Visiting Yosemite Park: Walking In A Winter Wonderland On A Budget

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-12-1615

We’re not very sophisticated or worldly travelers, especially when we’ve got young kids to handle. Unlike many of our own friends who’ve managed to travel heavily even with babies in tow, we’re simple homebodies, content to hang out at home and savor our well oiled routines.

But once in a while, we’ll get restless enough to venture forth from our familiar den. When our kids were particularly young, we opted to take trips that were fairly easy to manage and such, would usually be within a convenient driving distance. One particularly successful trip involved having our extended family over for the holidays, and having us all head for Yosemite, basically a stone’s throw away from our backyard. This vacation was for a 3 day, 2 night stay that yielded a spectacular winter experience which we city slickers, originally from the tropics, could only liken to a trip through the belly of a big freezer. No, we don’t see snow that often, and it was delightful.

The most practical way to organize this trip was to first figure out where we would stay. We thought that maybe we could rough it out so we could spend very minimally, like so:

Snow Tent
Snow Camping

But we eventually decided that this was way beyond our capabilities and it didn’t look like our entire household would fit into such tiny tents (well okay, I wasn’t really serious). Our traveling family circus of 7 opted instead to find a place to rent.

A Great Log Cabin For Rent At Yosemite National Park

So we went for something much more comfortable. And practical. A log cabin seemed like a good idea, and so we eventually found ourselves in one. I was impressed by how impeccable and inviting this particular vacation rental turned out to be!

yosemite house 1
yosemite house 2
yosemite house 3

The use of a log cabin actually cost us a reasonable $350 per night. The cabin — or “chalet” as the owners called it — fits 10 and definitely a very comfortable 7, so the cost amounted to $50 a night per person. Not bad for a brand new house with all the amenities!

Comparing Costs: Visiting Yosemite Park vs Disneyland

All in all, here’s what we spent for the opportunity to cavort with nature:

Travel Costs For Visiting Yosemite
Snow clothes (most borrowed from other family members)  $200
3 days, 2 nights in a chalet  $700
Snow chains  $30
Park entrance fee  $20
Replacement kid boots  $35
DIY Dinner for 7 (2 nights)  $120
DIY Lunch for 7  $150
Gas for a 460 mile roundtrip ($2.75 per gallon, mileage: 20 miles/gallon)  $63.25
Miscellaneous groceries  $70
Speeding Ticket (Ooops. Unplanned) N/A
Total $1,388.25

Now compare this to what we would have spent if we had instead cavorted with Mickey and had taken the entire family to visit Disneyland:
Mickey Mouse

Travel Costs For Enjoying Disneyland
3 days, 2 nights in the renowned Disneyland Hotel  $4,194.90
Room Type: 2 Bedroom Suite  Included
Package: Resort Package  Included
Dining: Donald’s 3 Day Meal Plan (Dinner Only)  Included (this runs $92 per adult and $70 per child)
3 Day Park Hopper souvenir ticket  Included
Gas for an 800 miles round trip ($2.75 per gallon, mileage: 20 miles/gallon)  $110
Restaurant breakfast and lunch for 7 ($15 per person for 2.5 days)  $525
Total  $4,829.90

* We don’t hold a Season’s Pass for Disneyland.

Quite a difference! If you don’t mind the altitude, then the cozy, authentic nature-bound family bonding expedition is a fantastic value. Note, however, that I’m not discouraging a trip to the Magic Kingdom as you can very well apply frugal travel planning strategies in any situation. For example, some people may have relatives in L.A. and may be able to cut costs by simply holing up with family or friends right by Anaheim. Hopefully, though, the points I’ve made will provide some food for thought.

How Our Frugal Trip Turned Out

It had just snowed a few days prior to our arrival and with the sun out in force during our entire stay, the landscape was breathtaking, like you were living in a picture postcard. We were also treated to some close encounters with a handful of foxes on a couple of occasions (there seemed to be a lot of them that year). For all that, this inter-generational trip, tailored in length for little kids as well as for a couple of senior citizens, was perfect.

Yosemite Mountains
Hiking in Yosemite

The nature trip for 7 people may have cost a little over a grand, but the snowball fights on a fresh carpet of snow surrounded by towering white cliffs and a blanket of pine trees were absolutely PRICELESS! Here are more photos of our short but enjoyable sojourn. Few humans are included though.

How To Cut Down On Vacation Expenses

For the sake of completeness, I’d like to add a few tips on how to cut travel expenses during the planning stage:

  1. Consider splitting the bill with other people. Invite others whom you get along with to join you on vacation!
  2. Rent a house instead of staying in a hotel if you have a big group. You can then shop for and cook your own meals.
  3. Visit an inexpensive location where things cost less.
  4. Visit a place that is closer to home so you can cut down on fares or gas. Check out these staycation ideas.
  5. Have shorter vacations or maybe just go on day trips more frequently.
  6. Consider a nature trip where you won’t be tempted to spend additional money on souvenirs. Bring home some pine cones or shells from a beach!
  7. Do enough research about the place you are visiting before you make plans. The more you know, the better you can plan with costs in mind. For instance, if you are thinking of visiting Yosemite Park, see if these resources can help you out!

Created January 2, 2007. Updated December 16, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Knight January 9, 2007 at 7:35 am

Loved the post!!! Sounds like a great trip. I can finally say I don’t have to go anywhere to enjoy the snow, we finally have some (usually we have feet by now…)! Woohoo, gonna go build a snowman!

Silicon Valley Blogger January 14, 2007 at 12:26 am

Thanks Lisa! It was a great trip with the entire family in one house. Grandparents loved having their grandkids to enjoy. I’m very glad to be able to document it here! 🙂 This song would play in my mind as I was writing this article:

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, in the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland.
When it snows, ain’t it thrilling, though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way, walking in a winter wonderland.

~ Winter Wonderland, Dick Smith/Felix Bernard 1934

It got me in the mood!

Lisa January 15, 2007 at 11:50 am

It looks like a beautiful vacation. A trip like that looks way better than a trip to Disney.

Super Saver January 15, 2007 at 6:01 pm


Great story. It will be highlighted as My Wealth Builder Carnival pick in my Tuesday posting.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 15, 2007 at 8:07 pm

Thanks folks! I’m happy you enjoyed this story. This is my favorite ever post in this entire blog.

Stephanie January 16, 2007 at 9:06 am

I’d take the mountains over Disney anytime. For the cost and the experience. Great tips and info too!

Mishmash Musings March 22, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Hey, what a fantastic post! Thanks for the pictures and the price comparisons. Disney is definitely an expensive vacation, so you were smart to choose the Winter Wonderland option instead. Glad to hear it worked out for you!

shelly wagar January 3, 2009 at 7:47 pm

The lodgings look great.

Patrice May 16, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Excellent post as it’s very informative. The photos looks great.

Vijay Eswaran October 11, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Wow. The photos look cool! I am so tempted to bring the whole family there. I love snow.

Barb Friedberg December 18, 2011 at 8:44 am

I feel like I was there with you. It looks absolutely awe inspiring. Definitely a good idea to stay in the chalet versus “roughing it.” Happy Holidays!

Silicon Valley Blogger December 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

Thanks Barb!! And a Happy Holidays to you too! We love Yosemite and if you haven’t trudged there yet, you should! 🙂 This area, Mammoth Mountain, the Sierras and Lake Tahoe in the winter are all fabulous!

Maggie@SquarePennies December 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Inspiring! We’ve rented houses in Minnesota by a lake and in Puerto Rico on the beach, both through, Vacation Rental By Owner (no affiliation). It was very affordable and had room for several families. Lots of fun and not touristy!

Funny about Money December 23, 2011 at 8:52 am

What a hoot!

My former husband used to say that “it’s hard to be suave when you’re traveling with kids.” That was an understatement…

This must have been a great trip for the kids. Disneyland, considering that it targets families with young kids, has gone way beyond the pale in the cost department, IMHO. Your kids got to see the real thing, not an animated imitation.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks for the tip — it’s a “think outside of the box” approach to taking vacations. Maybe a great way to cut costs for sure, rather than booking individual rooms in overpriced hotels.

Some of the nice things about California — great weather and being close to both nature and to amusement parks, so you can take your pick as to where to go on vacation! And accommodations aren’t bad. Not so good? It can get pricey to live around here, so it’s definitely wise to figure out ways to snag price breaks.

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