USA Road Trip – Day 4 – Napa to Yosemite National Park

Another early start, breakfast from Starbucks and a quick stop at a grocery store and we were headed south out of Napa.


According to Google maps we could get to Yosemite National Park in four hours, but had to travel a particular route (through Lodi). The sat nav had different ideas and sent us the longer, five hour route, down past San Francisco, before heading east. We could of changed it but for some reason we didn’t.


Doesn’t matter, we saw some good sites, including hundreds of wind turbines and lots of classic cars, which were presumably heading home from the car show at Pebble Beach.


Our first stop of the day was at Oakdale Cheese and Specialties. This place makes and sells gouda cheese and the store also sells other cheeses, bread, fruit and gift items.

The best part was the paddock down the back, housing goats, sheep, and a llama! There are food dispensers and for a quarter you get a small handful of food to feed the hungry hordes.

The llama missed out on the first round of food, so we had a chat and I told him(?) that I would get him a snack. J just thought I was going to get spat on!

We passed lots of orchards, strawberry fields and nut farms, plus lots of road side stalls.


I admit I was very excited about going to Yosemite and the possibility of seeing a bear. I *may* have started bear watch (as I called it) a bit early (two hours before we even got to the park).


The countryside eventually got more bear friendly and we started to climb up over 6000 ft, some of which was on a windy narrow road with minimal guard rails. I was a little bit freaked out by this and might have shut my eyes a couple of times, which does not help when trying to spot bears!


We passed through the small towns of Groveland and Buck Meadows, and lots of forest and finally got to the park entrance.

After a quick pic we joined the queue to enter the park. Two booths were open and of course we joined the one where the one car in front of us seemed to take forever. Turns out he was paying by credit card which the ranger says takes forever. She was very relieved when she saw we had cash!


We brought an annual park pass for US$80, knowing we would be going to quite a few parks and this would be the cheaper option. The pass is valid for a year and has room for two signatures, and you have to show your drivers licence along with the pass when entering a park. It gets a carload of people into almost all national parks and national monuments throughout Northern America. As an example of its value, the last three parks we went to were all $25 each to enter. And we had been to at least three parks or monuments before that.


It was still at least an hour of driving from the entrance of the park down into Yosemite Village, the hub of the park. But as we got closer, there were magnificent views where we had to pull over (in designated spots) to take photos.

I admit I got a bit overwhelmed and emotional seeing the sheer size and beauty of it all. We still hadn’t got to the village when I told J that I was so glad we made the decision to go to Yosemite.


We finally made it into the village, and the next challenge was to find somewhere to park. I think we snared the last spot in the car park. It was very busy, and this was a weekday at the end of summer, I would hate to think what it is like on the weekends or public holidays. We got a sandwich, a packet of chips and a cold drink at the deli and had a quick lunch while plotting the rest of the day and watching the squirrels hunt for snacks.


We asked at the info centre about the best walks for the afternoon and then decided to head to our accommodation.


Accommodation in the village books out very quickly, it opens a year in advance and we booked ours only a few months before we left! Therefore the only option was The Ahwahnee Hotel. There wasn’t any hotel rooms left but we could get one of the cabins (for an arm and a leg) but as we wanted at least one night in the village we took it.


The hotel is set up against a cliff surrounded by trees and you can’t see it until you are practically on top if it. The only other view of it is from above, which we did the next day.


When we drove up, the car park was full so our only option was valet parking. Fortunately this was free (except for tip). However, this meant we weren’t organised and there was a made scramble to collect all the rubbish, water bottles etc from the car while the valet patiently waited. The reason for this is that bears will break into cars if they can smell food, so everything that has any kind of scent has to be removed. This includes empty bottles and can, wrappers, wet wipes and even cosmetics. I even read crumbs in baby seats should be cleaned up.


While I sorted the rubbish, J got us checked in and the lovely valet took us and our luggage out the back and through the forest to our cabin.

Don’t expect anything flash or hip and modern at The Ahwahnee (despite the price), the accommodation is designed to blend in with the surrondings and that it does well. Our cabin was cosy and rustic but had everything we needed, including this little fellow…

(this duck is now an illegal immigrant and has taken up residence in our bathroom)


We got ourselves into our hiking gear and headed out for our first hike. But not before taking some photos of the hotel. This is the back of the hotel, which is the more scenic side.

We also watched the squirrels on the lawn, and saw our first chip monks (totally fell in love with these little creatures over the course of the trip).


We finally got out of the hotel and to the bus stop. Yes, the bus stop. The parks service runs a free shuttle bus service throughout the valley in an effort to reduced traffic congestion and pollution in the park. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to find a carpark, everyone is on the bus! There are around 20 stops and stop 3 is directly outside the The Ahwahnee.


One tip for the bus, work out which stop you need and then if it is quicker go a few stops one way and then jump off, cross the road and get on another bus, therefore skipping stops. For example, we got off at stop 5, crossed over to stop 9, saving 3 stops.


We got off at stop 16, and did the walk to the base of the Vernal falls. It is a predominately paved trail, steep in some places and also crazy busy. It is the start of at least three other trails, plus as the waterfall was flowing, the information centre was recommending it to everyone! It was good people watching though, it is quite amazing what some people think is appropriate walking/hiking gear.

I think it took us about two hours to get to the base of the falls and back down again. J wanted to get some flowing water photos, so while he did that, I relaxed on the river bank, soaked my hot feet (in the freezing water), and took in my surroundings.

We then got on the bus around to stop 17, which was the road to Mirror Lake. It was a lot quieter.

We got to the lake, which of course was dry at this time of year. It consists of two pools, upper and lower and we sat on the sand of the upper one for a bit, directly under Half Dome and relaxed. It was very peaceful, except for one loud girl. It constantly amazed me, in these serene natuarl settings that people felt the need to talk, or yell, as loud as they could, and about sh*t. Take a second to look around people, respect where you are.

On the way back to the bus stop we saw deer! I know deer aren’t that exciting but for some reason I still get excited when I see any animal in the wild.

We got the bus back into the village and then walked around to a bridge where there is a good view of Half Dome.

We then walked back to the hotel, past another meadow, and more deer.


We plonked our sweaty selves down at the bar for a much needed refreshment and then it was back to the cabin to get ready for dinner.


The Ahwahnee has two dining options, you can eat in the bar, or there is the more formal dining hall.


You have to dine in the hall at least once, as it is a stunning space. Some people have likened it to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series, and I can see why. We were seated at the very back, giving us a great view of the whole hall. We couldn’t really hear the guy on the piano though (middle right of photo).

The lady that led us to our table had an oxygen tank on her back and J suggested she had been with the hotel since it opened. Let’s not get into how I feel about the American health care system, but lets hope she was still working because she loved her job and not because she needed the cash.


Bread was served and was the best food of the evening!

For a starter I had the Berkshire pork country pate with cranberry-onion mostarda, pickled vegetable, boiled pistachios and toasted ciabatta.

It was OK, the raw vegetables didn’t really work, and the pate itself tasted better with the fresh bread rather than the toasted ciabatta.


J had Dungeness crab cake with preserved lemon aioli, watercress puree, cippolini, black pig bacon.

He said it was OK, nothing to rave about.


For main course, J had the slow roasted angus beef prime rib with horseradish mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, natural jus. The server also brought over a Yorkshire pudding, telling J that would make him feel right at home! LOL!

He said the beef was really good and he liked the horseradish potatoes.


I had Mary’s free range chicken, from the rotisserie with nightly accompaniments. Now I hadn’t been told what this was served with and just presumed it would be vegies or a salad, all good. When I told the server my order, she asked if I knew how it was being done that evening and when I replied in the negative, told me the chicken had a southwest rub on it (good), came with squash and some other vegetables (good) and angel hair pasta (huh).

I now refer to this dish as the confused chicken dish. All the elements were really tasty, but I still find serving pasta with southwest chicken a bit odd…


We were too full for dessert but we must have put on the booking that it was J’s birthday because he got a birthday sorbet!

While the food is a little average the servers were excellent, and I recommended trying The Ahwahnee just for the experience. I didn’t see the wine list as they allow BYO and we took a bottle of Chateau Montelana chardonnay that we had brought the day before.


After dinner we had a look around the rest of the ground floor of the hotel; high ceilings, massive fireplaces and lots of nooks and crannies with chairs and sofas for people to hang out in.

Ahwahnee Dining Room on Urbanspoon

5 Responses to “USA Road Trip – Day 4 – Napa to Yosemite National Park”

  1. CheezyK says:

    Wow, that dining hall alone looks like it was worth staying the night for!

  2. Catherine says:

    Some stunning photos there! And I agree, the photo of the dining hall in particular!

  3. The photos of Yosemite are stunning! And the dining hall looks very much like Hogwarts, especially the top half of the picture (I think the people sitting down sort of detract from the Hogwarts look 😉 ).

  4. jeff says:

    Glad you enjoyed your visit!! The National Park scenery is spectacular but the food (while a good intent) leaves something to be desired. Imagine these places before being invaded by hordes of people! Imagine if they weren’t protected.

  5. Helen says:

    Hi Em, loved staying at the Ahwahnee when we were there last year – and I agree, the dining room is a must do event. I have to laugh because you are so right – the servers there appeared so dated, but boy they were brisk and knew how to do their job!! Thanks for bringing back some amazing memories! H.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *