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A Touch of Class in Yosemite

You don't have to be the camping type to appreciate this country's state and national parks. Often, nestled in the natural surroundings, you can find historic inns and lodges that can often be almost as much of a treat, as the parks themselves. Perhaps the best known is located in the place Theodore Roosevelt called "the most beautiful place on Earth": Yosemite Valley, California. Kitty Felde takes us to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel.

A Touch of Class in Yosemite
by Kitty Felde

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When it comes to the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, fans don't mince words:

Yosemite falls

First person: "Yahoo! [Laugh] It's big, grandiose, wonderful."

Second person: "It has a simple, yet quality of grandeur about it, because the great hall is large, but done simply in good taste."

Third person: "Oh, it's huge with stained glass windows and the sun comes through and big fireplaces and soft sofas

Fourth person: "The high beamed ceilings with Indian motifs on beams..."

Fifth person: "It is Yosemite -- look out the windows you see the falls, Half Dome, mystique of the park."

Sixth person: "It's the nicest building on Earth."

The Ahwahnee may indeed be the nicest building on the planet. Keith Walklet, Yosemite's visitor information manager says the National Park Service's first director Steven Mather counted on the Ahwahnee to help ensure Yosemite's future.

Walklet: "In order for National Park Service to succeed, we had to attract influential people. The story goes that Lady Aster came to visit and was put off by the 'inadequate' accommodations and left in a huff. Mather said "That's it. We have to build some nice hotels to accommodate visitors of class."

The Ahwahnee opened its doors for business in 1927. It wasn't the first hotel in the valley, but Walklet says architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood took great pains to make sure his masterpiece would last.

Walklet: "The exterior of hotel looks like redwood, but it's concrete. Earlier hotels burned. One stipulation was to make it fireproof...as close as you could get."

Ahwahnee Hotel

The hotel was built to compliment the natural granite walls and forest floor of Yosemite valley. There are 24-foot floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining hall where exposed sugar pine trestles redefine the term "cathedral ceiling."

During the Second World War, the Ahwahnee was turned into a military hospital for convalescing GI's. The Great Lounge became a dormitory with bunks stacked three beds high.

Today, the Ahwahnee is popular as a honeymoon destination. Ken and Rhonda Bianci got married in Yosemite Valley in 1986. They return to the Ahwahnee every year for their anniversary.

Bianci: "People come from all over the world to enjoy this place. A lot of others are disappointed when they see what it costs to stay here. It's really outrageous."

Rooms run on average $250 a night. But even if you have the money, booking one of the Ahwahnee's 123 rooms can be as difficult as scaling Half Dome. Insiders know that if they want a room at the Ahwahnee during the busy season, they must make reservations a year and a day in advance. Keith Walklet suggests you come visit during the off season -- November thru March -- and sit by one of the massive stone fireplaces and watch the snow fall outside in Yosemite Valley.

In Yosemite National Park, I'm Kitty Felde for The Savvy Traveler.

Savvy Resources for The Ahwahnee and Yosemite:

  • The Ahwahnee Hotel
    Get more information or make reservations at the hotel's website.

  • The Ahwahnee Prowl
    Find out more about the Bracebridge Dinner, an elaborate affair held almost every Christmas for the last 70 years -- complete with carolers, costumed characters and several courses. Rudy investigated this feast in December 1998

  • Yosemite Area Traveler Information
    Find out more information on the park and area accommodations.

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