love About Rush Creek Lodge list. Which is honestly sort of a very long list.
Also, and this is a weird thing to rave about, but Rush Creek’s soap smells AMAZING. It’s sort of like the scent of fir, spruce, cedar, and Christmas all mixed with forest lodge smell. Like they bottled the concept of a lodge in Yosemite and created soap out of it. It’s not just the soap, either: the whole suite of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash smells like forest heaven. They’re all in sustainable and zero-waste friendly reusable bottles, which is great for the environment but bad for me because it means I can’t swipe a bunch of bottles like I’m Ross from Friends and take them all home with me to recreate a forest in my own shower (you CAN buy some from the gift shop, though, which we obviously did).
Clearly there’s a LOT to love about Rush Creek Lodge. But I’ve actually saved the best for last.
Rush Creek Lodge’s Social Enterprise Mission
Hands down, our favorite thing about Rush Creek Lodge, and why we were SO excited to have the chance to stay there, is their social philosophy. Rush Creek, and its sister Evergreen Lodge, are both social enterprises. What that means is that their Social Mission is at the core of everything they do. For the owners of Rush Creek, a business isn’t just about earning money: it’s about being a force for social good. A steward of social change. Using business as a platform to actually create and drive positive change in the world.
Rush Creek is a living embodiment of all of our beliefs in one stunning, cozy lodge. And we could not be more excited about this place, you guys.
There are 2 facets of Rush Creek’s social stewardship. There’s an environmental component, committed to energy conservation and environmentally sustainable practices. Hence why there are no disposable containers of delicious smelling forest-scented soap for me to squirrel away.
The other facet of Rush Creek’s mission is the amazing Youth Program. Rush Creek and Evergreen lodge hire young people from urban backgrounds to work as paid seasonal interns, living and working in the lodge. They learn valuable skills and gain experience while learning to love and appreciate the outdoors and spend the summer exploring Yosemite National Park, right in their backyard.
This project is incredibly close to our hearts, as Jeremy is a teacher at an urban high school. We’ll actually be encouraging his students to apply to the Youth Program. How cool is it that our worlds can intersect like this, Jeremy’s teaching and my travel blogging? I hope one day that one of our readers visits Rush Creek Lodge and meet one of Jeremy’s amazing students!
So yeah – that’s our favorite thing about Rush Creek Lodge. Yes, even more than unlimited s’mores.
But Rush Creek Lodge is more than just unlimited s’mores, incredible massages, yummy smelling soap and doing good in the world. Is it even fair to be this amazing?!
Rush Creek Lodge also offers activities to help its guests enjoy and explore Yosemite National Park in all seasons. During our stay, we took a guided hike to a gorgeous Sequoia Grove.
Our tour guide was a wealth of knowledge about the park: the history, the ecology, the cultural background, everything. She knew it all. As we hiked, she pointed out different types of birds flying high in the redwoods, told us stories about how the park came to be, and pointed out the signs of damage from fires and climate change. She literally knew every tree in the park. Like we could point to a single pine needle and be like “what’s that” and she’d be like “oh, that’s a Sugar Pine. Here, you can eat it, it tastes like how the soap at Rush Creek Lodge smells.” It totally did, y’all.
Sadly, it did not snow during our stay. But if it had, we could have gone on a guided snowshoe adventure. Some of the other activities we didn’t get a chance to participate in during our stay:
- Guided hikes
- Hot tubbing
- California craft beer tasting
- Making a pet rock
- Painting with 3D snow paint
Ok, the last 2 were for kids, but I TOTALLY would have loved them.
We left Rush Creek Lodge wishing we could stay longer, and dying to come back again. And you know what? Now that we know where to stay near Yosemite, I think we might just brave the summer crowds this year.
Practical Information About Rush Creek Lodge
- Address: 34001 CA-120, Groveland, CA 95321
- Price Range: From $176 in low season.
Where did you decide to stay near Yosemite National Park? Did you book Rush Creek just for the unlimited s’mores? Drop us a comment below!
Looking for more USA inspiration? We have a MASSIVE travel guide for all our favorite places in the US and handy advice, packing tips and travel guides. Click the link below to download!
Hey, while you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, why not check out some of our other posts?
- 14 Epic Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California and 12 Stunning Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California in Winter
- The Ultimate Lake Tahoe Summer Guide: Complete Guide to the Perfect Summer at Lake Tahoe
- How to Plan an Amazing Lake Tahoe Winter Trip (on a Budget)
- The 10 Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco, California: A Local’s Guide
Hey, did you find this post useful? Save it for later on Pinterest!
Disclaimer: This post was originally created as part of an uncompensated collaboration with Rush Creek Lodge and Mazda and has since been updated. Although we were hosted guests, all opinions, s’more obsessions, and suggestions of soap-thievery are 100% our own and totally not their fault.