The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley: A Great American’s Dream


The story of the famous Ahwahnee hotel in the Yosemite Valley is particularly remarkable because of its status in the history of the American National Park, but also because its very existence is a tribute to a man who had a dream ambitious for America. He wanted to build a network of national parks that would make the world envy, and the Ahwahnee Hotel helped him do it – here's how.

The first director of the US National Park Service

A wealthy Stephen T. Mather agreed to lead the Park Service in 1915, at a time when there were only 16 national parks and the public was indifferent to the concept. Today there are 58 beautiful parks and over the years the success of the national parks program is largely due to the careful planning and inspiration of Mr. Mather.

everyone is welcome

Mather envisioned national parks as places of beauty and relaxation accessible to all. At Yosemite, he led the creation of three distinct comfort levels to cater to the full spectrum of visitors to the national park.

The highest standard of accommodation would be a first class hotel which would provide all the amenities necessary to attract and satisfy the wealthy and influential. A second level of accommodation would provide year-round tents with a central area for services such as a restaurant and restrooms. It also reserved space for frugal visitors who preferred to camp with their own tents and camping gear. Today, the national park system is pretty much following Mather's plan.

How Mather developed the park system

Mather thought that if he built a really big hotel in his favorite national park in the Yosemite Valley, it would interest rich and powerful people. They would come to take advantage of the many amenities and, in turn, support his plan for the development of the national park system and public confidence in the United States.

Along with the appointment of Stephen Mather, the automobile revolutionized tourism and travel across the country. In 1926, an all-weather highway opened the Yosemite Valley to year-round access. Because of the two, Mather's plan has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

History of the Ahwahnee site

Millions of years of glacial grinding have smoothed the high granite walls of the Yosemite Valley into the breathtaking majestic monuments we know today.

Thirty thousand years ago, there was a large lake at the location of the Ahwahnee hotel. The water left a fertile plain which was later inhabited by Native Americans.

The Miwoks lived in Yosemite for thousands of years before being discovered by the white man in the mid-19th century.

First person reminders

The Ahwahneechee tribe lived on the land where the Ahwahnee hotel is located today. Their diet included a basic porridge made from acorns. Visitors to the hotel can explore the large granite formations and the pockets made in the rock by Indian workers who crushed the acorns for meals.The rock formations are easy to find and are located immediately next to the parking lot. the hotel. Any hotel employee will be happy to show you the location.


After the white man discovered Yosemite, it didn't take long before the word came out on the wonderful wilderness with its 3000-foot granite walls and cascading waterfalls.

In the 1850s, the first tourists entered Yosemite on horseback. A small town, Kennyville was quickly established to provide visitors with livery services and minimal comfort for creatures during their stay in the valley.

With the advent of the automobile in the early twentieth century, the usefulness of Kennyville declined rapidly and the earth seemed a perfect candidate for reuse. Mather wanted the beautiful site with abundant trees and a view of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point for his hotel. He fulfilled his wish.

The building begins

In 1925, the Yosemite and Curry Company (YP&CC) was commissioned by the Park Service to build the grand hotel in Yosemite. Gilbert S. Underwood was chosen as architect. His task was to be one of his greatest professional challenges and achievements.

A fireproof hotel

Fire is still a big concern in the desert, and many hotels in the park have been victims of natural forest fires. Mather wanted a fireproof hotel. To this end, the Ahwahnee is a true masterpiece of design genius.

The structure of the Ahwahnee Hotel appears to be made of rock and wood, but in reality the primitive siding, balconies and beams that appear to be made of wood are in reality constructed from casts in superbly colored cement to match the surrounding redwoods and pines. We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel several times over the years, but until we did the research for this article, we were unaware that the exterior walls were made of cement.

The construction of the Ahwahnee Hotel was a monumental undertaking

This was the biggest task of its kind for the young American booming trucking industry in the 1920s. Trucks were driving day and night on dusty roads, seven days a week for more. one year to bring materials to the Ahwahnee site.

All of the building materials for the six-story hotel were imported from outside the park. This meant transporting nearly 700 tonnes of steel I beams as well as 5,000 tonnes of building stones, and 30,000 feet of wood and logs with model trucks along bumpy dirt roads. Add to that the many tons of hotel furniture, as well as the kitchen and maintenance equipment needed to run a luxury hotel. It was a huge undertaking for over 250 drivers, workers and artisans to create the masterpiece of the timeless accommodation that we now worship.

Stephen T. Mather did it himself and America is proud.

The hotel opened on July 14, 1927.

If you are going to

There are several entrances to Yosemite Park and you can choose your route from the park website.

As you drive through the park, watch for signs indicating the Ahwahnee Hotel. A natural stone gatehouse at the entrance of the hotel gives the visitor an exhilarating sense of arrival. The driveway lined with deciduous trees beyond the walkway increases anticipation and the parking lot lined with Sequoia offers a warm welcome to all visitors.

You have the privilege of being on the verge of entering one of the largest rustic hotels in the park in the world.

Have a nice trip.

We will be writing more about the great Ahwahnee Hotel in the very near future. If you liked this story, don't miss the rest. We will explore the remarkable interior of the Ahwahnee and the role that Ansel Adams and the Navy have played in the history of the hotel.

We would like to thank Lisa Cesaro, from DNC Parks and Resorts in Yosemite, and Tami von Isakovics of Ellipses Public Relations for providing us with information about the Ahwahnee Hotel and the Yosemite Valley.

If you want to read more details about the Ahwahnee hotel, there are two short and excellent books on the subject. The Ahwahnee – Yosemite & # 39; s Grand Hotel, by Keith Walklet and The Ahwahnee – Yosemite & # 39; s Classic Hotel, by Shirley Sargent. Both books are available on

Comments are closed.