Fall getaway to Yosemite, Tenaya resort

Tenaya at Yosemite

Majestic peaks, sweeping vistas and awe-inspiring sights around every turn. Each is more breathtaking than the next. Thousand-year-old giant sequoias. A spectacular Sierra valley set against the towering landmarks of Half Dome and El Captain. All this and much more await in Yosemite National Park, created in 1894, that today includes more than 1,200 square miles of glacially carved valleys, high mountain meadows, waterfalls, lakes and a vast wilderness area in one park so grand that only in seeing it can one truly comprehend its awe. There is no other place quite like Yosemite.

A gem in California, Yosemite makes a spectacular visit any time of the year and can be reached in less than half a day by many locations including the Bay Area, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe or Reno, Nev.

Not being one for crowds, I planned a recent visit with my sister Michelle Allen and her son, Anikin, to Yosemite for mid-October to try to avoid the overcrowding and traffic jams that can plague the park in the summer.

We left Tahoe on a warmer-than-normal afternoon heading south on Highway 89 from Tahoe City along the West Shore to enjoy the fall color. We followed 89 through Hope Valley and Markleeville and over Monitor Pass, taking the scenic route to connect to Highway 395. Our destination for the night was Lee Vining at Mono Lake.

October eclipse

We planned Lee Vining as a stopping point for two reasons. First, the annual eclipse of Oct. 14 would occur the next morning and we hoped that the vast openness of the Mono Basin would provide an excellent viewing spot for the eclipse. Second, after the eclipse we could enter Yosemite from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada traveling over Tioga Pass and down to the Yosemite Valley. We could not have made a better choice.

We booked a room at the Yosemite Gateway Motel with views of Mono Lake. While the motel was comfortable and well maintained, the constant sound of the road noise along Highway 395 made for a restless night’s sleep. If you’re planning a stop in Lee Vining, I would recommend booking as far in advance as possible to get a room at one of the many hotels or motels away from the highway. We planned our stop only a few weeks out and were left with few options.

For dinner that evening, we went to one of the most popular eateries along Highway 395, located at a local gas station –  the Whoa Nellie Deli. We’ve eaten here several times before and enjoyed heaping portions of the vegetarian chili, Mahi Mahi Tacos and some of the best French fries (fried twice).

The next morning, we were up and ready for the annular eclipse having ordered our eclipse glasses weeks ahead of time. While we waited for the eclipse to start, I popped over to the Latte Da cafe for lattes and hot chocolates.

At the motel, our vista over Mono Lake did provide the perfect viewing spot to enjoy the eclipse. Afterward, we enjoyed a delicious late breakfast at The Basin Café and then headed to the Mono Basin Visitor Center to take in the exhibits and purchase an interagency pass.

I’ve traveled to enough national parks through the years to know that purchasing a pass in advance often saves time and is a better deal. For $80, you can enter all federal lands for a year rather than paying a one-time $35 entrance fee for Yosemite.

Tuolumne Meadows & Yosemite Valley

I hadn’t been to Yosemite in years, so I was looking forward to traveling through the vast high-elevation Tuolumne Meadows heading to Yosemite Valley. Our destination was the south side of the park and the Tenaya at Yosemite resort.

Purchasing our interagency pass in advance soon paid off as we were waived around the line of traffic waiting to pay the entrance fee and proceeded quickly into the park. As we drove through Tuolumne, each turn of the road brought more breathtaking scenery.

Mountain peaks reaching 10,000’ to 13,000’ in elevation were still covered in snow from last winter. Wildflowers held on into the fall with fields covered in their late-season blooms. Kayakers reveled in the still-warm waters of Tenaya Lake. We stopped at Olmstead Point for our first glimpse of Half Dome in the distance and photos before continuing.

We reached Yosemite Valley in a few hours taking in the sights of El Captain. Our original plan was to stop for lunch and spend several hours in the valley before continuing to our hotel but we were gob-smacked by the crowds in mid-October.

I’ve been to Yosemite many times in the fall when there were no crowds and it was easily accessible. But it was completely different this time. Hoards of tourists, many from overseas, crowded every parking space. Lines at the eateries stretched around every building. We decided instead to grab snacks from the store and move on to our hotel, stopping for photos at some of the vistas.

Tenaya at Yosemite

The majestic Tenaya at Yosemite resort is located only 2 miles from the south entrance of the park, making it a perfect location to enjoy Yosemite.

We were immediately impressed by the friendly and helpful staff when we pulled up to check in. The grand lobby, which was remodeled in the spring of 2023, has the feel of an inviting living room with a massive, 2-story stone fireplace and comfy seating. After checking in, we headed to our room.

Our room was spacious and comfortable with two queen beds, a refrigerator, desk and windows we could actually open to enjoy the fresh air and the warm, fall weather. After settling in, we headed down to the on-site restaurant, Jackalope’s Bar & Grill, featuring a range of menu options from breakfast to dinner. We enjoyed cocktails from the bar while we waited for our table, which was packed on a Saturday night.

After being seated, we had a hard time choosing our dinner since so many items called to us. Anikin picked chicken tenders for dinner, while my sister and I decided to enjoy a few smaller offerings. The Beet and Arugula Salad, Curry Cauliflower Bites with a Tahini yogurt sauce, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts and Blackened Mahi Tacos.

Satiated from our wonderful dinner, we skipped dessert at the restaurant to instead enjoy the complimentary s’mores. After picking up chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallows in the lobby, Anikin and my sister Michelle headed to one of the many outdoor fire pits to enjoy.

The next morning, we were up and hungry for breakfast and headed back to Jackalope’s for chocolate chip pancakes (that my nephew declared the best he’s ever had), an omelet for my sister and tasty Avocado Ciabatta Toast for myself. The espresso drinks were so good that we both ordered a second round of drinks – almond lattes for her and oat milk cappuccinos for me.

Before our trip, we had arranged an archery lesson for all of us, one of the many on-site activities guests can enjoy at Tenaya. We were impressed by the number of offerings at the resort – guided hikes (and snowshoe treks in the winter), nightly stargazing, archery lessons and mountain biking rentals.

For our lesson, we checked in at the concierge desk and a staff member then drove us down to the archery range on an electric golf cart. After a quick lesson, soon all three of us were shooting arrows at the target, something I hadn’t enjoyed since my summers spent at Girl Scout camp. I was thoroughly impressed by our instructor. Our 30 minutes on the archery range were over too soon before another staff member arrived to ferry us back to the hotel.

Our plan had originally been to return to Yosemite Valley but given the crowds we experienced the day before we changed the day’s plans, deciding instead to go to Mariposa Grove and Glacier Point for one of my favorite vistas in the park.

Shortly after leaving the resort, we spent more than 30 minutes waiting in line at the South Entrance just to enter the park. We arrived at Mariposa Grove only to discover that it had been closed due to overcrowding.

Again, I was surprised given my past visits to the park in the fall and lack of crowds. I don’t know if throngs of tourists in the fall is the new normal for the park, but it seems like this may be an unavoidable part of any visit to this spectacular location.

Tenaya resort does offer private bus tours of Yosemite and a shuttle to Yosemite Valley and I wish we had booked one. I highly recommend booking a guided tour or the shuttle to the valley and leave the driving to someone else to fully enjoy your trip.

Undaunted, we decided to head straight to Glacier Point. As I hoped, there were far fewer visitors heading to Glacier Point and we were soon walking out to the point. Half Dome takes center stage at Glacier Point, so large it’s almost as if you can reach out and touch it. Anikin and I soon realized that two waterfalls were still raging well into October – Nevada and Vernal Falls. I headed back to my car to grab my binoculars, a pair from Nocs Provisions based in Alpine Meadows, to take in the falls better and even spotted hikers at the top of Half Dome.

The visitor center at the Point was preparing to shut down for the season, so we grabbed a few souvenirs from our visit before heading back to Tenaya. I have to say that we spent almost as much time fighting traffic and the crowds as we did taking in the sights at Yosemite, making us even more grateful that we were staying at Tenaya.

We were happy to return to Tenaya and had promised Anikin we could spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. While the outdoor pool was still open, we decided to head to the heated indoor pool and hot tubs. It was serene and relaxing, with only one other family at the pool. After a hour at the pool, my sister and I enjoyed another of the resort’s amenities – complimentary use of the spa’s steam room and sauna – before showering and head back to Jackalope for dinner.

It was Sunday night and most of the resort was nearly deserted by the weekend’s visitors. We were seated within a few minutes and ordered espresso martinis and the Baguette and Caramelized Onion Dip to start. It was heavenly and Michelle and I ate every last bite of the dip.

For dinner, my sister ordered the tasty Charred Harris Ranch Filet, which she shared with Anikin. I ordered the Grilled Broccoli Steak but was disappointed with the dish. It was underwhelming with a half-head of broccoli that lacked seasoning accompanied by an tiny helping of olive tapenade and grilled baguette. A vegetarian meal that lacked both taste and any protein. It was the only part of the visit to Tenaya that disappointed me.

We repeated our dessert plan after dinner, heading to the lobby to pick up fixings for s’mores and then out to the fire pits.

Breakfast the next morning was a repeat of the previous day with a delicious and hearty breakfast at Jackalope’s before checking out and starting our drive home.

I would highly recommend staying at Tenaya at Yosemite to anyone planning a trip to enjoy this national treasure. And I recommend booking a private bus tour of the park to make the most of your visit and taking in as many of the resort’s spectacular amenities as you can during your visit. | visittenaya.com