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Yosemite's Autumn Splendor On A Budget
by Suzanne Kane

With today’s uncertain economy and skyrocketing prices in everything from fuel economy to groceries, you might think that travel is out of the question. Not so, if you plan wisely. Californians (and state visitors) have a treasure trove of virtually free sights and sounds in Yosemite National Park, located 200 miles east from San Francisco, 61 miles from Fresno, and 348 miles (about six hours) from Los Angeles. There are many and varied accommodations, inside and outside the park, and certainly options aplenty no matter what your budget.

Feeling the need for a few days’ getaway, my husband and I researched online for bed and breakfasts in the Yosemite vicinity, along with lodging within the park. We planned to drive there in our full-size SUV so we’d have transportation in and around the national park. While this upped our travel budget a bit for gasoline (during $4.00+ per gallon prices), it was well worth it.

Oakhurst lodging

You’ll find lots of lodging choices in Oakhurst, including Chateau Du Sureau, Comfort Inn, Pine Rose Inn, Shilo Inn Suites, Days Inn Oakhurst, Best Western, Bed of Roses B&B, and Sierra Sky Ranch Resort. You can also try for lodging inside Yosemite National Park, including The Ahwahnee and Wawona Hotel (but reservations can be hard to come by).
We found a delightful B&B, The Homestead, just six miles outside Oakhurst, which is itself about 14 miles from the southern entrance to the park on Highway 41. The Homestead’s owners, Larry and Cindy, built the four cabins themselves, and they are not only delightfully furnished with unique and hand-chosen items, they are impeccably clean. There’s daily maid service and you also receive a small pitcher of orange juice, granola and milk, and fresh home-made apple-cinnamon, blueberry or lemon-poppy seed muffins first thing every morning. Special requests are also honored, including a professional in-home massage therapist.

The setting is wonderfully peaceful, with towering California Black Oak trees, and literally hundreds of quail that have made their home among them. When we visited, just at the start of autumn, there were two other families renting adjacent cabins. The cabins are furnished with full kitchen equipment and utensils, which makes cooking your own meals a great way to save money.

We had brought provisions from home, and stocked up on other necessary items from the local Raley’s and Von’s in Oakhurst. The town also has about two dozen eateries offering everything from pizza to fine Italian cuisine. There’s a Blockbuster, two Starbuck’s (one inside Von’s), numerous banks, gift shops, Radio Shack, and various Yosemite and nearby attraction tour operators. Bass Lake is only a few miles up Highway 41.

We opted to visit Yosemite twice during our three-day stay at The Homestead. Going after Labor Day certainly has its advantages, since the huge summertime crowds have long since departed. Nevertheless, be prepared for overseas visitors, and savvy Americans who know when to visit. The days we were there were unseasonably warm, in the 90’s, a far cry from what we expected. But, we had packed for all seasons. That’s a good thing to remember, since the weather fluctuates rapidly in the High Sierras. We’ve visited in September other years and encountered snow, particularly at Yosemite’s higher elevations, in Tuolumne Meadows, for example.

What to do in Yosemite

The first item you’ll pick up when you pay your entrance fee to Yosemite is the free “Welcome to Yosemite” guide the park ranger hands you. Depending on the season (ours was Sept-Oct), the guides contain special features, planning your trip, and programs and events. There are also comprehensive maps, tips on how to protect yourself and the park, a kids’ corner, vital information on camping, hiking and shuttle schedules. Major park areas like Wawona, Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows are covered in detail. Use the guide throughout your trip (and remember your entrance fee covers a full seven days, so maximize your Yosemite experience by visiting often). Tip: be sure to bring your camera, plenty of film, and extra batteries! We had neglected to check our battery and were unable to take photos during our first park visit because the battery died. Fortunately, we found what we needed in Oakhurst and took plenty of fabulous photographs the rest of our trip.

Entrance fees
At the time of this writing, a daily vehicle pass valid for seven days is $20. An individual pass (for persons on foot, motorcycle, bicycle or horse) costs $10. A yearly pass (good for one year) is an affordable $40, while an interagency annual pass is $80. If you’re a senior, a an interagency lifetime pass is only $10. There’s also a free interagency access pass (lifetime) for permanently disabled U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Popular Yosemite attractions
Of course, there’s the world-famous Yosemite Valley, immortalized in Ansel Adams’ photography (and countless others) for its spectacular and unusual rock formations, waterfalls and cliffs. Glacier Point, an overlook with a view of magnificent Half Dome, Yosemite Valle and the Sierra Nevada, is a 30-mile (about one hour drive) trip from Yosemite Valley. Crane Flat, a forest-meadow area, is about 16 miles from Yosemite Valley. Wawona and Mariposa Grove (home of the Giant Sequoias) are located just a couple miles inside the park. Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road, at elevation ranges from 6,200 to just under 10,000 feet, is a spectacular corridor with high mountain peak views, meadows and gorgeous wildflowers. Finally, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, source for the hydroelectric power and drinking water for San Francisco, offers its own spectacular scenery and starting point for several hiking trails.

Hiking in Yosemite
Day hikes are a very popular way to spend some quality outdoor time in Yosemite. We opted for the easy category hike, but you can also choose moderate, strenuous or very strenuous. Again, the Yosemite guide lists numerous day hiking trails in Yosemite Valley and outside of the valley. Bridal Veil, Lower Yosemite Fall and Mirror Lake trails are marked “easy” in Yosemite Valley. Don’t forget the self-guided trails, too. These include Indian Village, Curry Village, Giant Sequoias and Mirror Lake.

For more information, check out the park website at To make camping reservations, call 877-444-6777. For lodging reservations, call 801-559-5000 or go to


Lodging $650.73 (3 nights)
Gas $134.45 (full-size SUV)
Park fee $ 10.00 (lifetime senior pass)
Meals/Groceries $104.75 (Starbucks, deli, home cooking)
Total $899.93

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, editor and screenwriter.

Published: Mar 11,2009 12:20
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