Winter in Yosemite National Park | Featured Adventure - Cairn

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Winter is one of the best times to visit Yosemite National Park. The trails and roads are traveled by the fewest visitors, and winter snows coat Yosemite Valley with a layer of white. For a park that is one of the National Park System’s busiest, the winter offers a unique opportunity to see the natural beauty of one of America’s most iconic places without the interruption or crowds.

The snow falls heavy in the high Sierra, but Yosemite is well-equipped to respond to the challenge. In the winter, Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road close for the season, but Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain accessible year round. Beginning in mid-December, Glacier Point Road is plowed to the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, which offers downhill and cross-country skiing—opening up Yosemite to even more winter play.

Yosemite is spectacular regardless of the time of year, but when the crowds disperse at the end of the summer and the granite cliffs of the valley earn a coat of winter white, the park becomes a truly magical place to visit.

Hikes


Vernal Falls. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Agnieszka Wojtowicz.

  • Columbia Rock Hike: A steep, south-facing trail with views of Yosemite Valley.
  • Horsetail Falls Firefall: In the right conditions during the winter—one or two weeks in February—Horsetail Fall at sunset appears as though on fire.
  • Lower Yosemite Falls: Easy, flat access and a short trail to impressive views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.
  • Vernal Falls via the Mist Trail: The lower section of the Mist Trail is typically accessible during the winter, while the upper reaches are not.
  • Valley Loop Trail: A long loop around Yosemite Valley with 7.2- and 11.5-mile options. When conditions are right, it also makes an excellent snowshoe.

Snowshoes

  • Tuolumne Grove: One of Yosemite’s stands of old-growth sequoias is magnificent in winter snow.

Cross-country Skiing


View of Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon from Glacier Point. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Corey Moffat.

  • Glacier Point: When roads close to cars, they open to skiers and snowshoers. Glacier Point offers one of Yosemite’s most recognizable vistas. The area along the road offers additional trail options, including Old Glacier Point Road, Dewey Point, Ostrander Lake, and Ghost Forest Loop.
  • Crane Flat: The area around Crane Flat Campground offers ungroomed cross-country ski trails in the winter, including Crane Flat Lookout (1.5 miles, panoramic views), Gin Flat Loop (6.25 miles, nice downhill finish), and Clark Range View Trail (2 miles, views of the Merced River Canyon).

Snow Play Areas

  • Crane Flat Campground: Near the junction of Big Oak Flat and Tioga Road, Crane Flat becomes a perfect place for sledding and tubing in the winter.
  • Goat Meadow: Although technically outside of the park proper, Goat Meadow Winter Sports Area is managed by the Forest Service and offers sledders a winter playground.

Article by Outdoor Project Team Member, Jonathan Stull.