Where to Stay near Yosemite

By Santorini Dave

Our Favorite Hotels Near Yosemite National Park
• Five Star: The Ahwahnee Yosemite
• Boutique: El Capitan Hotel
• Cheap: Mariposa Hotel Inn
• Family Hotel: The Pines Resort
• Best Hotel Pool: Tenaya at Yosemite
• Driving in from Los Angeles (SoCal): Château du Sureau
• Driving in from San Francisco (NoCal): Hotel Charlotte

The Best Areas to Stay Near Yosemite National Park

Walking a mile through a wooded trailhead to see Yosemite Falls reveal itself within a spectacular frame of pine trees is just one of the dramatic, awe-inspiring moments that make a visit to Yosemite National Park a true bucket list destination in California. One of the oldest and most visited national parks in the United States, Yosemite is an engaging natural wonder among the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Spanning nearly 1,170 square miles, Yosemite National Park can seem overwhelming at first. However, the vast majority of visitors stick to Yosemite Valley, a seven-square-mile area around the Merced River. It represents just a fraction of what the park has to offer, but is an efficient and easy-to-navigate adventure for first timers. Other parts of the park are more remote and better suited for experienced, returning visitors.

Traffic depends on the time of day – and time of year – more than distance. Lines are notoriously long leading into Yosemite Valley. The earlier in the morning you arrive, the better. Otherwise, expect a fair share of bumper-to-bumper frustration. Yosemite is open 24 hours, but it’s best to drive during daylight hours. The tight and winding mountain roads don’t always have guardrails, making them dangerous to handle after dark.

Summer is the busiest season with the largest crowds. Demand also spikes in February with weekend passes required to see the “Natural Firefall” – a phenomenon that occurs when the sun is aligned just right, allowing the waters of Horsetail Fall to glow in red and orange at sunset. Spring has the best weather and flowing waterfalls, thanks to a fresh-melting snowpack. Fall has mild weather too, but the waterfalls sometimes run dry or dwindle dramatically by this point in the year. The snowy landscapes of winter are a beautiful sight, but the frigid chill isn’t for everyone.

The land, described by Teddy Rosevelt as a “great solemn cathedral,” has some of the most celebrated hiking in the world with dramatic shifts in elevation, from rugged mountains and tree-covered hillsides to deep valleys and majestic river-scapes. While Yosemite is a dream come true for campers and backpackers, the hotels in the area are generally preferred by most tourists and families. Picking one is often about finding the right balance between accommodations, affordability and location.

• Best Luxury Hotel near Yosemite National Park:
The Ahwahnee Yosemite

• Best Honeymoon Hotels for Couples near Yosemite National Park:
El Capitan Hotel • Château du Sureau

• Best Historic Hotels near Yosemite National Park:
Mariposa Hotel Inn • Hotel Charlotte

• Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels near Yosemite National Park:
Yosemite Valley Lodge • Best Western Plus • Yosemite View Lodge • Chukchansi Gold Resort • Curry Village

• Best Hotels for Families near Yosemite National Park:
The Pines Resort • Tenaya at Yosemite
Where to Stay in and Near Yosemite National Park for…

• Best Area for a First Timer: Yosemite Valley
Most first-time visitors gravitate to Yosemite Valley, which offers a “greatest hits” of the national park’s features. Ride a free shuttle throughout a relatively small seven-mile-long space and you’ll have easy access to view the park’s most iconic landmarks. Yosemite Falls, which is actually three waterfalls in one, is collectively ten times taller than Niagra Falls. The skyscraping Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations are stunning backdrops for photo takers, while the strenuous treks required to reach their summits are best left for experienced hikers. The Tunnel View overlook, accessible by car, is a far easier alternative for soaking in the sights. The valley has its own hotels, restaurants, shops and parking, which bring added convenience to those focused on hiking, biking, fishing and rafting.

• Best Areas for History and Sightseeing: Mariposa and Groveland
Pay attention and you’ll discover traces of California’s gold-rush mining history in the communities that surround Yosemite National Park. Mariposa, near the south entrance between Merced and El Portal, feels like a town lost in time, between its Victorian architecture, boardwalk sidewalks and Old West watering holes, including the Hideout Saloon behind the Mariposa Hotel Inn. The Mariposa Museum & History Center takes a deep dive into the town’s mining legacy with a stamp mill and other preserved equipment on display outside. Some restaurants (like the Charles Street Dinner House) operate in restored buildings from the 1800s. Groveland, up north near the Hetch Hetchy Dam, has a similar throwback feel, especially when having lunch or enjoying the live entertainment at the Iron Door Saloon and spending a night at the renovated Hotel Charlotte. Drive in from the Bay Area and stop at the Railtown 1897 train museum in Jamestown and the Mark Twain Cabin in Sonora

• Best Area for Families: Oakhurst
Sometimes, it’s better to have “reliable” over “remote” when traveling with kids. Oakhurst strikes the right balance with familiar chains for shopping and stocking up on groceries among green rolling foothills. It’s within striking distance to Yosemite’s two southern entrances with a variety of hotels that offer breathing room from the crowds that pack the park’s most popular areas. The best option is the Pines Resort, just east of Oakhurst on Bass Lake with cabins, chalets and suites equipped with full kitchens and ample square footage. Visitors of all ages will also enjoy a ride led by a vintage locomotive through the Sierra National Forest on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad – just north of town near Fish Camp on the way to the Yosemite.

• Best Area for Dining and Nightlife: Merced
Much of the fun in Merced is connected to El Capitan Hotel, which is leading a revitalization effort in the city’s downtown district. The 144-room boutique resort is home to the farm-fresh tasting menus of Rainbird and drinks at Native Son, which serves cocktails at night and sustainably sourced coffee during the day. The hotel also operates the Mainzer, a renovated theater that hosts live music downstairs and movies upstairs with boutique furniture in place of traditional seating. Drink wine at Vinhos (paired with Mediterranean tapas) or Hi-Fi Wine (a lounge that focuses on small West Coast labels). Beer lovers will prefer the in-depth selection at the Cue Spot, a billiards hall that stays open later than most places in Merced.

• Best Area For Camping: Curry Village
Curry Village is part of the Yosemite Valley, but deserves to be singled out for its convenient and comfortable take on camping, which is especially welcome for less-experienced first-timers. The grounds have cabins, motel rooms and glamping tents with electricity, storage lockers (to keep food away from bears) and heaters in the winter. Curry Village has its own parking lot with a pass included with reservations. The campground also has bike and raft rentals, a grocery store and dining options, which include a taqueria and pizzeria. The John Muir Trail is just steps away, leading to Half Dome and some of the most rewarding hikes in the park.

• Best Area For Remote Hiking: Lee Vining and Groveland
The most famous and popular hikes are in Yosemite Valley, but 95% of the national park is considered wilderness. Some of the most beautiful hikes are along the Tioga Pass, following the Lee Vining entrance. Trek to Cloud’s Rest, Mount Hoffman, North Dome or Olmsted Point for spectacular views of Half Dome and venture to May’s Lake for serene waterside scenery. When traveling through Groveland, you can take the far northwest entrance to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, where tails and bridges wrap around the northern edge of the water with views of Wapama Falls and other dramatic rock formations. Opt for the Big Oak Flat entrance, just south of Hetch Hetchy for trails that wind through a grove of sequoias.

• Best Area Without a Car: Yosemite Valley
Most tourists drive themselves to Yosemite, but you don’t need a car to enjoy this beautiful national park.The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (commonly known as YARTS) provides shuttle service from Fresno, Merced, Sonora/Tuolumne and Mammoth Lakes to the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center with stops along the way. Even if you drive yourself, it’s encouraged to leave the car parked and use one of two free Yosemite Valley shuttle routes that travel in one-way loops with stops at popular sights and walking trails.

• Unsafe Areas of Yosemite National Park
There’s little worry about crime when visiting a remote destination like Yosemite National Park. Most concerns about safety involve bears. Sightings are frequent, although the animals tend to be skittish around humans. Beware of drawing attention with food when camping or picnicking. Campgrounds actually have “food lockers” for those staying in tents and it’s highly recommended to use them. Cellphone service is spotty, and even that description is generous. Be aware of your location when hiking, stick to established trails, bring physical maps and always have a designated meeting point. Some parts of the park have tight winding roads without much in the way of safety barriers. So even though the park is open round the clock, it’s best to limit driving to daylight hours.
The Best Towns near Yosemite National Park for Tourists

1. Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is the heart of Yosemite National Park and the main destination for most tourists. Yosemite Valley has developed over time to be incredibly easy and accessible for tourists – almost too much so, considering the crowds – with lots to see via trails and shuttle buses. Stay overnight at the upscale Ahwahnee hotel, which is like an extravagant lodge with fine dining available, or if you prefer simplicity and value, the Yosemite Valley Lodge to cut down on the travel headaches. Either way, you’ll be in close proximity to Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and other sights with opportunities for hiking, biking, and river activities.
• Best Hotels: The Ahwahnee Yosemite • Yosemite Valley Lodge • Curry Village

2. Mariposa
Mariposa marks a clearly defined balance between location and value. The old mining town is just outside the park’s southwestern gate; favoring simple, efficient motels over luxurious accommodations. However, it’s a simple, manageable town with everything on or around State Route 140, which effectively forms Mariposa’s “Main Street” while the speed limit slows to a crawl. The community mixes an Old West spirit with Victorian architecture and a touch of Mid-Century road trip culture. Mariposa is also rich in history with saloons, shops, and a small mining museum. Having a bite to eat from the massive menu at the Happy Burger Diner is a rite of passage when traveling through. You can also order food from the Hideout Saloon, hidden in the back of the Mariposa Hotel Inn. Built in 1901, it’s the oldest hotel in town.
• Best Hotels: Mariposa Hotel Inn • Best Western Plus • Yosemite View Lodge
| Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Quality Inn Yosemite Valley Gateway

3. Groveland
Road trippers from San Francisco, Sacramento and Napa will pass through Groveland while on the way to Yosemite’s two northwest entrances; a modest destination with crisp mountain air and tree-lined scenery. The town’s history dates back to the days of the California Gold Rush and still has a timeless, Old West feel. Soak in the history at Hotel Charlotte, built in the 1920s, or the Iron Door Saloon, which dates back to 1852 and is the oldest bar still operating in California. Locals love to hang out at Rainbow Pool, a swimming hole with a waterfall. Overall, Groveland is relatively quiet and inexpensive compared to other gateway towns near busier Yosemite entrances. The northern gate takes you to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which is off-limits for swimming and boating, but an inviting and captivating sight in an extremely quiet part of the national park.
• Best Hotels: Hotel Charlotte • Groveland Hotel • Berkshire Inn

4. Fish Camp
Fish Camp is within just two miles of the southern gate at Yosemite National Park, making it incredibly convenient for visitors. Driving into the park from this tiny town is the best and most immediate way to see magnificent sequoia trees, especially if you pull over and hike through Mariposa Grove, just past the gate. Fish Camp is a quiet community without a lot of shops or restaurants, but you’re trading modern perks for an immersive outdoor environment and near-instant access to Yosemite. Tenaya at Yosemite is an upscale luxury resort with three swimming pools, hot tubs, and outdoor activities like archery and horsebacking riding. Otherwise, the area, which blends into Wawona to the north, leans heavily on cabin rentals and bread-and-breakfast bookings. Find time to ride the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad with tours led by a vintage locomotive.
• Best Hotels: Tenaya at Yosemite • Narrow Gauge Inn

5. Oakhurst (South of Yosemite)
Oakhurst and its surrounding pockets illustrate a variety of options when spending the night south of Yosemite National Park. At first glance, the area appears to be little more than familiar facets of suburbia alongside rolling backcountry highways. However, some of those fast food chains and big box stores come in handy when in the middle of a road trip. The best hotels are hiding in plain sight, from the timeless Château du Sureau (a collection of French-style villas within a hillside estate) to the lakeside Pines Resort, nestled within the Sierra National Forest. A little farther south, the Chukchansi Gold Resort has a clean, well-maintained casino and a location right off State Route 41 between Yosemite and Fresno.
• Best Hotels: Château du Sureau • The Pines Resort • Chukchansi Gold Resort
| Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Holiday Inn Express • Yosemite Sierra Inn

6. Merced
If you’re looking for signs of civilization with a timeless California feel, Merced is a great option in the heart of farm-rich San Joaquin Valley. The town is going through a rejuvenation period, thanks in part to the opening of El Capitan, a vintage hotel that was remodeled and expanded in dramatic fashion with a courtyard, lounge, gym, farm-to-table cuisine, and fun touches like free souvenir packets of local seeds and vintage-style record players in some of the rooms. Spend the night and you’re within a short distance to independent shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and entertainment. Merced is also home to the newest University of California campus and has a college-town vibe with a walkable downtown district. Merced bills itself as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” although it’s a bit farther from the park entrance than other options. However, it’s a comfortable overnight stop before waking up early to visit the park and advantageous for those driving in from either northern or southern California.
• Best Hotel: El Capitan Hotel

7. Lee Vining
The tiny community of Lee Vining sits just outside Tioga Pass, the only east entrance to Yosemite National Park. It’s a useful route to help visitors from Reno, Lake Tahoe and Death Valley shave some time off their drive. The gate is also close to Mammoth Lakes and its popular ski resort. However, Tioga Pass is only open in the summer and fall, since the drive is dangerous and inaccessible during snowy months. The remote and quiet nature of Lee Vining has its charm for those who shy away from crowds and civilization. Grab lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli and walk around the edges of Mono Lake. There isn’t much in the way of fishing or swimming due to high levels of salt, but the 65-square-mile lake is a serene presence with towering tufa rock formations that emerge from the water, producing an otherworldly sight that’s a great backdrop for photos.
• Best Hotels: Lake View Lodge • Murphey’s Motel

About Santorini Dave

Santorini Dave Santorini Dave was started in 2011 by a guy who loves Greece and Europe, travel and great hotels. We're now a small team of writers and researchers dedicated to providing the best travel content on the internet. We focus on Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Greece, offering recommendations for top hotels, neighborhoods, and family-friendly hotels worldwide. Dave can be contacted at dave@santorinidave.com.