What: In this blog I will cover my personal Insights and tips on how to visit Yosemite during the winter month when it snows.
I visited Yosemite many times during the winter months, and it was not snowing all the time but when it does snow and cover the valley the views transform into a fairy tale land.
Related Blog Posts:
- Yosemite National Park – How to plan your One-Day visit
- Yosemite NP – Snow, Pictures from my Dec. 2, 2022 visit
- Yosemite National Park - Bear Pictures
- Yosemite NP – Hiking Mist trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall
- Yosemite NP – Hike to Half Dome Diving Board
- Yosemite NP – Cloud Rest Hike
- Yosemite NP – 4 Miles Trail to Glacier Point
- Yosemite NP – Inspiration Point Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tunnel View to Dewey Point Hike
- Yosemite NP – Mariposa Sequoia Grove
- Yosemite NP – Wawona Pioneer Yosemite History Center
- Yosemite Valley - Pictures from my Oct. 2022 visit
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Road
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass May Lake Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass North Dome Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Lembert Dome Hike
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tuolumne Meadows
- Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tenaya Lake
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- Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy Visit Planning
- Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Wapama Falls Day Hike
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Check the weather at least one day before your planned arrival time.
The weather changes every day and even within one day you can have a sunny morning and and a winter storm at the afternoon.
As in many other locations in California even immediately after a snow storm you can have beautiful and cloudless days, but it may be freezing cold at night and during the day.
It not always snows, and you can also have rain… it is less fun to hike in the rain.
During the storm the clouds may be low and without visibility, and you will not see the iconic landmarks
I do not recommend arriving the park on the day of a serious winter snowstorm, they are plowing the road but it may be not a fun drive if you are not use to drive in snowy conditions and have 4x4 car.
I understand that for those who book accommodation in advance without a cancellation option this is a problem to change so try to book your hotels with 1 day notice cancelation options.
Yosemite's Valley is not very high (4,000 ft), and if the following days after the snowstorm are sunny and warm the snow will melt after few days.
I have gathered here all the insights I have from the many visits to Yosemite in the winter, a bit long but I hope it will help plan the visit.
How to drive to the park:
Important note: According to the park website you must carry chains in your car, and you will be asked at the gate. This is also for 4x4 cars.
In practice, 4x4 vehicles do not need chains in the valley, there are no significant slopes, it is relatively flat drive and they plow the snow from the road regularly.
In winter, I personally recommend driving to the park entrance via Mariposa and El Portal on highway 140, this is my recommended way to drive to Yosemite.
Because of it lower elevation usually on this road there is no snow (maybe some snow near Mariposa), and you are not crossing any high mountain pass.
Even if you need to use car chains, using this road this is only a relatively short drive into the valley and without any steep uphill/downhill slopes.
If you are driving to the park using highway 120 through Groveland (the shortest route from San Francisco) then you need to cross a 6,000 ft pass on your way to the valley.
From the park entrance you can drive with car chains for long distances all the way to the valley, this make the drive longer.
Even if you don’t need chains and you have a 4x4 car, other vehicles may need to use them and for most of this road into the park you can’t bypass other cars, and the drive will be very slow.
How much time to plan your visit:
In the winter, I recommend planning a one night and two-day visit.
You can also make it in one day without a night stay but depending on from where you are driving this can be a long day…
I personally did many one-day trips from the south bay area to Yosemite and back.
I left at 4-5 am in the morning from my home, a 4 hours’ drive to the valley, long day visit until 4 in the afternoon, then driving back home for another 4 hours...
If the roads are covered with snow and ice all driving can be a lot slower so plan accordingly.
Don't think that because it is winter the park will be empty.
During weekends there are many other visitors.
Try to enter the park early, there is a line of cars at the entrance gate, it is always recommended to come as early as you can (prefered before 8am).
From my experience, during weekends it starts to get a lot busier in the park around noon time.
Regarding food and dining options in the park, you do not have large selection, there is a cafeteria near the visitor center, or the large general store.
I usually try to bring with me food for the day and in the evening I eat at a restaurant near the hotel.
It can be very cold, and you need warm winter clothing.
Plan to have layers, because it may get warmer during the day or when you are hiking and you want to be able to take off the warm winter coat.
In my opinion, ski clothing is not mandatory, maybe only when it snows or when you expect very low temperatures.
Immediately after sunset it get a lot colder.
I usually hike with long thermal Gore-Tex underwear and regular pants, but I carry with me snow pants just in case ….
For upper body sections I wear short sleeves synthetic shirts, long sleeve shirt, good fleece jacket and if it is extremely cooled than i also have heavy coat.
Good gloves and warm beanie hats are essential.
Special snowshoes are not required, most of the visitors can manage with regular shoes.
It's not mandatory, but I do recommend bringing with you 'shoe spikes'.
You put them on your walking shoes, and they reduce the risk of slipping on the ice.
You do not need to buy the expensive metal one, there are simple rubber ones that are inexpensive and help when you are walking on ice (I saw that a rubber spike is around 20-30 dollars on Amazon, simple, but does the job).
You can also bring walking sticks; they may help you with stability on ice.
It is always better to sleep right in the valley so you can walk from the hotel, a second preferred option, especially in the winter, is in El Portal.
From my experience you will find basic level hotels here and there are only few options for dinner over here.
There are other options for accommodation in Mariposa on the 140 or near Groveland on highway 120.
There is the option to sleep in Curry Village.
This is a large, family-friendly tents with inside heating and public showers. I haven't been there so I can’t say a lot but it seems like a really good option.
There are few park campsites that are open during winter.
Camping in winter when it is snowing with low temperatures is only for those who know what they are doing and come prepared with proper warm sleeping arrangements.
What to do during your Winter visit:
During the winter month you will mainly visit Yosemite Valley, you can always visit Mariposa Sequoia trees or Hetch Hetchy sections.
In this blog I will cover only the valley visit and you can read about Mariposa Sequoia Grove or Hetch Hetchy in their dedicated blogs.
For a lot more information about the Yosemite Valley attractions and must see locations see my main Yosemite blog.
At winter, the roads that lead to the higher park locations are closed to vehicles during winter months, so it is impossible to drive to Glacier Point, as well as Tioga Pass Road, both are closed during all winter months.
The free bus shuttles in the valley run as usual, check for exact route and schedule at the park website.
If you do not want to drive, you can park your car and use the shuttle.
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