Yosemite National Park, California – Just one mile before the West Entrance to Yosemite National Park, you’ll find a modest sign marking “Evergreen Road,” which leads a full 7 secluded and scenic miles off of Highway 120 to the historic Evergreen Lodge. Translation: If you love Yosemite but cringe at the high season crowds and congestion, this may be the ideal retreat for you.
Evergreen got its start in 1921 during the building of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which created the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir located farther down the same road. The lodge’s history and lore are reflected in fun photographs and details you’ll see throughout each building and cabin found on the property.
Today, Evergreen is comprised of recently refurbished original cabins, new deluxe cabins added since 2004, a guest-ready campground (just bring your toothbrush), and a stunning new vacation rental that sleeps 10 people. At the heart of Evergreen’s guest accommodations is the Main Plaza, where you’ll find the restaurant and bar, a small but thoughtfully-appointed market (right down to chlorine-free diapers and frozen kid-pleasing pizzas), entertainment and daily activities, tot-friendly play areas.
While there are many places to stay in and around Yosemite National Park (and I’ve stayed at most of them), few offer the social component that Evergreen has woven in so effectively, especially for guests visiting with young children. We love the comfy nooks and seating areas for gathering indoors and out, the benches and picnic tables sprinkled around the grounds that are perfect for snacks, and the toddler-friendly children’s play areas located right at the Main Plaza. What’s more, they’ve even thought to include a diaper changing station in the Recreation Center restroom.
The Cabins at Evergreen Lodge
While there is a lot to love about Evergreen’s cabins, I’ll let you know up front the two things you won’t find in your cabin here in case they are deal-breakers for you:
1) You won’t find a kitchen in your cabin (it’s a bear and fire liability issue). Cabins do have mini-refrigerators and coffee makers, however.
2) You won’t find a television set, though few visitors probably notice (ahem, you’re at Yosemite National Park!). Anyone who feels this may be a hardship, however, might be interested in the library of complimentary DVDs that can be found in the Recreation Center to play on your laptop, or portable DVD players are also available on loan. (cabins do have Sirius satellite radio, and movies are shown nightly in Tuolumne Hall.)
There are are five different cabin types to choose from at Evergreen, each with their own perks, considerations for families, and price points. I’ve done my best to clarify the differences here and in the video tour (click here to watch the video in a larger window). The first main difference to note is between what they call “Vintage Cabins” and the new “Deluxe Cabins.”
Vintage Cabins are the original Evergreen cabins, which were recently renovated. These cabins tend to run a bit smaller than the new cabins–in some cases MUCH smaller, though a small Vintage Studio Cabin would be perfectly adequate for a couple seeking to spend most time out of doors. For families, I’d recommend:
Vintage Studio Cabins – only the largest of these will be sufficient for a couple staying with one baby in a Pack ‘N Play (call to confirm size and suitability of the specific cabin). Shared front porch, shower only in these units (no bath tub).
One Room Vintage Family Cabin (shown above) – good for a family of four that’s happy to sleep in the same room. As you’ll see in the video tour, these cabins have a great rustic feeling with Queen bed for the parents, bunk beds for the kids, and a little space to move around and read or play cards. Shared front porch, shower only.
The New Deluxe Cabins have all been built since 2004, some reaching completion in just the past year. One important difference to keep in mind about the new cabins is that all three cabin types include a Queen-size sofa bed. Here are the other main differences as I see them:
Deluxe Family Studio Cabins (shown left) – a good option for families with one or two children that can share the Queen-size sofa bed, or use a portacrib or travel bed. Some of these cabins are available with a King bed and/or gas fire place. Shower only (no bath tub). Each of these cabins has its own private deck.
Deluxe One-Bedroom Cabins – the only “stand-alone” cabins (most are duplex) at Evergreen, these also offer the best separation of space between sleeping areas of any of the cabins (including the 2-bedrooms) and are the first level to have a bath tub as well. The living room area with Queen-size sofa bed looks out on the private deck. As you can see in the video, the bathroom is located along the hallway, in between the living room and bedroom with Queen-size bed. These are a good option for most families, including parents of children with early bed times who might opt to use the bedroom for the kids and enjoy the living room and deck for themselves.
Deluxe Two-Bedroom Cabins (shown right) – sleeping six guests in beds, these are the best option for large families, families wanting extra space to visit, or those vacationing with grandparents or friends. Each 2-bedroom cabin has a Queen bed in one room, two twin beds in the second bedroom, and a living room in the center with Queen-size sofa bed. Our favorite feature of these cabins are the sliding doors that can be used to separate the bedrooms from the living area, or opened wide to enjoy extra light and keep an eye on the kids as they play. Full bath with tub and private front porch/deck.
Cribs, sofa beds, tubs – Note that Evergreen not only provides Pack ‘N Plays ($10), but they will also be happy to loan you a baby bath tub during your stay (a.k.a. a busing tub–perfect for bathing tots!), which can be especially helpful when staying in a shower-only cabin with a baby. Request your Pack ‘N Play and tub when you make your reservation and they’ll be there to meet you at your cabin on arrival. There is a $10 one-time fee to make up the sofa beds.
Want to tour some cabins yourself? Here’s a video tour of Evergreen Lodge Yosemite:
Activities at Evergreen Lodge
Evergreen offers guided tours of Yosemite National Park and the adjacent Hetch Hetchy area, including hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, and photography trips. They are also introducing a new 4 1/2 hour “sunrise hike and yoga journey” as part of their wellness offerings (adults only). Though most guided activities have a child price listed, those with babies and very young children should discuss the details and duration to make sure that they will be able to keep up and enjoy, say, hiking with a 25 lb. child on their backs with a group of other individuals with significantly lighter loads. (Which reminds me of one other new activity now available at Evergreen: massage.)
Most guests with babies and toddlers (and/or potty training children) will probably want to do their sightseeing at their own paces and on their own schedules. Families with younger children will also appreciate Evergreen’s BOB jogging strollers, bikes with trailers and trail-a-bikes (a.k.a. trailer bikes or tag-alongs), and Strider tot bikes available for rent. This summer they will also offer bike racks so that families can take their rented bikes and trailers to Yosemite Valley–great news since the bike rentals in the Valley do not offer bikes with more than 2 gears (especially helpful when you’re pulling a load!) or children’s tag-along bikes which are, in our experience, the ideal way to see Yosemite Valley with preschoolers and young children.
Inside Tuolumne Hall, you’ll find a second toddler play area, puppets, games, pool table, shuffleboard, and foosball. You’ll find more board games for kids and adults, puzzles. There is free WiFi access and computers with Internet access in the Recreation Center and Tuolumne Hall. We already look forward to returning to see two new additions under construction for older children as well: A large tree house with climbing nets and a Gargantuan “spider’s web” made of rope! (We’ll keep you posted.)
In the evenings, Evergreen has a variety of complimentary activities at the lodge ranging from kids crafts, s’mores at the outdoor fireplace, bingo, photography talks (with renowned Yosemite photographer Robb Hirsch), and nightly movies shown in Tuolumne Hall. On our second night of this visit, quite a crowd collected around the outdoor fireplace, including more visitors from the East Coast than West, and a new Evergreen staffer arrived with her guitar to treat us to some crowd-pleasing classics under the stars while we sunk our teeth into gooey s’mores and tried to sing along.
While the group activities are a definite benefit of staying at Evergreen–especially with children who love find new playmates on vacations, I have to say I also really enjoyed the time we spent on our own as a family exploring the area around Evergreen. Not to be missed: There is a 3/4 mile easy-walking nature trail that goes around the property, and we highly recommend the pleasant walk to Birch Lake at Camp Mather, which led us to the biggest frogs I have ever seen in my life–and tadpole offspring! (Get a visitor’s permit at Camp Mather during summer months.) Older children may have an opportunity to join an organized 3-hour outing highlighting these areas.
Dining at Evergreen Lodge
As mentioned above, the cabins do not have kitchens, which leaves you with three basic options for meals at Evergreen Lodge.
1) Eat at Evergreen’s restaurant – The menu has a wide variety of options ranging from basic salads and burgers to gourmet entrees. And although the place gives a feeling of “fine grown-up dining,” you’ll find your children are quite welcome there. High chairs, children’s menus with reasonable $5 and $6 dinner options, and crayons are at the ready. There is also an outdoor seating area in the rear of the building.
2) Get take out – If you’d rather enjoy dinner in the comfort of your cabin, or at one of the outdoor dining areas found around the grounds, the restaurant will be happy to prepare your breakfast, lunch, or dinner to go.
3) Buy food from Evergreen’s store – The lodge is stocked with yogurts, Pop Tarts, muffins, deli sandwiches made fresh daily, drinks, power bars, popcorn and frozen pizzas you can cook in the store microwave. They also have an espresso bar so you can grab your cappuccino and muffin to enjoy on your porch or deck–or as you get an early start heading in to Yosemite Valley.
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Words to the Wise
While you will still have a 30- to 45-minute drive into Yosemite’s spectacular Valley (and back at day’s end), we favor staying on this side of the park for a very simple reason: It’s only 3 1/2 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area. That makes it easy for Bay Area residents and anyone combining a family vacation in San Francisco with Yosemite to check out of other accommodations (or leave work early) and be here in time for dinner–even if you need to take a pit stop with little kids along the way (see our favorite stop here).
f you are on a budget, consider Evergreen’s “Custom Camping” option, where they provide everything you need (tent, sleeping bags w/liners, cushy mattresses, lanterns, camp chairs, towels) to camp in comfort, and you still have access to all the great features of Evergreen.
If you are coming with friends or extended family, take a look at the new John Muir house. It sleeps up to 10 in beds, includes a gourmet kitchen so you can do some of your own cooking, and has a 1000 square-foot deck with Jacuzzi and barbecue.
The Bottom Line
Having stayed at almost every possible accommodation inside and outside of Yosemite National Park (Whoah! Do I get some sort of a badge for that?), I can confidently tell you that Evergreen Lodge is a great option when visiting Yosemite National Park with kids. Would we return? We have, and we will.
Would we recommend it to our friends? We often do.