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Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes [In-Depth Campground Review]

Jessica Merritt's image
Jessica Merritt
Jessica Merritt's image

Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

101 Published Articles 530 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 4U.S. States Visited: 23

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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Countries Visited: 48U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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I stayed in a Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cottage in mid-August with my family. This campground was just outside of Yosemite National Park and was a great home base for exploring the park. We enjoyed the scenic campground, comfy cottage, outdoor living, and perfect location. It was exactly what we needed for our family’s visit to the national park.

Read on to see more about our stay at this Yosemite campground and what we liked about it.

Location

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes‘ location was the main reason I booked it. Located just off Big Oak Flat Road in Groveland, our cottage was close enough to reach Yosemite National Park‘s Big Oak Flat Entrance in less than 10 minutes. The campground was still around an hour from Yosemite Valley within the park, but that’s about average for a drive to the valley unless you’re staying inside the park.

We drove to Yosemite from Los Angeles, taking I-5, then California 99 through Bakersfield and Fresno. When we got closer to Yosemite, our main route after that was California 49 through Coulterville, then finally California 120, a main road into Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance. It took us about 6 hours to drive to the campground from Los Angeles.

California 49 had a lot of winding turns and scenic views. Living at sea level in Texas, I’m not used to mountain driving, but it was easy enough to go at a comfortable speed, and there were plenty of pull-off spots to let faster traffic go past us. My husband loves mountain roads, but even he got a little queasy from all the hairpin turns. The view was a lovely hint of the beauty waiting for us in Yosemite National Park!

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes Yosemite National Park
We reached Yosemite National Park within minutes from Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes.

It was easy to find the campground from CA-120. Google Maps was still working for me at that point, and even if it wasn’t, Thousand Trails had plenty of signage to help us find our way. There were 2 entrances to Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes, but only the west entrance was open.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes general store entrance sign
The east entrance near the general store was closed.

Driving from Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes to Yosemite National Park, we saw park traffic signs indicating how long it would take us to get inside the park from that point — some of them hours long. Visiting on weekdays in late August 2023, we were thankful to drive past those signs without waiting!

Hot Tip:

Coming from Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), reaching the campground takes a little over 2.5 hours.

Booking

By the time I booked lodging for our California trip, nothing inside Yosemite National Park was available — and many of the options outside the park weren’t to my liking.

Though there was no shortage of lodging near Yosemite National Park, available options within my budget for this 2-night stay seemed to be vacation rentals or roadside motels and lodges with bad reviews. I expanded my search to campgrounds before I pulled the trigger on a pricey resort.

When Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes came up in my search, its per-night cabin prices were similar to the resorts — around $375 per night. A lot of that was taxes and fees, which were high for all types of lodging in the Yosemite area. However, when I got on the Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes website to check out the cottage details, I saw an option for a Thousand Trails Cabin Pass for $1,495.

Thousand Trails Cabin Pass

For 2 nights with taxes and fees, I was looking at around $750 for our stay. While the $1,495 Cabin Pass was about double what I would have paid for our stay, it offered an important feature: not just 2 nights in a cabin but a membership granting us an entire year of cabin stays at locations throughout the U.S.

I used the Thousand Trails web chat feature to confirm availability for the dates I wanted, bought the Cabin Pass, and immediately booked our stay. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve® to pay for the pass and earned 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar because it was a travel purchase.

We had no campground costs beyond our Cabin Pass membership. Policies vary between campgrounds, but we didn’t pay a deposit or any fees at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes. Some campgrounds require a $100 refundable damage deposit, linen, or pet fees.

Hot Tip:

The Thousand Trails Cabin Pass is now $1,695. It’s good for up to 7 consecutive nights at qualifying cabins and cottages with availability. Some restrictions include a 14-day waiting period between stays and a maximum booking window of 60 days. Between our stay at Yosemite Lakes and extended weekends at a couple of Thousand Trails campgrounds close to home, we’ve already made back the value of the pass just 3 months into our membership — and we have 2 more stays booked.

Checking In

We arrived just after sunset, but the welcome center was still open. If we’d reached the office after it closed, we could have used the after-hours call box at the welcome center to get our keys.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes check in
The welcome center at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes.

We received our welcome packet at the welcome center with the campground’s rules and essential information, a map, and keys to the cottage. The check-in agent was welcoming and friendly.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes Cottage Welcome Packet
Our welcome packet detailed the campground rules and guest expectations. It also offered tips for nearby restaurants and attractions.

We asked about getting gas from the general store at the campground, which was closed when we stopped by. The signage indicated we’d have to pay inside during open hours, but the welcome center gave us a good tip: we could just lift up the sign to pay by credit card after hours.

The check-in agent also informed us that wildlife was active in the campground. Bear sightings were possible, though rare. He was careful to warn us about a neighborhood mountain lion that frequently came around at night to eat food and pets left outside and advised us not to leave anything outside after dark.

Cell service is spotty in the area, so the welcome center, lodge, and store have emergency 911 phones onsite.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes check in water and restroom
There’s a water station and bathroom outside of the welcome center if you need a pit stop on your way in or out of the campground.

Amenities

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes had more amenities than we had time to take advantage of. There was a lodge with satellite TV and a game room with pool tables. We also had access to laundry facilities and a general store.

Outside was a playground and recreational facilities, including mini golf, shuffleboard, basketball, and horseshoes. Nature activities included fishing, a river beach, and hiking trails.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes Campground Map
The campground was huge. We only explored about a third of it.
Hot Tip:

During the summer, when heavy traffic is heading into Yosemite National Park, you can catch a bus outside of the Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes welcome center.

Lodge

The lodge was large, with a balcony patio overlooking the river bridge. This would have been a nice place to have a meal or play some board games with a view. Unfortunately, our schedule never quite lined up with the lodge’s open hours, so we’ll have to enjoy it another time.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes bridge to the lodge
Stop in at the lodge for a great view of the river.

The lodge had couches, satellite TV, dining tables, pool tables, and a game room.

There was plenty of outside seating, too, including a shaded front porch. If we felt too cramped in the cottage, this would have been a great spot to visit.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes lodge porch
The front porch of the lodge looked cozy.

General Store

A general store was run by Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes on Big Oak Flat Road/California 120. It offered essentials, including gas, ice, firewood, and snacks. The store also had souvenirs, including apparel and hiking sticks.

The area’s gas stations were very limited, and there were no gas stations in Yosemite Valley. I appreciated having an easy spot to fill up before we headed into the national park.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes gas station and general store
You’ll pay mountain prices for gas here, but it’s a convenient stop.

Hiking

There were several hiking trails available in the campground. We found 2 trails that started close to our cottage: a mountain view trail and a dam trail.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities walking trail
The campground featured scenic trails.

We took the mountain view trail, which was 0.75 miles out and back.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities hiking options

The trail was mainly a walk through the woods, but the campground had a nice overlook view. At the trail’s end were a partial mountain view and a view of the dam below.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities hiking creek
Small creeks ran throughout the campground.

The dam view trail was the same length with different views.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes hiking trail end of trail
Partial mountain view at the end of the trail with the dam below.

There were other trails we didn’t hit, including a river trail.

River and Creek 

The south fork of the Tuolumne River ran through the campground, and a creek ran through it, too. These added to the peace and scenery of the grounds.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes scenic creek
We walked to view the river from our cottage.

There were also places to relax and picnic along the creek and river.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities creek picnic area
This seating and picnic area was a scenic spot convenient to the lodge.

Playground

In the main area of the campground was a playground. It was close enough to our cottage that my kids could walk there.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes playground
This playground was within walking distance of many lodging options at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes.

Mini Golf

Near the playground was a small mini golf course. It had lights for nighttime playing and seemed well-maintained. We could pick up clubs and balls placed outside at the lodge.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities mini golf
Recreation at the campground included mini golf.

Basketball and Volleyball Courts

Another entertainment option near the playground was the basketball and volleyball courts — with balls available at the lodge.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities basketball
These courts were convenient to our cottage and the lodge.

Horseshoes

There were horseshoes available in the same recreation area.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities horseshoes
Horseshoes were in the shaded recreation area.

Shuffleboard

Shuffleboard was also available near the playground and courts.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes amenities shuffleboard
Shuffleboard was among the many options for playtime.

Guest Laundry

On the side of the welcome center was the guest laundry room. It featured 6 washers and 6 dryers, all coin-operated. The soap, bleach, and softener dispensers were coin-operated as well. The lodge had coins available to make change. There was a table and chairs along with a large sink available.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes laundry
The large laundry room had several washers and dryers available.

Wi-Fi

Internet connectivity was spotty throughout the Yosemite area, and the cottage was no exception. Our phones didn’t stay connected to the network very well, and the Wi-Fi was inconsistent in the cottage.

However, we could always get a strong connection at the welcome center, whether we used Wi-Fi or our phones.

Hot Tip:

Don’t count on having a solid connection to phone service until you get to Yosemite Valley. You should be ready with downloaded maps and plans before you head out.

Pet Friendliness

Some sites at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes allow pets, but not all. The cottage we stayed in was not pet-friendly, though service animals were permitted. Cabins that allow pets require a $10 per night fee. Pets must be leashed or tethered and are not permitted in campground buildings, including the restrooms and lodge. Pet waste bags were available at the lodge and restrooms.

The Cottage

We had a cottage to ourselves, complete with a bedroom, bunk room, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. It also had a picnic table, fire ring, and propane grill outside.

The inside was smaller than an average hotel room but more functional and homey. This was such a comfortable place to stay and had everything we needed.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin
A cute home away from home in Yosemite.

Bedroom

We had a separate queen bedroom with a TV and storage area. Linens were included at this cabin, though part of the guest expectations was making (and stripping) our beds. We found more than enough sheets and blankets.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes bedroom
We arrived to a mattress protector and sheets on the bed.

The bedroom featured above-the-bed lamps and an air conditioning unit separate from the living room. Both sides of the bed had nightstand shelves with regular wall plugs.

There wasn’t a closet or dresser, but the storage bench and hanging rod worked fine for a couple of nights.

Though small, the TV featured a good selection of satellite channels.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin bedroom area
Lots of blankets were on hand for cold nights in Yosemite.

Bunk Beds

On the other side of the cottage was a small room with 2 built-in bunk beds. These twin-size cubbies were perfect for our kids. I also appreciated the under-bed storage for their bags and shoes. They had a wall plug for devices and 3 windows in this room.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes Cottage Bunkroom
The bunk bedroom was perfect for kids.

The built-in feature was nice, too, because they had cubbies for soft toys at the end of their beds.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin bunk bed cubby
They looked out this small window at night, trying to spot the mountain lion the welcome center warned us about.

Living Room

The living room was combined with the kitchen and dining area. It had a full-size sofa bed in a pull-out couch that slept 2. In the dining area was a dining table that seated 4. And above the dining table was another satellite TV.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin living room
This living room doubled as a bedroom with a pull-out sofa bed.

Kitchen and Dining

The best part of the cottage was the kitchen. The area had few restaurants, so meals would have been complicated without this cottage kitchen. We made hot breakfasts and dinners and packed picnic lunches to take with us.

Without this kitchen, we probably would have visited the food service outlets in Yosemite National Park for most meals. We had a tasty lunch at the park grill, but the line and wait for food was lengthy, and it closed early in the evening. This cottage with a kitchen was a lot less stressful for managing meals for a family of 5, and I’m glad we didn’t need to rely on food service.

The kitchen featured a small refrigerator, microwave, stovetop, and sink. The cabinets and drawers were full of dishes, glasses, mugs, silverware, pots, pans, and cooking utensils. It had everything but an oven.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin dining room
This nearly full kitchen is what convinced me to book this cottage.

There was a rolling metal cart with a coffee maker, toaster oven, and kitchen knives. I cleared this cart off and used it as a snack pantry for the kids to fill their bags each morning.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin kitchen
The cart added to our available counter space.

The refrigerator had more than enough room and had a good-sized freezer.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin refrigerator
Lots of space for snacks and drinks.

The 2-burner stove was really nice to have, too.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin kitchen counter and cart
We had plenty of cooking options in the cottage.

Below the sink were some pots, cleaning supplies, and a drying rack.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin kitchen pots and pans and cleaning
The mini dish soap was so cute.

In the cabinets above were dishes, mugs, and glasses.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin dishes
Service for 6 in the cabinets.

We also had mixing bowls and storage tubs available above the microwave.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin kitchen cabinets and microwave
These would have been handy if we’d stayed long enough for leftovers.

The drawers were full of silverware and cooking utensils. I was impressed by all the tools available. I didn’t expect to see a cheese grater or strainer, but we had them.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin utensil drawers
Plenty of cooking utensils and tools.

We also had a coffee maker and toaster available. The coffee maker had filters, coffee, sugar, and other supplies for a few days.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin kitchen small appliances
I moved these to the counter to turn this rack into pantry storage.

Bathroom

The bathroom was compact but functional. There was a single sink, shelving, a toilet, and a bath/shower combo.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes Cottage Bathroom
It was a cozy cottage bathroom.

I would have liked more counter space, but there was a storage shelf below the sink that made up for it.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin bathroom sink
Towels and storage were below the bathroom sink.

Additional towels, tissues, and toilet paper were on a shelf above the toilet.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin bathroom towels
The cabin slept 6 and had towels for 6.

Toiletries were included. There were 2 bar soap packets, Pure & Natural shampoo and conditioner, and Roots Aromatherapy body wash and body lotion.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin bathroom amenities
I prefer the large mounted bottles most hotels use these days, but these toiletries were a good backup option for what we brought.

Outdoors

Another great feature of the cottage was the outdoor space. We had the whole campground to roam, but we also had outdoor living and dining just outside our cottage door with a propane grill, picnic table, and fire ring with a grill.

There wasn’t a burn ban in Yosemite when we visited, so we were allowed to use the fire ring. Firewood was available at the general store.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes picnic table grill and fire pit
The outdoor space made it easy for us to deliver on our kids’ campground favorites of burgers and s’mores!
Hot Tip:

Burn bans are common in the Yosemite area, so call ahead if you plan to use the fire ring. Campfires are only permitted in the fire ring and must not be higher than knee-high. Fires must be attended at all times and extinguished when not attended.

The View

The cottage looked out over the river, which was a great view.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin view
A cottage on the banks of the river in Yosemite just sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it?

The opposite side had a campground loop road, then a fence, and the main campground road ran through it. There was a maintenance building behind that.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin geese
Geese stopped by to greet us in the morning.

To the other side was more of a campground view with RVs, propane tanks, a dumpster, and cabins.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabin view camp
We had surprisingly few neighbors during our visit.

Additional Lodging Options

We stayed in a cottage allocated to Cabin Pass members, but Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes had a lot of other lodging options not covered under the Cabin Pass. There were cabins, yurts, and sites for tent or RV camping.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes cabins
These cabins looked a lot bigger than ours.

Some of the cabins had wrap-around decks.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes large cabin
These cabins had propane grills and fire rings just like ours.

For the RV and tent sites, there was a bathroom trailer available.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes RV bathroom trailer
This was one of the bathroom options near the RV and tent sites.

There was a permanent bath house in the area, too.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes tent site restroom
Another bathroom option for tent or RV campers.

The tent sites looked nicely shaded and somewhat secluded.

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes tent sites
This looked like a lovely place to tent camp — though we were glad to have a hard-sided cottage in mountain lion country!

Food and Beverage

There wasn’t a restaurant on-site, but the welcome center mentioned we could get breakfast tacos in the lodge. We could also buy snacks at the general store run by Thousand Trails. We opted to use our cottage kitchen and ate at the Yosemite National Park grill.

The welcome packet we got at check-in recommended The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake Country Club, Lucky Buck Cafe in Buck Meadows, Mountain Sage Cafe, and Cocina Michoacana in Groveland. It also recommended the Mar-Val Food Store in Groveland with groceries, a liquor store, and a deli.

Nearby Attractions

Located just outside of Yosemite National Park, the main attraction for Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes is the national park. The Big Oak Flat Entrance is 5.6 miles and less than 10 minutes away. Reaching Yosemite Valley, about 29 miles from the campground, takes about 50 minutes with no stops.

Our welcome packet recommended visiting Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, part of Yosemite National Park between Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes and Yosemite Valley. The reservoir features waterfalls, granite cliffs, lakes, streams, and wildlife. The entrance to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is just over 13 miles from Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes, and it takes less than 27 minutes to get there.

There’s also Rainbow Pool, a natural swimming hole with waterfalls. It’s 5.4 miles and 10 minutes from the campground. Swimming is recommended in the summer, and fishing and hiking are available year-round. Carlon Falls, 5.5 miles and 9 minutes away, features a 3.8-mile hike to the falls from the trailhead parking area.

Hot Tip:

Plan for stops between Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes and Yosemite Valley. There are excellent scenic overlooks as you head into the valley.

Service

As a campground, Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes offered less service than a hotel. We only interacted with staff at the welcome center and general store, and both were friendly and accommodating. All of our needs were met, and we were happy with the service.

There were expectations for guests that we didn’t experience at hotels and were more like a vacation rental — though we didn’t have to pay a cleaning fee.

We were asked to make and strip our beds, empty the trash and fridge, clean all the dishes and put them back in the cupboards, sweep the floors, and leave the cottage as we found it. We were made aware of these expectations at booking and checking in, so we weren’t bothered by them, and the tasks took little effort.

Final Thoughts

We loved our stay at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes, and I’m so glad I found this campground. Staying in the cottage enhanced our enjoyment of Yosemite National Park. It was straightforward to get into the park from the campground, and driving into Yosemite Valley from the campground was beautiful. Our 2-night stay was far too short, and this spot is high on my priority list for a revisit when we can enjoy more of this campground and the national park.

Frequently Asked Questions

How far is Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes from Yosemite National Park?

The campground is about 6 miles from Yosemite National Park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance. It only took us about 10 minutes to get from our cottage to the park. Your timing may vary depending on seasonal traffic, and you should expect waits if you visit during peak seasons.

Is there Wi-Fi at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes?

There is free Wi-Fi at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes. We didn’t experience a consistent connection at our cottage, but the connection was good at the welcome center when needed.

What are the lodging options at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes?

Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes had cottages, cabins, and yurts in addition to RV and tent campsites. With the Cabin Pass, we had the option to choose between a 4-person cabin, a 2-person pet-friendly cabin, or a 6-person cottage.

What amenities are available at Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes?

The lodge had seating, a TV, dining areas, and a game room featuring billiard tables. Just outside the campground was a general store with necessities, including snacks and a gas station. The outdoor recreation area had horseshoes, mini golf, basketball, volleyball, and shuffleboard. Nature activities included fishing and hiking.

Is Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes pet friendly?

The cottage we stayed in did not allow pets, though service animals are permitted. Other lodging options are pet friendly, such as a 2-person cabin available to Cabin Pass members.

Jessica Merritt's image

About Jessica Merritt

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little cash as possible.

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