Winter in Yosemite
Blog Exploring Yosemite in Winter: Tips From a Travel Expert
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Judi | 11/16/2021 | Hiking, Nature, Seasons, Tours, Tours, Wildlife, Winter Fun |   

Exploring Yosemite in Winter: Tips From a Travel Expert

As a local, I am thrilled to share my travel expertise and provide you with tips to make your visit to our destination the best it can possibly be. 

In November 1989 I traveled to Bass Lake—and fell in love with the Sierra Nevada foothills the minute my boots hit the ground at The Pines Resort. Over a weekend I explored Yosemite National Park. In the back of my mind, I knew I’d found my true home, made an offer on a house that very weekend and moved here full-time four months later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yosemite in December, January, and February is a lovely time to visit. Here are a few of my favorite reasons:

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

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

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

Outdoor winter activities abound!

Enjoy exploring the valley floor on trails, 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 then 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 rocky places to negotiate on the Half Dome side of the trail. I always take a trekking pole or two when I hike, and that is an excellent plan on any Yosemite trail. Take plenty of water and snacks, and layer your clothing so you can shed or add as temperatures change throughout the day.

Imagine gliding along on the Curry Village ice rink with Half Dome and the valley cliffs above you. Is it my imagination, or is the sky bluer in winter than any other time?

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. If you're into more extreme sports, try a bit of downhill skiing or snowboarding. If that’s not for you, keep it simple and try riding down snowy slopes on inner tubes.

Take that special someone for lunch at The Ahwahnee Hotel. Lunch prices are about half that of dinner prices, and you can go in your hiking clothes. (You have to be a bit more formal at dinner.) But the absolute best part of doing lunch is . . . daylight. The Ahwahnee Hotel has 34-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows, with one side looking up toward Glacier Point. An Afternoon at the Ahwahnee is an afternoon well spent.  

If the Ahwahnee doesn’t fit your time or your budget, there are more casual Yosemite restaurant options. Check out the basecamp cafeteria at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Pizza Deck at Curry Village, or Degnan’s Kitchen 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 Yosemite 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 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.

The Pines Resort Bass Lake in Winter

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

If you crave a 5-star dining or lodging experience, make a reservation at Oakhurst’s Chateau du Sureau and its on-site restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House. 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

Get more winter travel tips and plan your trip to Yosemite and Madera County.

Judi Hussain came to Bass Lake over 28 years ago and fell in love with the area. She bought a house that weekend, moved here from Southern California four months later. She’s made the Sierra Nevada foothills her home ever since. 

An avid hiker, she believes the best way to see Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada is by foot or bike. She has trekked virtually all of the trails in Yosemite Valley and many in the high country, as well. She’s always open to new adventures and loves sharing those journeys with visitors to the area.


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