As our snowshoes crushed through sheets of ice just outside Yosemite National Park, our guide, Ian, told us we were trekking about 200 feet from a black bear’s home. Beams of light searched through darkness to reveal evergreens resting in cool stillness. “Don’t worry,” he said, though I’m not sure his words had the power he hoped. “He’s too smart to bother tourists and besides, he’s probably sleeping.” He pointed his flashlight at a bulbous root mass of trees, rising like a wooden moon among fallen pines, a type of shelter in which some Yosemite bears hibernate.
We couldn’t see the stars that evening because of the clouds, but Yosemite night is different from Yosemite day and Ian, from Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, a resort about two miles from Yosemite National Park’s South Gate, patiently explained to us city folk about the various elements we encountered as we stomped through the snow on our Flashlight Evening Snowshoe Hike.
Ian pointed to a group of trees. “White Fir are the weed of the forest because 95 percent of them will grow when the seeds hit the ground.” Our seven flashlights, two from my boys, two from me and my husband, two from a couple visiting from Riverside and Ian’s, spotlighted the prolific mountain dwellers and we wondered if rangers ever tried to pull them out of the ground like regular weeds. Or maybe that was just me.
The nightly, guided nature walks are just one of the many offerings the Tenaya Lodge makes available to guests who want to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Yosemite experience but who also want to hold onto the comfort and luxury portion of their vacation. Earlier, we all strapped on our snowshoes and as we walked the paths behind the property’s main building, we enjoyed the satisfying sound of crunching snow as the claws under our contraptions cut through the surface and prevented us from slipping.
Ian pointed to another group of trees he identified as Ponderosa Pines and said many of them were being invaded and killed by Japanese Bark Beetles. He told us our bear friend enjoyed munching on the dead pines “like candy” to get at the beetles. We hoped that would satisfy his hunger and he was peacefully snoozing his way through winter.
After the excitement of our nocturnal adventure, the boys rushed to the on-site, covered ice skating rink where we all changed into skates and sped around as fast as our shaky balance would allow. A game of sharks and minnows upped the thrill and many spills were taken by those whose heart was really in the game. Just outside the rink, a giant fire licked flames beneath the shadowy evergreens in a pit perfect for toasting marshmallows. We bought s’mores kits from the hotel market and with our sticky fingers and mouths, we called it a night.
It’s experiences like these that Delaware North, the owners and operators of Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, desired to bring to visitors since buying the property in 2001. Sinking millions of dollars into the resort for renovations and upgrades since, they also just built 50 stand-alone, two-bedroom Explorer Cabins that will offer guests a more intimate experience of Yosemite. This area will also have its own community club house called the Explorer Clubhouse that will have a library, board games and special events like wine tastings. Cabin guests will also have access to all the amenities in the 75-acre resort like the five on-site restaurants, the indoor and outdoor pools, the three hot tubs and the Kid’s Adventure Club. These will be available to rent starting May 24, but July is already sold out.
The main part of the lodge has 240 rooms and 57 cottages, all renovated in 2016. The room sizes range from 350 square feet to 850 and some are in an adults-only section of the lodge with rooms specially designed by the Puccini Group to have what looked like a “mountain modern” feel. The cottages are located a bit below the main lodge with fireplaces and rain showers.
We stayed in the Spa Room of the main lodge with a private balcony overlooking the Kid’s Adventure Club, closed for winter. It included a tempting ropes course and a sledding area that didn’t yet have enough snow to open. Our spacious bathroom had a whirlpool tub next to a wall of shutters that opened to the living area and from which the forest draped its beauty over the balcony.
Another, not to miss experience at the main lodge is the 10,000-square-foot Ascent Spa. The spa is LEED certified, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and they go out of their way to set the standard not only for green practice but also for responsible consumerism. The gift shop tries to retail products from companies which only use organic ingredients and give back to the community. This is the place you go if you want to treat your body to an experience that will help it melt into its healing zone. All that bickering between the kids? Forgotten. That guy that cut you off in traffic? Hope he got to where he was going on time. For your one-hour treatment, plus however long you can manage to stay in the hot tub and sauna, you get to smell beautiful scents and relax with a medley of plucking sounds.
When you’re ready to check out Yosemite National Park, a great first stop is the Tunnel View Overlook. The hotel tour guide who recommended it told us it was the most photographed site in Yosemite and when we got there, we could see why. After arriving at the South Gate of the park, off Route 41, the road transforms to Wawona Road and it’s a straight 40-minute shot to the longest tunnel in California, Wawona Tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, on the left, is a parking lot and a walled walkway where Yosemite Valley stretches before you with El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall right before you.
The Tenaya Lodge also offers half- and full-day tours of Yosemite Park. You can be one of the first to try out the open-air buses in the newly expanded fleet. There’s no better way to see El Capitan and Half Dome unless you’re climbing them.
As you drive out of the Tenaya Lodge parking lot onto Route 41 and see the charred remains of trees after the Railroad Fire, you remember what Ian told you, about the beautiful surrounding Sequoias and how their cones couldn’t open to spawn without the power of fire. Then, as you look around the monolithic trees covering the hills around the road, you might wonder how many have bears making dens around them.