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Park-itecturally Pleasing Yosemite

California’s Yosemite National Park—a quintessential family vacation destination—offers fun for all ages, and design for the ages, too.

mural room at the ahwahnee hotel
The ornate Mural Room at the Ahwahnee hotel, which has hosted heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth!

National park road trips are as classic as the line Are we there yet? But if a trip to one makes you think only of sleeping bags and station wagons and not of, say, Victorian architecture and grand dining halls, focus your binoculars on Yosemite National Park. “Yosemite really stands out for its wide range of lodging,” says David Scott, who, along with his wife, Kay, wrote The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. They’ve spent six entire summers (so far) exploring national parks. (Their next book, A Traveler’s Guide to the Oregon Trail, is due out in the fall.)

yosemite merced river el capitan summit
A view of the park’s Merced River, with El Capitan summit and Bridalveil Falls in the backdrop.

You can roll out a sleeping bag at the Housekeeping Camp; with its rustic, canvas-roof accommodations, it’s among Yosemite’s options for roughing it. You’ll get an eyeful of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, and Half Dome, the park’s iconic 5,000-foot granite formation. Camping fans also flock to Curry Village, which has canvas-tent cabins and sits below one of Yosemite’s most mind-boggling overlooks, Glacier Point.

wawona hotel exterior shot yosemite
The in-park Wawona Hotel, in all its rustic Victorian splendor
hotel room at the ahwahnee
A room at the Ahwahnee

“But then there’s the Wawona and Ahwahnee hotels, a whole other world,” says Kay. The Wawona, established in 1856, “is like stepping back in time.” Rooms are filled with period decor (floral drapery, marble-top dressers, and claw-foot tubs) and spread among six Victorian buildings with wraparound verandas. At night, guests gather around the piano for performances.

The Ahwahnee, opened in 1927, “was built to attract wealthy and influential people who might support the National Park Service,” says David. Presidents and royalty have rested their heads here, including Queen Elizabeth in 1983. The rich interiors include soaring ceilings with hand-stenciled beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, and mosaic flooring in Native American designs.

storefronts on main street mariposa yosemite
Storefronts on Main Street in Mariposa, near the park’s western entrance

Inspired by the park’s interiors— whether the cabin-cozy vibes of Curry Village or the cabin-chic decor of the Ahwahnee—visitors can dig for design treasures in nearby Mariposa, a historic gold rush town just outside Yosemite’s west entrance. Shop nature prints at Brick Wall Boutique, Navajo-inspired Pendleton blankets at Fremont House, and rechargeable copper lanterns and enamel dishware at Mae It Be Home. Afterward, saunter up the street to the Hideout Saloon for pizza and smoked barbecue in a place that keeps with the Old West feel.

western-chic decor mae it be home boutique
Western-chic decor at the Mae It Be Home boutique in Mariposa

As charming as it is to shop and eat outside Yosemite, sleeping inside the park is still the best way to see Yosemite. “The park is busy in the afternoon, but early in the morning and in the evening it empties out and it’s just the people staying there,” says Kay. “It becomes your park, and that feeling is so special.”

Bring the Yosemite Look Home

barebones living lantern in red

Perfect as a campy bedside reading light, this Barebones Living Lantern ($70) is rechargeable but looks like the real thing.

nola folding stool

The Nola Folding Stool ($175)—leather, brass, and all kinds of cool.

lodgepole pine candle yosemite scent

Proceeds from this hand-poured Lodgepole Pine Candle ($36) support the Yosemite Conservancy.

waxed canvas log carrier

Use this Waxed-Canvas Log Carrier ($70) for its intended purpose or as a rugged overnight bag.

echo bluff coverlet in orange

This Echo Bluff Coverlet (starting at $179) has cabin cozy written all over it.

By Amelia Mularz | Feature photograph courtesy of the Ahwahnee Hotel | El Capitan summit photograph by Getty Images | Exterior hotel photograph courtesy of the Wawona Hotel | Hotel room photograph courtesy of the Ahwahnee Hotel | Storefronts photograph by Frank Vetere/Alamy Stock Photo | Boutique photograph by Jaimie Murray for Mae It Be Home | All other images courtesy of the brands

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