*Please check for COVID restrictions/updates before undertaking any travel. For Yosemite National Park visit www.nps.gov/coronavirus. The same holds true for alerts and closures due to factors such as weather and construction. For these within Yosemite National Park visit the park’s website. Rush Creek Lodge (featured) is currently closed due to COVID, reopening 12/28. For updates, visit their website.
Hitting the road to explore drivable destinations has become the preferred mode of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another trend that’s emerged: friluftsliv, the Norwegian movement of spending time outdoors. And not a moment too soon. Connecting with Mother Nature is important on myriad levels, from health and wellness to learning about climate change and sustainability. This carries a responsibility. One that sees travelers serving as stewards to the Earth. Ideal for this pursuit: Yosemite National Park.
Vacationing in Yosemite National Park: The Range of Light
For family vacations that wholeheartedly embrace friluftsliv, California’s Yosemite National Park and the swath of Sierra Nevada Mountains found there tops the list. Waiting to be embraced: 1,200 square miles lush with groves of giant sequoias, sheer granite cliffs, craggy peaks, rolling meadows, plus 27 waterfalls and counting. Yes, these vertical streams wax and wane depending on the season. Visit the park during the peak months of May and June to make a personal count of waterfalls encountered.
One of three U.S. national parks awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site status (along with Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks), Yosemite has a storied history. The area has been home to the indigenous Paiute, Sierra Miwok, and Ahwahneechee groups for centuries, sparked hopes for prospectors during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855) and launched a preservation movement during a camping trip taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and preservationists John Burroughs and John Muir. It was Muir who gave Yosemite its moniker of “Range of Light.”
A pass (good for seven days) is required to enter the park. These can be purchased at any of the park’s five entrances (fees start at $20 depending on mode of transportation). Those keeping an eye on their carbon footprint should consider the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle System. Check availability, as service has been impacted by COVID.
Beyond Yosemite’s Icons
El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls… Yosemite is home to many iconic sites. Taking them in is a must, whether doing so via hiking, bouldering, mountain biking or merely driving through the park. Museums, historic buildings and a visitors’ center are fun for perusing in Yosemite Valley. Not to be missed: The Ansel Adams Gallery where the images from this environmentalist/photographer are icons of Yosemite unto themselves.
The park is ripe with opportunities to learn about nature, climate change and the environment. Sites to catch for expanding one’s knowledge? Start with Tuolumne and Mariposa Groves.
Tuolumne and Mariposa Groves
A 2017 fire ravaged many the park’s giant sequoia groves. Fires in 2020 caused further damage, decimating a third of California’s giant sequoia range. Why so much destruction over the last few years? Several factors are to blame, including climate changes resulting in a multi-year drought, which, in itself, led to a destructive proliferation of bark beetles.
Visit these groves and its possible to see signs from these fires, as well as those of renewal. There’s something beautiful about the starkness of these areas where trees are stripped of foliage and barren, leaving white timber portions to contrast against burnt wood. Other trees have been cut and left on the forest floor to retain moisture.
Up next, a destination where man and nature joined forces…
O’Shaughnessy Dam & Hetch Hetchy
After San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, a search for a reliable water source for the city began. The suggestion of building a dam in Yosemite National Park found opposition from naturalists like Muir. Nevertheless, in 1913, San Francisco was granted rights-of-way and construction of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power Project began. After its completion in 1938, the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River began supplying the Bay Area’s 2.4 million residents with water. Additionally, two power turbines supply them with 1.7 billion kilowatts of clean renewable hydropower.
Feel a desire to lend a hand to sustainability efforts in the park? Check out adventure programs and volunteer opportunities through the Yosemite Conservancy.
Sleeping in Sustainability
Outside the town of Groveland, not far from the park’s Big Oak Flat entrance, is a property that’s all about creature comforts coupled with conservation and sustainability – Rush Creek Lodge.
The winding driveway to Rush Creek’s entrance is lined by black oaks, pine and fir trees that dot its 20 acres. Glinting obscurely off the lodge’s rooftops are solar panels. Step from the reception area and a work of art reminiscent of the logo for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals greets. Hit at just the right moment and the wood sculpture serves as the perfect frame for a sunset view of the forest.
There are many accommodations options to be had at Rush Creek Lodge. Staying in the hub of activity can best be done via deluxe lodge rooms and suites in the Guest Lodge. Flanking both sides of the property, and a bit more secluded, are 14 two-bedroom villas that are ideal families. A fun perk – cast iron, gas fireplaces. On the first floor of the Guest Lodge, washer/dryers, microwaves and an ice machine add further convenience. Sundries and food items can also be picked up in the General Store. Highly recommended: the homemade cookies at the coffee bar.
As a Certified B Corporation with high standards for environmental performance, Rush Creek Lodge’s sustainability efforts can be seen at every turn from recycling receptacles at elevators to programs to positive outcomes from grey and black water usage on property. Signage in accommodations lets guests know how their actions during a stay can help.
Interiors are contemporary versus “woodsy” and full-on cozy. Lending to a sense of relaxation is a lack of televisions in the rooms (the tavern and game rooms have several for diehard viewers). This was an intentional move by management. Their goal: to keep guests tuned into nature. Indeed, without distractions, balconies beckon for time of repose over mountain vistas with coffee brewed right in the room (Keurigs, tea kettles and refrigerators are on tap, as are Amazon Alexas).
Views from the Guest Lodge take in two hot tubs and a year-round, 2,400-square-foot saltwater pool. Nearby firepits call for canoodling. A wood-burning firepit beside reception hosts nightly s’more-making.
Inviting for even more fun are play areas designed by Ron Holthuysen of San Francisco’s Scientific Art Studio. The spaces engage with “ziplines,” a 60-foot-sliding board, explorer’s tunnel, giant checkers and Connect 4 games, bocce ball, platform swings… yep, there’s a lot to be discovered.
Should inclement weather send guests indoors, a Game Room has pursuits of its own including a “treehouse,” dome hockey, shuffleboard, foosball, vintage pinball, pool/billiards and board games. A wood-burning fireplace is just right for cozying up with a good book. Rush Creek hosts daily activities, too, with everything from owl pellets to geodes.
Another indoor option: the newly opened, indoor/outdoor Rush Creek Spa. This haven of relaxation was designed with the natural surrounds in mind. Evidence of this are Warm Waterfall Coves, Himalayan Salt Sauna, Aromatherapy, Cool Mist and Sensory Rooms. Not to be left out — a bed swing that lulls naptime. Further serenity is guaranteed through treatments such as the Signature Massage with its hot stones, sound therapy and personalized chakra crystal treatment.
Several dining venues – a restaurant, tavern and pool cafe — feature local-sourced foods from the San Francisco area. These are great places to see sustainability in action with the use of compostable and disposable products.
Finally, heed the call of the wild and head back outdoors. Three nature trails lead into the Stanislaus Forest for hiking, mountain biking, or simply tuning into nature. Friluftsliv at its very best.