Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is a flat-out beautiful resort in a wonderful setting. Offering the feel of a grand traditional lodge with chic, updated modern comfort, the space is welcoming for families, couples, and anyone who just wants a respite from the vicissitudes of modern life.
In short, it’s a special place – indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, views of the vast and piney woods, a location just two miles outside the Southern entrance to one of our most popular national parks.
There are a variety of dining options, from the romantic, upscale Embers to Jackalope’s Bar and Grille, the cozy/cool bar with a surprisingly full menu, and the main dining spot, the Sierra Restaurant, above. There’s also the Harvest and Grounds deli. Seasonally, there are BBQ, pizza, and outdoor bar areas to enjoy as well.
There is no lack of activities in and around the hotel, from indoor and outdoor pools to a night walk led by flashlight to the fully appointed spa with sauna, steam room, and treatment rooms. Highly skilled massages, facials, skin treatments – it’s all there, and offered in crisp, modern facilities.
Which brings me to one way to experience this stellar property – through their Wellness Weekend programs which are offered through the spa. There are several on the hotel’s schedule, one coming right up in November should make the perfect way to take an “ahh” break before the holidays; another in January.
Don’t groan at the idea of “wellness.” This is not your typical diet and exercise package; nor is it an insular stay in the lodge. Combining wonderful meals from bountiful, healthy ingredients with yoga, meditation, massage, and a guided hike, there’s nothing quite like this program out there. We’ve been to spas, to resorts, to retreats, and on backpacking expeditions – this program combines elements of each into one weekend. Its filled but not overfull with activities, and creates a splendidly intimate environment for participants. There’s time for both conversation and contemplation. And perhaps best of all, the program offers a new way to experience the Yosemite Valley, without the hassles of large tourist crowds, parking, or figuring out where and when to take a hike. Everything is there for you, in a serene, well-packaged event, wrapped up with a bow of pleasure.
Let’s take a look. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, in time to take a tour of the hotel, including it’s view rooms and suites. The great fireplace in the lobby, the seasonal decor around the edges of the main entrance, and the well-landscaped pool have great appeal in and of themselves.
Afterwards, I headed to the spa, Ascent. My treatment was a hot stone massage. It was a different experience than other hot stone massages I’ve had. There was real focus on problem areas, yet it was a thoughtful, gentle approach that had lasting curative effects. Impressive and intuitive, in short. As mentioned, the spa facility itself is modern and aesthetic, spare and well laid-out, with all the bells and whistles such as a peaceful relaxation area, hot tea, fruit, and infused water.
After my massage, a wine and hors d’oeuvres gathering offered a laid-back opportunity to get to know other participants in the weekend; we had expected cheese/crackers/crudites, but instead we were served a variety of stylish mini salads, skewered prawns, scallops, sushi, fruit, fine cheeses, and mini-desserts such as a perfect creme brulee and chocolate mousse. Wines were excellent as well.
After this event, guests had free time for activities such as that night hike, a hot toddy at the bar, or, our choice, a visit to one of the dining rooms. We went to Embers, which is a standout for presentation, and we were told, a room in which engagements and anniversaries frequently take place.
Cozy in rich reds, with a fireplace in the middle of the room, the ambiance is perfect for both such occasions, but also simply for a high-end dining experience.
We shared as astonishing mushroom goulash, an inventive dish packed with flavor, both earthy and somehow delicate.
We also shared the restaurant’s signature dessert, Bananas Diablo, a take on Bananas Foster, theatrically prepared table-side. A nice balance of flavors, once the sugar and alcohol are caramelized, not too heavy or overtly sweet.
We rose early for a breakfast buffet in the spa area Waterfall room – aptly named for a lovely, sleek waterfall fountain.
Once again, expectations were exceeded. Here were overnight cold oats with a wide range of toppings from pepitas to dates and honey; baked avocado halves with a egg inside; fresh juices; a vegetable-rich hash. To take on our upcoming hike, the centerpiece of the weekend, we were given awesome backpacks, a lunch box with our choice of lunch entree, water – and an expandable, reusable water bottle, plus a selection of protein/breakfast bars.
Then, off we went to meet the driver of the hotel’s tour bus to end all tour busses – a Mercedes model with a retractable roof, cushioned, expandable seats, and a smooth ride.
Buckled in, we drove 40 minutes into the park and up to the trail head for Sentinel Dome in the Glacier Point area of the park. Along the way, the driver pointed out landmarks along with various flora and fauna. When we arrived at the trailhead, we disembarked for a hike, yoga, and meditation.
Led by Balanced Rock, a Yosemite-based non-profit, and an extremely zen outfitter, we had three guides who helped us stretch before our hike, guided us on our trail, and once at the top, allowed us plenty of time to simply take in the astonishing view before leading us in yoga and meditation classes.
The trail itself offers a great introduction to the park. At 2.2 miles round trip and a 400 foot elevation gain, its enough of a challenge over some rocky terrain to make participants feel as if they have accomplished something. This is not a paved loop to Bridal Veil Falls.
Yet it’s not too difficult to achieve, and the mix of pine shaded trail with granite “steps” is a pleasure to undertake.
If we were a little winded from the final ascent, that was okay – we could catch our breath while taking in views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, all at a level that put us visually equidistant from their summits – but with none of the fearsome effort that climbing Half Dome entails.
While there were other groups of trekkers at the top and along the trail, this was not a crowded destination or path; we were able to take in the awe-inspiring vistas without being a part of the horde which so often clouds and crowds the views in the Valley floor.
After time for photographs and contemplation, the stretching and exercise of a half hour yoga class was just about perfect for loosening tight calves.
If you’ve never done a down-dog on a granite rock face or made a sun salutation to sunlight emanating near the crest of El Capitan, then you’re missing out.
Lunch proved equally special – what a view for an al fresco meal. And we were provided with truly a perfect presentation of quinoa and kale salad, a crisp veggie wrap with Thai peanut dipping sauce, hummus and house-made chips, and a delicious, chocolatey trail mix. Thoughtful cold packs kept everything in great shape.
Post picnic, a lovely meditation and reading, accompanied by participants picking a word from a series of “angel cards” and describing how that word resonated, made a lovely transition from the more prosaic pleasure of dining to the spiritual.
Our meditation leader, Sarin, had also packed a singing bowl, and she sounded it and let us try our hand at making it ring, too. The compact sound bath continued off and on as we descended again, heading back to our bus.
On the ride home, the roof was opened – a convertible bus in the mountain air, on a sunny fall afternoon – pretty much bliss.
Back at the lodge, we had a bit of downtime – so we enjoyed a Tenaya Red IPA in the bar, a beer created by a craft brewer in nearby Oakhurst especially for the hotel, with a refreshing, crisp hoppy taste and a slightly citrus notes.
Next, it was time for a cooking demonstration by the hotel’s executive chef, Fred Clabaugh, and dinner.
Set up in an airy ballroom, windows open to the woods and hills, diners feasted on fennel soup encased in a light, almost souffle-like bread shell, a silky, splendid hamachi crudo, and a choice of entrees: an exceptionally tender beef prepared inside a baked egg crust or jackfruit in coconut curry, each course served with wine pairings.
After a short break, it was time for a very relaxing yin yoga class and then – s’mores.
A fire pit was set up on a patio just outside our yoga classroom; the night was chilly, so we gathered around it, silver stars above us.
Between hiking, yoga, meditation, and chocolate – we were ready for a great night’s sleep.
In the morning, we woke up to another, more vigorous yoga class, followed by a second terrific breakfast in the waterfall room. Fruit smoothies such as basil/pineapple, mixed berry, and ginger were incredible; a vegetable egg scramble was perfect.
The only downside to the weekend was leaving the property, although we did cap our trip with a drive into Yosemite Valley where we took in some of the classic lookout points, such as Tunnel View and Bridal Veil Falls – looking up at Sentinel Dome and feeling the thrill of accomplishment for having seen, and spent time drinking in, the park’s beauty from that vantage point.
Each Wellness Weekend is a little different, including outdoor time with yoga, a spa treatment, and other activities. In November, there will be a paint and sip class.
Our take: if you want to actually experience Yosemite, without the crowds, without navigating a trail on your own, and have a weekend that renews you both physically and spiritually, then – look no further. Wellness Weekend is about mental, spiritual, and physical health, relaxation and invigoration.
And even without participating in the weekend, Tenaya Lodge is a special place to be. The hotel’s motto is “roughing it without the rough part” and that pretty much sums it up. From responsibly sourced food to a double silver Leeds certification that marks the hotel as incredibly environmentally conscious, the property truly works hard to offer a superior experience. The rooms are first class, of course, from the beds and linens to the warm red and gold color scheme, leather arm chair, and spacious baths.
There are 102 rooms in the lodge along with 54 cottage duplex or triplex units and coming soon, there will be 50 stand-alone luxury cabins with their own club house.
We’ll be back again, perhaps to experience the holidays at the lodge when we understand a wild-harvested 35 foot topped Douglas fir is lit in the lobby. The fall theme during our stay was itself an epic taste of seasonal decor.
Honestly, from our experience, any season would be the right season to visit Tenaya – and take in a Wellness Weekend.
Don’t miss the upcoming November 3-5 Wellness Weekend Event. On the calendar now for 2018: January 12-14, with more dates currently being planned.
- Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke