Close your eyes and think of the epic sequoia trees, granite cliffs, the jetting cathedral spires spanning Yosemite National Park. Okay. Now, imagine snow frosting these already-unreal natural wonders without the crazy crowds. It’s pure magic, isn’t it? Now that we’ve easily convinced you to experience this iconic national park when it’s cold, let’s get into the best things to do in Yosemite in winter, where to stay, fantastic discounts and deals, and how to dress for the chillier weather.

Read on for practical tips for preparing for a Yosemite National Park winter trip!

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Best Outdoor Winter Activities in and around Yosemite

So you’re interested in trying some outdoor activities in Yosemite during the winter, now what? Just take a look at the following things to do around Yosemite in winter, pack your bags with the appropriate gear, and off you go for some incredible, unforgettable explorations and adventures.

Cross-Country Skiing in Yosemite National Park

*Badger Pass Ski Area is closed for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.

You may not find top-notch skiing opportunities in the Valley, but if you travel higher in elevation, you’ll reach exceptional ungroomed areas tailored for mesmerizing cross country skiing adventures.

Start at Crane Flat and go on the 4.8km Crane Flat Lookout Trail, where stunning views of the park await. Or if you’d rather stick to a more flat route, try out the 2.8km Crane Flat Campground Trail loop.

Experienced skiers will fall in love with the challenging 16.9km trail down Glacier Point Road from Badger Pass Ski Area, which winds to the backcountry hut, Glacier Point Ski Hut. This is a 33.8km route, so prepare for a long day.

You can also find a network of trails within the Badger Pass Ski Area, including 40.2km of groomed tracks and 144.8km of marked trails.

Skating

Head to the Curry Village, in the heart of the Yosemite Valley, lace up your skates and glide around this scenic outdoor rink, backed by vistas of Half Dome and Glacier Point. To top it off, when you start to feel chilly and hungry, you can buy some s’mores and warm up by a fire pit. It costs $11 for adults to skate and $9.50 for kids under 12. Once you purchase your ticket, you can skate for up to two hours.

Nearby Yosemite National Park, you can also find another skating rink that will undoubtedly offer memorable experiences. Skate around a sheltered rink at Tenaya Lodge, situated near Yosemite’s south entrance.

Winter Camping in Yosemite

Yes! You read that right. Winter camping is one of the best things to do in Yosemite in winter! It’s epic, memorable, and if you pack right, it won’t be that cold. Before you go, you’ll need to purchase a wilderness permit. You can register at Oak Flat, Wawona Visitor Center, Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, or Badger Pass Ranger Station. For a postcard-worthy camping spot, aim to grab a spot near Dewey Point or Glacier Point.

If you aren’t in the mood to backpack to a quiet, secluded spot in the snowy wilderness, you can choose a front-country site, such as Bitterbrush Campground and Dirt Flat Campground.

Snowshoe winter hiker in the snow Yosemite National Park USA
Snowshoe winter hiker in the snow in Yosemite National Park

Winter Hiking in Yosemite

Hiking is one of the most fun things to do in Yosemite in winter. Well, hiking is surreal all year-round, but hiking in this Californian national park when snow blankets the land gives you a chance to explore other trails and feel like you’re traveling in some enchanting fairytale story.

Here are some winter-friendly hikes to consider attempting:

  • Mist Falls: This hike is relatively easy and crowded during the summer, but glistening snow and winter conditions propel the crowds to evaporate, giving you a chance to bask in the unrivalled natural beauty, surrounded by only the hush of the wild (and maybe a couple of other hikers).
  • Yosemite Falls: Admire one of America’s highest waterfalls on this stunning hike, which also unveils glimpses of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.
  • Yosemite Valley Hike: This route is flat and provides striking vistas of attention-grabbing granite slabs and faraway mountains.

Skiing and Snowboarding

*Badger Pass Ski Area is closed for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.

Carve through powder at Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park! You’ll find a wide range of slopes that cater to all levels, primarily intermediate skiers and boarders. The ski area has ten runs, with 50% being intermediate, 35% tailored for beginners, and 15% meant for experts. Badger Pass Area also boasts of 5 chairlifts and a terrain park.

Snowshoeing in Yosemite National Park

Snowshoeing is one of the most popular Yosemite winter activities, and for good reason!

Explore Yosemite’s inspiring, surreal snowy scenery by snowshoe! Most people flock to Crane Flat and Badger Pass for incredible snowshoeing trails (the same as cross country skiing). If you’re looking for a quick route, try out Crane Flat’s Clark Range View Trail. It’s only 3.2km long, making it the perfect chance to get some fresh air and exercise while meandering a winter wonderland.

For a more challenging route (lengthwise), you can do the 16.9km Glacier Point Road route mentioned in the cross country skiing section. Or, if you really want to challenge yourself, try the Dewey Point via Ridge #14. It’s only 12.9km, but it will get your heart going. This one is also a cross country skiing route.

Sledding in Yosemite

Sledding is one of the best things to do with kids in Yosemite! And guess what? You can find free spots to glide down. Just head to Big Oak Flat Road on the west side of Yosemite Valley, located on Highway 120, or the Mountaineering Store in Yosemite Valley’s Curry Village will fill you in on where to go.

Tubing

*Badger Pass Ski Area is closed for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.

If you don’t own a sled but want to experience a punch of adrenaline, head to Badger Pass Ski Area for snow tubing. This thrilling experience is not only one of the most fun things to do in Yosemite in winter for kids, but for adults too. It costs $25 per person for a two-hour session. Be sure to check snow conditions or contact Badger Pass Ski Area before you go since the amount of snow can dictate the sessions’ timing.

Beautiful sunny winter day snow and river in Yosemite National Park USA
Beautiful sunny winter day snow and river in Yosemite National Park USA

Stop at Tunnel View

This Yosemite winter activity may not require a lot of physical exertion, but hey, it’s still an activity that propels some adventure. Tunnel View is a scenic lookout that gives phenomenal views of Yosemite. All you need to do is hop in your car, drive through a tunnel, and the vista will await you on the other side. You can do this in summer too, but it’s also high on the list for Yosemite winter attractions. Why miss out on an opportunity to admire this famous view, but with a snow-covered perspective?

Snowshoe or ski to a backcountry hut

Yosemite National Park has two charming, rustic, cozy backcountry huts: Glacier Point Ski Hut and Ostrander Ski Hut. Both require you to cross country ski or snowshoe to reach them, but that just makes the reward of chilling out at a sweet backcountry cabin all the more relaxing and authentic. More advanced skiers or snowshoers will enjoy the route to Ostrander Ski Hut, whereas newbies may want to travel to Glacier Point Ski Hut instead.

Best Winter Deals In And Around Yosemite National Park

It’s always so much more fun to travel when you know you’ve saved some money thanks to awesome deals! Below, you’ll find a list of the best winter deals in and around Yosemite National Park:

Best Accommodation Deals around Yosemite

The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Valley Lodge: If you stay at either one of these cozy, warm lodges for three nights, you’ll get the third night free. Talk about an excellent deal! This special offer is valid from November 30, 2020 until March 25, 2021.

Best Outdoor Deals around Yosemite

Skating at Tenaya Lodge: Pair one of the most fun winter activities with one of the most delicious snacks: skating and s’mores. That’s right. Tenaya Lodge offers a package that includes one night in a Deluxe, Premium, or Cottage room, an ice skating session and skate rentals for two, and a s’mores kit to roast over the fire.

Beautiful frozen waterfalls Vernal Falls winter in Yosemite National Park USA
Beautiful frozen waterfalls Vernal Falls winter in Yosemite National Park, USA

Winter Weather in Yosemite

Prepare for snowy and cold weather, although the sun may peek out to say hi every so often! In December and January, you’ll see a high of 48°F (9°C) and a low of around 28°F (-2°C). Expect snow to pile in Yosemite around mid-November, and it stays brisk until March! Although, sometimes snow can sprinkle the valley in April and May. Either way, winter weather in Yosemite highlights the surrounding beauty in a brand new, inspiring way.

What to Wear during Winter in Yosemite National Park

When it comes to deciding what to wear during winter in Yosemite National Park, think one thing, and one thing only: layers. One outfit would look like this:

  • hat, mittens, wool socks
  • Waterproof or water-resistant boots or shoes (boots are probably best)
  • A long-sleeved shirt
  • A flannel, sweater, or fleece to wear over your long-sleeved shirt
  • Insulated jacket or a waterproof coat
  • Pants—waterproof pants, track pants, snow pants (these may be too hot for super active winter excursions)
  • Long johns, leggings, or something to wear under your pants

If you plan on staying at Ahwahnee, you’ll want to bring nice clothes for their dining room. Men are typically required to wear a collared shirt and long pants. And women should wear a nice shirt with pants or a skirt, or a dress.

Fun Winter Facts about Yosemite

Memorize the following fun winter facts about Yosemite and share them with your friends and family during your travels to this phenomenal national park:

  • Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on Earth, but it’s not just one waterfall; it’s three: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall.
  • 75% of visitors flock to Yosemite from May to October, making it ideal to visit during winter if you prefer fewer crowds.
  • In the 1920s, park concessionaire, Don Tressider, wanted to make Yosemite the “Switzerland of the West,” so they added winter-friendly activities, such as sledding and an ice rink.
  • Yosemite National Park is the only national park to bid to hold the Olympics (it went to Lake Placid instead).
  • In mid to late February, some lucky visitors may get the chance to see Horsetail Fall glow.

Yosemite is a host for natural masterpieces year-round, but its wonders truly come to life when sprinkled with snow!