The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley: a great American dream

The history of the famous Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley is particularly noteworthy for its status in the history of the United States National Park, but also because its very existence is a tribute to a man who had an ambitious dream for the ;America. He wanted to build a National Park System that would be the envy of the world, and the Ahwahnee Hotel helped him do it – that's how.

The first director of the United States 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 magnificent parks and, over the years, much of the success of the National Park program has been due to the careful planning and inspiration of Mr. Mather.

They are all welcome

Mather imagined that national parks were places of beauty and relaxation and accessible to all. In Yosemite, he directed the creation of three distinct levels of comfort to satisfy the entire spectrum of visitors to the national park.

The highest level of accommodation would be a first-class hotel that would provide all the services needed to attract and satisfy the rich and influential. A second level of accommodation would provide the tents throughout the year with a central area for services such as restaurants and restrooms. He also set aside space for frugal visitors who preferred camping with their tents and camping equipment. Today, the national park system practically follows Mather's plan.

How Mather developed the park system

Mather thought that if he built a truly exceptional hotel in his favorite national park in Yosemite Valley it would be interesting for rich and powerful people. They would come to enjoy the many services and in turn would provide support for his plan to grow the National Park System and public confidence in the United States.

In conjunction with Stephen Mather's appointment, the car was revolutionizing tourism and traveling throughout the nation. In 1926, an all-season highway opened the Yosemite Valley to access all year. Because of both, Mather's plan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

History of the Ahwahnee site

Millions of years of glacier grinding have paved the high granite walls of Yosemite Valley in the majestic breathtaking monuments we know today.

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

The Miwoks lived in Yosemite for thousands of years before it was discovered by the white man in the mid-nineteenth century.

Reminder of the first people

The Ahwahneechee tribe lived in the land where the Awawaee Hotel stands today. Their diet included a basic porridge based on acorns. Visitors to the hotel can explore the large granite formations and pockets made in the rock by Indian workers who have ground their acorns. The rock formations are easy to find and are located immediately adjacent to the parking lot of the hotel. Any employee of the hotel will be happy to show you the location.


After the white man discovered Yosemite, it was not long before the word came out on the beautiful desert with its 3,000-foot granite walls and cascading waterfalls.

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

With the advent of the automobile in the early twentieth century, Kennyville's utility declined rapidly and the land seemed a perfect candidate for the revival. Mather wanted the beautiful site with abundant trees and views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point for his hotel. He got his wish.

The building begins

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

A fireproof hotel

Fire is always of great concern in the desert and many hotels in the park have fallen victim to natural forest fires. Mather wanted a fireproof hotel. To this end, the Ahwahnee is a true masterpiece of the design genius.

The structure of the Ahwahnee Hotel seems to be made of rock and wood, but in reality the exterior cladding from the primitive appearance, the balconies and beams that seem to be made of wood are actually built with superbly colored concrete jets to match to the redwoods and surrounding pines. We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel many times over the years, but until we did the research for this article, we had no idea that the exterior walls were made of concrete.

Building the Ahwahnee Hotel was a monumental feat

It was the biggest task of its kind for the burgeoning young American truck industry of the 20's. Trucks ran on dusty roads day and night, seven days a week for over a year to bring materials to the Ahwahnee construction site.

All building materials for the six-story hotel were imported from outside the park. This meant transporting nearly 700 tons of I steel beams along with 5,000 tons of building stones and 30,000 feet of timber and logs with the first model trucks along bumpy roads. Add to that the many tons of hotel furnishings and kitchen equipment and maintenance needed to run a luxury hotel. It has been a great undertaking for over 250 drivers, workers and craftsmen to create the masterpiece of timeless accommodation that we now worship so much.

Stephen T. Mather has made himself and America is proud.

The hotel was inaugurated on 14 July 1927.

If you go

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

As you pass through the park, follow the signs for the Ahwahnee Hotel. A natural stone gate at the entrance of the hotel gives the visitor an exciting sense of arrival. The tree-lined avenue beyond the gate increases anticipation and the tree-lined parking area Sequoia offers a warm welcome to all visitors.

You have the privilege of entering to enter one of the largest country hotels in the world.

Have a good trip.

We will write more about the great Ahwahnee Hotel in the very near future. If you enjoyed this story, don't miss the sequel. We will explore Ahwahnee's extraordinary interiors and the role that Ansel Adams and the Navy played in the history of the hotel.

We would like to thank Lisa Cesaro, of Dos Parks and Resorts of Yosemite, and Tami von Isakovics of Ellipses Public Relations for helping us with information on the Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Valley.

If you want to read more details about the Ahwahnee Hotel there are two short and excellent books on the topic. 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