Wondering what is winter in Yosemite National Park is like? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re a national parks lover winter in Yosemite is probably high on your list. During the winter season, the park will get snow, making some parts of the park not accessible. Despite the closures, winter is a beautiful time to visit the park. Keep reading for everything you need to know to enjoy winter in Yosemite.
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Winter in Yosemite National Park
Viewpoints at Yosemite National Park
Take in one of the best views in the park at Tunnel View. Tunnel View is a scenic overlook on Wawona Road, also known as Highway 41. If you enter the park through the South Entrance.
Search “Tunnel View” to Google Maps
View of El Capitan From Southside Drive
If you continue on Highway 41 from Tunnel View the street becomes Southside Drive. Just after that, you’ll see El Capitan, the 3,000-foot granite monolith, on your righthand side. Pull off to either side to take in the view. On the other side, you can spot Bridalveil Falls in the distance.
Not marked in Google Maps
Yosemite Valley View
Yosemite Valley View is that iconic view of the Yosemite Valley located on the Merced River. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls in the distance.
Search “Yosemite Valley View” in Google Maps
Check out my Instagram Reel on 5 of the Best Photos Spots in Yosemite National Park that require little to no walking!
Waterfalls to See at Yosemite National Park
Bridalveil Falls is a waterfall that flows year-round. It’s just a short walk to the food of the falls.
*As of winter 2021, Bridalveil Falls is undergoing construction, and the trail that leads to the base of the falls is closed.
You can see Vernal Falls from the footbridge via a 4-mile out and back hike. More information on the hike below.
For the best view of Yosemite Falls, take a look at it from Cooks Meadow. You can also hike to the falls. More info on the hike below.
Things to Check Out at Yosemite National Park
Wawona Tunnel Emergency Access
The “tunnels” inside the Wawona Tunnel. If you enter through the South Entrance and head towards Tunnel View you’ll go through a long tunnel before reaching Tunnel View. Within that car tunnel, there are emergency tunnels you can enter. Full disclosure, this isn’t as widely known and it might probably isn’t allowed for non-emergency use. Do keep this in mind.
You’ll want to park before you enter the tunnel or at the Tunnel View parking lot. However, I was told after my visit that there are a total of three of these tunnels and that the one with a better view is closer to the Tunnel View side.
As mentioned above, Cooks Meadow has that iconic view of Yosemite Falls in the distance. During the winter this area is covered with snow and incredible to see.
Yosemite Valley Chapel
Did you know there was a chapel at Yosemite? Service is on Saturdays only. This tiny chapel is adorable and so beautiful when there’s snow.
Winter Hikes at Yosemite National Park
There are a few hikes that are almost always open unless there is a lot of snow but the ones below are almost always open in the winter.
.5 mile | out and back | easy
This is more of a short walk that takes you to the base of the falls. This short detour is worth check out as you get to see the falls up close.
Lower Yosemite Falls
1.2 miles | loop | easy
The hike to Lower Yosemite Falls is easy and very accessible. You’ll take a walk to the bridge at eh base and continue via a loop. The Upper Yosemite Falls trail is usually closed off completely in the winter after Oh My Gosh Point.
2.3 miles | loop | easy
This hike is short but sweet and a great way to explore the beauty of the valley in the winter. It leads to a frozen lake and has a beautiful view of Half Dome.
2.3 miles | out and back | moderate
This is a shorter trail for those who want the “Tunnel View” without the crowds. Park at the Tunnel View parking lot and start the trail there. The trailhead is on the uphill side of the road.
Vernal Falls Footbridge
2.3 miles | loop | moderate
To get to the Vernal Falls footbridge you’ll take the Mist Trail. It’s mostly uphill until just before you reach the bridge. During the winter the Mist Trail will be closed just before the steps that lead up to Vernal Falls and from the bridge, you’ll see part of the falls. Note that the trailhead parking lot may be closed in the winter and you’ll have to walk a bit further.
Yosemite Snow Activities
Yosemite winter activities include skiing, tubing, sledding, snowshoeing, and more! Many of these activities can be done at the Badger Pass Ski Area and other parts of the park.
Ski, Tube, and Snowboard at Yosemite
You can go skiing, tubing, or snowboarding at Badger Pass Ski Area. You can also rent equipment here. There are plenty of activities and they even offer classes.
Always call ahead of time to check the current conditions.
Snowshoe at Yosemite
Snowshoeing Yosemite is so much fun and you can do this in various parts of the park including Dewey Point. The Badger Pass Ski Area does offer rentals but you can bring your own or rent from your local REI. The closest REI to Yosemite is in Fresno and unless you’re coming from Northern California it’ll make more sense to rent from an REI that’s closer to home.
Winter Ice Skating at Yosemite
Did you know you can go ice skating at Yosemite? Curry Village has a small ice rink with Half Dome as a backdrop! It cost $11 for adults and an additional $4.50 to rent skates. There are different sessions and your ticket is good for two hours of skating.
Call ahead to confirm it’s open or to book a private party.
Winter Road Closures at Yosemite
Mariposa Grove Road
Some of the roads are closed for the winter season including Tioga Road usually from November to late May or even early June, depending on the snowmelt. The road closure extends from the Tuolumne Grove to the Tioga Pass Entrance. This is the entrance near Mono Lake in Lee Vining. Glacier Point Road and Mariposa Grove Road are popular spots in the park but they are also closed in the winter.
All other roads in the park are open including Wagon Road (Highway 41), El Portal Road (Highway 41), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120, from the west), and Hetch Hetchy Road. If there is snow, chains will be needed. You can check Yosemite road closures here or call 209-372-0200.
Things to Know About Winter in Yosemite
Yosemite Winter Weather Conditions
Snowfall usually happens between November and March, and sometimes, even in May or April. After this time snowfall isn’t likely to occur but there can still be plenty of snow throughout the park. The snow in the higher parts of Yosemite might not fully melt until late May or even early June.
Yosemite National Park in December / Early January
Yosemite in December can get very busy, especially around the holidays and weekends. Although Yosemite National Park in December can be beautiful just after a snowfall it’s important to make sure your vehicle is fit for the winter road. There are a lot more people frequenting the park and it isn’t uncommon to be vehicles slipping and minor fender benders. It’s important to check Yosemite weather in December before heading out to the park.
Yosemite National Park in February
Yosemite National Park will get a big spike in visitors in mid to late February. This is mainly for the Firefall, a natural phenomenon that lights up Horsetail Falls at sunset that makes it look like fire. This glowing effect attracts many photographers and visitors from all over the country and the world.
There are some accommodations inside the park however there are plenty of great options just outside. Depending on where you’re driving from you may choose to stay in a few different places. Oakhurst is a great option for those who want to stay near the South Entrance. This makes sense for anyone who is driving from Southern California. If you’re coming from Fresno then you might want to stay in El Portal near the Arch Rock Entrance. And if you’re coming from the Bay Area you might want to stay in Groveland near the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
Oakhurst is the most populous city in the area and has the most options for accommodations, restaurants, and more. If you decide to stay here I recommend Sierra Meadows.
Another incredible place to stay the modern and stylish, AutoCamp Yosemite in Midpines, only about an hour from the park. They have cozy cabins, luxury tents, stylish Airstreams, and more! The property is surrounded by the beauty of the local forest. And be sure to hang out at their mid-century modern Clubhouse. AutoCamp isn’t just a place to sleep, it’s an experience.
Photos courtesy of AutoCamp Yosemite
Rent a Car
Check out RentalCars.com for affordable rental cars.
It’s easy to rent a car from either airport and do reserve in advance. You’ll need a car to explore the area unless you’ve arranged for a tour.
Yosemite National Park is a California favorite! The winter season is a magical time and with a little planning, you can have a smooth trip.
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