Yosemite in Winter: 6 Things to Know Before You Go
Winter in Yosemite is simply magical. Snowcovered mountains and sparkling frosty trees create a winter wonderland like no other. But yes, with that magic comes cold temperatures and icy roads, leaving many to wonder, “Is visiting Yosemite in winter really worth it?”
It’s true, a Yosemite National Park winter can be tough to bare, especially for California natives not used to the snow and ice. But visiting Yosemite in December, January or February also has it’s perks!
You’ll experience fewer crowds, quieter roads, and breathtaking landscapes worth trekking for.
So bundle up and keep reading for our best tips for visiting Yosemite in Winter!
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Is Winter the Best Time to Visit Yosemite?
While anytime is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park, winter is an especially magical time to go.
Keep in mind, though, that during winter in Yosemite, most of the winding mountain roads are closed due to impassability. Unfortunately this includes Glacier Point Road, meaning you won’t be able to reach popular sights like Mariposa Grove or Glacier Point.
Other closures include Tioga pass (making it impossible to visit the eastern side of Yosemite), as well as popular hikes like Half Dome Trail and Mist Trail.
Still, there’s plenty of enchanting winter fun to be had in Yosemite, so long as you come prepared!
Yosemite Weather in December, January and February
If you’re considering a winter trip, you might be wondering, “When does it snow in Yosemite?” Truth is, Yosemite is blanketed in snow for much of the winter, so your chance of seeing snow is almost guaranteed. After all, Yosemite National Park accumulates 65.3 inches of snow each year.
As magical as this time of year is in Yosemite, be sure to wear lots of warm layers! Temperatures in December range from 26 degrees F at night to 48 degrees F during the day, with 12.5 inches of snow accummulated.
January peaks out as the coldest month of year in Yosemite, with temperatures ranging from 25 to 47 degrees F. However, it also gives you your best chance of seeing snowfall, with an average of 16.2 inches accumulated during the month of January.
Finally, February warms up just a bit, but remains brisk with temperatures ranging from 28 to 53 degrees F. There’s still a good deal of snow on the ground too, with an average 14.6 inches falling in February.
Driving in Yosemite in Snow
One of the biggest obstacles when experiencing winter in Yosemite is, of course, driving conditions.
There’s no doubt about it, the narrow winding roads that lead into Yosemite Valley can be quite tricky to navigate, let alone in the snow and ice. If you’re not used to winter driving, be sure to take things slow, keep your distance from the car ahead of you, and make sure your tires have a good thick tread on them before you head out.
Important Note: In Yosemite, tire chains can become mandatory at any time, so be sure to keep a set in the trunk of your car at all times.
Not comfortable driving? That’s ok too! Stay outside Yosemite Valley and book a guided tour that leaves the driving to someone else!
What to Pack for a Yosemite National Park Winter
Visiting Yosemite in winter? Be sure to bundle up! Winter weather in Yosemite can range from freezing to mild, so it’s best to be prepared with lots of layers.
A few key essentials we recommend for your Yosemite winter packing list include:
Winter Coat | I like to go with something warm, yet comfortable enough for lots of walking, like this simple, versatile down jacket.
Merino Wool Base Layer | When spending so much time outdoors, having a merino wool base layer is a must! This merino wool top and base layer pants are an Amazon favorite, though I’m a fan of this midweight strech top and matching base layer tights. Yes, the base layer is spendy, but you’ll wear it every day and lasts for years to come.
PS. They make adorable kid-sized base layer sets too!
Lightweight Merino Wool Sweaters | Unless your idea of winter in Yosemite includes cozying up by the fireplace all day (hey, no judgement!), chunky sweaters are not the way to go. We prefer a simple merino wool sweater that will keep you much warmer while feeling far less bulky under your winter coat.
Fleece-Lined Tights | If you don’t want to go with a full wool base layer, at minimum include a pair of fleece-lined tights in your suitcase.
Waterproof Gloves with Touch Fingers | Let’s be honest, how are you going to Instagram the beauty of Yosemite in winter without them? You won’t regret investing in this pair.
Merino Wool Socks | Another must – you’ll want extra warm socks to keep your toes warm all day while out exploring. This set from Amazon is one of the best deals I’ve found.
Winter Hiking Boots | Opt for something both warm, waterproof, and with good ankle support for hiking, like these these super warm winter boots.
shop winter travel favorites:
Ready to pack? Read our full Winter Family Packing List for inspiration and download the free printable packing list, too!
Where to Stay in Yosemite during the Winter
When most people think about staying in Yosemite National Park, it’s Yosemite Valley that they’re picturing. The rolling meadow surrounded by towering peaks really is a sight to behold. Whether you want to be right in the action, or just outside the valley, we recommend these hotels.
Hotels in Yosemite National Park
Ahwahnee Hotel ($$$$) | A National Historic Landmark, this upscale lodge in Yosemite Valley is swoonworthy to say the least. Drawing from its surroundings with waterfall and cliffside views, the Ahwahnee’s architecture and design makes for the perfect romantic winter getaway. An on-site bar and restaurant along with a year-round heated outdoor pool adds to the draw for visitors.
Check Prices on: Hotels.com
Yosemite Valley Lodge ($$) | For affordable accommodation in the heart of Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Valley Lodge is a great option. The property is a bit small though, so plan to book nearly a year in advance, especially for the summer and holiday weekends.
Compare Prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
The Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite ($$$) | Outside of the hustle and bustle of Yosemite Valley, you’ll find stylish, modern digs at The Tenaya Lodge. Located about 30 miles southwest of the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, The Tenaya Lodge offers an on-site spa, restaurant, and even winter activities like guided snowshoe hikes and an ice skating rink.
Compare Prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
Wawona Hotel ($$) | The Victorian Wawona Hotel, a historic boutique property with just over 100 rooms, is closed for most of the winter, but is open for the holiday season from mid-December to just after the 1st of January, making it a charming holiday getaway.
Compare Prices on: Hotels.com | Agoda
Camping in Yosemite
The Upper and Lower Pines Campgrounds are open in Yosemite year-round and can accommodate RVs up to 40′. Reservations should be made well in advance, but if you can snag a spot, this offers an affordable way to stay right in Yosemite Valley.
And for a mix of rustic, yet not totally roughing it, consider the heated tent cabin at Curry Village.
Airbnb in Yosemite National Park
Important Note: The roads heading east out of Yosemite are closed during winter, so make sure you stay on the west side of the mountains (Mammoth Lakes is great for accommodations in warmer months, but unfortunately not a winter option).
Magical Things to Do in Yosemite in Winter
While some might think there’s a lack of things to do in Yosemite in December, January and February, there’s actually quite an array of enchanting winter activities to try in Yosemite in winter!
1 | Stop and Take in th Winter Views
Tunnel View | Of course, a must stop for any Yosemite National Park trip has to be Tunnel View. This epic vantage point gives you a full view of Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan and Half Dome looming in the distance. The best time to visit is just past sunrise, when the sun peeks out behind El Capitan, or in the late afternoon for golden hour, just before the the sun sets behind the mountains.
Valley View | Located along Northside Drive, this is a must stop on your way out of Yosemite Valley. The popular vista which offers views of El Capitan and Half Dome from the valley floor is located just before Pohono Bridge (a small parking area is located on the south side of the road along the Merced River).
Sentinel Bridge | A few steps away from the Cooks Meadow Loop, get a glimpse of Half Dome reflected on the Merced River’s water from this unique vantage point.
El Capitan Meadow | Another must on your way out of the park, pit stop at El Capitan Meadow and stare straight up at the iconic rock formation.
2 | Head out on Yosemite Winter Hikes
Bridalveil Falls Trail | This easy half mile up-and-back trail takes you on a paved trail to the base of Bridalveil Fall.
Yosemite Falls Trail | A 1-mile loop, this easy paved trail rewards you with views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall. For the more adventurous, a strenuous trail continues 2700 feet up to the Upper Falls and is also open in winter (though, you must be rather fit to attempt this epic 6-8 hour round-trip hike).
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail | To see all of Yosemite Valley, head out on the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. Mostly along flat terrain, the full loop is 11.5 miles (a half loop is 7.2 miles). During the winter, the trail is often snowy and icy in places, but takes you along an array of landscapes, from meadows to granite cliffs and along the Merced River.
Cooks Meadow | This short, easy walk along the valley floor offers stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. It’s also wheelchair (and stroller) accessible.
Mirror Lake | A 2-mile round trip walk to the lake and back, Mirror Lake’s reflective pool fills with water in the late winter and spring, drying up by summer and fall. If the valley gets enough moisture in the winter, it’s the perfect time to experience Mirror Lake!
PS. If this all sounds too overwhelming, let someone else plan your day out with this private hiking tour!
3 | Try Showshoeing in Yosemite
Snowshoeing is a popular winter sport in Yosemite, and there are a number of places to try it out. Badger Pass Ski Area is located along the short stretch of Glacier Point Road that remains open in winter and is home to all sorts of winter sports rentals, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. This area also has the most marked winter routes for venturing out into the snow.
For a bit more adventurous trek, head to Crane Flat, another popular area for snowshoeing. A short out-and-back 1.5 mile trail begins at Crane Flat Lookout, or take a longer tour on the Gin Flat Loop Trail (6.25 miles roundtrip).
Want a guide? This half-day snowshoe hike is perfect for experiencing some of the harder to reach areas of Yosemite in winter!
4 | Go Snow Tubing at Badger Pass
A must for any family visiting Yosemite in winter, snow tubing or skiing is available at Badger Pass as well. This family-friendly activity is the perfect choice for those who want to experience winter fun in California! (and if you have your own sleds, a snow play area for tubing and sledding is located near Crane Flat as well).
5 | Experience Yosemite Ice Skating
Yes, you can also go ice skating in Yosemite! Curry Village Ice Skating Rink is open mid-December through end of February, weather permitting, making it a magical winter activity to try while in Yosemite National Park. Find up to date pricing here.
6 | Cozy Up at the Ahwahnee Bar
Even if you don’t splurge for staying at the luxury Ahwahnee Hotel, it’s still worth a visit to cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa after a long day outside! The Ahwahnee Bar is open daily from 2-9 PM and features an interesting menu of comfort food snacks, spiked hot beverages and cozy hot chocolate for the kids.
For full dinner service, book a reservation at the Ahwahnee Dining Room for an expansive dinner buffet in a rustic lodge setting.
Have you crossed Yosemite off your bucket list? Which winter activity would you most like to try?