Yosemite is that rare feat of geology carved out from the Sierra range over millennia by glaciers. No surprise, then, that snow and ice still take center
stage, creating a dynamic playlist of activities that make Yosemite National Park a winter wonder.
Snowcapped seasonal scenery and a wide variety of recreational activities make Yosemite a spectacular winter escape. Yosemite “reboots” with winter, transforming into a winter sports paradise. While skiing and snowboarding get plenty of attention, there are myriad other ways to play in the snow. Lodging rates tend to fall with the mercury, making a winter escape affordable for every budget. And snow angels and snowballs are always free.
The sharp cry of a red-tail hawk circling overhead, the way new snow sparkles as it refracts alpine sunlight: the majesty of winter is naturally noise-canceling and high-definition. The months of December through early March are generally prime time for winter recreation. So get up here before spring hits when, as John Muir journaled, “the snow is melting into music.”
Yosemite Sledding Areas
Winter play can happen anywhere snowflakes fly, but there are a few specific hubs for elevated snow fun. The Crane Flat Snow Play area in Yosemite National Park is just off Highway 120 at the Crane Flat Campground turnoff. Sledding hills abound, and the open meadows at the lower end of the snow play area are perfect for building snowmen and enjoying a friendly snowball fight.
Goat Meadow Snow Play area is a relatively under-the-radar sledding hill in the Sierra National Forest between Fish Camp and Yosemite National Park. Tubing, discing, sledding, and all-around snow play can be enjoyed here. Since it’s located at just over 5,000 feet elevation, cooler temperatures and low snow levels are needed, so be sure to check the snow report.
Skate the Sierra
Ice skating in Yosemite is a must for winter travelers. Yosemite Valley’s outdoor ice skating rink offers the unique opportunity of skating in the shadows of Half Dome and Glacier Point. Local Yosemite ice skating has a remarkable history. The first ice rink was built in 1929 as part of a bid to bring the 1932 Winter Olympic Games to Yosemite. The original ice rink was located in what is now the Curry Village parking lot. In the early 1930’s, the Curry Village rink hosted figure skating exhibitions, ice hockey games, curling matches and even tug of war competitions.
Today the Yosemite Valley Ice Rink is located near Curry Village, with magical views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and other valley rim scenery. The large adjacent open area offers a cozy fire pit, perfect for socializing and making s’mores while warming toes and fingers after carving your way along the icy surface. Skates and helmets are available through the rental shop, and you can purchase either a single skating session or a season pass.
Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, the deluxe all-season Sierra resort located two miles from Yosemite National Park’s south gate, offers an ice rink open to the public for day and evening skating sessions. The canopied rink gives shelter from the elements, yet still opens to the great outdoors. Skating in a snowstorm is thus possible! Lodge amenities make it a complete experience, with hot chocolate (and hot toddies!) served around the firepit and good winter cheer.
Snowshoes are great for easy, low-impact exploration of Yosemite’s winter wonderland.
After a few strides, you’ll get the hang of this rewarding way to walk through snowy woods. Moving through a snowfield, snowshoes gently press through untracked powder on the way to a super relaxing yet potent low-impact cardio workout (with a view).
Snowshoe hikes are some of the best ways to get to Valley rim vista points like Dewey Point. Dewey Point Trail starts right off Glacier Point Road, just above Badger Pass. It’s a moderately difficult walk with a 600-foot elevation gain out to the rim. Above Yosemite Valley, and even above the clouds, the reward is panoramic views of El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Half Dome, and the Yosemite high country. The seven-plus mile round trip is well worth the journey.
Yosemite Ski Trip
Badger Pass Ski Area is located right off Badger Pass Road. California’s first ski resort, Badger Pass is renowned for its ski and snowboard school with plenty of fun slopes for beginner to intermediate downhill skiing. And it’s also the hub for a network of groomed cross country ski trails for Nordic fun. Fewer crowds, family-friendly programs and the Badger Pass Ski School add to the fun. A super-groomed snow tubing run at Badger Pass is also available. If you need to refuel from all the skiing or snowboarding, stop by the lodge at Badger Pass for great burgers and fries.
Snow play can amp up those happy adrenaline and serotonin joy levels, sometimes at the expense of common sense. Here are a few tips and techniques that will enhance the day:
- Wear insulating layers and water-repellant shells.
- Take along a small snow shovel to create custom sledding runs.
- Avoid hillsides that are too close to highways.
- Try to avoid walking across cross-country ski trails near snow play areas
- Be extra careful with children, both yours and others. The bottom of a sledding or tubing run is not where to build that snowperson!
- Carry chains when visiting Yosemite in the winter
- Practice “Leave No Trace” Snow Play. Pack everything out that you bring in, including damaged gear and trash unless there are clearly marked receptacles.