February 21, 2023

Yosemite National Park - The Ahwahnee Hotel: "Majestic No More" (National Parks Trip #3)

This post represents another installment in the series documenting our West Coast National Parks trip in the summer of 2017.  Alan and I, along with our 18 year old daughter, Kyra, logged a total of 8,513 memorable miles of adventure over the course of five and a half weeks during the months of July and August.

Yosemite National Park had been a bucket list item of ours for more years than I’d care to count.  Since a straight-line journey from our home to Yosemite is nearly 3,000 miles, we knew that this visit would require an extended trip.  We held off for a number of years, never feeling that the timing was right.  As it turned out, the summer of 2017, following Kyra’s high school graduation, provided the best opportunity.  As far as I’m concerned, our timing was about as far from impeccable as you can get.  Why?  At the time of our visit, the National Park Service was embroiled in a lawsuit with the Park’s former concessionaire.  Somehow, we managed to visit Yosemite National Park during the four years that the Park’s iconic hotel, the Ahwahnee, was not the Ahwahnee.

See the Shuttle Stop sign with the #3?  It says, "The Majestic Yosemite Hotel."

Alan, Kyra and I hit the floor running on Day #14 of our West Coast National Parks trip.  With only three days to explore the Park, we knew we needed to fit in as many adventures as those three days could possibly hold.  First up, a much anticipated breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

A picture-perfect setting for the Ahwahnee Hotel

Eight miles into our twenty-six mile drive to the Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley, we made a pit stop at the conveniently located gas station at Crane Flat.  Waking up inside the Park at our Hodgdon Meadow campsite was delightful.  Being such a short distance from a gas station and convenience store was incredibly helpful.  Life’s simple pleasures are not lost on me, especially when we’re on an extended road trip.  As for the Ahwahnee, dining at the hotel was not a simple pleasure; it was an extraordinary one.

The Dining Room at the Ahwahnee

I was originally planning to cover just our memorable breakfast experience at the Ahwahnee.  Then, when I was doing a little fact-checking, I fell down a rabbit hole involving the above-mentioned lawsuit.  I had been vaguely aware of the change in name from Ahwahnee to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel but, until now, I didn’t know the details of the story.  I quickly found out that it’s quite the story.

And just out the back windows . . .

The famous and fabulous Ahwahnee Hotel opened its doors in July of 1927 - 90 years before our visit.  This magnificent building was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the same architect who designed lodges at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.  The Ahwahnee was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in February of 1977.  In recent times, DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite (a subsidiary of Delaware North) was the concessionaire that had run the hotels, restaurants and other concessions in the Park since being awarded the contract in 1993.  Trouble started in 2015, when the National Park Service (NPS) awarded the new, $2 billion, 15-year contract to Yosemite Hospitality LLC (a subsidiary of Aramark).  Delaware North, having drawn the short straw, filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the NPS and Aramark, claiming Delaware North owned trade names and trademarks to a number of structures within the Park.  According to Delaware North, the company had been required to buy “the assets of the previous concessionaire, including its intellectual property, at a cost of $115 million in today’s dollars” when it took over operations in 1993.  Delaware North filed for $50 million in compensation.  The NPS and Aramark were prohibited from using what Delaware North claimed to be its intellectual property until the lawsuit was settled or an outcome was determined by the courts.

In March of 2016, when Aramark’s tenure began, the beloved Ahwahnee Hotel became the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.  Curry Village (which had been founded as Camp Curry way back in 1889) was re-named Half Dome Village.  The Wawona Hotel became the Big Trees Lodge.  Badger Pass became Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area which, if you ask me, has as much personality as the name of a corporately sponsored arena.

In the end, the NPS and Aramark settled the lawsuit with Delaware North in 2019 for a total of $12 million.  The federal government shelled out $3.84 million as compensation for intellectual property.  Aramark paid $8.16 million, and that included the cost of some tangible assets that Delaware North was transferring to the new concessionaire.  The good news is that the NPS did not make the same mistake twice when awarding the new 15-year contract to Aramark.  Upon the expiration or termination of Aramark’s contract, the trademarks and service marks will transfer back to the NPS at no cost.

I’m a proponent of justice and, normally, I’d say that Delaware North deserved some amount of compensation for their intellectual property.  But one tiny fact I read, if true, is leaving an awfully bad taste in my mouth.  It wasn’t until after the new contract was awarded to Aramark that the NPS learned Delaware North didn’t apply for trademarks for the names until the NPS prepared to open bids for the new contract.  I don’t even follow football, and this lawsuit sounds like a Hail Mary pass to me.

At least the incident is over, and the Ahwahnee is back to being the Ahwahnee.  It is the “Majestic no more.”  I will now crawl back out of the rabbit hole and tell you about our unforgettable breakfast experience.

According to the menu, the Dining Room is 130' long, 51' wide and 34' high.  The windows are 24' high.

The Ahwahnee was built as a first class hotel to attract visitors of wealth and influence who would support the National Parks.  Dining at the Ahwahnee was not the most comfortable experience for Alan, Kyra and me.  Go ahead and assume it was because we were not visitors of wealth and influence.  Sure, we clean up well enough, but hoity-toity hotels and fancy restaurants aren’t usually on our itineraries because they’re just not our cup of tea.  We much prefer casual, comfortable places where we can have a good time with friends and family without worrying if we’re using the right fork.

Uh-oh.  Someone must have told them we were coming.

We’ve often had wonderful experiences at State and National Park lodges.  Although we’ve never stayed in one because we usually camp during out travels, we have enjoyed touring and/or dining at a number of them.  The Ahwahnee had a certain air about it, a somewhat stuffy and formal air that chaffed a bit, even as we marveled at the magnificence of the building and the appeal of the interior design.  I think it was “Lurch” who sent us over the edge.  God, please forgive me for saying this, but our server was SO formal (and so tall) that he reminded us of the butler from The Addams Family.  Once we accepted the fact that the ambience was just a little bit too solemn and, okay, I’ll say it – humorless for us, we had a good laugh and enjoyed the rest of our breakfast and our visit to the hotel.

I would SO enjoy my morning coffee on the patio!

Realtors know it’s all about location, location, location.  Although we found no fault with our delicious breakfast, the main attractions were the charm and elegance of the historic Ahwahnee Hotel and the sensational and unparalleled views of Yosemite National Park outside its windows. Our first adventure in the Park was a magical experience!

A beautiful way to start our day!

With room rates starting at over $500.00 per night, chances are we won’t be staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel anytime soon.  Those kinds of prices put my Value Meter into a tailspin.  That being said, I’d go back for a meal in a heartbeat – and with the hope that Lurch has since cut back on the starch in his laundry - and his attitude.

The phrase “Majestic No More” in the title of today’s post is directly attributed to Station KCRA 3, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, California.   The full title of KCRA’s article announcing the settlement of the lawsuit back in July of 2019 was, “Majestic No More: Historic Names Return to Yosemite Landmarks.”  I thought the play on words was clever.  If you’d like to read about the filing of the lawsuit, try this 2016 article from the L.A. Times (link here).  It seemed to be more comprehensive than many of the other articles I found down that very deep rabbit hole.  (Note: I was able to access the L.A. Times article without trouble; however, when I tried to access a second article, I came up against a paywall.)  The press release issued by the National Park Service at the time the lawsuit was settled in 2019 can be found (here).

The photos in today’s post were all taken by Yours Truly at the “Majestic Yosemite Hotel” in Yosemite National Park in July of 2017.  Deep down in my heart, I know we enjoyed breakfast at the Ahwahnee.  It always was the Ahwahnee, and it always will be.



  1. Okay, that's just about enough of teasing about parks we've visited but not as thoroughly as having visited this wonderful hotel. I really enjoyed the delicious wording of the sign requesting appropriate decorum. But you knew I would.

    1. Having been fans of National Parks for more than 40 years, I have to admit that we find the old lodges fascinating and irresistible. I love the sense of history and timelessness. That's probably why the potential loss of the historic names bothered me so much. As for the sign, well, all I can say is that you and I had better not show up there together. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be long before we were thrown out for causing some kind of ruckus. Alan and Sandy would be left to mend the fences.

  2. With all our road trips, in both car and RV, we have never managed to make it to Yosemite. The few times we thought we'd complete a trip, fires, floods, or huge crowds kept us away. Oh, and one time our oldest daughter decided to give birth while we had Yosemite in our sights. Instead, we drove 700 miles home to be there for the birth of our first grandchild,. Your story and photos remind me why missing this National Park remains a disappointment.

    1. Yosemite vs. First Grandchild - no contest. But that must have felt like a very long 700 miles. Yosemite has been a tough ticket for a long time. The fires, floods and crowds that you mentioned have impacted many an outdoor enthusiast's plans and, as more people visit, I'm guessing that additional restrictions and reservations will be required. That being said, Bob, I hope you and Betty haven't crossed Yosemite off your list of possibilities entirely yet. The magnificent scenery and the Park's many special places and iconic landmarks are well worth whatever efforts are required to visit. I promise!

  3. I am so happy that the Ahwahnee is the Ahwahnee again. I'm no fan of Delaware North, both for that (IMHO) bogus lawsuit and the fact that they (also, IMHO) temporarily ruined a local state park when they took over its management. Fortunately, they were run out of town and it's almost back to its former beauty. Interestingly, my BIL worked for Aramark as their western US food service quality manager (or something like that) during this time and Yosemite was one of the locations he was responsible for. Sadly, we never got to take advantage of the relationship to eat at the Ahwahnee for free... it really does seem like we deserved some nepotism, doesn't it?

    1. I'm so glad to hear that your State Park was saved from complete ruin! I would love to know if Delaware North did, indeed, purchase all the trademarks and service marks they laid claim to. I'm guessing they must have had some kind of proof, but then they did settle for a much lower dollar amount than the damages the lawsuit initially demanded. Makes me wonder. By the way, not only would I have voted for a free meal for you and your husband at the Ahwahnee, but I think they should have comped you a room, too!

  4. Breakfast at the Ahwahnee sounds delightful! Eric and I always enjoy visiting the National Park lodges for a meal or a cocktail on the patio, while staying in the campground. It's a great plan, isn't it? :-) We haven't been to the Ahwahnee, but your photos make it look so enticing. And your view was fabulous!

    My only somewhat disappointing experience was at the Grand Canyon a number of years ago. I asked the waiter if the chocolate mousse was made in house, and he diplomatically replied, "Would you like it to be?" I laughed and didn't order it. I had seen a Sysco truck outside, so I suspected it wasn't exactly "farm to table" dining. But I wanted it to be!

    1. I'm laughing at your waiter's response - what a quick thinker he was! I would have been quite happy to trade him for Lurch! During our early travels, we didn't make the lodges a priority, and now I wish we had. We missed a number of them, and that's definitely our loss. Our most recent treat was lunch at the Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park last spring. The architecture + the food (definitely not Sysco) + the view from the deck outside the dining room = yet another great experience.


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