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The Ahwahnee offers luxury in the heart of Yosemite

Picture a sterling example of National Park Service rustic architecture tucked at the base of a monumental granite cliff, and you have Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, opened in 1927. The rounded stones of its columns look like pebbles against the backdrop of the Royal Arches, while exposed rafter tails and wooden shutters display a lovely arts and crafts asymmetry.

Inside, poke around its seven stories to find many beautiful surprises: a fireplace with an inset so large several benches rest inside it; wrought-iron chandeliers that would fit nicely into a Gothic castle; and a writing room with a toile peinte (painted tapestry) mural of a bear, deer and flowers specific to Yosemite. The dining hall is a showstopper with its lowered-beam ceiling and three-story windows showcasing Yosemite Falls. All this and a location in the heart of Yosemite Valley, within easy reach of stately El Capitan, the iconic Half Dome, plunging waterfalls and the scenic overlook of Glacier Point.

There’s no doubt the AAA four-diamond Ahwahnee provides the kind of stay that will reside in rose-tinted memories, but it’s also pricey and difficult to reserve. Some sources recommend booking a year in advance, but you may fare better if reserving for winter months. Hotel rooms can cost more than $500 per night, and suites — including the presidential suite where John F. Kennedy stayed — cap at $1,302, according to information on the hotel’s website at the time of publication. (Rooms in stand-alone cottages on the hotel grounds can be cheaper, less than $400 a night.) A Yosemite representative said rooms start at $341 in the off-season.

Location: The Ahwahnee is on the valley floor, 1.5 miles from Yosemite Village.

The Wawona lets you sleep with a financially clear conscience

A better option can be the other historic hotel in Yosemite, the Wawona, built in 1876. The cost is a fraction of the Ahwahnee, starting at $145 a night if you share a bathroom down the hall and around $220 for a room with a private bath at the time of publication. (Room start at $83 in the off-season, according to the Yosemite representative. )You could explore and dine at the Ahwahnee, then return to your affordable Victorian hotel room without feeling like you’ve had to vivisect the proverbial arm and leg.

The two-story, white wooden Wawona is straightforward like a low-maintenance date, but it has little touches that please the eye, such as glowing painted lamps in the dining room, which boasts its own walls of windows. Each of the two guest stories features wraparound balconies from which you access guest rooms. These wide verandas hold plenty of Adirondack chairs to drink in the views of the grassy lawn with a fountain in the circular drive, and the backdrop of dramatically towering trees.

This part of the park is much less busy than the valley an hour’s drive away, providing respite and generous elbow room. The location offers easy access to hiking in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and a golf course across the street. History lovers will adore the nearby Pioneer Yosemite History Center with preserved buildings moved from other parts of the park and an 1857 covered bridge used by stagecoaches coming into Yosemite in the early days. Adventurers can test their balance on the swinging bridge above a swimming hole, about two miles’ walk from the hotel. Because there’s no WiFi except in the sunroom, you and yours will be more likely to get out and enjoy the wilderness.

Still need help deciding? Ahwahnee means “place of the gaping mouth,” while Native Americans called the area where the Wawona sits “Pallachun,” which means “a good place to stay.” Last-minute reservations are possible, but be aware the Wawona closes for the winter; check travelyosemite.com/lodging/wawona-hotel for specific opening dates.

Location: The Wawona is near the southern entrance to the park, about 27 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Village.

Mailman is a writer based in Northern California. Her website is erikamailman.com. Find her on Twitter: @ErikaMailman