Wave goodbye to crowded city centers, and take a deep breath of Yosemite’s winter. Crisp clear air, rosy cheeks, and Yosemite’s majesty practically to yourself.
Winter gifts us with unobstructed views of snow-kissed cliffs. Waterfalls reawaken and cold nights transform the spray into a delicate lacework of ice that melts from the walls in the morning sun. If you catch it at the right moment, a beautiful spray-bow lives at the bottom of Upper Yosemite Fall as the morning light bursts into a rainbow of color.
If you love natural beauty, outdoor adventure and challenging yourself with new experiences, Yosemite’s winter should be at the top of your list.
Let us introduce you to five days worth of Yosemite winter bliss.
Skiing or snowshoeing in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is an amazing encounter with ancient massive trees. Photo: Theresa Ho
Whether you prefer the gentle shushing of cross country skis or the sound of snow crunching below snowshoes, a bit of snow travel through one of Yosemite’s three giant sequoia groves is at the top of the list.
Each grove is an exciting encounter with massive beings that are thousands of years old. Their red bark stands in striking contrast with a blanket of white snow all around. In winter’s hush, you can almost hear the whispered wisdom of their years. When fresh snow is blown from the highest branches of a giant sequoia it creates a transcendent shimmering curtain, an ephemeral miniature snowstorm.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest of the three Yosemite sequoia groves and is located near the south entrance gate by Wawona. For snowshoers, the Washburn trail leaves from the far end of the main parking lot and meanders through the forest for 2 miles (3.2 km) up to the Lower Grove. Though it is a little further than walking the unplowed road, it gives you a chance to be more surrounded by nature. Expert cross-country skiers will also enjoy this route, but it tends to be pretty narrow and winding, and once there is a snowshoe track down the center, it can be a little tricky on skinny skis. Another option is to walk or ski the unplowed road to the Lower Grove. This is definitely the best option for a fast and easy glide back to the car for skiers. Most people turn around at the Grizzly Giant for roughly a 6-mile round-trip journey, but you can also continue to the even less-visited trees in the Upper Grove.
Trailheads for the Tuolumne Grove and the Merced Grove are both on Highway 120/The Big Oak Flat Road. In both cases, it’s roughly 1 mile (1.6 km) from the trailhead down a wide trail to the giant sequoias. Note that in both cases, the trail to the grove is downhill, so make sure you save some strength for climbing back up to your car at the end of the trip.
One final note on snowshoeing etiquette: Footprints ruin carefully laid cross country ski tracks. If you see a pair of parallel tracks, avoid them and hike next to the tracks instead of on top of them. You’ll earn a cross-country skier’s endless gratitude!
Hike the Merced River Trail from Briceburg toward Yosemite in any season.
If you don’t want to bother with snowshoes or skis, no matter how fun they might be, Yosemite is a hiker’s paradise in any season. And winter is the perfect time to enjoy the local mountain biking trails.
Even when there are many feet of snow at the higher elevations of the park, lower elevation trails can be practically snow-free. Plus, the paved trails in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley are often plowed to make strolling through the valley more convenient. Take advantage of the extra warmth on trails on the sunnier side of Yosemite Valley like the loop through Cook’s Meadow, Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, or the lower half of Upper Yosemite Fall Hike to the lower lookout railing.
If even that is too snowy for your taste, drop down a few thousand feet into the Merced River canyon and enjoy a river-side hike on the Merced Trail. Alternatively, Hite Cove is famous for late winter wildflowers and is a scenic trail overlooking the south fork of the Merced River best enjoyed in the cooler months. At these elevations, the air is warmer and there is rarely any lasting snow.
If you do encounter snow on your hike, make sure you keep some important winter hiking tips in mind. With the right information and gear, you’ll be all set for a rewarding winter walk.
Mountain bikers will find excellent rides all winter long too. Check out the Stockton Creek Preserve Trail right in the town of Mariposa. (It’s a great hiking destination too.) Or go all in and explore the trails at Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. Exchequer devotes 700 acres of prime riding and great views of Lake McClure exclusively to mountain bikers of all skill levels.
Just because you’re visiting a National Park, doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to treat yourself to the delights of small towns with big stories.
Imagine finding this 1.3-pound nugget of gold. See it at the California Mining and Mineral Museum.
Many of the towns surrounding Yosemite were founded by hardy 49ers hoping to strike it rich. Transport your imagination back in time with a stroll through local museums like the Mariposa Museum & History Center or the Northern Mariposa County History Center. Can you imagine finding a 13.8-pound piece of crystalline gold? One of the largest and most beautiful specimens of gold in the world, The Fricot Nugget is on display at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.
For something more contemporary, a brand new climbing museum in Mariposa is poised to offer insights into why Yosemite is considered a Mecca of rock climbing around the world. The art and gear on display connect the golden era of climbing in Yosemite with modern game-changing ascents as depicted in the award-winning film, Free Solo.
Learn more about the Yosemite Climbing Association Museum in our videos below.
Top off a day of time-traveling through museums by being fully present with locally crafted wines or beer and a bit of shopping in downtown Mariposa.
Stop in to sip smooth cabs and full-bodied zins from Mariposa County grapes at Casto Oaks Fine Wine and Art. While you’re there, you can also browse the gallery to find paintings, pottery, jewelry, and more from talented local artists.
We’re also passionate about our craft breweries here in Mariposa County. 1850 Restaurant and Brewery gets rave reviews. Give them a try and let us know what you think.
For something really unique, stop in at CostaLivos Mountain Gold Olive Oil to sample fresh olive oils from a local olive grove, and taste some imported balsamic vinegars. If you time it right, you can witness these sublime flavors in action with dinner on-site at La Cuchina Italia.
Just having a chance to romp in the snow creates its own mini-party, and you can take advantage of that at the Goat Meadow Snow Play Area.
The small hills surrounding the parking area provide a wide selection of sledding runs perfect for kids of all ages. Make snow angels, snow people, and other sculptures. Build a fort for a snowball fight. The sound of laughing children (and adults) fills the air. Plus, the parking is so close it’s easy to run back and forth from the car to drop off an extra jacket or grab a snack.
Goat Meadow Snow Play Area is just outside the boundary of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance on Highway 41.
Glide across the ice at Tenaya Lodge’s outdoor ice skating rink.
While you’re in the area, try the coolest new way to explore the snow – fat tire biking. Fat tire bikes are made to float on the snow, so they are a great way to pedal your way into winter adventure. You can rent fat-tire bikes at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, just two miles from the south entrance of Yosemite, and enjoy the trails behind the resort in the Sierra National Forest.
Snowshoe or cross country ski to Dewey Point for amazing views of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan. Photo: YMCTB/Kim Lawson
More than just a ski area, Badger Pass is a gateway to a top-notch winter backcountry experience. Follow marked winter routes through rolling terrain, leading from Badger Pass to views looking down into Yosemite Valley or across the Sierra Nevada. A relatively short 3.4 mile (5.4 km)-long snowshoe or ski to Old Badger Summit opens up into views of snowcapped mountains. For those up for a longer trip, Dewey Point provides spectacular views looking down at El Capitan and Yosemite Valley. Depending on the route, it’s a 7-8 mile (11.2-12.8 km) round trip through snow-covered meadows and through beautiful conifer forests. And that’s only the beginning.
(Note: the ski and snowboard area will be closed for the 2020-2021 season. Normally, XC ski and snowshoe rentals are available at Badger Pass, but this year you’ll need to bring your own.)
Sonora Pass and Ebbetts Pass provide gorgeous mountain scenery on the way to California’s east side. Start in Yosemite Mariposa County and hit some of these amazing stops along the way.
Interesting and scenic trails continue beyond the Yosemite National Park border. If you’re looking for quiet trails and the path less traveled, be sure to explore some of these hiking trails just outside Yosemite.
Discover some golden opportunities for camping just outside Yosemite National Park in Yosemite Mariposa County. Options that range from quiet lake-side settings to spacious national forest sites are sure to make you one happy camper.