Yosemite lodging pick: Tenaya Lodge review

What a gem of a lodging option for Yosemite National Park! Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite  is located just outside the park boundaries at the South Entrance, within very easy distance from Mariposa Grove and Wawona (just a few miles). Because the lodge is situated outside park boundaries, it can offer more guest rooms and sits on a large property. What this means for families: it’s far easier to get a reservation at Tenaya Lodge than at Yosemite Valley Floor locations, and offers more on-site recreation than you’d think!

Property overview:

Tenaya Lodge is a large property, but very compact. It has been recently renovated, with a wide variety of room categories, all of which include mini fridges, coffee service, and wifi. My spa suite included a tub I could swim in, plus a nice balcony. Even better for most families, Tenaya offers cottage rooms that can be connected to accommodate bigger families and family reunions, and brand new in 2019, Explorer Cabins at Tenaya Lodge, offering a “cabineering” experience.

Explorer cabins

The 50 stand-alone, two-bedroom Explorer Cabins are situated apart from the main lodge, giving families a sense of nature and serenity while still enjoying the perks of a full-service resort. You get a living room, kitchen, private deck, and sleeping for six. The ‘family’ units feature bunk beds (with a full on the bottom) and the others have a queen in one room, a king in the other. Family cabins also have bathtubs. The cabins also allow access to the Explorer Clubhouse, an 1,800-square-foot communal retreat with picturesque views.  You can check in here, get grab-and-go breakfast, and enjoy evening wine and charcuterie receptions. Communal fire pit areas are sprinkled throughout the cabin clusters…a nice touch.

In the main lodge, all Tenaya rooms got a face lift several years ago. The main lobby is breathtaking and cozy at the same time, and families will feel the upscale ambiance but also appreciate how casual and kid-friendly the property is.

Lodge rooms

Recreation at Tenaya:

Tenaya has a full outdoor pool and hot tub complex open during the summer months, and a very large indoor pool and hot tub for the off-season. (This is in addition to the cottage-area indoor pool.) Kids will be happily surprised by a large arcade adjacent to the indoor pool, which features pool tables and other non-pay-to-play options, and parents will love the Ascent Spa. I enjoyed one of the best Swedish massages of my life here.

For all other on-site activities, your first stop should be the concierge office on the lobby level. Here, you can reserve mountain bikes (there are forest service roads and a paved bike path to explore), purchase archery sessions, and secure day passes to the kids’ ropes course. (More on all of this below.) You can also book a guided tour of Yosemite National Park, with half-day and full day options. You’ll be transported in a converted Sprinter van designed for an open-air experience (think van convertible!). In summer, reserve at least one night to enjoy the Old West Summerdale Barbecue, where kids can shoot arrows at the adjacent archery range while adults make new friends at an outdoor BBQ pit. 

So yes, Tenaya offers archery (for everyone over age 5) on-site, as well as a multitude of hiking and biking trails. These trails can be accessed directly from the lobby. The adventure ropes course is for kids ages 5-12, which has a fee of $25 (half off for a second child) and grants you access all day long.

In the winter months, snowshoe rentals are available for use, sledding is ample, and the Tenaya Lodge ice skating rink (covered, no less) sits at the back of the property. We loved the huge fire pit adjacent.

archery-at-tenaya-lodge

An array of kids’ programming is available at Tenaya. While we prefer to stay together as a family during the day, I do recommend taking advantage of this service for a nice dinner out or a spa treatment. Kids’ programming varies by season, but rest assured: upon check-in, you’ll receive a full calendar of available activities and events. Most are included in your rate.

In addition to kids-only activities, Tenaya Lodge offers complimenary guided hikes led by naturalists. This is a program that runs concessionaire-wide throughout Yosemite National Park: lodge naturalists often supplement programs offered by park rangers. We had a great day hike led by a naturalist at Tenaya, ideal for kids of any age (parents come along, too). We even hunted for ants to sample…so glad we came up empty-handed! At night, we took a flashlight tour with guide and long-time Yosemite resident Mike, during which he kept us all entertained with stories of climbing, backpacking, and bear encounters. If your family is new to the outdoors or the California version of it, be sure to sign up for a nature tour.

Activities outside the property:

Tenaya is located right next to the Mariposa Grove (closed in winter) and the Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, which is rich with history!

Hiking and outdoor play at Wawona Visitor Center is only 10-15 minutes away by car, and Badger Pass Ski Area is about 40 minutes. While in the Wawona area, be on alert for ticks during the summer months.

half-dome-yosemite

Of course, you’ll want to spend at least a day or more in Yosemite, exploring the valley floor. By car, it takes about an hour to reach the valley floor (due to windy roads and traffic). The concierge center at Tenaya Lodge can assist you with all programs, tickets, and tours you might want in Yosemite (a real time saver). They can also arrange for permits, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Dining at Tenaya:

You’ll want to budget for some nice meals at Tenaya Lodge! In addition to room service, casual but upscale dining is available at Jackalope’s Bar and Grill for both lunch and dinner (the atmosphere here is very lively and warm). For a nice dinner out (with or without the kids), make a reservation at Embers. The interior of this small and intimate restaurant is plush and cozy, and the food is the best I’ve found in the region. You’ll want to linger over table-side caesar salad and leave time for dessert.

tenaya-dining

For more casual fare, opt for the poolide dining venue in summer, or the pizzeria located by the cottages, but be advised: this hot spot fires pizza in their own pizza oven and offers local IPA drafts. In short, you’ll find great fare at Tenaya, but you’ll need to budget for it.

Room rates:

Rates can start as low as $150 (estimate) depending on the season, and as stated, it’s not impossible to get last-minute reservations at Tenaya. In short, for the number of amenities and services on site, Tenaya Lodge is a great deal for families. Oh, and valet parking is always free.

Directions:

From Fresno, follow signs to Yosemite National Park, taking Highway 41. Tenaya Lodge is located just shy of the park boundary at the South Entrance.

As I disclose whenever applicable, my stay at Tenaya Lodge was complimentary, for the purpose of review. How better to get the scoop on best Yosemite lodging to recommend to families?

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. We loved Yosemite National Parks with our kids. We went in June and lucked out with camping spots at the historic Camp. Would love to stay in Tenaya Lodge with our family some time – it’s beautiful! Thanks for the great tips!

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