When dignitaries visit Yosemite National Park, they bunk in luxury at The Ahwahnee Hotel. Or you can stake your own tent, because an advantage of Yosemite winters is that snagging one of the park's prized campsites is easier.
Unless you bring your own roof in and around Yosemite, you likely are sleeping with Delaware North Companies (DNC), the global hospitality corporation that operates concessions in many state and national parks in the West. DNC runs the landmark Ahwahnee, which was built in the 1920s on the site the native Miwoks chose for their own village. It is spectacularly beautiful and an engineering masterpiece, built of 5,000 tons of stone and 30,000 feet of timber hauled in through the Sierra Nevadas.
The Ahwahnee's 123 rooms are much in demand, even at $480-$1,000 per night. As would be expected of a place where Queen Elizabeth once slept, this resort is top drawer. Over the years, the strict dining room dress code has eased, and dinner requires "resort casual." (Find more information at www.yosemitepark.com.)
Nearby, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is more family-oriented and motel-like. It offers 226 rooms (at $230 per night) and an excellent restaurant with a fabulous waterfall view.
Other park accommodations include modest cabins and tent cabins, heated and unheated. Some are available all year for around $80 per night. Backpackers with wilderness permits are welcome in winter.
Just outside the park sits the Tenaya, with 244 rooms including cabins, where we were to stay. But with the blizzards that struck during our most recent visit, the Tenaya staff graciously switched us to the main lodge.
By motor vehicle, Yosemite is approximately 400 miles from San Diego and 180 miles from San Francisco. Outside each entrance to the park are strings of alternate accommodations, including the popular Evergreen Lodge (www.evergreenlodge.com). Train buffs enjoy the Narrow Gauge Inn (www.narrowgaugeinn.com) because of its proximity to an old steam train ride (www.ymsprr.com).
The train evokes the days of the old robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's a remnant of a local baron who harvested more than a billion board feet of lumber from the venerable Sierras before the forest finally became protected from exploitation.
From Thanksgiving on there's outdoor skating both at Tenaya and at Yosemite's Curry Village®. Near the park's southern entrance sits Badger Pass, offering downhill skiing, ski and snowboard rental, and ski school. Snowshoe rentals are available throughout the park and resorts.
One of the favorite spots for cross-country skiers is the Ostrander Ski Hut. You have to pack in your own food and sleeping bag, and it's nine miles uphill from Badger Pass. It can take all day to reach the hut, where you bunk dorm-style. The hut sleeps up to 25 people, by reservation only for safety reasons. It is run by the nonprofit Yosemite Association, and reservations are by lottery for more popular days. The rate is $20 per night (for Yosemite Association members from Monday through Thursday). (For information: www.ostranderhut.com.)