IMO it is just awe inspiring, and so so so beautiful. And there’s so much to do, even during the winter! However, make sure you check the weather first, because snow storms are a thing. And you want to go when it’s pretty and perfect and not when a storm is raging.
I love Yosemite in the summer – well, any season, really – but there’s just something so majestic about the towering cliffs layered with a dusting (or heaping pile) of snow. And it’s usually MUCH less crowded than in summer! Definitely check the weather (look up Yosemite Valley specifically, not just Yosemite!) because it snows often, even if it’s not snowing in the direct surrounding area. You might also need chains which is scary because I’m a wimpy Californian but luckily we didn’t have to use them. HA. Take that, winter!
Typically, Highway 120 is closed for winter and you take Highway 140, which is also way less twisty and turny than 120. Highway 41 may still be open, but again – you’re most likely going to avoid using chains by taking 140.Check for winter road closures and whether or not you’ll need to use chains here. You can either call the number listed, or you can click on the highway name to get updates from the Caltrans website.
My car was NOT a 4×4, although it was a Honda CR-V and had high clearance. I think a 4×4 is definitely helpful to have, but again – the roads were clear when we were there so it didn’t matter. I think if you drive in through 140 you’ll be fine, but 120 can change in elevation quickly so I’d be nervous to drive on that road without a 4×4 in winter.
WINTER CAMPING IS LIT (BUT TRY TO AVOID IN THE RAIN)BUT ANYWAYS. We camped at Camp 4 (only $6/night whooo) which was cool but also not because it was really rainy – I didn’t mind the rain as much, but what I did mind was the MUD. I kept dropping crap in it, which happened especially often as we were hammock camping and I was a hammock camping nube (still am) but basically every time I would get out stuff would pour onto the ground.
Ughhhhh. It was definitely a cool experience, but not necessarily one I’d want to repeat! I would probably try to stay in the cute little cabin things you can rent. However, if the forecast didn’t have any rain it would’ve been totally fine.But Camp 4 itself is cool, it’s a walk up campground so it’s first come/first serve, and on that winter weekend there weren’t too many people camping and plenty of spots open. There is now a lottery system in place from May-September, but if you come in winter it’ll still be first come first serve.
You can also go to Upper Pines, which is $26 per night if you want a guaranteed spot. You can also do a Yurt for $59 a night! And if you have some friends, you can split it for pretty cheap. There are other cabin options, but the Yurt is the cheapest.We also tried to see the firefall, but that just did NOT happen because it was cloudy every night. Huge bummer since there are only 2 weeks or so out of the year when the light will hit the waterfall just right, and we just happened to be there during that time!
And because the night before we arrived the firefall had apparently been especially amazing…(brb crying)But I almost think Yosemite looks more majestic in the snow. So, finally, I’ll get into what you should fill your winter itinerary with while you’re there…. Okay so my absolute favorite activity was pretty much just driving around. And looking at the cliffs. They are just so amazeballs. And with snow on top of them it’s like ohhhhhh mannnn. Literal life.
TUNNEL VIEW REALLY IS A VIEWA classic. You see this right when you’re driving into the park, and hence one of the easiest winter activities to check off your list. Except when we went it was cloudy the whole time, but I’ve been in the summer when it’s absolutely beautiful! And loaded with tourists…(like I said, avoid the summer at all costs!)
Hopefully, you get lucky with a clear view!
MUSEUMS ALL DAY BABY
I LOVE VISITOR CENTERS. Especially national park ones – they are all sooooo good!! And you learn so much about the history of the park. Yosemite has an awesome visitor center, and we also went to the Ansel Adams Gallery which was awesome.
THE MIST TRAIL IS A CLASSICIn the spring/summer, Vernal Falls pretty much always has a rainbow at the end of it. We didn’t go very far, because it was SUPER snowy when we were there, and apparently if you wanted to go all the way up to Nevada Falls you had to snowshoe. But we did run into a few brave souls who went all the way up to Nevada! Usually, you can at least make it to Vernal.
SNOWSHOEING/SKIING/WHATEVER-ING AT THE YOSEMITE SKI & SNOWBOARD AREAYou can take a bus up to the Ski and Snowboard Area for free, or you can drive (but like aforementioned, we are pathetic Californians so we took the bus).
The bus takes about 45 minutes and goes up a few times in the morning and back in the afternoon. We missed the early bus (oops) so we were only up there for a few hours, but it was my first time snowshoeing and really cool! I’d love to go all the way to Dewey Point next time.
I’d say that snowshoeing is a MUST DO winter activity in Yosemite!
THE AWANHEE (NOW MAJESTIC) HOTEL LOOKS DOPE
I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard that visiting and dining there is quite the experience. Unfortunately it’s a little on the expensive side (but that’s to be expected…) but I’d still like to!
ICE RINKS ARE COOL (HAHA GET IT)
I have yet to do this (it was closed for renovation when we were there last year), but how much cooler can it be to ice skate under half dome??? There’s a rink in Curry Village so you can literally SEE HALF DOME AND ICE SKATE LIKE WHAT. There’s also one in Tenaya Lodge that’s supposed to be pretty.
I’m bummed because this would have been my absolute favorite winter activities. Definitely add it to your itinerary if it’s indeed open!
YOSEMITE FALLS (ALL OF THEM)We walked to Lower Yosemite Falls (super easy 1 mile trip), but you can also try and hike to Upper Yosemite Falls, which is a 7.2 mile roundtrip hike.
BRIDALVEIL FALLS ARE FALLING DOWNThese falls were not flowing THAT much when I was there (if you want insanely epic waterfalls, go in the spring when all the snow is melting) but were still so pretty! My photo doesn’t do them justice.
It was also very entertaining as the pathway right before the falls had iced over (yes, dangerous, but luckily there were enough people in front of us crawling along the path to make it obvious there was ice) so everyone was having fun sliding down it! I did not because I am a wimp, but I watched some of my friends and random passerby and it was very very amusing.
The trail is super easy, too – only 0.5 miles round trip. So you pretty much park, get out, walk a few minutes, and voilà – a beautiful, wet (yes, you may get a little wet from the spray), waterfall!
MARIPOSA GROVE IS WHAT YOUR WILDEST DREAMS ARE MADE OFOk, so you can’t drive into the Mariposa Grove parking lot in the winter, but you CAN park at the Yosemite entrance and hike the 1.9 Washburn Trail, then snowshoe among the Giant Sequoias! And how cool is that??? Snow shoeing among giant ass old trees?
Pretty darn cool, I’d say.So I haven’t actually been in winter – only in spring – but I’d love to go in winter, especially since it’s less popular and you’ll most likely have these majestic conifers all to yourself. I’m headed back to Yosemite pretty soon to see the firefall (HOPEFULLY…). I’m ver ver excited and first on my list is the ice rink and staring at pretty things because that’s one of my favorite hobbies.
Update: I did not see the firefall because there wasn’t enough rain/snowmelt, and therefore the waterfall wasn’t actually a waterfall. Third times the charm?I absolutely love visiting places in the winter (maybe because I grew up without snow days, since I grew up in the Bay Area? I think I’m subconsciously still pissed about it).
Did I die? Obviously not, because I’m here writing this post, but they were all pretty damn cold. But also really really worth it and I’m totally obsessed with winter travel.