Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite: A Best-Kept Secret

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Yearning for a crisp hike amid jewel-toned woods? Choose carefully. If your fall travel plans include hot spots like New England, you may feel like a salmon spawning upstream as you desperately work your way up the Interstate with the rest of the crowd fighting to get away from it all.

The best autumn get-away? Yosemite.

The historic national park, created after naturalist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt took their historic camping trip there in 1903, has attracted nature-lovers for generations.

No wonder. Half Dome and El Capitan, smoothed by glaciers up to 1 million years ago, tower more than 7,500 feet above the valley floor. Viewing 2,700-year-old Sequoias in Mariposa Grove is an almost religious experience. And more than one aspiring Ansel Adams has been inspired by Yosemite’s thundering waterfalls, granite cliffs, and fields of flowering iris, lupine, and columbine.

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Yosemite draws 3.5 million visitors annually, generally in the summer, but starting in September, it’s a very different story. Most of the tourists go home and deer, beavers, bighorn sheep, gray foxes, and many of Yosemite’s 400 species of animals, fish, and birds emerge into view.

It’s serene, breathtakingly gorgeous, and not to be missed.

That said, pitching a tent when temperatures dip can lose its charm quickly.

The solution? Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, in Fish Camp, California. Located 15 minutes from the Yosemite’s south entrance, Tenaya’s official slogan is “Roughing it, minus the rough part,” thanks to its heavenly Ascent Spa, upscale dining, and luxurious accommodations, (all of which we’ll get to in a moment).

But Tenaya is also so much more. It’s a place where nature, adventure, and luxury combine to provide the perfect vacation for all ages, backgrounds and interests. Best of all: it’s not crowded.

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Nestled on 48 acres, Tenaya’s 302 rooms come in all configurations: ultra-luxurious adults-only and honeymoon suites; cozy private cottages tucked among cedar, white Oak and Sugar Pine trees; and other guest rooms.

Tenaya is a nature-lover’s paradise, and its activities, dining choices, and spa services change with the seasons and reflect the lodge’s deep commitment to the environment (among it numerous awards; Tenaya’s Green Path environmental-stewardship program won the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Award, which was co-developed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® program and the United Nations Environment Programme).

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My family adored the lodge’s evening flashlight hike, archery, swimming and hour-long horseback ride, guided by the good folks at Yosemite Trails. As we stopped to water our horses at crystal clear creeks and made our way along mountainous paths, guides told us about the area’s fascinating history.

Fall and winter bring an abundance of other offerings to Tenaya: tuck under a wooly blanket and travel back in time on horse-drawn sleigh rides, or take birding walks. There’s snow shoeing, skating or s’mores making at the lodge’s outdoor stone fire pits, and swimming in the indoor pool.

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This year, Tenaya is offering a trove of unique seasonal fall and winter packages, including painters’ and photography workshops, Fall Cozy Cottages Offer, the Big Trees Tour Package, and midweek Ski Package at Badger Pass.

Christmas and New Year’s are special times at the lodge, and year after year, loyal guests return for Tenaya’s Children’s Dinner with Santa, gingerbread house workshops, Christmas Dinner as well as the New Year’s Eve Gala. This year’s December 31st bash features Las Vegas impressionist Greg London in the Grand Ballroom. Younger guests will be treated with an evening of their own at two kids-only New Year’s Celebrations. Onsite childcare is also available.

January’s Yosemite Wellness & Spa Retreat helps you kick start all of those resolutions. The three-day event will feature yoga, cooking classes, tea tasting, beauty workshops and more. February ushers in a Valentine’s Getaway.

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No matter when you visit, booking time at Ascent Spa is a must. After a day of riding, hiking, and photographing ancient Sequoias, I opted for Ascent’s 90-minute Signature Pampering Massage. (If you have less time, try Half Dome Treatments, 30-minute versions of regular spa services.)

It’s hard not to love a massage, but the Signature Massage was an entirely new experience: it begins with a warm foot soak in a bath infused with arnica, which has been used for centuries to ameliorate pain, bruises, and strains. (As I’d later discover, the foot soak and Ascent’s other products are specially created for the spa by Kimberly Parry Organics. Parry, known by beauty insiders for her high-quality, creates environmentally friendly spa and aromatherapy products from USDA-certified organic botanicals.)

Foot soak over: it was time for bliss. The Signature Pampering Massage allows guests to pick from a menu of Anti-Aging Embellishments. I opted for the most-popular Hand and Foot Revitalizing treatments. Full disclosure: I have the world’s most wretched feet. But after being gently exfoliated with Parry’s mixture of wild rose petals, lemon verbena and organic sugar, I was ready to show my toes to the world. Ninety-minutes later, all of my stress and strain were gone. But the Signature Massage wasn’t over. I was next served a selection of cheese, fruit, and miniature chocolate truffles prepared especially for me, and told to take all the time I wanted. The sauna and shower could wait. I had to nibble.

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Which leads me back to the dining rooms. Tenaya’s restaurants include Jackalope’s Bar and Grill, Timberloft Pizzeria, Sierra Restaurant, and the more upscale Embers. These are the days of complicated eating due to allergies and other restrictions. Once again, Tenaya anticipates diners’ needs before they have to ask. At Sierra, for instance, vegan, vegetarian, gluten- or dairy-free diners will find choices like portabella mushroom napoleon and cedar plank salmon with red quinoa so they don’t have to order off the menu. (There are also items for carnivores.) The kitchen uses locally grown, organic ingredients whenever possible.

Adults hankering for upscale dining will want to try Embers (pack something nice to wear for this luxurious restaurant). Oenophiles will love the well-chosen wine list, and foodies will be pleased to find the seasonal menu is locally sourced and served up by the talented Executive Chef Frederick Clabaugh and Executive Sous Chef Didier Gerbi.

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This keeps the dining choices, like everything else at Tenaya, fresh and innovative. This winter, for instance, Kimberly Parry has developed a special S’mores Facial and Body Treatment for Ascent Spa. The limited-time treatment incorporates althaea, known as “the marshmallow plant,” which has been used for hundreds of years to soften complexion.

What’s new? There’s always something, and it’s why I can’t wait to go back!

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