Cocktails at Wawona Hotel in Yosemite

One of Yosemite’s most genteel pleasures is surveying the landscape from a wicker chair on the verandah of the historic Wawona Hotel – cocktail in hand. Not only does the slower pace of Wawona lend itself to reflection, it also lends itself to libation, particularly on a warm summer afternoon. Cocktail service begins in the lobby of this beloved old hotel every afternoon, with plenty of outdoor seating for those inclined to lovely views. This summer season, Wawona Hotel has created some charming additions to the cocktail menu – including appetizers for nibbling prior to dinner in the dining room.

Two tasty cheese plates featuring almond-crusted Brie and a sampler assortment are traditional shared plate offerings, but this summer menu also features crispy fried Brussels sprouts(!) and a generous smoked salmon fillet to share. To accompany your apps, choose from Wawona namesake cocktails such as the Wawona Julep or the Washburn’s Old-Fashioned. New this year is the Greens Keeper – a refreshing cucumber and lemon flavored gin-based drink. The season’s best specialty martini may be the PomeGranite Dome (get it?) with Patron Silver tequila and pomeganate juice.

In addition to sipping and snacking, Wawona provides the best old-fashioned entertainment this side of the Yosemite entrance gate, as Tom Bopp plays piano and sings about life in Wawona. Join him for an evening of Wawona history show-tune-style, in the lobby of the hotel.

If cocktail hour is not on your Yosemite agenda, lunch in the Wawona Dining Room may provide a restful break in an adventure-filled day. Lunch specialties include salads, hot & cold sandwiches and burgers along with spaghetti pomodoro and fish & chips.

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Favorite Yosemite Spots: Wawona

As part of an ongoing series, we’re featuring the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The Wawona Hotel grounds are a favorite place for Jessica Kennedy, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley.

“Like many Yosemite visitors, I drove past Wawona often without giving it much thought. Yosemite is full of incredible vistas, huge waterfalls, and jagged peaks, and I didn’t see how Wawona’s forests and rolling hills fit into that. It’s not the Yosemite that first comes to mind, but Wawona has its own special charm.

Summer in Yosemite is marked by hot, sunny days and crowds of tourists. But tucked away on the southern end of the park, the Wawona area reminds me of a peaceful visit to my southern grandmother’s home. The hotel’s façade is wooden and painted white, just as it was in the hotel’s early days when guests arrived by stagecoach. When I last visited on an afternoon in June, a cool breeze was blowing through the old sequoia trees on the property and groups of families and friends were sitting outside in lawn chairs reading or reminiscing together.

My favorite hidden treasure in Wawona is the golf course. I’m not a golfer and never plan to be, but this is the first golf course I’d ever spend an afternoon visiting. The atmosphere is so casual and welcoming that I’d even consider giving golf a shot. The edge of the course is lined with wildflowers, and the thick forest of trees along each hole makes it feel like your own private retreat. And then there’s the chorus of ever-chirping birds. I don’t need to be homesick for the South — the bright, warm afternoon, the tall pine trees, and the cold iced tea are all right here.

There’s no internet, not much phone signal, and no television, so Wawona is the perfect place to be fully present in Yosemite. The hotel prides itself on allowing guests to step back in time, and it really feels that way. I watch the YARTS bus pull up and can almost hear the stomping hooves and jingling rig of the stagecoach pulling up in the same spot in the early 1900s. With no phone or computer to distract myself, when the sun sets, my only option is to head inside, find a cozy seat in the parlor, and listen to Tom Bopp welcome the evening on the piano as he has for many, many years. As it turns out, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”

On your way into the park, stop by Wawona to look around, sip on an iced tea, or grab a meal. You don’t need a reservation to check out the golf course or admire the giant sequoias. If you want to know more about the Wawona area, sign up for our mailing list and look out for our August Yosemite in Focus newsletter all about Wawona.

By jrskennedy Posted in Misc.

Mules: A Key Part of Yosemite’s Past and Present

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Mules have a long history in Yosemite National Park. In Yosemite’s early days, mules were responsible for getting people and supplies into the park and were crucial in early road building efforts in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks. In 1864, James Hutching brought in a pack train of 100 horses and mules, starting the tradition of tourist stables in Yosemite Valley. In the late 1800s, Wawona was developed and became the largest stage stop in Yosemite. Stagecoaches would often stop at Wawona Hotel for the night before the final eight-hour push to Yosemite Valley the next day.

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With their reputation as sure-footed, reliable animals, mules have long reigned supreme to horses for packing and riding on Yosemite’s rocky terrain and steep trails. Compared to horses, they also endure heat better, eat less, more rarely have hoof problems, do better in groups, and tend to have a higher sense of self-preservation.

Mules are used in a variety of ways in the park today. On a trail ride from the stables in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne, or Wawona, you’ll probably be assigned a mule instead of a horse. Mules are great animals for riders of all levels. Because mules stick with their horse mothers when they’re young, they naturally follow horses, the preferred animal for guides to ride. When you take a trail ride, you’ll see that the mules are quite good at following each other in a line.

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Mules are responsible for getting all five of Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps running. Every part of each High Sierra Camp – the tent canvas and frames, wood stoves, mattresses, and more – was originally brought in by mules. Pack mule trains deliver food and supplies to each camp twice a week on a set schedule in the summer. If you’re hiking on trails near the high camps, you may cross paths with pack trains. If you do, say hello, step to the side of the trail, and wait for the mules to pass.

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If you’re dying to ditch your heavy backpack or skip the hiking, consider a custom or standard saddle trip. Most trips allow you to spend a few days with a professional guide packer learning about Yosemite and traveling from one High Sierra Camp to another. Custom pack trips are available from all three of our stables. These trips book up far in advance, but you can call the stable at (209) 372-8348 and check for availability.

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In Yosemite and other parks across the country, mules are essential tools for trail crews, wilderness rangers, backcountry utilities, fire suppression, and search and rescue efforts. To top it all off, mules are spunky, mohawked animals full of lovable personality.

This is the last year to take a trail ride at the stables in Tuolumne and Yosemite Valley, but there are no planned changes to trail rides at Wawona Stable. If you’d like to go on a trail ride, find more information online.

*Black and white photos are from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America books about Yosemite Valley and Yosemite National Park and Vicinity.

By jrskennedy Posted in Misc.

High Sierra Cooking Camp in Yosemite


If you have ever stayed at a High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park, you have been fortunate enough to experience one of the most unique dining experiences in California. Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps provide the backcountry experience without the burdens of backpacking by providing tent cabins with bunk beds, linens, and meals cooked on-site with great care by High Sierra Camp cooks. Five camps: Glen Aulin, May Lake, Vogelsang, Sunrise and Merced Lake, provide access to some of Yosemite’s most breathtaking landscapes during the short summer season in the high country.

Each year, the High Sierra Camp cooks attend a High Sierra Cooking Camp before the summer season begins and guests begin arriving for their backcountry experience. All five camps have their own cooking staff comprised of two camp cooks who split the week for the entire season. With three and a half days on and three and a half days off, the cooks prepare breakfast and dinner meals every day until the camps close down in September. Glen Aulin is the first camp to open each summer and though it has the smallest kitchen, it is usually the site of Cooking Camp. All camp chefs gather at in the camp kitchen during setup and spend time with Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley in a communal cooking atmosphere meant to foster ideas, camaraderie and good cooking. Chef Percy has been conducting Cooking Camp since 2002 and prior to that, Delaware North Master Chef Roland Henin conducted the very first Cooking Camp. This year Cooking Camp took place on June 9 and 10, 2015 at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

Cooking Camp Dinner Menu #1
Trout with Caper Brown Butter
Potato & Corn Chowder
Green Salad
Green Beans with almonds
House made dinner rolls
Cream puffs with lemon curd & strawberries for dessert

Cooks are very passionate about their jobs at the High Sierra Camps. They treasure the freedom and creativity of running each kitchen independently as a High Sierra version of Executive Chef. Though the camps have a set menu for the main dish ingredient, how the dish is prepared and which side dishes accompany the main is up to each cook, and they embrace this flexibility wholeheartedly. Food orders are placed a week in advance and fulfilled by mule train delivery from the Tuolumne Meadows Stable (or Yosemite Valley Stable in the case of Merced Lake), so creative menu planning is a must. If, for some reason, the requested menu items don’t make on the mule train, camp cooks test their creative cooking skills by improvising from the pantry. Camp cooks begin their day at 5:45 am to prepare breakfast and continue cooking throughout the day, including making bread from scratch and providing a hot drink service prior to dinner.  Dinner prep begins in the afternoon before finishing the day with final cleanup by 10:00 pm. Box lunches for guests are sandwiches prepared and snacks assembled by camp helpers. With three and a half days off each week, camp cooks make the most of their location in Yosemite’s high country. Next to cooking in the High Sierra, every camp cook expressed a love of Yosemite as the most compelling reason to accept the challenge of preparing meals in such a remote location.

Guests of the High Sierra Camps are guaranteed meals as part of their camp reservation. Hikers and backpackers can also tent camp next to the High Sierra Camps in campgrounds operated by the National Park Service and still be served a hearty backcountry meal. Tent campers may take advantage of the proximity to camp by purchasing a Meals Only High Sierra Camp reservation. To tent camp, you must have a wilderness permit issued by Yosemite National Park. Please note that in the past, a Meals Only reservation purchase guaranteed a wilderness permit for the holder and this is no longer accepted. You must already have a permit in order to make a Meals Only purchase.

Make a Meals Only reservation this summer: http://www.yosemitepark.com/high-sierra-camp-lodging.aspx

Learn more about wilderness permits in Yosemite: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

High Sierra Camp Cooks 2015:

Ryan Cobble at Glen Aulin since 2001
Caitlin Rea at Sunrise for her third season
John Corry at Sunrise for 13 years, also fill-in cook who has cooked at all camps!
Cody Freeman at Merced Lake for his 2nd season
Zach Jones at May Lake for his 3rd season
Robbie Zukowski at Vogelsang for her 3rd season
Jennifer Shoor at May Lake since 2001 with Brian Schoor her husband and Camp Manager
Paul Lebourgeois at Merced Lake for his 5th season
Mitchell Williams at Glen Aulin for his 3rd season
Lucas Banks at Vogelsang for his 3rd season