When the Native Americans traveled between the foothills and Yosemite Valley, Wawona was the halfway point on their journey. They called it Pallachun, meaning “a good place to stay.” This Indian encampment is now the small community of Wawona, home to the historic The Wawona Hotel (formerly known as the Big Tree Lodge) and a private community of mountain cabins, many available to rent. Stay overnight (to relax on the wide veranda on one of the hotel’s Adirondack chairs is a Sierra rite of passage), or just spend a day in the area.
The hotel reflects its 19th century roots with lights and other details that echo the elegance of the era.
In summer, take a dip in nearby swimming holes, follow the switchback hiking trail to Chilnualna Falls, and get a history lesson at Pioneer Yosemite History Center (and take a horse-drawn carriage ride). The hotel itself has a small visitor center with information on more area activities. In the evening, pianist and singer Tom Bopp performs vintage songs—from cowboy tunes to sentimental ballads—that span Yosemite's history.
Wawona is also adjacent to Yosemite National Park’s south entrance—which, as of summer 2018, also offers good access to the magnificent Mariposa Grove. The oldest of Yosemite’s sequoia groves, Mariposa dates back to 1864, when Congress passed legislation to permanently preserve both the grove and Yosemite Valley. The grove’s recent restoration was designed to revive ecological processes, protect wildlife, and minimize the impact of car traffic on the 500 mature giant sequoias. The restored grove has a consolidated parking area, farther away from the trees (catch the shuttle from the south entrance), and some roads have been turned into hiking trails, including a boardwalk walkway. You can also see giant sequoias in other parts of Yosemite: Visit Tuolumne Grove, on the Tioga Road just east of Crane Flat, and Merced Grove, located on Big Oak Flat Road east of the Big Oak Flat Entrance.