Winter in Yosemite Mariposa holds a special beauty. Glimmering yet moody, excitable yet serene, kinetic yet motionless like the crystal-clear water that trickles down the vertical granite face of El Capitan and freezes overnight. Winter here just feels different. On New Year’s Day, 1872, soon after Yosemite was designated as public land, John Muir sent a dispatch to the people back home thus beginning a new era of tourism for one of the world’s most beautiful mountain wildernesses:
“Winter has taken Yosemite, and we are snowbound. The latest leaves are shaken from the oaks and alders; the snow-laden pines, with drooping boughs, look like barbed arrows aimed at the sky, and the fern-tangles and meadows are spread with a smooth cloth of snow.”
Surrounded by this kaleidoscope of blue sky, white peaks and evergreen everywhere, visitors to Yosemite Mariposa are treated to an ample dusting of winter activities yet one is always a waffle-step ahead — snowshoeing. Snowshoeing Yosemite allows intrepid excursionists and frolicking families alike to venture off-the-beaten-path, enjoy some invigorating exercise and, most importantly, get inspired during the Park’s least visited season.
Snowshoeing is a great way to fill your lungs with fresh mountain air while taking in the beautiful sights and sounds of nature around you. (Stock Photo)
For the uninitiated, snowshoeing seems like an exotic endeavor. In fact, it’s an easy club to join. Humans have been paddling on the snow for millennia. The world’s oldest snowshoe was found in 2003 on a melting glacier in Italy’s Dolomite mountains. Made of birch wood and oval in shape, the snowshoe was determined by scientists to be nearly 6,000 years old, proof that good designs last and not much has changed when it comes to exploring our winter wonderlands!
In addition to its age-old practice, snowshoeing is a healthy activity. The clean, crisp mountain air of Yosemite Mariposa fills your lungs with oxygen-rich goodness, and the concerns of home disappear as your chi gets flowing and your mind frees itself up to dream of good things on the (literal) horizon. For those fitness wonks out there, snowshoeing burns about 50% more calories than walking, and is comparable to using the elliptical machine at the gym with one HUGE difference — you’re surrounded by the natural beauty of Yosemite!
For families who just want to get out of the house for some fresh air and a break from all those screens, snowshoeing Yosemite Mariposa is as easy as pulling off the road and exploring one of its many meadows. Hey, you might even bring a Yeti of hot chocolate to reward your mini-me’s as they screech with joy on the downy-white expanse.
Another great reason for snowshoeing Yosemite? The freedom to explore. Summer trails — the ones we see on maps — are closely followed because they’ve been cleared of rocks and other obstructions. But once that blanket of snow falls, there’s a smooth, clear shot to wherever you want to go. Of course, you need to be prepared and to take more care in navigating, but the freedom can be exhilarating. Add to this the solitude of visiting Yosemite during its least busy season, and the sense of adventure rises to peak experience!
Yosemite Mariposa is Cloud Nine for visitors who want snowshoe routes that are tried and true. Here are some of our favorites:
Mariposa Grove with snow on the ground is a magical place to see. (Stock Photo)
With a number of trail options and designated parking, this is snowshoe Yosemite at its best. Start near the South Entrance of the Park and wind your way through the tranquil paradise to see such evergreen icons as the Grizzly Giant (3,000 years old) and the Fallen Monarch, or continue to the Upper Grove for such stately specimens as the Clothespin Tree and the fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree.
If you’re craving a snowshoe with a view, this trip’s for you! Cheesy rhymes aside, Dewey Point requires a bit more wintry pluck but is worth the effort as it brings Yosemite Mariposa snowshoers to the rim of Yosemite Valley for an unmatched view of the granite monoliths below. Starting at the parking lot for Badger Pass Ski Area, 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). Take this left and proceed 2.5 miles for the reward of a lifetime. Approximately 7 miles out and back, with an elevation gain of 600 feet. After fresh snow when tracks may not be present or obvious, look for the yellow triangles affixed to trailside trees to guide your way. For other winter trails off Glacier Point Road click here.
Is there a more magical place to snowshoe than in Yosemite Valley with a blanket of fresh snow?
With an elevation of only 4,000 feet, Yosemite Valley feels like its tucked somewhere much higher in the heavens. The depth of snow varies by month and year, but when it gets dusted there may be nowhere more beautiful on the planet. Want to see Half Dome reflected in the ice-framed mist of Mirror Lake? Check. Want to gaze up at the snow catching in the vertical cracks of El Capitan? Check. Yosemite Valley offers any number of flat trails perfect for snowshoeing, all you need is a recent snowfall to strap on and get moving.
Located just a few miles from the Big Oak Flat Entrance to Yosemite National Park, the Crane Flat area features eight designated winter trails that meet the snowshoeing needs of beginners and experts alike. The Clark Range View Trail (four miles roundtrip) follows an old logging road and offers breathtaking views of the Wild & Scenic Merced River Canyon, or for a bigger challenge try the Tuolumne Grove Trail (2.5 miles r/t) which descends through the forest to a small grove of ancient sequoias with names such as Red Giant and Tunnel Tree. Good climb on the way back!
Exploring from Goat Meadow Trailhead. (Photo by Theresa Ho)
A triple threat in the snow play arena, Goat Meadow features a boisterous sledding hill as well as numerous trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The gently sloped routes primarily follow old logging roads of the Sierra National Forest providing a wealth of options. If you’re feeling aerobicized (or want to test your mettle by snow camping overnight), there’s a route from Goat Meadow to Mariposa Grove that clocks in at 15 miles r/t. For a shorter trip yet one that demands a map and navigation skills, you can leave a second shuttle car in downtown Fish Camp and connect via Star Lake Road for a loop to remember
The Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite — also located in Fish Camp — offers guided snowshoe trips and snowshoe rentals, not to mention fire pits and dining for your post-snowshoe celebration. Goat Meadow is situated at 5,300 feet, so be sure to check conditions for current snow depth.
The first step for all successful snowshoe adventures is gearing up. Respect the season, stay warm, stay dry. Here is a basic checklist to get you started:
On how to snowshoe Yosemite Mariposa like an audacious adventurer of the snowy expanse!
Just because its winter doesn’t mean you can’t explore the breath-taking scenery at Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County.
Snowshoeing Yosemite allows intrepid excursionists and frolicking families alike to venture off-the-beaten-path, enjoy some invigorating exercise and, most importantly, get inspired during the Park’s least visited season.
Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County set the stage for epic family getaways, with the more children, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents tagging along the merrier.