After four days in the hustle and bustle of city life in San Francisco, I was ready for some peace, serenity and mountain air. So on a Tuesday morning in late August, my husband, eight-year-old son and I made the long, hot, flat drive east from San Francisco to Tenaya Lodge, just a few miles from the south entrance to Yosemite National Park. Tenaya’s close proximity to Yosemite’s south entrance make it an ideal home base for exploring Wawona, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and other south Yosemite attractions. With traffic, construction and winding roads, it can take an hour and a half to get to Yosemite Valley from Tenaya. But let’s face it, the major attractions of Yosemite Valley aren’t really close to anything. If you’re looking for a full service resort, Tenaya is your place. I might have chosen Tenaya for those reasons. Who am I kidding! When I heard that Tenaya was opening a brand new spa just two months before my visit, there was no question where I’d be staying.
Just a short time after arriving, I steal away for a tour of the spa with Spa Director Kate Riley. My treatment isn’t scheduled until later the next day, but I’m anxious to set my sights on Ascent, The Spa at Tenaya Lodge. Riley’s career has been focused on the wellness industry since 1976 and she brings a lifelong commitment of holistic living and wellness to Ascent. She has an impressive resume of experiences from many fine resorts, hotels and spas in some of the most beautiful destinations on the planet. She is a natural choice to lead the staff and operations of Ascent to greatness.
Still in the soft-opening stage (the spa opened just two months prior in June ’10), the 10,000 square foot 12-room spa is getting great press for its environmental practices; Ascent has achieved the LEED Silver certification. The entire facility is ADA compliant – this is evident in the wide-open hallways. While the spa is completely built and fully operational, work is still being done to beautify it and Riley was more than happy to share Ascent’s completed vision with me as she proudly showed me around. But more on the spa later.
If you want to be well connected to the spa, restaurants and the main lobby, ask for a room in the West Wing. At 550 square feet, room 345 was a nicely appointed Spa Suite decorated in hues of cranberry and mustard with a bit of a southwest flair. My family appreciated the spacious King bedded room with lots of extras, like a wet bar, refrigerator, coffee maker and private balcony facing a spectacular nightly sunset. In the well-designed extra large bathroom we found ProTerra bath products, an oversized spa tub, separate tiled walk-in shower with glass blocks and counter space that went on forever. There was a copy of the latest issue of Spa Magazine in my room (yes!) and bathrobes in the closet – indulgences that added to the spa-like theme of the suite.
While the spa suites are likely very popular with couples, it was a great size and layout for our family of three. Our eight year old was more than happy to camp out on the queen-sized pull out sofa bed for our 3-night stay. A large flat-screen television and tons of storage space added to the family appeal. Everything was in great condition and in proper working order.
We were treated to a welcome gift of candy, cheese & crackers, and artfully displayed fruits in a martini glass, which my family devoured, perhaps a hint of what to expect from Tenaya’s catering and room service offerings.
Plan your visit to Yosemite carefully to make the most of your time in the park – we found that time flew by and there weren’t enough hours in the day to see and do everything. We followed the sage advice of Tenaya’s knowledgeable and friendly concierge staff and were on the road before 8 am. We missed much of the later morning traffic and it took hours before we even noticed the crowds. Our Yosemite touring plan went like this:
Day 1 – Arrive at Tenaya, swim in the outdoor pool, and enjoy an al fresco dinner on the fireside patio and a good nights rest.
Day 2 – Yosemite Valley
Day 3 – Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Glacier Point
Day 4 – Depart Tenaya Lodge for Lake Tahoe via Tioga Pass Road, with a visit to Tuolumne Meadows (and every lake and stream in between).
When we arrived back at Tenaya Lodge at days end, cooling off from the nearly 100-degree heat was top priority. Lots of families with children who had the same idea headed for the refreshment of the outdoor pool, surrounded by chaise lounges, umbrellas and a few cabanas. Because no vacation is complete without the requisite beach or pool cocktail, I couldn’t resist ordering a frozen drink from the poolside Bearfoot Bar.
Tenaya is ultra family-friendly: kids have their own restaurant menus; there is a large arcade, and coin-operated guest laundry facilities – a must when you’re traveling with kids. On our first night at Tenaya, tired from the long drive from SF, we decided to stay close and dine on the fireside outdoor patio of the Sierra Restaurant. When my son spilled his drink, the gracious staff didn’t miss a beat helping us clean it up and replacing the beverage, this time with a lidded cup.
Yosemite National Park is known for many things: world-class climbing, extreme weather and breathtaking vistas. What Yosemite may not be so well known for is luxury spas. But Tenaya Lodge is about to change all that with the opening of Ascent, The Spa at Tenaya Lodge.
It’s nearly 100 degrees out and my family has just spent the day hiking, climbing, driving and riding the eco-friendly shuttle around Northern California’s Yosemite National Park – an enormous beauty the size of Rhode Island. My feet are hot and tired and my back and shoulders are aching from the not-so-posture friendly backpack I’ve been carrying around all day. I can’t think of a more natural place to head than Ascent, the Spa at Tenaya Lodge.
The soothing soundtrack of the waterfall induces immediate relaxation as soon as my elevator arrives at the spas lower level. Once inside, the natural surroundings of the Sierra National Forest and nearby Yosemite are the inspiration for the décor, the indigenous treatments, and the spirit of Ascent. Sage green walls, walnut lockers and cabinetry and velvety soft chocolate brown towels and linens are a wonderful departure from pure white sheets and towels most commonly found at spas. In the locker room area, you’ll find oversize tile showers with handheld and rain showers, a simple vanity area and botanical prints on the walls.
Tenaya is popular for weddings and events, so it makes perfect sense that there is a private locker room for special occasions like bridal parties. The spa level also features a fitness center, exercise room and retail area. A large dry sauna and steam room, not infused with essential oils like eucalyptus, shows the spas commitment to avoiding allergens that might bother sensitive guests.
Product lines include locally produced Kimberly Parry Organics – known for high-quality, certified organic, esthetically sourced flora that the founder searches for throughout the world. In fact, local products are used whenever possible. The treatment menu is designed to promote harmony with nature and Ascent achieves this brilliantly.
Linda, my down to earth therapist, explains my 80-minute ritual to me, the Wild Rose and Lemon Verbena Body Scrub. A combination of Wild Rose Petals, Lemon Verbena and Organic Sugar, this body scrub gently exfoliates while the healing and nutritional properties of the roses get absorbed into the skin with the assistance of the sugar. Excess scrub is removed with warm towels and then followed with a massage using our Evening Primrose & Rosehip Massage Oil. ($120)
First a dry full body exfoliation with the scrub. Once the exfoliant is removed with warm towels, I hopped in the in-room private shower that Linda has thoughtfully warmed for me. My instructions: rinse off the exfoliant, don’t use any product. When I emerge from the shower, the treatment table has been refreshed and I sink in between warmed chocolate brown sheets for the second half of the ritual. If you’ve ever felt cheated by the brief lotion application that follows most body scrubs, you’ll be in heaven just knowing that you still have a 50-minute full body massage to look forward to. And it doesn’t matter which of the scrubs or wraps you choose – all three that are currently on the menu end with a full body massage. Linda is a highly skilled therapist and her technique is a perfect match for my preferences. My parched, freshly exfoliated skin drinks up the massage oil. When the treatment ends, I reluctantly leave the envelopment of the massage table cocoon and meet Linda in the hallway for my escort back to the dimly lit relaxation room.
(Side note: No doubt, the worst part of any spa treatment is when it ends and you have to rejoin your life, already in progress. It’s standard spa etiquette to take your time getting up and to join your therapist outside the treatment room when you’re ready. I just wonder if anyone has ever been tempted, like me, to settle in and just take a little nap? I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course, as a complement to a great therapist who has put me into a trancelike state of relaxation.)
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a holistic and rejuvenating getaway for mind, body and soul, ASCENT is introducing a series of three-day Spa & Wellness retreats in the fall of 2010 starting at $1,165. Featuring workshops, yoga sessions, botanical walks, outdoor exploration and more, these Spa & Wellness packages include an opportunity to rejuvenate within the High Sierra. Available October 15-18 and November 11-12, 2010. For more information: http://www.tenayalodge.com/Wellness_Retreats.aspx
Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
1122 Highway 41
PO Box 159
Fish Camp, CA 9362
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a discounted room rate and complimentary spa treatment for the purpose of writing this article. While this did not influence this review, echoflam.com believes in full disclosure.