Of course, the night before we arrived the firefall had been AMAZING. But all three nights we were there, it was cloudy (we stayed until sunset on Sunday to try and see it, but left soon after). Ah well, there’s always next year!It was a very rainy year, so it rained A LOT while we were there. Sabrina and I were both very much on a budget, so we chose to take our chances and hope we’d find a spot at Camp 4, the cheapest of the lodging options. (Nope, you are not allowed to sleep in your car in Yosemite!)
Wondering what to do while you’re there? Here are 9 fun winter activities to do in Yosemite!
Here’s everything you need to know about winter camping and what to pack for winter camping!
IS IT SAFE TO CAMP IN YOSEMITE IN THE WINTER?Yes, it is 100% safe to camp in Yosemite in the winter. Keep an eye on the weather, and you can always call the park number, (209) 372-0200, and ask a ranger about the conditions. They’re open 9-5 PST and closed for lunch.
Yes, there are large animals in Yosemite, like bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats, but they don’t bother people much. I’ve been to Yosemite countless times and have never seen a bear or a mountain lion. Yosemite also only has black bears, NOT grizzlies. Black bears are not known to attack humans, so there’s no need for bear spray (in fact, it’s prohibited in the park!).
They have bear boxes at every campsite. Don’t keep food or other scented items, like toothpaste, in your tent with you. Or in your car. Put it in the bear box to be safe!
I have seen coyotes, which is always exciting (see photo) but I’ve rarely ever heard of a coyote attacking someone, so you’re good! I doubt a bobcat would ever attack a human. There are no wolves in Yosemite.
Also, remember you’ll still be surrounded by other campers! So, if something does happen, there will be people around who can help you.
Do know, however, that there isn’t much cell service in Yosemite.
WINTER CAMPING IN YOSEMITEHere are your different camping options in Yosemite! All campsites have a fire ring, picnic table, and bathrooms with flushing toilets nearby.
CAMP 4 CAMPGROUND
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 so much, but what I did mind was the MUD that it created. I kept dropping my stuff in it. This 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 of it, stuff would pour onto the ground.
Camp 4 is a walk up campground, meaning it’s first come/first serve, and on that winter weekend there weren’t too many people camping and plenty of spots open. I’d imagine it would be the same throughout the winter season – it gets pretty cold in Yosemite and even snows after all!
You cannot drive up directly to your campsite, but the parking lot is a short walk from sites.
Note: 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.
UPPER PINES CAMPGROUND
You can also camp in Upper Pines, which is $26 per night. You can reserve this campsite in advance, unlike with Camp 4. So, you may want to choose this one to be guaranteed a spot. Sites become available five months in advance, on the 15th of the month at 7:00AM.
WAWONA & HOGDON MEADOWS CAMPGROUNDS
Camp 4 and Upper Pines are both located in Yosemite Valley. If you don’t mind camping outside of the Valley, you can go to Wawona Campground or Hogdon Meadow Campground. Both are about 45 minutes away, but in different directions. Both sites are first come first serve from October-April, and $18/night. Personally, I would find this a little annoying and would rather take my chances at Camp 4 (since you’ll most likely get a spot, and it’s cheaper).
MORE LUXURY WINTER CAMPING OPTIONS
You can also do a Yurt if camping isn’t exactly your thing! And if you have some friends, you can split it for pretty cheap since it sleeps 5 people. There are other cabin options, but the Yurt is the cheapest.
Camping in Yosemite in the winter in a hammock was definitely a cool experience, but not necessarily one I’d want to repeat anytime soon! I’m not sure if it’s a better or worse experience with a tent – I did see small rivulets of water running towards people’s tents, but I’m not sure if any water actually got in.
However, if the forecast didn’t have any rain it would’ve been totally fine.
CLOTHES TO PACK FOR YOSEMITE IN THE WINTEROf course, pack warm clothes, and LAYERS. Here’s what I wore:
- Thermal Base Layer Top
- Pants – NOT jeans! You either want to wear waterproof pants, or fleece pants with a thin pair of rain pants on the top. You may be able to get away without the rain pants if it’s not raining, though, but you should bring them just in case.
- Winter Coat – I love this one because it’s stylish, I can wear it to snowboard and with everyday clothes, it has a detachable hood and fake fur piece, and the pockets have fleece inside! WIN. I do admit that sometimes the detachable hood is annoying (it unsnaps at times) but overall I like that I can remove it when I don’t think I’ll need it.
- Scarf/Turtle Fur
- Waterproof Gloves
- Wool Socks
- Hiking Boots/Waterproof Boots
- Gaiters – Not super necessary, but I liked having them when I went snowshoeing! It kept the snow from getting in my socks.
WHAT TO BRING IF CAMPING IN YOSEMITE IN WINTER
- Large Tarp – This is so important! You can use this on the ground or as an overhang in case of snow or rain. Any sort of large plastic sheet will do. We tied ours to some of the trees above our campsite and used it as a ‘roof’ above our campfire (yes, we were still able to make a campfire!).
- Rope – I feel like rope always comes in handy for SOMETHING. In our case, we used to tie the tarp as an overhang.
- Sleeping Bag & Sleeping Pad – I’m a huge baby in cold weather so I always have my 0 degree mummy bag with me. It keeps me so warm and happy even when it’s super cold outside. Granted, the 0 degree rating means you’ll survive in 0 degree weather but not necessarily be super warm. I’ve used mine in 30 degree weather and been happy (it probably will keep you warm in colder weather, too, I just haven’t camped in anything colder than that!). Make sure your sleeping pad is insulated.
- Sit Pad – Most of the sites (if not all?) at Camp 4 have tables. You may want to bring a cushion to sit on in case the bench is wet or cold, especially if you’re a diva like me. An old blanket will do the trick, too!
- Blankets – If you do decide to have a fire, you may want to sit outside wrapped in a nice blanket! Bring old ones, though, because the benches will probably be dirty.
- Chairs – I believe there are benches at every site at Camp 4, and I’d assume it’d be the same deal at the Upper Pines sites, too. However, you may want to bring comfy chairs so you can sit as close to the fire as possible!
- Wood – You can buy wood right outside of Yosemite (keep in mind it might be a little pricey, though). There’s a little store on Highway 140 before you enter the park that we bought ours from. Of course, you only need this if you want to have a fire.
- Tent or Hammock – Don’t forget your rain cover!
- Headlamp – Necessary for seeing anything in the dark, especially since it gets dark super early.
- Extra Batteries & Portable Charger – Electronics die MUCH faster in the cold!
- Trash Bag – It’s always good to have an extra trash bag around, especially if you may end up with wet clothes.
- Car Chains – You should probably bring these even if they’re not needed when you enter the park. The weather can change fast and it’s better to be prepared!
- Cooking Essentials & Food – Bring anything you may want to cook with, like a stove, and all utensils and dishes you may want. It’s handy to have a wash bin with you along with biodegradable soap. You don’t need a bear canister as all campsites have bear boxes – be sure to store ALL of your food and scented items in them since Yosemite does have bears! Yes, even toothpaste and deodorant. Last time I went to Camp 4, there was also a resident raccoon that stole our bag of marshmallows. Of course, bring water and food.
- Hand Sanitizer & Toilet Paper – There are bathrooms at the campground, but sometimes they ran out of soap and toilet paper. Better to be prepared!
- Sunglasses & Sunscreen – If it happens to be sunny, you’ll definitely want sunglasses and sunscreen! When the sun reflects off of the snow it’s not fun for your eyes.
- Water Bottle – You may want to bring a reusable water bottle instead of a reservoir, since the water in the reservoir’s straw can freeze.
WEATHER IN YOSEMITE IN WINTERDefinitely check the weather before you go because, yes, it DOES snow in Yosemite! And it can snow A LOT. We had to postpone our trip for a couple weekends due to snow storms. So, be prepared to change your plans last minute if needed.
Be sure to look up the weather in Yosemite Valley specifically, not just Yosemite in general! The Valley is where you’ll most likely be doing most of your winter activities, and is where the camping areas and hotels are located. It’s at a lower elevation so is often warmer than up in the mountains. If you just look up “Yosemite National Park” you get the average of the weather in the whole park, and they take into account the temperatures in the valley AND in the mountains. So, if you just look up Yosemite in general it will seem colder than it actually is.If it’s not snowing, there’s a good chance it’s raining.
It was pretty much raining in the Valley during our entire trip. Granted, that winter happened to have a LOT of rain for California, but it’s still a good idea to be prepared.
The temperatures in winter in Yosemite Valley are not too bad. In December and January, they usually hover between 50 F (10 C) and 30 F (-1 C) during the day, and go down into the 20’s (-6 to -2 C) at night. In February, it warms up a little but not too much. Of course, this is a generalization and there’s always a chance there will be unseasonably cold or warm weather. And the higher you go into the mountains, the colder it gets.
DRIVING IN YOSEMITE IN WINTERTypically, Highway 120 is closed for winter and you take Highway 140. I honestly prefer this because, although 140 can take a little longer, it’s much less twisty and turny than 120 is. Tioga Road (the continuation of Highway 120 through the park) is also probably closed. Highway closures usually happen sometime in November.
Highway 41 may still be open, and you can take that into the park as well. It’s also a little more twisty than 140, so if you’ll have a passenger that gets carsick easily, definitely take 140!
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! Highway 140 is the LEAST likely to have snow, so if you want to avoid chains at all costs, take that one. You will, however, most likely at least have to bring chains with you, even if you don’t need to use them.Check for winter road closures and chain status 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 on 120 or 41 the elevation can change quickly so I’d be nervous to drive on either of those roads without a 4×4 in winter if they’re not closed.I hope this helps if you decide to take the plunge and go winter camping in Yosemite!
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