Yosemite in winter is something that everyone has to experience at least once. Simply to see if it’s something for you. The snow and the rain can be trying. Oh yes, it can be.
A sight to behold
But the view of Yosemite Valley on a clear day after a storm can move you to tears. It’s majestic. It’s beautiful. It’s by-gosh so-heartbreakingly-beautiful.
And not to mention the crowd. Or lack of it.
Yosemite in the winter is a different beast altogether. The weather changes every day and one day you can be greeted with a view of cliff tops visible above a soupy mix of fog and mist. And the next day you could end up with blue sky, crisp air, and a clear Half Dome and El Capitan dusted with a hint of yesterday’s snow.
But you’ll notice right away the unusual quiet that settles above the valley at night in the campground. As opposed to shrieking children and loud stereo you can hear the crackles of ice breaking on Yosemite Falls. You can hear the pitter patter of squirrels and birds on the ground, busy as ever regardless of the season.
If you ever decide to make a trip to Yosemite in the winter, here are some tips to prepare you ahead of times.
1. Bring snow chains
If you come from the Bay Area, taking 140 along the Merced river means lower elevation. Often times snow chain is not required except during severe winter weather. But bring it anyway.
2. Be prepared for any kind of weather
Bring weatherproof and warm clothing. If you’re camping, a 4 season tent is not necessary, but be prepared for snow on the ground. Waterproof boots, pants, and gloves are highly recommended.
3. No need to reserve camping grounds.
And if the weather turns out to be less-than-ideal, there’s Curry Village with heated tent cabins. Curry Village itself will be open, and yes, that includes the pizza parlor and the market. Of course, if you’re feeling super fancy, there’s always the historic Ahwanee (I heard they serve great cocktails at the bar).
4. Take a deep breath, you’re in a different place now
The pace is slower in Yosemite in the winter. Since Tuolumne Meadows (and Tioga Road) along with many hiking trails are closed there’s less traffic and less activities to do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, it means there’s more time for exploration. And Yosemite being what it is, every corner and side trail will inevitably lead to a scenery worthy of your time. So, go ahead and explore wherever your feet lead you to.
Winter Activities in Yosemite
1. Ice skating in Curry Village
Once rated as one of Top Ten Ice Skating rings in the country, the backdrop of the ring on a clear day is hard to compare.
2. Downhill skiing in Badger Pass Ski Area
With only 10 runs, Badger Pass Ski Area is in a word… cute. But what it lacks in the number of runs and lifts it makes up in unbeatable location.
3. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing
A snowshoe trip to Dewey Point is appropriate for beginner and intermediate skiers. Glacier Point is also do-able but it’s longer and a tad more challenging. For more advanced skiers, a trip to Ostrander Hut (reservation way in advance is required) and beyond is something that comes highly recommended.
Cross country ski and snowshoes are available for rent from Badger Pass Ski Area but it’s a lot cheaper to rent them in the Bay Area if that’s where you’re coming from.
4. Climbing (both ice and rock)
During the drier winter months, especially in February and March, rock climbing in the valley means no lines or waiting at the most popular routes, less congestion in Camp 4, and all around a more fun social atmosphere. Always check the condition because storms can come in real quick even on the sunniest morning.
5. Explore the Ansel Adams Gallery and Yosemite Museum
Yosemite Musem has a small but interesting outdoor exhibition on the life of the Native Americans who used to live there. It’s worth visiting. There’s free heated shuttle buses that go around the valley and really, there’s little reason to drive your own car once you get there. The visitor center runs a 2 hour guided tour and is highly recommended for first time visitors to get an overview of all the landmarks in the Valley.
So come prepared, and enjoy winter in Yosemite
But check the weather forecast beforehand, you don’t want to get caught during a storm. But even if you did, it might be a good enough excuse to splurge on the Ahwanee (that’s our plan anyway :)).