By Barbara L. Steinberg Yosemite National Park
In winter, a hush and holy stillness settles over Yosemite National Park. It is, by any standard, a most magical and enchanting time to visit. On peaceful walks, you can easily imagine John Muir’s first sighting of these granite domes and thundering waterfalls. In the chill of the day, under sapphire skies, the howls of coyotes drift across the Valley and mingle with mist floating above the meadows.
During this season, Yosemite’s waterfalls come roaring back to life courtesy of winter snow and rain. Any visit should include a hike to Yosemite Falls. Stream-fed, the voice of Yosemite Falls is a constant this time of year. The reality that this is the highest waterfall in North America is drowned out by the crashing din, “it’s overwhelming – dizzying,” says one couple. “The word ‘awesome’ simply isn’t enough.” In the morning chill, early risers are treated to snow showers created by the fall’s spray.
During warmer months, visitors from around the world flock to Yosemite. Post-summer and autumn, the visitor tide ebbs, heralding an unhurried transition into a frosty hibernation. Following major holidays, Yosemite settles down for a winter nap. Less traffic in, out, and around the Park is a bonus, not to mention that accommodations are more attainable.
Opened in 1927, the majestic lady of Yosemite is The Ahwahnee hotel. This celebrated Four-Diamond resort perches grandly amid the pines and by the granite Royal Arches. The Ahwahnee’s regal architectural details combine the best of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements with a splash of Native American and Middle Eastern influences. Spacious common areas, 99 elegantly appointed rooms and 24 cottages offer exceptional romantic appeal and stunning views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls – three of Yosemite’s most famous natural landmarks.
Sun-drenched days in the Valley can be warm, but anytime is optimal for snuggling in front of a roaring fire. The Ahwahnee’s massive stone fireplaces and comfortable lounges offer reprieve from the cold. Guests Linda and Brad retreat to the Great Lounge to relax and read. “They wait on you hand and foot,” say Linda and Brad. Celebrating their anniversary, they agree, “If we could only go one place, it would be Yosemite.”
Yosemite Village is an easy walk or shuttle ride from The Ahwahnee and other Valley lodgings. Snow doesn’t stay long on the Valley floor, so walks and hikes are always possible. You don’t have to be a rugged outdoors person to enjoy Yosemite. Walk outside and you’ll see things you won’t find anywhere else on earth – relish the peace and quiet. There’s plenty of that in winter.
Besides the usual seasonal pursuits, indulge in some retail therapy at the hotel gift shop and world-famous Ansel Adams Gallery. Interpretive displays at the Yosemite Museum depict the rich heritage of the Valley and its native people the Ahwahneechee. An exhibit of Native American basketry by Lucy and Julia Parker is renowned.
The Ahwahnee: Food, Glorious Food! Extraordinary celebrations are a given in Yosemite. The Ahwahnee dining room is a gourmet experience, with the heart of the menu steeped in California cuisine. Whenever possible, dishes feature both organic and sustainably-harvested, locally-grown ingredients. Heavenly combinations include an Artisan Cheese Board featuring California’s delectable Humboldt Fog, Fiscalini, and Golden Valley cheeses served with Membrillo, a luscious quince jelly. El Capitan Deviled Eggs prepared with pesto, arugula, and bourbon-cured bacon are a new twist on an old favorite. Like days of old, this grand dame requests dinner attire – fitting accompaniment beside so much grandeur.
The Vintner’s Holiday is the ultimate experience for couples visiting Yosemite early November and December. Wine enthusiasts can avail themselves of six sessions and multi-night packages at The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Wine tasting seminars, private “Meet the Vintners” reception, and a five-course gala dinner leave devotees delightfully giddy. Visitors are welcome, free of charge, at all Vintner’s Holiday seminars and panel discussions, and may also purchase gala dinner tickets.
A legendary gala, adapted from Washington Irving’s “Sketch Book,” the Bracebridge Dinner marks its 89th year this winter. Trumpets announce the arrival of Squire Bracebridge and presentations of an elaborate seven-course feast are made on cue by the sounding of chimes during the performance. The main dining room of The Ahwahnee is transformed into an Elizabethan Yuletide pageant. Elaborate props, costumed characters, and period entertainment bring this 17th-century fête to life. You will, quite literally, be left speechless by the most sensory of celebrations. The experience of a lifetime, the always coveted Bracebridge tickets – eight December performances – are available online.