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Yosemite Winter Checklist and Travel Recommendations

Half Dome Winter Wonderland
Half Dome Winter Wonderland
Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park
Badger Pass Ski Resort
Address: Yosemite, CA 95389
Phone: (559) 683-4636

Travel Tips for Winter in Yosemite:

Winter is a lovely time to visit. Here are a few of our favorite reasons: 

1. The park is far less crowded in fall and winter. It’s almost like having the place to yourself. 

2. Prices reduce dramatically in fall and winter both in Yosemite and in the surrounding gateways. Visiting in the off-season means you can afford to splurge a little more.

3. Some of the most spectacular scenery occurs in fall and winter. Enjoy autumn colors and snowcapped peaks from many vantage points. 

4. Outdoor winter activities abound!

Be sure to plan ahead, do you know where you will be hiking?

Enjoy exploring the valley floor, such as the Valley Loop Trail or the Mirror Lake Loop. At 13.5 miles, the Valley Loop Trail can be easily divided in half or even thirds as it winds from the east end of Yosemite Valley to the Pohono Bridge at the west end and back again. It is virtually flat, so count it in the easy category. The Mirror Lake Loop measures about five miles in its entirety and is also mostly flat although there are some steps and some rocky places to negotiate on the Half Dome side of the trail. Taking a trekking pole or two when hiking is an excellent plan on any Yosemite trail. Other hiking suggestions:  bring plenty of water, snacks, and layer your clothing so that you can shed or add as temperatures change through the day. 

Would you like to try ice skating?

Imagine gliding along on the Curry Village Ice Rink with Half Dome and the valley cliffs above you. 

Ready to take it to the next level with winter sports?

Try snowshoeing out to Dewey Point, or cross country skiing to Glacier Point. Imagine seeing Yosemite’s most iconic views glistening in a white coat of snow. If you are into more extreme sports, try a bit of downhill skiing or snowboarding. If that’s not for you, keep it simple and try to keep a smile off your face as you ride down snowy slopes on inner tubes. Go to the Badger Pass Ski Area website for more information. 

Make a plan, and maybe even a reservation for delicious dining.

Nosh! Take that special someone for lunch at The Ahwahnee Hotel. Lunch prices are about half of the dinner prices, and you can go in your hiking clothes. Dinner is a more formal occasion. The best part of doing lunch is . . . daylight. The Ahwahnee Hotel has 34-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows, and one side looks out upon Yosemite Falls, the other side looks up toward Glacier Point. An afternoon at The Ahwahnee is well worth the hour or two it’ll cost your schedule.

If The Ahwahnee doesn’t fit your time or your budget, there are other options. Check out Base Camp at Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Pizza Deck at Curry Village, or Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village. Or you can pick up pre-made sandwiches at local grocery stores and picnic beside the Merced River in Wawona or at the Swinging Bridge in the Valley if the day is nice.

If you don’t want to drive but want to experience Yosemite’s winter splendor, consider taking a guided tour. Several companies in the Oakhurst area will pick you up at your hotel or close to it and take you to the park for an all-day adventure. You’ll learn all about Yosemite from an expert who is also experienced in driving winter mountain roads. 

If you drive into Yosemite, make sure to take the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle to all the popular places. Don’t waste time looking for parking at each site within the valley that you wish to visit. Or you can walk. Yosemite Valley is flat, and its paths invite you to enjoy the fresh air and splendid surroundings.

There’s more to do than Yosemite, too. Think Bass Lake, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, and Fish Camp for great dining, craft fairs, and unique boutiques. 

If you crave a five-star dining or lodging experience, make a reservation at Oakhurst’s Cháteau du Sureau and its on-site restaurant, The Elderberry House Restaurant. Its old-world charm and superb service make every day a holiday. Or enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere at the local favorite hot spot, South Gate Brewing Company

Check road conditions regularly.

The weather in the Sierra can change quickly. Check weather conditions regularly. Call for current Yosemite Road Conditions, (209) 372-0200, then press 1 – 1. Caltrans is your resource for information about road conditions outside the park.  You can call 1-800-427-7623, use the website, or use their interactive QuickMap webtool.

Note: When conditions dictate (i.e. when chain controls are in effect, you are required to carry tire traction devices (chains or cables) in your vehicle and be prepared to install them as necessary. You may be denied entry to the park if you don’t have them. You may also be subject to a substantial fine should road conditions make them mandatory and you don’t have them. Rental vehicles are NOT exempt from this requirement.  By the way, winter in the Sierra Nevada is dictated by weather conditions, not by calendar dates. We’ve (rarely) been known to get snow in May but is has been known to happen.  

Chain requirement codes are as follows:

R0 - No chains required
R1 - Chains required. Autos and pickups with snow tires OK
R2 - Chains required. 4-wheel-drive with snow tires OK
R3 - Chains required on all vehicles.  No exceptions.

Chains or cables can be purchased at several locations in Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Fish Camp and Mariposa. Call or stop by the Visitor Center in Oakhurst for information - (559) 683-4636.

For the roads outside of Yosemite, Caltrans is your best resource and they have a handful of resources you can turn to:

Know the alternative park exits/entrances.

(1) Exit straight ahead on Hwy 140 through the Merced River Canyon. This is a lower-elevation road, and chain requirements are rare. In Mariposa, take Hwy 49 southbound to Oakhurst. Hwy 140 westbound to Merced for access to Highway 99 either north or south. (2) Take Hwy 120 westbound for the quickest way to San Francisco. Please be very cautious on all regional roads during icy conditions.

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Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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Summer Hours - 7 days a week: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Winter Hours - Monday thru Saturday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

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