Nature is really growing on us. A new survey found that almost six out of 10 Americans have developed a deeper appreciation for the outdoors since the pandemic began — and the national parks are getting much of the love.
With popular options like Yosemite National Park filling up fast this summer, though, how do you visit and still enjoy solitude? The answer is to take the road less traveled. The Hetch Hetchy gate is the least visited entrance to Yosemite and the only way into the park without securing a day pass this summer. That alone is incentive to take Highway 120 through Groveland, but there’s much more to like about this lesser known route.
For one, there are the waterfalls. Just a short drive from Groveland, on the way to the park, is Carlon Falls. It’s a moderate, 2-mile-round-trip hike to this ‘hidden’ falls on the middle fork of the Tuolumne River. The water cascades over the rocks to form a series of natural swimming pools – perfect for “chilling” in the summer sun.
A second, more spectacular falls is inside the park at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. It’s about 5 miles round-trip to Wapama Falls, where the force of the water tumbling over sheer granite walls gets you soaked as you cross the railroad tie footbridges at the base of the falls. During the hike, you’re immersed in the grandeur of what John Muir described as a place as beautiful as Yosemite Valley.
The early owners of Groveland’s Evergreen Lodge were drawn to this incredible beauty and built a timeless resort bordering the park that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It’s one of two sister lodges that make staying just outside the park as much fun as playing inside the park.
“We have families who’ve been coming here for decades,” says Evergreen Lodge general manager Nick Simon, who describes the 20-acre property as an incredibly special and personal place for many. “The amount of freedom you have … we are really isolated from the outside world, and you get that feeling here.”
Free-range kids is a term often used at Evergreen Lodge and nearby Rush Creek Lodge, the newer of the two sister resorts, built in 2016. Both properties have outdoor games galore, along with salt water swimming pools, hot tubs, zip lines and fire pits for roasting marshmallows.
“Zip lines and s’mores have given more joy than anything else we’ve done,” says Evergreen and Rush Creek co-owner Lee Zimmerman, who lives in Oakland with his wife and two children. “It’s been really fun watching how much fun people have just being silly on the property and feeling like they can act like they used to without hesitation.”
The Evergreen and Rush Creek lodges are B Corporation properties, which means they use their company to solve social and environmental problems. Most noticeable is their hospitality internship program, which employs more than 40 young people a year, many of them from foster families.
“We have kids, ages 18 to 24, working in positions throughout the lodge. The idea is they come up and they get a full-time paid job, they get extra support in their job and then they’re also participating in an outdoor recreation program,” says Zimmerman. “It expands their vision of what you can do in life.”
Hitting the century mark makes 2021 especially fun at Evergreen Lodge, where the old saloon turns into a speakeasy at night and historical tours of the property are some of dozens of activities. In the evening, after dining on anything from bison and elk to seafood and pasta, guests can sit by the flickering fire for quiet conversation or play games on the giant checkers and chess boards. Evergreen has a more forested feel, with lighted pathways through the pines to the 88 comfy and well-appointed cabins, while Rush Creek’s lodge and hillside villas seem more concentrated around its stunning pool and spa area.
In fact, Rush Creek’s indoor/outdoor spa is designed to celebrate the best of Yosemite National Park — waterfalls and stone. Heated tile lounge chairs give the feeling of laying on warm boulders in the sun. A warm water cove engulfs you in gentle streams of water from above, and a hotter pool offers a 104-degree waterfall to pulsate warmth on your neck and back. Two stone beds simulate the feeling you get when you bury yourself in warm sand at the beach. And there’s a sensory room, Himalayan salt sauna and Eucalyptus steam room inside. Guests can have massage treatments and/or pay for evening use of the spa features.
Each mountain resort fits, almost seamlessly, with the nature around it — which is exactly the point. A place as special as Yosemite deserves an entrance equally as impressive. Evergreen and Rush Creek Lodges meet the challenge.
Ginny Prior can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at ginnyprior.com. Email her at email@example.com.