Can you believe that Yosemite National Park had 4 million visitors in 2018? This beloved California must-see park certainly isn’t exactly a hidden gem. Still, Yosemite might not come to mind when looking for winter outdoor destinations. There are enough fun things to do in Yosemite in winter that it absolutely warrants a visit during the colder months.
Your winter bucket list just got a little longer – these are some of the best things to do in Yosemite in winter!
Ski or snowboard on a budget
The Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly known as Badger Pass) is the oldest ski area in California – and surprisingly, it’s not very widely known!
I’m not a great skier and switched to snowboarding this year after getting knee surgery. Yosemite was an ideal place to learn: the lessons and rentals were reasonably priced ($80-$110 including lift tickets, rentals, and lessons) and the slopes weren’t overly crowded so there was plenty of space to practice.
Plan your visit accordingly – the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area is open from December 20, 2018 – March 31, 2019!
Enjoy the snowy mountain views
Tunnel View is one of the most iconic vistas in Yosemite, and I think it’s even more beautiful in winter! Snow-covered El Capitan and Half Dome are the highlights of the winter valley view. On the valley floor, you can capture stunning photos of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Fall as daylight hits different parts of the valley. There are only a few months for visitors to experience the magical, snowy views Yosemite – it’s worth it to visit at least once!
Take advantage of fewer crowds
Visitors will always flock to Yosemite in warmer seasons when more trails and roads are open, but visiting in winter without the crowds is less stressful. It was easy to snag dinner reservations at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel a just few days before Christmas! You’ll have fewer visitors in the background of photos, shuttles won’t be crowded, and the ski lift lines at the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area won’t ruin your day.
Celebrate the holidays
You’ll feel the holiday magic as soon as you drive into Yosemite Valley. The ice rink is full of skaters, colorful lights and decorations adorning the lodges and hotels, and the occasional dusting of snow on the valley floor make Yosemite a perfect holiday destination.
Celebrate the holidays with a holiday drink or dinner at the stunning Majestic Yosemite Hotel or cozy up by the fire at the Mountain Room Lounge bar before eating dinner at the Mountain Room Restaurant at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. No matter where you are in Yosemite, you’ll feel the holiday cheer.
Stay in a heated tent in Half Dome Village
Accommodation can get pricey in Yosemite year-round, winter included. While the cheapest option of camping will be cold, you can spring for the relatively budget-friendly option of staying in a heated tent in Half Dome Village! The tents are quite warm and cozy; we had the perfect amount of space for two people and it didn’t break the bank.
Bathrooms and showers are communal, but you’ll receive clean towels every day and bathrooms can be found all over Half Dome Village. This was a huge step up from my previous camping trips! The heated tent accommodation was really worth it.
Note that you can’t cook or keep any food inside the tents to prevent mice from finding it. You must keep food in the bear boxes outside, but you can still take your snacks with you on the go!
See the Firefall
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Visit Yosemite in February to see the lighting trick called “Firefall”. This visual phenomenon occurs when the light hits Horsetail Fall at just the right time and the waterfall looks like it’s made of fire as it flows into the valley.
The photos of Firefall are so breathtaking that I absolutely need to return next February to see this!
Have an off the beaten path experience
Visiting Yosemite in winter means you can have experiences you wouldn’t normally have. Aside from seeing the snowy mountains and skiing, you can cross-country ski on Glacier Point Road or even snowshoe! Driving around the valley leads to views with winter colors that you just don’t see the rest of the year.
Know before you go
While there are many exciting things to do in Yosemite in winter, make sure you’re prepared!
- Stay up to date with campground and road closures with the National Park Service site.
- Depending on the road conditions, your vehicle might require chains on the tires. Check the signs and make sure you have chains with you just in case.
- Tioga Road is closed during winter, reopening around May or June.
- Glacier Point Road is also closed during winter for cross-country skiing.
- Keep an eye out for bears! We saw 2-3 bears near the roads while driving at night in the valley.