Yosemite: Airstream Glamping at Autocamp
Californians are spoiled with nine of the nation’s national parks situated within a reasonable driving distance of each other, making this part of the country prime road trip territory. You can have breakfast at the beach and, before lunch, find yourself in need of snow boots in the high Sierras after driving through a 100 degree desert to get there. The landscape variety might be my favorite part of living here.
A year into our California adventure, we’ve seen Sequoia and King's Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and finally… Yosemite, which has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. (That still leaves Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles, and Channel Islands.) I remember Yosemite's majestic granite cliffs and waterfalls from a calendar I was gifted as a kid and I recall looking at it wondering if the colorful sunrise photos were real. Growing up in the Alleghenies, mountains of that size were (and still are) completely incomprehensible to me. If you’ve read any John Muir (a naturalist known for his mesmerizing descriptions of the American west and whose wilderness conservation efforts earned him recognition as “the father of national parks”), you know how beautifully he describes his travels - his essays are impossible to read without adding places to your travel list.
We planned our first trip to Yosemite in mid-May, which is usually an ideal time to visit due to moderate temperatures, abundant wildflowers, and high-volume waterfalls. (Plus you can sneak in before most kids are out of school, so, in theory, there are less visitors.) Our dates this year ended up being perfectly aligned with a late spring snowstorm and the resulting road closures and tire chain requirements encouraged us to rebook for mid-June. California received record rain last year, temporarily ending a state-wide drought, creating a Yosemite full of overflowing rivers, flooded meadows, and beautiful waterfalls during our visit.
As anyone who loves nature and solitude can lament, national parks are a mixed bag in reality. On one hand, there’s the park itself, which never disappoints. On the other, there’s the traffic, trash, and behavior of some tourists that make you wish the place was still somehow a secret. Escaping crowds is a main goal for us on any trip and that is nearly impossible to do in a national park, where traffic jams and dodging hordes of Instazombies are part of the package. We usually try to stay in a quiet place not far from the park to minimize that element of the experience. I was grateful for this approach in Yosemite because even a snack/restroom stop in the valley required navigating around quite a few people.
Already familiar with Autocamp’s Santa Barbara location, we decided to give their brand new Yosemite property a try and I’m so glad we did! The initial draw for us was that they’re pet-friendly and the Midpines location not far from the park’s arch rock entrance was perfect. We booked in January right after they announced they’d be opening the Yosemite location in April and the staff at booking (and re-booking) were beyond accommodating and helpful.
A note that Yosemite (like most national parks) isn’t pet-friendly (dogs aren’t allowed on actual trails - only on walkways and paved paths in the valley) but this trip was intended to be a “scouting” trip for a few we have planned later, so we took Ellie. She loves every minute of a road trip and her ability to survey surroundings from Airstream windows.
Autocamp is known for its commune of custom Airstreams, but you can also book cabins, luxury tents, and Getaway-house-style suite trailers (they call these X-suites) at the Yosemite location. Endless glamping options! Perfect for families, you can rent a “base camp” which is an Airstream + tent combo, an ideal option for families who want to let the kiddos sleep in the tent not far from the Airstream.
We opted for a “Premium Summit Suite” which is an Airstream trailer perched up on a hill in a more secluded location that offers a view of the property below. These range from $209 to $619 per night depending on the time of year and day of week. Weekends tend to have a minimum 2-night stay. The extra cost associated with the better location is definitely worth it if you value quiet, as the other Airstreams were fairly close together.
You’re given cute Radio Flyer wagons to transport your stuff from the parking lot to your camp site, which could be a decent walk away given the size of the property. We used ours to tote (read: torment) Ellie. The wagons were great for pictures, but they were miniature versions of the childhood favorite and definitely sacrifice some function for form.
No matter which glamping option you choose, you’ll have a private patio and campfire setup. Our Airstream came equipped with a fire-starting kit. (Importantly, it included materials that don’t spark because no one wants to be the person whose campfire sparks a wildfire.) If, like us, you intend to build more than one fire, you can get additional supplies at the Clubhouse, a mid-century modern cabin that serves as a checkin desk, convenience store, and community center. Here, you’ll also find a heated pool, fire pit, and classic board games to borrow. This is also where you’ll go for a nightly happy hour (complimentary beer and wine), a few staple camping provisions, and local goodies. They offered s’mores kits, granola bars, oatmeal, coffee/tea, soup mix, bacon, beverages (wine + beer), and ice cream (along with branded souvenirs) when we visited.
Conveniently, the property is also a YARTS shuttle stop, so if you’re not up for navigating the park traffic in your own vehicle, you can hop on the shuttle which takes about an hour and 30 minutes ($8 each way and be prepared for lines in the park.) Earlier this month, Autocamp announced a partnership with REI, which means you can now book six REI-led day hikes as well ($155 per person and up.)
I was amused reading some online reviews while writing this (there weren’t many when we stayed because it had just opened) and I feel obligated to point out a few obvious things about staying in an Airstream (and about forest inhabitants.) 1. Airstreams are not spacious. Autocamp smartly prioritized a nicely-sized bathroom and, naturally, some of the kitchen/living area was sacrificed. Personally, I appreciated the ample bathroom space. 2. Each Airstream has air-conditioning, a feature you might be grateful for because summer temperatures are in the 90’s. Even the quietest air conditioners make noise, and this noise is amplified in a metal tube, so expect to hear the sound of the air conditioner, much like in a hotel room. 3. There’s a freshwater pond on-site, around which some of the Airstreams are situated. This pond is home to a number of frogs. Frogs make noises at night - they’re looking for mates and claiming territories. It’s helpful if you remember you’re visiting their home in the event that nature’s nighttime soundtrack isn’t soothing.
If you’re looking to recreate this exact experience (hi, Adrienne!), we had campsite #78 and I remembered to snap a property map picture this time.
Bedroom - The bed was super comfortable. I was surprised that there was a TV and we appreciated a few little wilderness-themed books and the storage space they were able to create.
Kitchen - It’s equipped for basic camp cooking (cast iron skillet, knife block, cutting board, cutlery, dishes, wine opener, scissors, oven mitt, grilling tools.) There is a microwave, but note that the fridge is the absolute smallest hotel/dorm size with a very tiny space for ice, so keep that in mind if you bring a cooler full of food like we did. The Clubhouse has basic provisions and your closest actual grocery store is Pioneer Market in Mariposa - it’s like a Vons/Safeway and has everything you might need.
Bathroom - I was impressed with the layout, space usage, and natural light. There’s a full-size sink, toilet, and shower (no water pressure or temperature issues, which was surprising and awesome.) I loved the window in the shower and being able to stare up into the pine boughs outside. They’re careful to instruct you about how to use the vent while showering, which I’m sure is an important part of not destroying the trailer with trapped moisture.
Living room - There’s a pull-out sofa that didn’t seem like it would be very comfortable, but we didn’t try it. Ellie enjoyed it, though!
Summer accommodations in Yosemite book up quickly, so book early to get your pick of the options at this location. As you can see from the map, there are only 2 cabins, about 20 tents, and a limited number of prime location Airstreams, so the amount of advanced planning required depends largely on your preferences. Splurge a bit on the secluded campsites if you can.
I asked Ryan what beneficial suggestions he thought I could offer and he replied, “Make your playlist public.” Happy to oblige, I included the perfect park-peeping playlist (how’s that for alliteration?!) at the end of the post - make sure to download it ahead of time because there’s no cell service in the park.
If you download the local Google map before entering the park, note that it’s not 100% reliable, so take the paper map if it’s your first time visiting. The issue we had was that the GPS couldn’t exactly pinpoint our location consistently, so having a general layout of the park in your head is helpful.
It’s impossible to spend any amount of time in a national park without developing a deep and lasting appreciation of the conservation efforts that made your visit possible. Through the concerted efforts of generations, we’re able to walk though lush meadows dwarfed by the same granite cliffs described by John Muir in the 1800’s, experiencing the same sense of awe that he so artfully articulates in each piece of writing. The use cases for what remains of our wild places are never-ending: there’s water to be dammed, power to be generated, timber to be logged, natural resources to be extracted, and profits to be made. The rationale for such attempts is always cleverly disguised as some combination of energy independence or job creation and the resulting damage is always minimized, to everyone’s detriment. It’s harder for people to want to preserve something they’ve never seen, so if my photos could talk, they’d say, “Care about this. Appreciate this. Preserve this.”
Beyond the obvious pack out what you pack in, #leavenotrace mantra of wilderness respect, which is obviously important, preservation means participating in (or supporting the people doing) the conservation work. Voting is more impactful than any other individual action a person can take. Educate yourself and vote consistently - in local, state, and national races because they all matter. Shortsighted policy decisions cause irreparable environmental harm. Whether it’s directly threatening protected land, leaving parks vulnerable during a government shutdown, diverting park funding for parties, endangering waterways with regulatory rollbacks, retracting a ban on bee-killing pesticides, or ignorantly dismissing climate change, policies that favor profits over the planet have always saddled future generations with the clean-up responsibility. In more ways than one, we’re approaching the point of no return.
Elections are decided by the people that show up. Our wild places need more advocates than Instagrammers and I’m out here hoping the latter turns everyone into the former.