With tranquil solitude, fresh powder, boundless mountain landscapes and towering treetops, visiting Yosemite during the winter will make you feel like you’re the first person to ever set foot on the land. There is a wide array of outdoor and indoor activities to take advantage of, and with the added bonus of small crowds you can be sure that a winter weekend getaway in Yosemite National Park will be a spectacular experience.
If you like the idea of ice skating under the watchful eye of Half Dome, hiking in the park’s mighty sequoia groves (Merced and Tuolumne) or cross-country skiing through the meadows of Yosemite Valley – this is the perfect trip for you!
Yosemite National Park covers a span of nearly 1,200 square miles in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain. Although the park is open year-round, access is limited during the winter, especially on higher-elevation roads. Tioga Road (Hwy 120 through the park) and Glacier Point Road are closed during the winter season, for example.
The closest airports are: Fresno-Yosemite International, approximately 1.5 hours from the park’s South Entrance and 2.5 hours to Yosemite Valley; Merced Airport, about 2 hours from Yosemite Valley; and Modesto City-County Airport, about 2 hours from Yosemite Valley.
If you’re driving in, the park is about 4-5 hours from the San Francisco/Bay Area, 4 hours from Sacramento and about 5 hours from Reno and Lake Tahoe. You can also take public transportation to and within the park, but check the NPS website for the most up-to-date route accessibility.
The park offers a number of accommodation options – from cozy mountain cabins to luxury hotels and even unheated tent cabins in Curry Village. Most of the year-round accommodations are located either in Yosemite Valley or southern Yosemite, although you can find a number of places to stay outside the park, as well as camp sites that are open in the winter scattered throughout.
Yosemite’s most luxurious accommodation is the Ahwahnee Hotel. With a striking granite façade, meticulously crafted exposed beam ceilings, an expansive dining room and Great Lounge, and a design that reflects its rich Native American history, a stay here is definitely recommended. The hotel was built in 1927 and sits near the base of Half Dome and Glacier Point. Though it’s nearly impossible to get a room here during summer, the less-crowded winter period gives you the rare opportunity to stay in this magnificent hotel. The hotel also hosts a number of events (as well as numerous celebrities guests throughout the years) even in the winter season.
Also located in Yosemite Valley is the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Though less opulent than the Ahwahnee, it is located right next to the famous Yosemite Falls – and it is much more budget friendly.
The previously mentioned Curry Village is also a lodging option for those looking for a more rustic experience. Here you can choose between cabins with or without bath, canvas tent cabins with or without heat and a standard hotel room.
For those looking for a quick winter weekend break, the historic Wawona Hotel is open all winter during the weekends. The hotel first opened in 1879 and is conveniently located near the Mariposa Grove ( home to the famous Grizzy Giant and California Tunnel Tree) and the Badger Pass Ski area.
A highlight for those that love cross-country skiing is an overnight trip to a ski hut. The Glacier Point Ski Hut is a 16.9km ski to the hut. You can also take a 16-km (10-mile) ski tour to the historic Ostrander Ski Hut. Be sure to make reservations for these huts in advance.
The most awesome winter activity in Yosemite is to exploring on foote – and there are tons of hiking opportunities all throughout the park. The most predictable trails are walking along Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Artist Point and the Vernal-Fall-footbridge section of Mist Trail. These routes are almost always open, except after an extreme snowfall. Check out the park service’s website for the most up-to-date information regarding trail accessibility, especially at highe elevations.
Snowshoeing is also a highlighted activity during the snowy season at Yosemite, with a wide variety of guided tours, even in the evenings. You can also check out multi-day tours such as Yosemite in Winter Tour for an up-close -and-personal extended stay in one of North America’s most astounding parks. Or consider some of the many guided winter tours offered by Yosemite Family Adventures.
When the first layer of powder falls, Yosemite is famous for some of the most scenic cross-country skiing routes in the world, providing exceptional views of the park’s most impressive sites. As described above, you can take overnight trips to Glacier Point Ski Hut or Ostrander Ski Hut. There are also more than 144.8km ( 90 miles) of marked trails and 40.2km (25 miles) of groomed track.
If you want to practice downhill skiing, then the Badger Pass Ski Area is the place to be for downhill skiing and snowboarding, with a terrain park and mix of beginner and intermediate slopes.
Ice-skating at Curry Village is also a popular winter activity, attracting visitors since the 1930s. Here you can enjoy fresh ice, skate rentals and a cozy hut to warm up in – with ample supplies for making s’mores! Another family-friendly activity is snow tubing in Yosemite – perfect for winter adventurers of all ages.
After all thise outdoor activity, the Yosemite National Park offers plenty of options to rest and refuel. Inside the park there are a number of restaurants such as the world-famous (and very fancy) Ahwahnee dining room. For something a little more casual check out the variety of options available at Yosemite Village. There are also plenty of dining choices outside the park gates as well.
What are you waiting for? Yosemite National Park is a winter wonderland waiting to be explored. From majestic pines to frozen waterfalls, elegant dining rooms to campground living – and all that’s in between!