Published on August 21, 2023

It’s a universal truth: kids love to play in the snow.  And, when adults play with kids playing in the snow, something magical happens: we become kids once again.  In Yosemite Mariposa County, it can be as spirit-lifting and simple as building a snowperson, grooming a custom sled track, or winging a snow angel in fresh powder. 

Yosemite is epic year-round, but there’s something sparkly about winter: skiing, snowshoeing, ancient trees, frazil ice and soaring scenic peaks.  Cabin rentals and all-in resorts make for an unforgettable winter getaway with the fam.  Here is your guide to how Yosemite Mariposa County is the perfect destination for gearing up and heading for the snow.

Badger Pass Ski Area

3 snowboarders chatting at Badger Pass in Yosemite
The family-friendly vibe at Badger Pass can’t be beaten for winter fun. Photo: Trey Clark Courtesy Yosemite Hospitality.

Badger Pass Ski Area was established in 1935 as California’s original ski resort.  One of the Sierra’s most family-friendly slopes, Badger Pass offers downhill skiing, snowboard terrain park, cross-country skiing, and tubing. It’s right-sized for families, with five lifts and a majority of beginner and intermediate runs making this a great place for the kids to learn to schuss.

So great, in fact, Badger offers a Guaranteed Learn-to-Ski/Snowboard Package.  By the end of the day, ski schoolers will be able to ride the chairlift and ski or snowboard down the beginner run.  If it takes more than one day to get there, Badger will issue a voucher for another day of lessons – absolutely free!  And the Badger Pups program for kids 4 to 6 years old is one of the best in the Sierra.

Yosemite Snow Play Areas

kid sledding
SNow play areas, both in and out of Yosemite, allow for snow play of all kinds for all family members.

There are several chill places for free snow play in Yosemite Mariposa County. Kid-approved fun zones include the clearing near Crane Flat Campground at the junction of the Big Oak Flat and Tioga roads.  Here, you’ll discover multiple sledding hills and an expansive snow-play area. Try to arrive early; winter parking at Crane Flat is limited.

Goat Meadow Snowplay Area near Fish Camp off Highway 41 is the plug for pure sled ecstasy. Peals of snow-joy-inspired laughter echo all around this Sierra National Forest hill. Goat Meadow is also a popular starting point for short snowshoe treks.

Easy Winter Hikes

Family hiking in Yosemite Valley in winter
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing stroll or a wild adventure, check out Yosemite winter hiking opportunities. Photo: Patrick Pike

Bundle up and hike or snowshoe through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, tucked just inside the Park’s south gate between Wawona and Fish Camp on Wawona Road. Prepare to be awestruck as you wander through this cathedral-like collection of some 500 mature titans.

Just a few miles north of Mariposa Grove, the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail starts across from the Wawona Hotel and meanders around one of the largest mountain meadows in the entire High Sierra. There’s plenty of room to veer off trail and tug the kids on a toboggan. Mush!

The Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is an easy, one-mile loop with modest elevation gain. Talk about a big payoff: sense-surround vistas of frosty Lower Yosemite Falls, the penultimate drop of North America’s tallest waterfall.  The trail is paved and maintained year-round but watch out for snow and ice in the winter.

Ice Skating

Ice skating at Tenaya at Yosemite ice rink
Winter fun at Tenaya at Yosemite’s Ice Rink.

Ice-skating is a Yosemite Valley pastime unlike any other.  With signature views of Half Dome and Glacier Point on high, the outdoor ice rink at Curry Village is a Yosemite winter tradition for almost 100 years strong! Grab a spot by a cozy fire pit, perfect for socializing and making s’mores while warming toes and fingers after your skating session. Starting in mid-November, Tenaya at Yosemite’s covered ice-skating rink is another winter-wonderful option.

Frazil Ice Age

Frazil ice may sound like something Scrat munched on in Ice Age, but it’s really a fun frozen phenomenon that occurs when ice crystals collect in supercooled, turbulent water.  Imagine an Icee machine in overdrive! Yosemite Creek Bridge is a good place to find a flow. Frazil ice can also be seen at Ribbon Falls, Royal Arches Cascade, Bridalveil Falls and Salmon Creek. Note for parents: frazil ice may look like snowpack on top, but there’s the possibility of ice-cold river water below the surface.  Play it safe and never venture too close to the flow.

Museum Days

father and son exploring mining equpiment at the mariposa history center
Get ready for some hands-on history while learning about the gold rush era at Yosemite Mariposa County’s museums.

To take a break from the cold and discover Yosemite Mariposa County heritage, visit a local museum.  The Mariposa Museum & History Center has colorful displays on Gold Rush history and well-curated exhibits on Native American life in Yosemite Mariposa County that include indigenous baskets, artifacts and more.

Kids love rocks, right? Check out the California State Mining & Mineral Museum at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds.  This gem of a museum features a re-created mining tunnel and the Fricot Nugget — a 13.8-pound chunk of crystalline gold!

Wawona’s Yosemite History Center celebrates the Park’s early pioneer days via a cluster of historic buildings.  Get the camera ready when walking over Wawona’s Covered Bridge – dating to the mid-1800s, it’s one of the few still standing in California.  Kids in need of a time out may be escorted to The Powder House, a tiny building built with thick granite walls that was used to store dynamite and prisoners (not at the same time, hopefully).

Merry Mountain Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting

Holiday vibes infuse the annual Merry Mountain Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting in lovely downtown Mariposa.  This old-timey event happens every December, kicking off with a Main Street parade.  Follow the crowd after the parade to the historic Mariposa Courthouse lawn to celebrate the lighting of the town’s holiday tree.  Refreshments are served and good cheer flows.

Family-Friendly Yosemite Lodging

Family-friendly lodging in Yosemite Mariposa County options are some of the cream of the crop. From full-service resorts to great cabin rentals, there is an option that everyone in the family will love.

Tenaya at Yosemite

The main lodge at Tenaya at Yosemite glows on a winter evening
Set like a gem in the middle of the Sierra National Forest, Tenaya at Yosemite offers resort accommodations ranging from hotel-style, to private explorer cabins and cottages, all just minutes from Yosemite National Park.

The four-diamond property just two miles from Yosemite’s south gate on Highway 41, Tenaya at Yosemite is one of the Sierra’s top family resorts. Accommodations include deluxe rooms, suites and two-bedroom Explorer Cabins with private porches and TVs in each bedroom.  Tenaya is a winter recreation hub, offering ice skating, sledding, sleigh rides and Yosemite tours.

Yosemite View Lodge

Yosemite View Lodge by the Merced River
Get a view of the Merced River right outside Yosemite View Lodge – located just outside Yosemite National Park on Highway 140.

The riverfront Yosemite View Lodge features a dramatic riverside setting and is the closest resort to Yosemite Valley located outside Park gates.  With two restaurant options, family-focused Parkside Pizza and The River View, and multiple hot tub spas on property, the El Portal lodge has a nice balance of amenities including the Yosemite View Convenience Store and EV charging outlets.

Yosemite Cedar Lodge

yosemite cedar lodge

Also in El Portal, the Yosemite Cedar Lodge is another go-to choice for family travelers. The property offers indoor and outdoor swimming pools and spas, and its very own Merced River Walk.  Across the grounds, whimsical carved bears peek through trees and around corners.  The Kid’s Guide to the Cedar Lodge Resort is a fun front desk giveaway with a great map of the “bear necessities.” The Cedar Lodge Restaurant is a tasty option for family-style cuisine in a split-level setting. 

Yosemite Valley Lodge

The Yosemite Valley Lodge is a family favorite for its great location, rooms, amenities, and views of Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Valley Lodge features Bunk Rooms and Family Rooms options for the entire crew. Year-round, the popular two-hour Yosemite Valley Floor Tour departs directly from the Lodge. And for Moms, Dads, and kids… Starbucks on site.

Cabin Rentals

Families will discover that Yosemite Mariposa County has the perfect counterpoint to hotel lodging: vacation cabin rentals.  Full kitchens, multiple bedrooms, big-screen TVs and hot tubs will earn the kid stamp of approval. There are hundreds of Airbnb vacation cabin rentals as well as cabin rental companies to consider. 

Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders manages more than 125 homes, cabins and condominiums, many within the gates of Yosemite National Park including Yosemite West, Wawona, and Fish Camp

The Redwoods at Wawona rents more than 120 vacation cabins and spacious luxury homes located off Chilnualna Falls Road.  Options range from cozy one-bedroom cabins to the Yosemite Luxury Estate, an eight-bedroom, seven-bath cluster perfect as a multi-generational winter base camp.

Winter Gear Tips for Parents

The first step for a successful Yosemite Mariposa County winter getaway is gearing up. Respect the season and put a priority on keeping everyone warm and dry.  Here is a basic checklist to get you started:

  • Waterproof snow boots – save on Scotchguard spray and leave the sneakers at home!
  • Thick wool or wool-blend socks – toasty toes make everyone smile. Soccer socks? Nope.
  • Ski gloves – fingers or mittens, just have to be able to repel moisture.
  • Insulating apparel layers, waterproof shells – the winter mantra: stay warm, stay dry. Jeans? Same as sneakers; see Scotchguard above.
  • Sunglasses – snow is super reflective, save your eyes.
  • Goggles – even better than sunglasses in a snowstorm.
  • Beanie – you know where heat leaves the body fastest… the noggin!
  • Water bottle – you’re at a higher than usual elevation, stay hydrated.
  • High-energy snacks – winter recreation burns lots of calories so fuel up!
  • Snowshoes – this can be a higher degree of difficulty for little tykes and parents, but so worth it.  Pre-check the boot/snowshoe connection before you go.
  • Snow tire cables or chains – always bring them along, just in case.
Categories: Family and Kid Friendly, Winter