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What To Do In Yosemite In Winter

What to Do in Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite National Park is unbelievably popular – especially between June and September when half the visitors for the year show up. Visiting Yosemite in winter is no less beautiful – just different and obviously not everything is open.

A visit to Yosemite in winter is ideal if you’re adverse to crowds and you’re okay with little access to most of the hiking trails. But there are still lots of outdoorsy things to do in winter – and museums stay open. The park is also very peaceful and incredibly picturesque especially when dusted with snow. 

I had wanted to visit Yosemite for years – and on my inaugural trip up to the Yosemite Valley – even on my slow as molasses bus ride – I felt a palpable excitement to see the granite domes I’ve heard so much about. Nothing about my winter visit to Yosemite disappointed. And it has left me wanting more.

Beautiful Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
Beautiful Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park after a snowfall

Getting to Yosemite in winter

On the first day I visited the Yosemite Valley you needed snow tires and chains or a combo – and the park rangers were checking every car. I had a rental car that wouldn’t have made it so I hopped on the local bus. Three hours later (normally it’s one) I arrived. I got off at the Ahwahnee Hotel and came up with a plan for the day.

For loads of information on all your options along with schedules and current pricing visit the Yosemite transportation website.

On the way up to Yosemite National Park from Mariposa
The road up to Yosemite National Park via El Portal

What to do in Yosemite in winter

On my visit I spent the better part of three days walking any trails that were open and availed myself of a free Ansel Adams photography class. With a camera in hand, the days passed quickly.

I followed whatever trail I come across. On the first day I spent close to five hours hiking and taking photos, with one quick stop in Yosemite Village to get a sandwich and check out the Ansel Adams Gallery. It was a rush to get the shuttle back down to Mariposa – and a real treat to stay in the park the next night.

The view from the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls - just after the first major snowfall of the year
The view from the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls – just after the first major snowfall of the year

I could have gone skating on a smooth as glass ice rink with a Half Dome view but I ran out of time.

The skating rink in Curry Village - with a view of Half Dome on a clear day
The skating rink in Curry Village – with a view of Half Dome on a clear day

And if I was around one week later the Badger Pass Ski Area – complete with a shuttle service would have been open for both downhill and cross-country skiing. You can rent all the equipment you need.

If you visit Yosemite in February – specifically the El Capitan meadow at sunset, you can see quite the sight. It looks as though lava is pouring down from Horsetail Falls – because of the angle of the sun. 

Other family-friendly activities in Yosemite in winter include sledding and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Here’s a look at my trip to Yosemite over a couple of days

There may be snow on the ground but I was overheated most of the day
There may be snow on the ground but I was overheated most of the day
Beautiful trees on the hike to Lower Yosemite Falls
Beautiful trees on the hike to Lower Yosemite Falls
Lower Yosemite Falls rarely flows in the winter as all its water comes from melting snow
Lower Yosemite Falls rarely flows in the winter as all its water comes from melting snow
Yosemite Falls - when the lower and upper falls are combined is the longest waterfall in the US
Yosemite Falls – when the lower and upper falls are combined is the longest waterfall in the US
Easy walking paths take you through the Yosemite Valley though there's also a shuttle bus
Easy walking paths take you through the Yosemite Valley though there’s also a shuttle bus
There's a moodiness to Yosemite in winter
There’s a moodiness to Yosemite in winter
Everywhere you look you find granite domes in the Yosemite Valley
Everywhere you look you find granite domes in the Yosemite Valley
A view from the meadows in the Yosemite Valley
A view from the meadows in the Yosemite Valley
Half Dome dominates the skyline in Yosemite Valley
Half Dome dominates the skyline in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite in winter and beautiful scenery every which way you turn
Yosemite in winter boasts beautiful scenery every which way you turn
Half Dome is a magnificent hunk of granite
Half Dome is a magnificent hunk of granite
Early morning light of Half Dome
Early morning light of Half Dome
The Ahwahnee Hotel bathed in morning light
The Ahwahnee Hotel bathed in morning light
Inside the Ahwahnee Hotel in December
Inside the Ahwahnee Hotel in December

Where to stay for a winter visit to Yosemite

I stayed in the historic town of Mariposa for a couple of nights before I had the luxury of a one night stay at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel right in the Yosemite Valley.

Mariposa is a great base to access Mariposa Grove and the Giant Sequoias and if there hadn’t been a major dump of snow it would have been an equally awesome place to access the Yosemite Valley.

Further reading on things to do in California

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

What to do in Yosemite National Park in winter

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 34 Comments
  1. Oh my! I’ve always wanted to visit Yosemite and always thought I would try to go in May, but your pictures have me thinking that a winter trip would be wonderful. Your shots are absolutely gorgeous! I have to get there someday – it’s one of those iconic places and, of course, I feel like I know it from all the photos over the years. (If you like Ansel Adams, next time you are in DC there is a nearly secret museum of his work you should visit.)

      1. May’s also a great time to visit.

        Most water that feeds Yosemite’s famed waterfalls comes from snow melt. Once this stops some waterfalls dry up and others have significantly reduced flows.

        A heads up: Pine bark beetle damage has greatly accelerated during last several years. How shocking it was for me to see this this last September after not visiting for a few years. This damage (and some fire damage) will be your first impression after entering the park.

        However, once you reach higher elevations that have more rain and snowfall (including the main visitor area of Yosemite Valley) this damage disappears or all but disappears.

        Thank you so much for this post. Yosemite’s a very special place.

  2. Leigh, I ooohed and aaahed over each of your photos, jealous that my family didn’t take the time to visit Yosemite when we were in California on our recent road trip. It was the mention of chains that deterred us. We vowed to fly to California in the future so we have more time to explore. I really want to see those amazing Sequoia trees.

  3. Beautiful pictures of snowy Yosemite, Leigh. I’m glad you enjoyed your winter visit to one of my favorite parks. We love visiting Yosemite during the winter. There are a whole lot less people and lodging is way cheaper. Although, we haven’t stayed at Ahwahnee but stay at Tenaya. We have skied/snowboarded at Badger Pass. My kids loved their group lesson here a couple of years ago. The group turned into a private lesson. 🙂 You really need to come back during Spring to see Yosemite Falls in all its glory.

  4. I think you’ll have to visit Yosemite again Leigh to see the contrasts at different times of the year! I’m sure all seasons are stunning but winter truly is beautiful. The Ansel Adams school must have been fun..can’t wait to see your black and white photos! Best wishes for a great Xmas and New Year

  5. I had never considered Yosemite in the winter, but you are making it look very good. These photos are gorgeous. That one of the falls between the reddish tree trunks towering over the people has so many elements that I was looking at it for a while. The blue sky in the Half Dome photos is wonderful, too.

  6. I’ve been to Yosemite so many times except for wintertime and I would love to visit and see it during this timeframe..thanks for sharing this meanwhile, it’s spectacular!

  7. Oh my, what a beautiful place, and those falls, I can just hear the thunder. I would love to be seeing snow this Christmas, thank you for bringing me some virtually!

  8. As a US citizen ( a travel blogger no less), how can I have attained my current age and never visited Yosemite. Really lovely photos. May I ask what type of camera you used?

    1. @Suzanne I think we all have busy lives and so if it’s not thrown at the top of a travel wish list it just gets bypassed. DO GO. You won’t be disappointed on any level. My camera is a Pentax K5-II and I mostly use a 18-270 lens. I also do photo editing in ACDSee which I find far better and friendlier than Photoshop. Plus it’s only $69.

  9. Wow, these photos are magical, Leigh! I think these are some of the most dramatic photos I’ve seen of Yosemite. Really stunning capture. Looked like you had a wonderful time. I have not thought of visiting Yosemite in winter time but know I’m considering it. I think it’s also great that it’s not too crowded during winter time.

  10. How beautiful, Leigh! I am jealous of the Ansel Adams photography course! I am slow getting around this week. I arrived in CM yesterday after an alnight flight. I think I’ve caught up on my sleep, and now I’m catching up on my eating 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  11. I have never visited Yosemite period, but I have visited the Black Hills in winter. A little snow adds a whole new dimension to outdoor scenic beauty. It is just as spectacular sometimes even more than a sunny summer day.

  12. I love Yosemite in the winter as well. We’ve done a bit of traveling and our February Yosemite trip still stands out as one of my favorites. We did not get to do any skiing while we were there though, (I was 8 months pregnant at the time). We did get to do some of the most amazing snowshoeing I’ve ever done though!

  13. These are really beautiful pictures Leigh. I have never been to Yosemite although I would love to. I’ve visited many US National Parks years ago when filming but missed Yosemite somehow. I have never visited in Winter and it looks really worth it.

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