I’m a twenty-something traveler, but only just barely.
As I approach thirty, I find myself reflecting quite often. Approaching a milestone birthday, it’s only natural to think about where you thought you would be, or what you thought you might be doing.
There may also be a few things you thought you might not be doing — like finally making it to the famous national park in your backyard, or staying in a hostel at 29 (in the United States, no less.)
Seeing as I could remedy both of these with only a few days and a short drive away, I jumped at the chance. And boy, did the American hostel (and the national park!) deliver.
Not Your Typical Hostel
Upon first entering the hostel in the middle of the woods, it feels quite like you’ve just returned to summer camp. There is a large campfire you can gather around — sometimes with songs. Tall pine trees surround several small free-standing buildings, which sit side-by-side with tent cabins and picnic tables. A welcoming common area boasts board games, leather couches, and a grand fireplace.
Though the prospect of each of these elements is enticing, to assume the HI Midpines Yosemite Bug is simply a hostel would be…a mistake. What began as a young woman’s dream of someday opening a hostel has grown to include facilities you wouldn’t even dream of having at your typical budget stay. Over the years it has truly developed into the latest addition to its name: a rustic mountain resort.
Resort, eh? I check in with the front office in a small portable. I look around and wonder, am I too old for this? But really, should I still be staying in hostels…particularly this close to home?
Show Me to My Private Room
I feel slightly better knowing I’m staying in one of the property’s private rooms, which has become my latest hostel hack — you maintain some privacy and stick mostly within budget, and you keep the sense of community and the excellent local tips you get from other travelers and staff.
I’m in the “psychedelic” room. So they don’t all look like this, then? I think to myself, pausing to examine the sheer, tie-dyed curtains on my windows. The room is well-designed, airy, and bright, with an ensuite bathroom and a comfortable, clean bed. If this is hosteling, count me in!
It turns out nearly every room has been refitted to match a creative theme — from classic, to antique, to metal music or basic dorms. No matter your style, budget, or size of your party, it can be found here. You can feel as if you’re camping rustically in the woods, or you can examine funkadelic guitars on walls. (They even hold weddings on the property!) Seriously, is this the best hostel in the US?
Co-owner and Ireland native Caroline McGrath worked for years waitressing in San Francisco to save the money needed to run her own hostel. She had traveled the world with the help of hostels, and when she realized there was no budget accommodation near Yosemite National Park the idea solidified. Years later Caroline is still updating the designs of the rooms, expanding the guest services, and picking heirloom tomatoes from the nearby garden to be served in the cafe. It is the true passion for this place and the heart put into every detail that makes it so warm and wonderful.
So this is more than just a hostel, isn’t it? Before I can decide, I hear my stomach growl and follow its demands straight to the ‘June Bug Cafe.’
Five Star Eats…in a Hostel Kitchen?
I’m not expecting much. In fact, there are large plastic tubs of iced tea and lemonade that harken back to summer camp again. I take a step back to examine the menu, written casually with dry erase marker on a white board hanging over the open kitchen. I take another step back to examine the wooden beams of the vaulted ceiling. With a wave of sudden confusion, I feel as if I’ve stepped out of a hostel and into a mountain resort.
I then go back to reading the menu. Grilled flat iron steak? Am I reading this right? Steamed clams with Pinot Grigio, heirloom tomatoes, and…bacon? This doesn’t seem like any hostel kitchen I’ve eaten at before.
To say the food is exquisite would be an understatement. Low expectations alone cannot account for the delight of freshly picked seasonal produce on perfectly cooked, large-portioned plates I ate night after night. The best part is there is also a hostel kitchen you can cook for yourself in. One isn’t limited to eating solely in the cafe (though it is highly recommended).
The Final Straw
Just as I’m starting to really fall for the place, I wander into the spa downstairs. That’s right, you heard me — a spa in a hostel. With soaking tubs, a sauna, a rain shower, a yoga studio, hot tub and massage rooms. When was the last time you got a massage in a hostel? Though the facilities are beautiful and modern, day passes remain affordable at only $10 per day.
I’ve raved so much about this place, I haven’t even begun to talk about the reason I came here in the first place. Day after day, amazed by the beauty and sheer size of the cliffs in the park, we’d wonder: do we have to leave?
Back I’d go, and I’d eventually get going again the next day. But it’s not often if ever, I sit relaxed back at the place I came only to sleep in on a small dime and wonder: do I have to leave the best hostel in the US?
It should be noted that the hostel aka best hostel in the US also has private rooms and tent cabins — only some of the property is registered as a hostel. This doesn’t keep it from retaining its backpacker community feel; if anything, it adds to it!
HI Midpines – Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, aka the best hostel in the US, is located outside of Yosemite National Park and is about a thirty-minute drive to the entrance. As far as budget accommodation in this area goes, it’s worth the extra time in the car. Plus, I’d drive just about anywhere to eat the food in that cafe.
What do you think? Is this the best hostel in the US?
Anne is a freelance writer and blogger at Part Time Traveler.
Disclosure: Anne stayed at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort compliments of HI USA.