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How to Enjoy Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

Best Ways to Get to Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite in winter is the perfect time to explore Yosemite National Park, its gateway towns and all the other fun winter activities the season has to offer. Make your trip to Yosemite this winter an exploration of a lifetime.

Valley Floor Tours operate in the winter in Yosemite with a cozy bus replacing the open-air trams. For family-friendly activities, Yosemite offers an ice skating rink that operates at  Curry Village from mid-November through March, depending on the weather. Make sure to check out our quick video on winter tips when heading to the valley. 

Don’t forget to dress warm – the rink lies near the southern edge of Yosemite Valley, which gets less direct sunlight and is noticeably cooler in the winter months than Yosemite Valley’s north side. If you’re looking for a smaller rink, check out Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, two miles outside the park’s southern entrance. It’s open daily from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m., from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., and from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Rates, which include skate rentals, are $15 for adults and $12 for children for a single session or $25 for adults/$20 for children for a full day.

Winter is also a perfect time to enjoy popular museums like the Mariposa Museum and History Center, Ansel Adams Gallery, Indian Culture Museum and the Yosemite Museum.

Mariposa County in winter offers sleigh rides, snowboarding, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing. The surrounding gateway towns offer cozy winter lodging, holiday events and family-friendly activities that are sure to create incredible memories for years to come. Yosemite winter activities bring visitors from all over the world to see Yosemite Valley and Mariposa County in an entirely new way.

Getting to Yosemite in Winter

There a few ways to get to Yosemite National Park this winter. If you plan to drive to Yosemite in winter, take CA Hwy 140 through Mariposa. It is the lowest-elevation route, least likely to be affected by snow and ice, and of course, beautiful. If you decide to drive to Yosemite National Park, you’re required to carry chains (in your car) everywhere in Yosemite in the winter.

yosemite valley in the winter with snow caps

Depending on road conditions, the chain requirements will be at one of these levels:

  • R0: Chains must be carried, but they don’t need to be on your tires.
  • R1: Chains required unless you’ve got snow tires or all-wheel drive.
  • R2: Chains required unless you’ve got snow tires AND all-wheel drive.
  • R3: Chains required. No exceptions.

The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) is a great way to access the park and let someone else take the wheel this winter! This is a bus route from Merced (intersection of Hwy 99 and Hwy 140) to Mariposa, El Portal and on into Yosemite Valley.  If you have a car, you can park at one of the YARTS lots and ride the bus into Yosemite Valley.

There are also exciting Yosemite tours in winter! Tour buses operate year-round, bringing in guests from San Francisco and the greater Yosemite Mariposa County area into the region. When you visit our tours page, you can search for specific tour operators to fit your needs.

Yosemite Winter Hikes and Must-Sees

Yosemite winter hikes are truly unlike any other winter hike you’ve ever been on. The breathtaking scenery, the pure grandeur of the landscape and the wildlife that slowly and carefully makes its way onto the valley floor create an adventure that visitors from all over the world travel to experience. Our top tips for winter travel in Yosemite are a great place to start your Yosemite winter trip planning.

When people travel to Yosemite National Park, they often plan their entire stay around one incredible bucket list item: the famous Firefall. During the last two weeks of February when there’s enough water, Horsetail Fall glows like it’s on fire, backlit by the setting sun.

Yosemite in Winter from Valley View

The rare phenomenon doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, the best place to photograph it is in a small meadow between Yosemite Valley Lodge and El Capitan. It’s easy to find; just look for a lot of cars parked along the road.

The accompanying low winter light in Yosemite and Mariposa County are photographer-friendly. In fact, it isn’t hard to find great places to shoot winter photos. There is nowhere else in the country that offers such a concentration of towering trees, striking rock formations and incredible frozen waterfalls. Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and the Vernal Fall footbridge section of the Mist Trail are all hikable, except after heavy snowfalls. Artist Point is also accessible nearly all year, as well as the valley loop trail, which winds from one end of the valley to the other.

The Hetch Hetchy region is much lower than Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite winter hikes here, such as Wapama Falls, are usually accessible through the season. The Hetch Hetchy region lies below 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) elevation and is actually preferable in the winter when it’s not as hot.

There are lots of winter hikes and winter activities in Yosemite to keep you happy, and not only is lodging easier to find in this season but locals know winter along with spring and fall are truly the best times for visiting.

Badger Pass Ski Area, Ice Skating, Cross-Country Skiing & More 

Since the Badger Pass Ski Area opened in 1935, it has been a favorite ski destination for generations of winter adventurers. With fewer crowds, family-friendly terrain, and equipped with a dedicated staff, the ski and snowboard area is open daily 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from mid-December through late-March (weather permitting). The Badger Pass Ski Area is accessible by vehicle or via free shuttle bus from all Yosemite Valley lodging. After a day of winter fun, enjoy a hot chocolate or hearty meal on the deck of the ski lodge, offering amazing views of Yosemite Mariposa County.

From mid-December through early April, the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed to the Badger Pass Ski Area, where both downhill and cross-country skiing are popular. Tire chains are often required on park roads. Make sure to check chain requirements and road conditions by calling (209) 372-0200 and regardless of the type of vehicle you are driving, know how to use the chains if needed.

yosemite ski and snowboard area

Photo by: @franklinsteinnn

Badger Pass Ski Area includes a terrain park along with beginner and intermediate slopes, making it a good place for kids and adults just learning. You can also try snow tubing or snowshoeing!

All the giant sequoia groves, including the recently restored Mariposa Grove, and Merced and Tuolumne groves – are perfect places to snowshoe in Yosemite. You can drive to the trailheads for the Merced and Tuolumne groves. The road to the Mariposa trailhead is closed in the winter, which means you’ll have an extra two-mile hike to get there, but it will be worth it, especially to see the improvements!

The Yosemite National Park Service closes Glacier Point Road off to vehicles just past Badger Pass Ski Area and turns the remaining 10 miles into a cross-country skiing and snowshoeing track. Here, visitors to Yosemite in the winter can snowshoe along the road or, cut off the beaten path and try a longer hike, such as Dewey Point, which is more than four miles one way.

It’s important to note that the park service regularly sends a grooming machine out to carve nordic ski grooves in the road, so keep the snowshoes away from the ski grooves when you’re out exploring Yosemite National Park this winter!

Yosemite Winter Lodging

Choose the perfect Yosemite lodging for your next trip this winter by region, budget and lodging type – from bed and breakfasts to hotels, vacation rentals, cabins and more.

Most of the non-camping options in Yosemite Valley and southern Yosemite are open year round, including the tent cabins in Curry Village. This year, Yosemite Mariposa County is excited to announce our new lodging additions to the area, Autocamp Yosemite and Explorer Cabins by Tenaya Lodge.

Explore Cabins, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, Cabins, Fish Camp

Accommodations inside Yosemite usually require reservations months or even years ahead for summertime stays, but Yosemite National Park’s walk-up traffic in winter is light, and Mariposa County offers incredible Yosemite winter lodging options as well.  

Mariposa, Midpines and El Portal are the perfect getaways for Yosemite winter lodging because of their convenient location off Highway 140. The easiest, and typically least icy, winter route into the park is also accessed through Highway 140 as well.  From cozy cabins, bed and breakfasts, Autocamp and more, Yosemite lodging this winter and holiday season is at your fingertips.

When the best ways to get here are taken care of, it’s what you plan on doing once you arrive that’s most important now. There are more than a few reasons to head to Yosemite this winter. What will you choose?

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