Yosemite National Park in the “Off-Peak” Season

Updated: Jan 25

by Judy M. Zimmerman

Millions of people from around the world gaze upon Yosemite’s leaping waterfalls as

they marvel at the glacial-granite canyon carved out of California’s own backyard.

Awestruck, they wander through its mosaic of open meadows sprinkled with wildflowers

and oak woodlands. But nearly 75% of all visitors come from May to October.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Williamson


Recently, I celebrated memories of my own special visits to Yosemite over the years - at

least 30 on last count, each one unique. Always a new adventure awaited while: camping

in a cozy cabin or RV, biking the valley floor, or hiking to alpine lakes in the less-crowded

high country of Tuolumne Meadows.


This past November, following an Outdoor Writers conference in Sonora, a colleague

and I took the steep and winding Highway 120 through Groveland to be the first car in

line at Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance. It was perfect weather and there were

amazingly few visitors the entire day!


After soaking up the beauty of the valley floor, we headed straight for the rugged beauty

of the Ahwahnee Hotel with its striking granite fa ade and magnificent log-beamed

ceilings. Although there’s a persistent myth that only those staying at the expensive

hotel are welcome, most of the Ahwahnee ‘s grand public spaces and grounds are free

for for all to enjoy.


True, the Dining Room with its soaring windows serves breakfast and dinner (buffetstyle

during COVID) to hotel guests only, but the Ahwahnee Bar (with limited seating) is

a perfect place for anyone to unwind after an invigorating hike. From 2:00 p.m.- 9:00

p.m. it offers beverages, sandwiches and soup indoors or on the patio.

Since it opened in 1927, the Ahwahnee Hotel’s history is fascinating for so many

diverse reasons, beginning with the “merry olde England” pageantry of its annual

Bracebridge Christmas dinner. Prior to dinner, guests in formal attire would gather in

the Grand Lounge for champagne, music and caroling. Afterwards, they adjourned to

the opulent Dining Room, transformed into a 17th century English manor aglow with

candles, for a four-hour feast of food, song, and mirth.


Certainly, one of the most interesting episodes in the luxurious hotel’s long and storied

history happened during World War II. In stark contrast to the Bracebridge Christmas

festivities, the Navy leased the luxurious hotel and grounds to transform it into a

special rehabilitation hospital. The Grand Lounge became “Ward A” for mentally

traumatized sailors and marines. After moving the artwork and fine furnishings into

storage, four rows of cots were installed beneath the wrought-iron chandeliers flanked

by massive stone fireplaces on either end of the ward. Ten elegant floor-to-ceiling

windows ornamented at the top with stained glass panels provided gorgeous views of

Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point.


Fortunately, all the beautiful furnishings have been returned to the serene Grand

Lounge and it is now open year-round as a welcome retreat for everyone to rest and

relax after an exciting day outdoors, or just from the current stress of everyday life.


Plan Your Yosemite Visit for Current Conditions


www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit

www.nps.gov/coronavirus


Masks are required for everyone, regardless of location or vaccination status in all NPS

buildings, crowded outdoor spaces, and all enclosed forms of public transportation.

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