6 Amazing Things To Do in Yosemite in the Winter

With snow-dusted peaks, great snowshoeing trails and a waterfall that lights up like fire, winter just might be the best time to visit Yosemite National Park.

All the seasons bring different draws: The consistently warm and sunny weather in summer, flowing waterfalls in spring and the changing leaves in the fall. However, winter snow transforms Yosemite into a dreamy wonderland. Fly into Fresno Yosemite International Airport to pick up your rental car and get your adventure started. 

Here are my top six favorite activities to enjoy in Yosemite during the winter.

Tunnel View

As you make your way into Yosemite Valley from Wawona, which is the only entry point when the Tioga Pass is closed in the winter, be sure to stop at Tunnel View for one of the most picturesque and most often-photographed spots in the U.S.

When there’s fresh snow covering the trees it truly looks like a dream, though anytime in the winter is wonderful. Half Dome typically wears a crown of snow, and some waterfalls tend to have frozen edges, as well. Be sure to go around sunset to watch the sun light up Half Dome.

Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park

 

Yosemite Valley

The best way to see the Valley with snow is to be flexible with your plans and head in a day or two after the snow falls and the roads are clear. Check the park’s official website before you go for updates on road and weather conditions.

Some of the coolest things to see are the waterfalls, which tend to be framed by ice, and Mirror Lake, which looks like an actual mirror when it’s covered with ice! Most of the higher hiking trails are closed due to snow or icy conditions, though Yosemite, Vernal and Bridalveil falls are all usually open. The Valley Loop Trail is fairly flat and easy, making it a great way to see it all.

Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass)

Did you know that Yosemite offers skiing?

Lift passes cost $47 for the day and rentals are available as well. There is also snow tubing, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing available. A free shuttle bus provides service to the Ski and Snowboard Area from several stops in the Valley in the morning and service back to the Valley in the afternoon.

Avoid the challenge of driving in snowy conditions in the park by taking the free shuttle bus, which runs from several stops in the valley at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. and picks up to return at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Dewey Point

This snowshoe hike was a highlight for me, starting from the ski area, passing through snowy forest and finishing with a lovely view of Half Dome and The Valley.

The Dewey Point hike can be done by snowshoe or Nordic ski trail, though I would only ski it if you’re experienced, as there are some uphills that might be tough on skis.

There are two ways to get there - the #14 and #18 trails, which you’ll see clear markers for as you make your way toward Glacier Point. The 18 is easier with fewer ups and downs, though both will get you to Dewey Point as they join and become one at the beginning and end of the trail. You can turn it into a loop if you’d like to do both. The trail is easy to follow: Simply follow the path and look for the markers tacked to the trees. Stick to the trail for this one, as the snow can easily cover steep drops into the river.

I started the hike on snowshoes at about 10:30 a.m. and made it back to the ski area at roughly 3 p.m., allowing for lunch at the lookout point. Snowshoe rentals are $25 per person for the day. Bring hiking poles if you have them. 

Dewey Point - Yosemite National Park Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park

 

Half Dome Overnight Hike

Since the road to Half Dome is closed in the winter, the only way to get there is to snowshoe or Nordic ski. It’s a pretty long haul to do in one day so most people overnight in the X hut, a little-known hidden gem that functions as a gift shop in the summer.

This is the perfect way to see a snowy Half Dome at both sunset and sunrise. What a unique, beautiful opportunity!

Horsetail Falls Firefall

Each February, if the conditions are just right (i.e. a clear enough sky for sunset) the sun hits the Horsetail Falls in such a way that they light up, creating the firefall phenomenon.

This otherwise-overlooked waterfall becomes the star of the show for a peak period of about a week, though the firefall can still occur in the days surrounding the peak times. This is usually in mid-to-late February.

Thousands of spectators try to catch a glimpse of the firefall every year, and the park has started a lottery system for parking privileges for the falls.

Lower Yosemite Falls - Yosemite National Park Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

 

Where to Stay

During the winter, some campsites remain open in Yosemite. It can also be less busy, unless you’re visiting around the holidays or during the firefall week. It’s possible to book places to stay the week before - it worked for me!

I stayed in a heated tent in Half Dome (formerly known as Curry) Village and it kept me nice and toasty. However, the food there is quite marginal, and there’s no cooking or eating in tents allowed in the village. You may want to bus over to the lodge for dinner.

Alternatively, there’s the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee) which is on the pricier side, or the Yosemite Valley Lodge. You can also stay in Wawona or at an AirBnB as a more affordable option.

Though not necessarily significantly less busy throughout the entire winter, Yosemite is no doubt magical and a much different experience during the colder months. In a state like California that’s otherwise known for year-round mild weather and sunshine, being able to experience snow and winter in such a beautiful location is a unique treat. If you have more time on your trip, check out some of the other national and state parks in California you can visit.

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About the Author

Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over five years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.