While there is fierce competition for Yosemite's regular campsites, where reservations are made months in advance, you may still occasionally find openings for the tent cabins at Curry Village even in the high season. Though more rustic than typical cabins, Curry Village tent cabins are a big step up from tent camping. And with an electric light, beds, blankets and towels awaiting guests, the tent cabin accommodations can be:
Good for families that want to stay right in Yosemite Valley, but want (slightly) more affordable accommodations than the rooms at Yosemite Lodge.
Good for families making last-minute plans to visit the Park who can't get other accommodations and may be able to get a last-minute deal on a tent cabin (see Words to the Wise below).
Good for families flying to California to experience Yosemite who can't haul along much gear.
Good for families that aren't fully accustomed to camping--or equipped for it.
Good for road trips where you are passing through and want to maximize your time within the park.
And to get up in the morning and have this view greet you on the way to coffee? Not too shabby at all.
The main difference between tent cabin types are the walls. While both Basic and Signature tent cabins appear to be canvas on the outside, the Basic is only canvas over a wooden frame. The Signature tent cabins, however, have plywood walls on the inside, with some insulation in between. Since we would be staying with a baby at the end of April, when nighttime temperatures may still reach freezing, a Signature Tent Cabin was clearly the way to go.
Though both Signature and some of the Basic tent cabins may be heated until around Memorial Day weekend, you can imagine the Signature tent cabin retains the heat much better than plain canvas! Uncertain of how warm we would actually be in a "heated tent cabin" with patches of snow still on the ground outside, we followed the park advice and carried in our own sleeping bags for extra warmth. Happily, as you can see above, our propane wall heater quickly turned our cabin to a toasty 80 degrees! We did turn it down...
All of the tent cabins have plywood floors and screen windows that have canvas flaps for privacy and retaining heat. We were also expecting cots, so the beds with real mattresses, sheets, and wool blankets were a nice surprise (make up your own beds on arrival). Our cabin slept four, with a double bed and two twin beds, with just enough room for our Peapod travel bed on the floor between us. Five towels were also provided for us.
The "Camp Curry" showers and restrooms were also very well heated, clean, and illuminated--though we were not alone in getting lost on our way to and from them in the maze of look-alike tent cabins. (No leaving breadcrumbs--it's bear country.)
Since cooking is not allowed in Curry Village (imagine the bear traffic!), you'll want to bring along good cold camp fixin's like bagels and cream cheese, sandwich makings, granola bars, cereal, and fruit. Each tent cabin has its own bear-proof storage box just outside the door where you can store a small or medium-size cooler, food and all of your scented toiletries (don't forget the sun block). You can pick up some items at the Curry Village market, but don't expect a great selection of groceries there, or prices.
Many tent cabin guests simply eat at the Curry Village complex, which is easy enough and doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. For breakfast, there is a large buffet-style breakfast ($$), but you can also keep it simple with coffees, pastries, and daily to-go specialties like quiche (best value) from the Coffee Corner inside, next to the main restaurant. Don't forget your camera so you can photograph your kids with this well-worn, genuine Yosemite bear.
Later in the day during high season, other casual options like pizza and tacos become available at the Curry complex. There are many tables and benches scattered around this area where your family can sit and eat any combination of take-away options that suit. You are also just a short bike ride away from the Yosemite Village, where you can choose from other dining options including our favorite, the large and family-friendly cafeteria with lots of variety and healthy options like fresh fruit cups, salads, soups, sandwiches, and then some.
Babies & Toddlers - As "Camp Curry" is a very densely populated zone, with many tent cabins so close that you can just about touch two at the same time, the quiet hours are strictly enforced here. Anyone staying with a baby or toddler who is likely to make a midnight serenade will want to opt for the insulated Signature tent cabin. This will help reduce external noises that might disrupt your child's sleep (log-sawing or partying neighbors), and will certainly help you rest easier even if you have to soothe a fussy baby in the night.
Parking & Schlepping - Be aware that you will need to carry your items, including everything that smells like anything, from wherever your space in the parking area happens to be to wherever your tent cabin may be. This makes for very interesting nighttime arrivals, especially with large puddles of snowmelt as in spring. With a baby and two small kids in tow plus our gear for a road trip with two other stops, we were very glad to be testing out the Beam N Read hands-free LED lights on this trip (which proved brilliant in more ways than one)! If at all possible, arrive at Curry Village in daylight hours to get situated. And if not, be prepared.
Cost - The price for tent cabins continues to rise, and now a family of four can expect to pay around $125 per night in high season. My advice? Always, always check the "Special Dates and Rates" for better prices in Curry Village and other lodgings within Yosemite National Park, and stay week nights when possible.
Staying right in the valley of Yosemite National Park is going to cost you--even if you sleep on an old mattress with canvas flaps obscuring your view. Still, there's no place to wake up to a new day like Yosemite Valley. That (shown left) was my view walking to get coffee, by the way. And to be central to the best biking and sightseeing in the park without the need of a car is worth a lot--especially when you have small children along for the ride.