Yosemite - stay in park or outside gate?

Our family is planning our first trip to Yosemite for spring break next year.  We have a nine-year old and a four-year old.  I heard that the park lodging books quickly so I recently made a reservation for a room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge.  We thought about staying in the canvas tents, but decided against it after considering having to use common bathrooms at a busy time of year.  Now I've spent some time reading reviews of the Valley Lodge, and it actually sounds fairly unpleasant - dirty rooms, terrible parking situation, mice in rooms, and bedbugs!  I'm not that picky, and we are used to basic lodging, but for $300 a night this sounds pretty unpleasant.  It seems like for a similar price, we could stay just outside the gate of the park, have a nicer and cleaner room with more amenities and even access to a heated pool.  Although I wanted to avoid a long drive into the park each day, I'm reconsidering.  Would love advice and recommendations!

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We've stayed in Yosemite Lodge, last time about 3 years ago.  Bare bones, but you get the national park experience because you can go to ranger shows and walk to the base of Yosemite Falls and eat in the cafeteria there.  You can walk over to the Ahwahnee Hotel (called now the Majestic or some other name) and get ice cream.  There were no mice or bed bugs when we were there.  We've also stayed in Tenaya Lodge, which has an indoor and an outdoor swimming pool.  I think we just went into the park for 1 day that time.  We've also stayed there and gone snow tubing at Badger Pass.  I think both are nice options.  I think Yosemite Lodge is more fun for your age of kids, probably.  

We stayed at Yosemite Valley Lodge this past spring break and thought it was fine for the price. It is rustic, but that seemed appropriate for the location. It was clean and functional, though. We did not want to camp given the uncertainty of spring weather, and did not want to stay too far outside the valley. Parking was very easy; I think it is far more problematic if you're staying outside the park and have to deal with the day parking areas, which looked like a zoo with long lines in and out. Once you are in the park, you must bike or take the shuttle bus, so you either park in the day use parking lots each morning if you're staying outside the park, or you park where you are staying and are given a pass for the duration of your visit. We didn't touch our car once we arrived. We did bring bikes, and highly recommend that over the shuttle if your nine-year-old is a bike rider. (They also rent both cruisers and trail-a-bikes for younger kids.) We did not experience any mice or bedbug issues, though frankly I did not think to check for the latter (but hopefully we'd know by now if we'd brought any home!) It is worth noting that the management of all lodging and restaurants in the park turned over to a new company in 2016, and most of the bedbug reports seem to predate that transition. The new concessionaire has been slowly upgrading the park lodging and food, and we thought it was all quite decent (if pricey, but then it is a captive market). There is a close-to-full service grocery store inside the park and with a little planning you can get food there as well if you want to avoid the restaurants (although we liked both the casual spot at the lodge and also the casual spot at the Majestic). We might consider staying at Tenaya Lodge outside the park in the future, but only if we planned to visit Mariposa Grove and other areas on that side of the park--not for the central activities in the valley. I thought Yosemite Valley Lodge was actually a pretty perfect spot to stay for a first visit to Yosemite. Have a great visit whatever you decide!

That is a tough decision. If it weren't for the mice and bedbugs I would say for your first visit staying in the park is important. There are a lot of great hikes, bike trails, waterfalls etc. and it is nice to be right there with views of El Capitan and Half Dome. It is a 45 minute drive into the Valley from either side. That said, we go every MLK weekend with a big group and stay at Tenaya Lodge. It is a big hotel/resort with indoor heated pool, outdoor pool, restaurant, trails to hike close by and a nice little steam/sauna. If you are going for 3-4 nights you could go into Valley for 1 full day, then do some stuff around the lodge another day, hike to Dewey Point another day (7 miles round trip) with an awesome view of the Valley and not too far of a drive from Tenaya. Another great spot to hit is Glacier Point. You could then hit the Valley again on your drive home by going through the park. Evergreen Lodge on the other side is a fantastic place to stay but more expensive, as is Rush Creek. Both have great amenities and you would not regret staying there and going into Valley 1-2x.Enjoy!

We have stayed at Yosemite Lodge, now Yosemite Valley Lodge, quite a few times, although not recently.  It is totally fine as a place to stay, and has several things going for it. 

1) Excellent walking access to Yosemite Falls.  2) Reasonable price for private room and bathroom in heart of Yosemite Valley (in other words, it's not the Ahwahnee prices.)  3) Huge cafeteria style restaurant on site with many options for all meals.  When we stay at the Ahwahnee we often come over to Yosemite Lodge to eat--more reasonably priced, more choices.

I have never seen mice or encountered any bedbugs there.  There was a mice problem in the tent cabins a few years back, and the mice were carrying hanta virus.  That was enough to put me off the tent cabins for good.

Downsides:  the area around the lodge does get very crowded, but at spring break, I don't think parking will be too bad.  The easiest way to avoid parking issues is to arrive in late afternoon/early evening, when the day trippers start heading out.  Get a parking place, and then try to use walking, bicycles or the Yosemite shuttle as much as you can (although at peak times the shuttle can be unbearably slow and crowded.  That also probably won't be the case in the spring, happens more in the summer.)

I would definitely recommend staying in the lodge over staying outside the park.  It's quite a drive from anywhere outside the park to the valley.  Last year we did stay in Oakhurst because we were checking out the newly reopened Mariposa Grove in the southern half of the park.  That wasn't too bad and there are many hotel options in Oakhurst.  We were at the Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn and thought it was quite good.  However, that is nowhere near Yosemite Valley.

We did exactly this for spring break 2 years ago and got a Groupon for the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, literally ON the Merced River. Google it and look at the pictures - it's an amazingly gorgeous setting (and I believe all of the rooms are river-front). It has 2 pools but at that time of year only the indoor pool was open and it was a bit noisy for us (our kids were 10 and 14 at that time, but younger kids seemed to be having a blast). Although it did take about 30 minutes to get into the park, we absolutely loved this hotel and location, and thought it was well worth not being in the park with all the crowds (I'd probably only stay in the park if we were loaded and could stay at the Ahwahnee/Majestic). We brought our bikes so we just parked once, then biked everywhere, it was awesome. Check Groupon for deals - I think we got the room for about $200/night and it was great for the 4 of us - we are definitely planning to do that exact trip again.

We stayed outside the west gate (at Yosemite Westgate Lodge in Groveland - nothing fancy but okay) when we went to Yosemite a couple years ago and it was fine - admittedly, it was spring break and not the height of summer season, so there may be longer lines to get into the park depending on when you go, but we found the drive in and out easy (except for the one time we had to put snow chains on!) and scenic. I think you can buy a multi-day pass or your park pass is good for multiple days. And there's a free hop-on/hop-off shuttle around the valley floor so you can park your car and leave it all day.

For our first-time stay with our young kids (3 and 6) we stayed at Rush Creek Lodge and loved it! The drive into the park was beautiful and honestly never had a problem with traffic, parking, etc. we would head in early, be very active, and then loved coming back to the beautiful pool and our amazing hotel room. For us it worked out very well and truly felt relaxing, I know some may want to only be in the park but we truly didn’t even notice it as being an issue as the property was such a nice retreat at the end of the day and we loved a soak in the hot tub while looking at the stars. Oh I love Yosemite! Have a wonderful trip! 

We just went on our first vacation to Yosemite this June with our 7 year old and 3 year old.  We stayed outside the park at Yosemite View Lodge and drove in each morning.  Plus side is that our room had a small kitchenette, three pools and jacuzzis.  I have a restricted diet, so we really need the kitchenette for meals when traveling. Rooms were relatively clean. Downside was driving in each morning early enough to get a parking spot and being beholden to our youngest’s nap schedule (we would have to leave each day around 1:30/2pm).  I think staying inside the park would have given my husband and I more freedom to explore on our own or with our eldest.  We ended up spending a lot of time in the car overall.  Hope that helps!   

We stayed at Yosemite Valley Lodge this past April and have booked a room again for next April. Our kids are 4 and 6. We thought the rooms were decent and had no issues. Parking wasn't an problem. You park your car once and only really need to go back to it when you are ready to leave.

I vastly prefer staying in the Valley especially if you plan on visiting locations within the Valley. It really cannot be beat waking up to see Yosemite Falls or Half Dome out your door. (We previously stayed at Half Dome Village.) Also, you are not stuck in a slog of day traffic trying to drive into and out of the Valley. We took the shuttle around the Valley floor. If your kids are up for it, you can also walk from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the Yosemite Falls or the Visitors Center via the meadow, or do the reverse. It's a pretty easy walk with great views. 

Last year I planned a last minute trip with the 20 year old daughter of a friend ( she was going back to her country after staying with us for few months)

I thought we had only 2 nights and it was too short and late for reservations...but we decided to go for it and it was wonderful.

We stay at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal. Yes, it is kind of old and traditional, but it was just our base. We got there friday for dinner ( basic food ), the room was large and clean but with flower bedspreads type ( I don't really like those). Across the main street, right there is a river and a cute park with picnic benches.

Saturday we woke up had breakfast and realized there is the bus service to Yosemite Valley. Totally perfect, you don't have to worry about parking or driving. 30 min or so we were at the Valley  and took the internal shuttle to different stops, went for a nice Yosemite Falls hike, etc etc and returned in the bus in the evening. We had such a great time, including a glass of wine at the Awanee at the end of the afternoon, that decided that it had been a great day and it was ok to go back home Sunday morning ( instead of going back to the Park) 

There is even a pool at the Lodge. Yes, if you can stay in the Park is better, but if not, this is a great option.

Have fun!

For me this is a no-brainer, stay inside the park! The experience is vastly better in quality - it feels less like being a day tripper and more like truly experiencing the park. A major factor is crowds - Yosemite Valley is overcrowded even in the Spring, and the quiet tranquility of the early dawn and late evening are the best times to experience the majesty of the towering granite walls. We've driven into Yosemite and tried to eat lunch and visit a few of the hotspots - it's a madhouse! you'd be better off looking for tranquility in Disneyland on a summer day. 

Yosemite Lodge is wonderful if you're OK with basic, rustic lodging. Some of the patios overlook the awe-inspiring Sentinel Rock, and if you have a first floor room you can start a hike right from your patio (if I recall correctly the 'Juniper' building had great views). I do agree that it's way overpriced, but IMO totally worth it, even if just for a night.