Having just returned from my Yosemite trip and using Mariposa as my base camp, here are a couple of places I can happily recommend if you end up in this area….
I stayed at the Mariposa Lodge. This is the first time I’ve actually stayed at the Lodge I’ve recommended the Lodge to a few people over the years based on recommendations I’ve gotten from others; all of the people who stayed there gave it the thumbs-up, and I’m happy to say I can as well. This is your classic motor lodge, park outside the door to your room, carry your bags 20 feet kinda place. Some of these places can be a bit dated; my room was in great shape and seemed recently renovated, but the furniture didn’t quite match, so it avoided that “corporate sameness” problem you have with the chains. Even better, it was quiet, the bed was comfortable, the room was large, and the television had Versus so I even got to see a bit of hockey. The staff was friendly and happily moved some things around to get me a room away from stairs (for which my knees thank them). And they’re inexpensive. Not the cheapest place in town, but the towels won’t exfoliate you when you shower, and your neighbors won’t hear you typing away at night on your computer… It’s in the center of town (such as the town is defined) and there are some places you can walk to if you want food or coffee. I can recommend them without hesitation, since they’re going to be my place of choice when when I’m staying there.
I spent most of the trip eating from carried supplies, but I did have one dinner at the Happy Burger Diner, because I was ready for some protein and grease. Burgers and similar fare. Fries, Onion Rings (which rocked), drinks, shakes, desserts. Your classic burger joint. Bonus points for friendly staff, double bonus points for saying “hun” without is sounding silly or forced. More bonus points for the sign telling you it’ll take 15 minutes to get you your meal because they actually have to cook it — it’s a burger joint, not fast food. Tasty and well done, and the onion rings were nicely hot and crisp and just a bit greasy, the way god intended, and not the way you get them in the chains. For those in the bay area, food is similar to St. Johns, but not quite so production line. I saw a couple of folks eating chili in a bread bowl that looked quite tasty, too. Maybe next time.
Now, a few words on using Mariposa as a staging point for a Yosemite trip. Be aware it’s a drive — 40 miles one way from Mariposa to the valley floor. It’ll take you a good hour each way, so this is not a place where you can decide to pop back to the room, you’ll see the room at the start and end of the day, and you need to plan drive time into your schedule.
Your options are somewhat limited when visiting Yosemite, though, especially when the weather might be off. You can stay in the park, but it’s expensive. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, which remind me of a 70′s Travelodge — well cared for but dated — will set you back $220 this time of year, if you can get a room. My room was $90 (both prices before taxes). The primary advantage of the Lodge at the Falls is that you’re in the valley, so you have little travel time. On the other hand, food in the park is either expensive and not very good (the Lodge cafeteria) or more expensive but very good (the Lodge restaurant). Other places within the park follow that model. If you want to stay at the Ahwahnee, expect to pay double that price for the room, and dress for dinner (cost: don’t ask), if you can get a room. Curry Village is less expensive, but — rustic. many rooms without electricity or heat. If that’s your style, great. Not me, not any more.
I happen to love the Wawona, which is on the south road. It’s a three season hotel. pricing is on a par with the Lodge at the falls, but it’s a beautiful place. Many rooms share a bathroom, some have their own. And the restaurant is pricey but good. Be aware that even though it’s in the park, it’s easily a 40 minute drive to the valley floor; you aren’t saving much time, if any, staying here. But I really like it, and it’ gets you away from the crowds to some degree.
Further south out of the park is Tenaya Lodge, run by Delaware North, the yosemite concession host. supposed to be nice, I haven’t visited. And pricey, but upscale. Even further drive than Wawona.
Between Mariposa and the park is El Portal, which is really little more than a couple of hotels and gas stations. Right next to park entrance is the Yosemite View Lodge, and a few miles down the road towards Mariposa is the Cedar Lodge. Yosemite View Lodge gets good reviews by people I know, and is typically where photo seminars run in the park stay. Cedar Lodge is less expensive — Laurie’s stayed there and rates it adequate with a bit of character. So to speak. Either one is a reasonable option, but in both cases, if you’re staying there, you’re going to be eating at the motel restaurant, because there’s no other infrastructure around.
As the crowds around Yosemite build (starting now — the park was fairly busy and some hotels in Mariposa were full), the prices for rooms goes up and your options get limited. But as a checkpoint, right now, Yosemite Lodge at the falls would run you about $220, Yosemite View Lodge about $160, Cedar lodge about $120, and Mariposa Lodge was about 90. All plus tax. If you can find rooms; right now, everything within the park is stuffed, and both Yosemite View Lodge and Cedar Lodge seem to be basically full well into June.
One hint if you want to stay within the park is keep an eye on the yosemitepark.com web site, some times you can grab last minute cancellations. Unless you plan way ahead or go during very slow times (November through early March), that’s about the only way you’ll grab a room within the park. They also have a newsletter (somewhat hidden on the site, look for the “Email Updates” forms spread around) that if you’re timing it flexible, can get you offers for discounts if you can go during slow times or can plan ahead.
My recommendations: when I visit in the winter and roads and weather can be ugly, I try to stay at the Lodge at the Falls. Off season rates are fairly reasonable, and I don’t have to worry about the roads being accessed; the valley floor is rarely impassible, but the entrance roads can get iffy or require chains. Either motel in El Portal is a reasonable value and minimizes the commute, but be aware you’re limiting your food and gas options; what you save in driving you’ll invest in more expensive gasoline (warning: do not buy gas in El Portal. It is by far the most expensive option. It seems counter-intuitive, but you’ll get your gas cheaper by driving into the park and going to Crane Flats or Wawona. Mariposa is the closest reasonably priced gas, but El Portal is typically $.50 or more a gallon more expensive than Crane Flats. Be warned). But while the drive from Mariposa is long (it’s sort of like visiting Disneyland by staying in San Diego) I find I prefer that. It depends on what I’m trying to do — if I’m going to be doing a lot of night photography or crack of dawn work, El Portal would be worth it. But I think the best values are in Mariposa. Just fill your tank before you head in…