This summer, when the cold of winter has dissolved into a glimmering warmth spanning all of California, crowds of friends and families will make the trek to experience the most life-changing natural phenomena the state offers – in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
At Yosemite, there is surely always something to be awestruck about amidst the grand rocks as well as the stunning cascades. Likewise, the enduring prehistoric dinosaurs of the tree world – the sequoias residing in their eponymously named park – similarly fine-tune the lens through which we appreciate the marvels of Mother Nature and reflect on ourselves in relation to Her.
Though with all the tours and activities to be checked off on packed itineraries, it is the inns we unwind at during these trips that accentuate and frame the totality of our experience. While camping onsite can be fun, imagine staying at an outstanding bed & breakfast, a lodge, motel, or even a cottage that is within a reasonable drive of Yosemite or Sequoia National Park. The scope of adventure, thus, expands to include not just the parks themselves, but the encompassing towns, including the many interesting individuals who live there.
As a matter of fact, some of these fascinating people oversee the proximate accommodations and are the reason the following five special digs in Twain Harte, Groveland, and Three Rivers are not only extraordinary places to stay at for the night, but are likely to enhance the memory of an already picturesque vacation.
McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn
23251 CA-108, Twain Harte, CA 95383
Nestled in its own private spot near lush foliage and the soothing sounds of a gentle creek, the McCaffrey House – separated by a lovely, panoramic drive to Yosemite – is effortlessly run by benevolent bed & breakfast mavens, Stephanie and Michael McCaffrey. The property features eight themed rooms available at any given time and boasts a delectable breakfast (i.e., a spectacular Italian-Egg treat served in a ramekin) served promptly at 9:00 am. On every evening, guests can also enjoy wine, cheese, and crackers.
Interestingly, if you asked the long-married couple twenty years ago if they could’ve pictured themselves still being B&B owners in 2017, they would’ve never believed you. The plan in February 1996, when the McCaffrey House opened to the public, after having been originally in the possession of Stephanie’s parents when it was purchased in 1964, was that Stephanie and Michael would try out the concept for no more than five years. Certainly, that didn’t happen, as the ski-avid duo has proven to be very successful in their family-run business, establishing a substantial reputation among the B&B community, and earning several distinguished awards.
Michael and Stephanie serve on a series of B&B boards in this new phase of their life that seems far removed from when Michael, a former CLIO winner, owned a graphic-design studio-turned-advertising agency in Silicon Valley, and when Stephanie owned an event-planning company in San Jose. With two sons and four grandchildren, the McCaffreys are as active and motivated as ever to ensure a positive experience for anyone who stays at their B&B.
The first impression of the McCaffrey House begins with each of the rooms that has its own distinctive color scheme and Amish bed quilt – the sum of which Stephanie brought over from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Not to mention, the beds themselves provide a spectacularly soft and comforting escape from the drudgery of the outside world. Even better, among three suites downstairs, five rooms upstairs, and a 400-square-foot apartment outside, each space is its own private haven, replete with black-iron fire stove, and charging stations for the technologically inclined.
The rooms are also identifiable by placards on their respective doors that indicate which delightful surprise one will walk into. The “Mocha,” for instance, stays true to its name with a chocolate-colored décor, and the “Evergreen” is highlighted by green, red, and white tones. It’s impossible to go wrong with any choice, and if one desires to further add to what will assuredly be a splendid respite, the McCaffrey House additionally offers Swedish relaxation and deep-tissue massages for both singles and couples, the latter of whom could potentially have their wedding ceremony to boot on the premises.
Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
34001 Highway 120 Groveland, California 95321
Being the first hotel/resort to open within Yosemite National Park’s environs in 25 years, the Rush Creek Lodge, which opened in June 2016, represents a modern continuation set by the legacy of its 1921-built sister property, the down-the-road Evergreen Lodge.
The delightfully woodsy complexion of the lodge, which is less than a mile away from Yosemite’s Highway 120 West gated entrance, houses 143 rooms in all, and includes wide-ranging amenities both on and outside of the 120-acre grounds. More importantly, the socially and environmentally friendly lodge encapsulates a something-for-everyone motif that underscores its adaptability and sustainability.
The individuals who manage the Rush Creek Lodge are passionate about their green initiative, specifically the premises’ greywater system, the largest of its kind in California, which is the result of a partnership with Sierra Watershed Progressive. This means that the resort’s water is reused to irrigate the locally grown and native plants. The viability of Rush Creek Lodge’s water also extends to its potability – delicious mountain well water which can be accessed from any faucet.
Just as the plants are endemic to the region, so are many of the building materials (i.e., refurbished logs from the area, and sourced redwood) for which local sawmill owner, Phill Pritchard, deserves much of the credit. In this regard, Pritchard is joined by town photographer Robbert Hirsch, whose naturalistic photos of trees and animals are readily found in the guest lodge, main lodge, and villas.
As part of its aim to be socially conscientious, the Rush Creek Lodge nurtures the development of inner-city kids via its 3-6-month internship program, which provides many interns with on-site housing, and teaches life skills in the form of classes, such as financial management.
The interns and staff get along very well, often establishing mentor-mentee relationships, collectively contributing to Rush Creek Lodge’s newfound renown, some of which is attributable to a multifarious experience afforded by the plush lounge area, game room, and restaurant/tavern. The tavern offers special blackberry and apple ciders from Sonora, CA and is the only place where TVs can be found, the absence of which fosters the guests’ bond with nature. Part of this is highlighted by arts and crafts activities, including evening campfire s’mores near the pool. For those who want to venture outside of the lodge, there are various tours offered, too, one of which is the three-mile Giant Sequoia Guided Snowshoe Walk along the Old Big Flat Road. There, participants will observe an assortment of sequoias in Tuolumne Grove, one of which was struck by lightning, and features inscriptions dating back to 1886.
The blue-yellow-red color-configurated guest rooms are lavish, while retaining a modest sensibility about them. Each one also has a balcony with a mountain or pool view, and most have a pull-out Queen bed that can be drawn from a sublimely blue couch. There is, moreover, plenty of board games, complimentary coffee (Peet’s), a versatile radio (with Pandora, Sirius XM and iHeartRadio), and spacious bathroom/shower space.
44141 Skyline Dr, Three Rivers, CA 93271
Four miles out from Sequoia National Park and tucked away in Three Rivers’ Salt Creek Canyon is the inimitable Cort Cottage – a veritable sanctuary that is as gorgeous as it is exclusive. The exquisite setting is seemingly straight out of a Terrence Malick film, as the lone cottage sits comfortably at the foot of Case Mountain, with luxurious rows of trees, bushes, and even a waterfall marking the opulent outlook.
The lasting experience of Cort Cottage begins the moment one walks through an arbor and down rows of winding steps, leading to a deck where one can stop under the patio umbrella and take in the various shades of jade before opening the door to the livable oasis. Once inside, one will observe that the key to the adorable dwelling has been neatly placed, next to a folder of helpful information prepared by the owner, on the dining table. As the thrill of mystery and rush of responsibility percolates the ambiance, one notices four guest books going back three decades, a fully stocked kitchen, and the living room. A bookshelf with tomes of diverse persuasions, a convertible couch, TV, and two sofa chairs populate the lounge area that is separated from the outdoors by a sizeable crescent window that frames the overwhelming view like an impressionistic painting.
The bedroom’s Queen bed is gratifyingly cozy, and the closest thing to sleeping in the hideaway of the foothills while still being under a roof. And, on the wall to the left of the wood-paneled double doors that precede the bathroom, is a mounted 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper above three framed art pieces that provides a clue about the prolifically artistic owner, Elsah Cort, who comes down to greet her guests shortly after they’ve acquainted themselves with the winsome property. The note is entitled “The Other Shore,” wherein Cort describes her personal mission statement.
“Collage is the medium I celebrate and immerse myself in, as an artist…” it says at the very top, which is an apropos description of herself – a former nurse and photographer, who now voices her ingenuity through artwork that honors the mandala – a sacred circle (inclusive of concentric circles and a “bindu” center point) that has virtuous, transcendent, and prophetic significance. When applied to humanism, the mandala perhaps becomes representative of a serene equilibrium to be achieved with relation to loved ones and the world at large.
Cort’s fervent dedication to discovering something beyond herself through the spiritualism of the mandala — as her home art studio is filled with interpretative iterations of it — evokes a selfless initiative and devotion that can be traced back to the origins of the cottage, when it was endearingly built for her grandmother. While Elsah been living here for 40 years, the cottage has been active for 31 of those – which was initiated with its very first guests from Holland, at one point hosted back-to-back guests who did not know each other and yet were neighbors on Santa Monica’s Fourth Street, seen a couple get engaged, and children remark that they “live in a tree house.”
For Elsah, the cottage’s appeal is rather simple. “It is [among other reasons] the perfect place for people who live in a city to make a connection with nature” she says, and is also one of the very few locales in Three Rivers where people can hike or explore the Bureau of Land Management-owned vicinity with their horses and/or mountain bikes.
Note: If you book the Cort Cottage, please carefully follow Elsah’s directions on how to find it.
43000 Sierra Dr, Three Rivers, CA 93271
Only five miles from the Sequoia National Park entrance, the Sequoia Motel is a quaint place to relax and enjoy the dashing, down-home vibe of Three Rivers, CA. Ensconced right on Highway 198, and within a very short distance of the town’s best happenings, including River View Restaurant & Lounge and the must-visit Reimers Candies & Gifts shop, the motel signifies old-school fun. The canary-painted, one-story motel is unlike your average place to stay at because it offers something the others don’t – an uncorrupted charm redolent of retro Americana.
The owner is a sweet woman by the name of Chris Schlossin, who oversees the 14 rooms and pool that make up the motel, helping to make the experience as placid as possible. Once the sun descends the horizon, one is left to his or her own devices, spiritually connected to the Sierra Nevada Mountains that beckon, and the stars overhead that shimmer with compelling incandescence.
The daytime reveals a black, see-through gazebo on the property where one can recline and enjoy the enveloping greenery and mountain range that is home to nature’s most miraculous sights. Similarly, outside of each room there is a pair of white chairs one can just sit on and breathe in the unblemished vicinity, where neither a Starbucks nor McDonald’s can be located. Adding to the original, vintage feeling that pervades the air is a red-to-pink faded, out-of-commission Coca-Cola vending machine that sits captivatingly like an unearthed time capsule.
It goes without saying, furthermore, that the rooms are tastefully decorated, as the beds and pillows are decked out in a cool plaid, and on the walls behind are plastered murals emblematic of the idyllic views that remind one of Mother Nature’s exultant spell over the region. Evidently, time seems to stretch here, lasting not only longer, but is taken much less for granted by way of an undisturbed self-examination whereupon contemporary nuisances and frivolity are forgotten.
Rio Sierra Riverhouse
41997 Sierra Dr, Three Rivers, CA 93271
The stylishly bespectacled Margaret Roberts, who is informally known to her guests of the Rio Sierra Riverhouse as “Mars,” offers a remarkably cathartic experience that beautifully complements the divine “pilgrimage,” as she suitably terms it, made by those to Sequoia National Park.
Since its official opening in April 2008, the Rio, which lies snugly right above the North fork of the Kaweah River, is a stellar bed & breakfast now in its 10th season. It took two arduous years to revamp what was a compromised building erected during the Great Depression, which incidentally survived the hundred-year flood of 1955, and now glows in all its glorious blue bliss like an enchanting fortress. With the exception of the Garden Room, which is its own little idyllic nest, the Master Suite, Panorama Room, and River Studio Room (four units in all) offer sensational sights and sounds of the ravishingly unbridled river, which is invulnerable to subjugation, and symbolic of life’s unpredictable vagaries.
Relinquishing control and deferring to the river’s freedom to do as it pleases is an important realization held dear by Mars, who has decided to not get in the way of it, and in doing so has created a place where guests are liberated and at peace with themselves just as the river is. This illuminating awareness, and the forged friendship founded on this commonality, has allowed for those suffering from insomnia to remark on the best sleep they’ve ever had, and for families halfway across the globe to return year after year. Truthfully, how could they not? The Rio is Three Rivers’ paradise cove, where only a short flight of stairs prefaces an up-close-and-personal appreciation of the river, where there is a campfire of s’mores to be enjoyed in the evenings, and where the mornings herald a superlative breakfast.
Carrying out this wildly successful vision to fruition is a testament to Mars, whose background is in investigative journalism and television-producing in Los Angeles, where she worked for more than 10 years, including being the managing editor & news director of “America’s Most Wanted.” Searching for more meaning and a creative outlet, she recalled a memorable mid-1990s Los Angeles Times article about Three Rivers, and summarily sold her Venice Beach home in 2005 to embark on the dream that became the Rio Sierra Riverhouse. Though she’s had her fair share of surprises, she’s learned that she has more to give in the spirit of grit – which is particularly admirable given this is the same woman who once conducted a 90-minute one-on-one interview with Muhammad Ali during his peak, and broke a landmark capital punishment case, as an editor with Chicago Lawyer magazine, that helped exonerate four men who were unjustifiably accused of murder.
Establishing the Rio as a reputable destination for travelers, half of whom visit from abroad, is one of the many challenges that Mars has not only welcomed, but raised her game for. It’s a triumphant reality that, years prior, her Century City, CA-based attorney was uncertain she’d ever achieve, as were many close to her, until they saw the finished product. But, the University of Chicago M.A. graduate didn’t do it for them; she did it for herself. Mars, who has been a working girl all her life, despite being raised on a farm, admittedly had lost her way with nature, and a bed & breakfast consequently became a very logical course of action to take. In fact, she’s still envisioning different ways to expand and improve upon the Rio experience. “The outside is still a work in progress,” she reveals “and I’ve been dreaming about a little spa.”
Over the last decade, the hard, task-oriented work in making the Rio what is and what it will continue to become will never be lost on Mars, who is invigorated by the feeling of renewal that the river has given her to pave her legacy in Three Rivers.
And, while she doesn’t think she can live in L.A. again, it doesn’t mean that the Southland ceases to live on in her heart. “This is my set, and you are my cast,” Mars says with a smile, as she glances out at the fruit of her labor and the river below.