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Just Up the Road: Yosemite Mariposa County Snowcations

Winter in Yosemite Mariposa County is the season of wonder and awe, when the High Sierra takes an invigorating turn. Here’s your playbook: fly down peaks on skis, snowboards and sleds, hike on snowshoes to majestic overlooks, carve figure-eights on outdoor rinks with views, and at the end of the day, share stories and pics in the glow of good company.

Contrast that with winter in California’s Great Central Valley: everything that was once growing and vibrant is now dormant, under a thick cover of grey tule fog. But there’s an easy hack to such doldrums. With the snowy wonderland of the High Sierra just few hours or less up the road, why not escape for an evergreen snowcation?

Sunrise over Yosemite Valley with Tule Fog

Tule fog swirls across the floor of Yosemite Valley lending an air of mystery and intrigue to scenes like this one from Tunnel View.

A Case for Staying the Night

While it’s possible to squeeze some of this into an extra-long day trip… why? Double or triple your fun by staying in an inviting Yosemite vacation cabin rental. You’ll have a big head start on all those folks rushing up for the day, trade pre-dawn alarms for relaxed coffee and breakfast en suite, and by late afternoon there’s no rush to pack up the car and hit the road before dark. Just the opposite: crackling fireplaces for gathering, kitchens perfect for homemade dinners, maybe a board game and nightcap before resting up for tomorrow’s snowgenda. Looking for inspiration and ideas? Here’s how to transform your annual snow day into a much more epic friends & family weekend tradition.

Day 1: Highway 41 is Snow Much Fun

3 snowboarders chatting at Badger Pass in Yosemite

The family friendly vibe at Badger Pass can’t be beat for winter fun. Photo: Trey Clark, Courtesy Yosemite Hospitality.

Snowcapped scenery and recreational activities make Yosemite a spectacular seasonal escape. Yosemite “reboots” with winter, transforming the higher reaches of Highway 41 into your runway to snow-sports fun.

Overnight guests in the area can take advantage of being here first thing in the morning to get an early start for Badger Pass Ski Area. Located just off Glacier Point Road with peak elevation of 8,000 feet, Badger Pass was established in 1935 as California’s first ski resort. One of the Sierra’s most family-friendly slopes, Badger Pass is all about downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tubing and more. Downhill skiing in a national park? Yes.

People relaxing and enjoying the snowy views from Dewey Point in Yosemite in winter.

The best overlook into Yosemite in the winter requires a cross country ski or snowshoe trip. And yet, Dewey Point is more than worth the energy! Photo: Kim Lawson

A popular hiking trail off Glacier Point Road during the warmer seasons, Dewey Point transitions into one of Yosemite’s most rewarding snowshoe hikes during the winter. Starting at the parking lot for Badger Pass, follow Glacier Point Road (closed to cars and designated for snowshoeing/cross-country skiing in winter) for a little over a mile until you reach the signed trailhead for Dewey Point Meadow Trailhead (look for the bathroom). For other winter trails off Glacier Point Road click here.

Skier near the Mariposa Grove cabin

The Mariposa Grove is just one of many places to explore by cross country ski or snowshoe. Photo Tom Lambert, Courtesy Alpine Escape Yosemite Rental

While skiing and snowboarding earn plenty of attention, there are even more ways to play in the snow. Bundle up and take a wintry hike or snowshoe through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias between Wawona and Fish Camp on Wawona Road. Tucked just inside Yosemite National Park’s South Gate, discover 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 orbits one of the largest mountain meadows in the entire High Sierra. With Wawona’s golf course closed during the winter, there’s even more room to crunch a path off-trail and pitch a few snowballs into an evergreen backstop.

Kid sledding

It doesn’t take much to put smiles on everyone’s faces in Yosemite’s winter wonderland. Official snow play areas like Goat Meadow have plenty of parking. Or, try to find a spot of your own. (Sledding is not allowed at Badger Pass Ski Area).

For pure sled ecstasy, try Goat Meadow Snowplay Area near Fish Camp. The Sierra National Forest hill is free and rarely too busy. Like snowflakes, no two sled runs are alike. Good, old-fashioned, free-falling fun – what are you waiting for? Puffy coats, snow pants and colorful beanies rule the day. Goat Meadow is also a great starting point for short snowshoe walks.

Day 2: Nature’s Snow Globe – Yosemite Valley

Devoting a full day to Yosemite Valley is natural. It begins with the austere and breathtaking view from Tunnel View: noble, ice-crusted granite walls, domes and peaks, waterfalls reawakening, and if you’re lucky, frazil ice!

Couple ice skating at Curry Village beneath Half Dome

You won’t find a more beautiful spot to go ice skating than the Curry Village ice skating rink. Just look at that view of Half Dome in the background! Photo: Courtesy Yosemite Hospitality.

Ice-skating is an epic Yosemite Valley pastime. The large outdoor ice rink at Curry Village offers the unique opportunity to practice axels and toe-loops with magical views of Half Dome and Glacier Point as your partners. The large adjacent open area offers a cozy fire pit, perfect for socializing and making s’mores while warming toes and fingers after gliding across the ice.

Frazil ice may sound like a long-forgotten sequel to Ice Age, but it’s a real-life phenomenon that late winter/early spring visitors to Yosemite may be fortunate enough to see. This frozen phenomenon happens when ice crystals collect in supercooled, turbulent water. In Yosemite Valley, it’s also a byproduct of frozen waterfall mist that reaches the Merced River.

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. The icy surge can be unpredictable, jumping riverbanks with wild frozen fury to expand and overflow the riverbed. Never venture too close to an active frazil ice flow. Frazil ice may look like snowpack, but there’s the possibility of fast-moving water below the surface.

Yosemite Mariposa Cabin Rentals – The Way to Stay

Friends and families traveling together for a snowcation will discover that Yosemite Mariposa County has the perfect lodging solution: vacation cabin rentals. After all, you will want to be cozy with all the creature comforts of home and then some (e.g., hot tub under the starry Sierra sky). 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. Pro snow tip: look for a Yosemite West cabin close to Glacier Point Road to get a head start to the ski lifts at Badger Pass.

Snowy cabin managed by the Redwoods In Yosemite

Snuggle up and find a cozy cabin to keep you warm during your winter visit to Yosemite! You’ll find great options like this cabin managed by the Redwoods In Yosemite in Wawona as well as many others located both inside and outside the park.

The Redwoods at Wawona offers 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 holiday base camp. Check in and check out is a snap when you’re renting with companies like Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders and The Redwoods at Wawona. Cost savings, too.

Yo! Snow Pro Tips

  • Pack and wear insulating layers and water-repellant shells.
  • When snowshoeing, try to avoid walking across cross-country ski trails.
  • Carry chains when visiting Yosemite in the winter
  • Practice “Leave No Trace” Snow Play. Pack everything out that you bring in. Nature rules!
  • After pulling off your boots or snowshoes for the day, make a stop at a local market for dinner provisions. Vacation rentals often feature amazing kitchens! Pioneer Market and High Country Health Foods & Cafe in Mariposa are both fantastic options, and while you’re at it, The Local Grape for some tasty Mariposa County wine.
  • Look up! Winter stargazing in Yosemite Mariposa County is “extracelestial.”
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