Making the trek to Yosemite in the winter brings its own special delights. From snow-covered valley floors to ice skating and cross-country skiing, there’s no shortage of fun in the winter. But traveling here is a bit different in the cold months. Get all of your Yosemite winter questions answered here.
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Yes. According to the National Park Service, as much as 70 percent of the region’s precipitation falls between November and March, with the bulk of it coming as snow. Like much of the surrounding Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Mariposa County’s snowfall tends to begin later in the year and continues well into early spring. Snow tends to stick at elevations above 5,000 feet, which means the valley floor is less likely to see snowfall unless it’s a major storm. This translates to beautiful, snow-capped features within the park such as the tops of Half Dome and El Capitan.
Snow doesn’t typically stick around for very long at lower elevations, so enjoy cross-country skiing in Yosemite whenever the opportunity arises. Of course, weather varies from year to year, which is why it’s always best to check the conditions before a visit. The years between 2011 and 2016 saw drought conditions, while the winter of 2016-17 was unlike anything we’ve seen in decades in terms of record snowfall.
Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, almost without exception. As for hiking trails, they are also open, but winter gear is strongly recommended. Snowshoes or skis are a main method of traversing many trails when the snow is piled up. During peak snow season, it’s best to stick to lower elevation trails. This includes most lower elevation trails within Yosemite Valley and Wawona or Hetch Hetchy. Check out our guide to winter hiking in Yosemite for details.
Most definitely. As always, the ability to move around the region depends on road conditions and chain controls, but for the most part, tour buses operate year-round, bringing in guests from San Francisco and the greater Yosemite Mariposa County area. Visit our tours page to learn more about specific vendors.
If you are coming in winter, chances are the roads will be clear depending on which highway you are traveling on. There are four entrances to Yosemite. Tioga Pass (Hwy 120E) is generally closed October-May, all other entrances remain open. Occasionally, an incoming storm may impact the road conditions so that tire chains may be required for your vehicle. Because of this the park service generally recommends that tire chains be carried in your vehicle during the winter months. Most rental companies do not allow cars to be used with tire chains. You can check the Yosemite webcams to get an idea of what conditions are like during your visit.
To avoid winter driving in Yosemite you can take YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transit System). View our Transportation page for more information about YARTS.
Chains are sometimes required in the park. Check the road conditions in advance by calling 209/372-0200 (press 1 then 1). You can bring them with you or rent them outside the park in the town of Mariposa.
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There’s lodging aplenty in Yosemite Mariposa County in the winter. Start with our handy lodging page to filter by region, budget type, pet-friendly status and more to find hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and cabins.
The vast majority of Yosemite National Park’s campgrounds are closed during the winter, but there are a few exceptions, including: Upper Pines, Camp 4, Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow. As with summer, reservations are generally required, but check each site individually – some allow for campers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Year-round, it costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park, and the pass is good for seven days. Motorcycles cost $25 and people on foot, bike or horseback can enter for $15. Those 15 and younger enter Yosemite National Park for free. There are also a handful of free entrance days sprinkled throughout the year. In winter, fees are waived on MLK Day and Washington’s Birthday.
Photo by: Kristopher Skinner/ Bay Area News Group/ San Jose Mercury News
The only true restrictions on fishing in Yosemite during winter are the weather and your willingness to brave it. Lakes and reservoirs are completely open in winter months, while streams and rivers are open for fishing April through November. Learn more about Yosemite fishing.
Generally, no. Once snow begins accumulating on Tioga Pass (the park’s eastern entrance), the road is closed for the season. Crews begin clearing the road in mid-spring, but it takes up to two months to fully re-open it. Get Yosemite travel tips here, see weather conditions here and, as always, check the latest road conditions before traveling.
Thankfully the physical impact left behind is incredibly minimal within Yosemite National Park’s boundary. Tourists can enjoy all the icons they have been dreaming to see, and most will not even be aware the event took place as they take in the famous jaw-dropping scenery.
There’s no better way to cap off the end of the year than to get away to Yosemite Mariposa County for the holidays this year.
With the seasons changing, the breathtaking sunsets over the summits and striking granite cliffs against a crisp, morning sky, capturing the perfect fall Instagram photo is easily within your grasp.