Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- Checking In
- The Cottage
- Food and Beverage
- Nearby Attractions
- Final Thoughts
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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We took the mountain view trail, which was 0.75 miles out and back.
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.
The dam view trail was the same length with different views.
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.
There were also places to relax and picnic along the creek and river.
In the main area of the campground was a playground. It was close enough to our cottage that my kids could walk there.
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.
Basketball and Volleyball Courts
Another entertainment option near the playground was the basketball and volleyball courts — with balls available at the lodge.
There were horseshoes available in the same recreation area.
Shuffleboard was also available near the playground and courts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The built-in feature was nice, too, because they had cubbies for soft toys at the end of their beds.
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.
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.
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.
The refrigerator had more than enough room and had a good-sized freezer.
The 2-burner stove was really nice to have, too.
Below the sink were some pots, cleaning supplies, and a drying rack.
In the cabinets above were dishes, mugs, and glasses.
We also had mixing bowls and storage tubs available above the microwave.
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.
We also had a coffee maker and toaster available. The coffee maker had filters, coffee, sugar, and other supplies for a few days.
The bathroom was compact but functional. There was a single sink, shelving, a toilet, and a bath/shower combo.
I would have liked more counter space, but there was a storage shelf below the sink that made up for it.
Additional towels, tissues, and toilet paper were on a shelf above the toilet.
Toiletries were included. There were 2 bar soap packets, Pure & Natural shampoo and conditioner, and Roots Aromatherapy body wash and body lotion.
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.
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 cottage looked out over the river, which was a great view.
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.
To the other side was more of a campground view with RVs, propane tanks, a dumpster, and cabins.
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.
Some of the cabins had wrap-around decks.
For the RV and tent sites, there was a bathroom trailer available.
There was a permanent bath house in the area, too.
The tent sites looked nicely shaded and somewhat secluded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured Image Credit: Jessica Merritt. All images credit to Jessica Merritt unless otherwise noted.
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.
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