Many seasoned Yosemite visitors insist that the best time to see the park is in winter. Rates drop considerably at park lodgings. Crowds are nonexistent. Think you’ll miss out on Yosemite’s scenic beauty by visiting in the colder months of the year? Just take a look at some of Ansel Adams’s photographs and you’ll see that Yosemite in winter is incredibly beautiful.

Half Dome reflecting on the merced river in Yosemite during winter

Winter on the Merced River in Yosemite. Photo © MBRubin/iStock.

Here are a few of the highlights of a winter visit:

Snowshoeing

No experience is required; snowshoeing is as easy as walking, and rentals cost only a few bucks an hour. Rent a pair of snowshoes at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) or Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area Ski Area. Beginners can snowshoe amid the giant sequoia trees at the Merced Grove, Tuolumne Grove, or Mariposa Grove (Note: Mariposa Grove is closed for a restoration project until spring 2018). More experienced snowshoers can head out from Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area to Dewey Point, a seven-mile round-trip, or follow one of several other marked snowshoe/cross-country ski trails from Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area or Crane Flat. If you don’t want to set out on your own, join a ranger-guided snowshoe walk.

Sledding and Ice Skating

Sled in the morning and ice-skate in the afternoon. Snow-play areas are located near Crane Flat (Highway 120/Big Oak Flat entrance). Bring along a garbage can lid or a cheap plastic saucer and for a few brief moments you’ll feel like a kid again. Then head to Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) for an afternoon skate session, where you can practice your figure eights with a head-on view of Half Dome. Can’t skate? Then sit by the warming hut’s fire pit and treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate while you watch other skaters perform triple camels, or just fall down.

Winter Walk

During most of the winter, the Valley is often snow-free. The Valley’s paved bike trails make easy walking paths even when they are covered with a few inches of snow. Get out and about before the sun gets too high and you may get to see the ice cone that forms around Yosemite Falls on cold winter nights. On most sunny days, the cone melts off completely by 9am or 10am, so an early start is critical.

Skiing and Snowboarding

Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area is one of the mellowest ski resorts in the entire Sierra. Lift lines? High-priced lift tickets? No such thing here. If you don’t feel like driving on snow-covered roads, you can take the shuttle bus to Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area from Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you don’t know how to ski or snowboard, Badger’s 85 acres of slopes are the perfect place to learn. Lessons are offered daily. Or, keep it simple—go “snow tubing” on the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area hills. It’s just like sledding, only safer, because you are cushioned by a big, billowy inner tube.

Cocktails by the Fire

After a day playing in the white stuff, head to the Majestic Yosemite Bar for appetizers and a warming cocktail; then choose a comfy seat in one of the Majestic Yosemite’s public rooms and read a book by a blazing fire. Or, head to the bar at Yosemite Valley Lodge in Yosemite Valley for drinks, snacks, and a seat around the fire.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon.