Snowflakes tumbling through stands of giant sequoias.  Rushing rivers magically turning to ice, waterfalls “igniting” before your eyes. Family pics at the top of a Yosemite ski run.  Cozy times around a fire pit after an ice-skating session.

Winter’s got a lot going on in Yosemite Mariposa County, and it’s within easy reach.  To help inspire your winter getaway, we’ve put together a three-day, two-night budget itinerary that delivers peals of joyful glee from families as well as adventure-loving groups of friends. 

First Step: Lock in Winter Lodging Values

Snow-covered Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
Get a great deal on Yosemite Mariposa County vacations by staying at hotels and resorts like Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite during off-peak times.

Winter is ideal for lodging values when you can discover some of the lowest rates of the year – even in Yosemite Valley.  Everyone’s favorite camp, Curry Village, offers year-round lodging in cabins, heated tent cabins and Stoneman Cottage, the rustic motel at the heart of the historic Yosemite Village.  There’s no better value for sleeping so close to the peaks and waterfalls that frame Yosemite Valley.  And for a full-service stay, room rates at Yosemite Valley Lodge follow the drop in winter.

Winter hotel deals go even deeper outside the Park boundaries in Yosemite Mariposa County’s charming gateway communities.  The town of Mariposa is a glowing ember of winter fun, with affordable hotels like the Quality Inn Yosemite Valley Gateway, The Monarch Hotel, Yosemite Miners Inn, Mother Lode Lodge, and more.  Adding to the hubbub are the numerous budget restaurants, bespoke bars, and local shopping in town.

Another way to stay that makes perfect economic sense for families traveling together is booking an inviting Yosemite vacation cabin rental.  Crackling fireplaces for conviviality, kitchens perfect for team-made dinners, and multiple bedrooms and baths for everyone to feel right at home.  Friends and families traveling together for a budget snowcation will find hundreds of cabin rentals as well as vacation cabin rental companies to consider including Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders and The Redwoods in Yosemite.

Day 1:  Yosemite Valley

Snowball fights are always free!

Yosemite National Park is a picture-perfect winter realm with breathtaking scenery and numerous indoor/outdoor activities. What’s even better? Once you’ve covered the entrance fee ($35/vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days), almost everything is free.

Devoting a full winter’s day to Yosemite Valley is natural. It begins with the breathtaking view from Tunnel View: snowy domes and peaks, ice-crusted granite walls, and year-round waterfalls.  As you tour the Valley to see El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome and more, be sure to make your way to the Yosemite Valley Welcome Center – recently renovated for an even more inviting experience. 

The beauty of Yosemite Valley in winter is unmatched and just costs the entrance fee to enjoy.

Also worth a stop is the Yosemite Museum, a historic building with even more history inside featuring displays that range from Native American artifacts to John Muir’s tin cup! Rotating exhibits of fine art are presented as well, and admission to the Yosemite Museum is free.

The perfect place for lunch in the Valley is right next door in Yosemite Village. Inexpensive dining options abound at cafeteria-style Degnan’s Kitchen along with plenty of indoor seating options.  If you’re packing your own lunch, feel free to buy a cold or hot beverage here or at the nearby Village Store to complete the picnic. 

Winter daylight is tight, so gameplan your return to base camp before dusk to enjoy the sunset glow, particularly if your Yosemite Mariposa County accommodations are outside the Park.

Day 2:  Free Gravity Play

3 snowboarders chatting at Badger Pass in Yosemite
Spend some quality time with friends and family at Badger Pass

Snow sports in Yosemite Mariposa County can run from free toboggan hills and snowshoe trails, all the way to budget-friendly skiing. Today’s the day to take that ride! 

For a fast-break start, it’s all about grab ‘n go.  If you’re staying at a budget-friendly hotel or motel in Mariposa, the Pioneer Market’s coffee bar and bakery has many power-up options, as do the counters at High Country Health Foods & Café (egg wraps and organic breakfast smoothies).

California’s original and most affordable ski resort, Badger Pass Ski Area is Yosemite National Park’s downhill and cross-country ski hub.  Located just off Glacier Point Road with a peak elevation of 8,000 feet, the fam-friendly Badger Pass was established in 1935 and is a primo place to learn to ski or board. 

Many snow thrills are free of charge (with million-dollar views). A popular hiking trail off Glacier Point Road during the sun seasons, Dewey Point flips the seasonal scrip to become one of Yosemite’s most rewarding snowshoe hikes during the winter. The 7.5-mile round trip takes you to the edge of Yosemite Valley and back.   

Southern Yosemite is another place for free-range play.  Bundle up and take a wintry hike or snowshoe through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.  Tucked just inside Yosemite National Park’s South Gate, discover this cathedral-like collection of some 500 mature titans.  Snowy sequoia boughs are an only-in-winter sight beautiful to behold.

kid in sequoia grove in winter
Find Yosemite sequoias in Merced, Tuolumne or Mariposa Groves

Just a few miles north of Mariposa Grove, the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail starts across from the Wawona Hotel and loops around one of the biggest mountain meadows in the entire High Sierra. With Wawona’s golf course closed during the winter, there’s even more room to crunch your way off-trail and square up for a friendly snowball competition with an evergreen backstop.  

For free sled ecstasy, try Goat Meadow Snowplay Area near Fish Camp.  The Sierra National Forest hill is free and, like snowflakes, no two sled runs are alike. Puffy coats, snow pants and colorful beanies are the dress code. Goat Meadow is also a great starting point for short snowshoe walks.

With a day of gravity-bending snow play under your belt, head back to your happy place for refreshments.  Celebrate your last night in town with budget-worthy dinner options from family-friendly to fun for two.  In Mariposa, check out local hero Happy Burger for some of the best in town.

Day 3:  No Rushing Home

Vacation getaway days always arrive too soon, but there’s at least one thing savvy travelers agree on:  the fun doesn’t have to end at checkout!  Keep your parkas at the ready just in case there’s a perfect meadow for a farewell snow angel or a riverside clearing on Highway 140 for a bundled-up picnic by the Merced.  Taking your time driving home to enjoy the sights is a perfect example of how Yosemite Mariposa County offers expansive – but not expensive – recreation.

Winter Pro Tips