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Christian Mueller
Itineraries Yosemite in a Day Winter

Yosemite in a Day: Winter Edition

There's an abundance of Winter activities and beautiful sights to experience in Yosemite

Winter is a delightful time of year because you have the park almost entirely to yourself. Nature has carved out a special spot, a magical place to lose yourself in the beauty around you. From expansive meadows to dramatic rock formations blanketed in snow to beautiful, cascading waterfalls, Yosemite delights the senses and refreshes the spirit.

In mid-February, if conditions at sunset are perfect, the annual formation of the Horsetail Fall as Yosemite’s Natural Firefall is a sight to behold. Reservations are required for select weekend and holiday dates.  

Please note: Glacier Point Road & Tioga Pass (Highway 120 East) are closed for the winter.

Snowshoeing in Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Snowshoeing in Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Welcome to Wawona: Yosemite National Park's Historical Hub

Wawona, affectionately known as the "Historical Heart of Yosemite National Park," offers visitors a glimpse into the park's rich past and the breathtaking natural beauty Yosemite is celebrated for. Here's a curated guide on how to make the most of your visit to Wawona, including where to stay, what to see, and activities you can enjoy.

Snowshoe to The Big Trees: Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

The Mariposa Grove has over 500 mature giant sequoia trees and a variety of trails, from easy to strenuous and accessible. Note: The shuttle bus from the Welcome Plaza parking to the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area typically remains open (weather dependent) through Thanksgiving weekend (end of November) and then will close for the winter and reopen in early spring. Visitors can snowshoe, cross-country ski, or hike into the Grove via the Washburn Trail when the road is closed. 

Where to Stay: Wawona Hotel

The Wawona Hotel, one of the few remaining Victorian-era mountain resorts in America, provides a picturesque stay right in the heart of Yosemite. This historic hotel offers a quaint and serene retreat—perfect for those looking to unwind after a day of exploration. Please note that the Wawona Hotel closes after Thanksgiving but reopens for the festive Christmas holidays, welcoming guests to a winter wonderland before closing again until spring. Plan your stay accordingly to enjoy this unique piece of Yosemite's history.

Discover the Past: Yosemite History Center

Step back in time at the Yosemite History Center, an impressive collection of historic buildings from all over Yosemite National Park. While here, visitors can explore the exteriors of the buildings and learn about the park's history through engaging interpretive signage. It's a must-visit for history buffs and those interested in the development of this majestic national park.

Experience the Great Outdoors: Meadow Loop Trail

The Meadow Loop Trail presents an easy and enjoyable 3.5-mile journey through Yosemite's stunning meadows. This flat loop is one of the park's few dog-friendly hiking trails, where visitors can bring their four-legged friends along (on a 6-foot leash, of course). It's a beautiful way for the whole family, including furry members, to experience the beauty of Yosemite. Just remember to be responsible and clean up after your pet.


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Badger Pass Ski Resort

Badger Pass is the perfect place for skiers at any level

Journey to the Slopes: Getting to Badger Pass

Start your winter adventure at Yosemite's Badger Pass Ski Area by taking a scenic 5-mile drive along Glacier Point Road to the Badger Pass turnoff. Remember, the road is only open to Badger Pass during the winter months and is closed to vehicles beyond this point for the season.  

Winter Sports Galore at Badger Pass

Badger Pass Ski Area is Yosemite's premier destination for winter sports, offering various activities to suit every age and skill level. With conditions permitting, you can look forward to an exciting day filled with downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and snow tubing. Whether you're gliding down the slopes or enjoying the serene landscapes on a pair of snowshoes, Badger Pass provides an exceptional mountain experience.

Ski Lessons and More: Enhance Your Winter Experience

For those new to winter sports or looking to polish their skills, Badger Pass offers ski and snowboarding lessons from experienced instructors. Badger Pass is a fantastic place for both beginners and seasoned enthusiasts to learn new techniques and enjoy the snow-covered terrains of Yosemite.

Wilderness Access Along Glacier Point Road

The enchanting wilderness along Glacier Point Road becomes accessible to winter sports enthusiasts once a sufficient snow base has accumulated. This measure is crucial for the protection of Yosemite's delicate meadows. Adventurers are invited to enjoy the pristine backcountry with the understanding that preserving the park's natural beauty is a shared responsibility.

Plan Your Visit: Navigating Badger Pass with Care

When planning your journey to Badger Pass, always start with a weather check. Winter conditions can be unpredictable, and the safety of all visitors hinges on being prepared for the elements. Ensure you have appropriate winter gear, including insulated clothing, waterproof boots, and UV-protection eyewear. Remember— always stay on marked trails and respect the signage and barriers designed to keep you safe.

Share the Joy of Yosemite's Winter

Have you already carved your path through the snow at Badger Pass? Share your favorite winter moments and inspire others by tagging @yosemitemadera.  

Tunnel View in Winter

Tunnel View is spectacular in any season

Tunnel View is more than just a scenic overlook—it's a grand natural portal that ushers visitors into the heart of Yosemite National Park from the south. Known for its unparalleled vistas that have captivated photographers and nature enthusiasts from around the globe, Tunnel View offers a picture-perfect snapshot of the park’s grandeur.

Your Route to Awe-Inspiring Scenery

To reach this world-famous viewpoint, navigate northbound along Highway 41 (also known as Wawona Road), which carves its way through the park’s southern terrain. Your journey leads you through the historic Wawona Tunnel, an engineering marvel stretching nearly a mile in length. As you emerge from the tunnel's darkness, prepare to be greeted by the awe-inspiring sights of Yosemite Valley, framed perfectly from this unique vantage point. The moment you exit the tunnel, you will experience the iconic grandeur of Yosemite. From the cascading elegance of Bridalveil Fall and the imposing grandiosity of El Capitan to the distant, mystical silhouettes of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest, Tunnel View encapsulates the essence of the park’s allure. It packs some of the most breathtaking scenery the world has to offer.

Immediately after the tunnel, you'll find convenient parking on both the right and left sides. Accessibility is a priority, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to soak in these legendary sights.

Half Dome Winter Wonderland

Half Dome covered in snow is an amazing site!

Yosemite Valley is a treasure trove of natural wonders and historical sites. To make the most of your visit, here's a simplified guide to the top stops and viewpoints, with essential tips for easy navigation and parking.

Day Parking and Shuttle Service

Park once and use the free Yosemite Valley shuttle to hop between sights. The shuttle runs every 10-20 minutes, and you can download the latest shuttle map for current routes and schedules. Remember, shuttle operations may change during winter.

Iconic Sights and Activities in Yosemite Valley

  • Bridalveil Fall: Witness the 620-foot waterfall with a short quarter-mile stroll to its base.  
  • Yosemite Chapel: Admire this 1879 historic building and enjoy views of Yosemite Falls from outside the chapel.
  • Sentinel Bridge: Stop here for classic photos of Half Dome's reflection in the Merced River.
  • Yosemite Falls: Take a half-mile walk to North America's tallest waterfall and watch for natural frazil ice phenomena on cold mornings. See if you can spot the "snow cone" in the middle cascade of the falls. 
  • Valley Welcome Center: Gain valuable knowledge about the park's natural wonders and history to enrich your adventure and inspire many returns. Look inside!
  • Yosemite Exploration Center: Discover the Yosemite Conservancy Bookstore and expanded exhibits. 
  • Ansel Adams GalleryExplore a collection of Adams' original works, alongside contemporary exhibits that continue to celebrate the natural world through the lens of photography.  
  • Yosemite Museum: Explore cultural demonstrations and exquisite basketry by famed artist Julia Parker.
  • The Ahwahnee Hotel: Savor a meal in the grand dining room, and if you're a party of two, try requesting a window table for a remarkable view. Reservations may be required; be sure to call ahead. 
  • Yosemite Valley Lodge: Start here for valley tours, which adapt to weather conditions for year-round enjoyment. The Mountain Room restaurant offers elegant dining. The Mountain Room lounge features a roaring fireplace in the round, perfect for après adventure drinks.
  • Curry Village: Experience ice skating amid the pines when conditions allow, typically from November to March. Check out this 360° tour to preview the experience
  • Happy Isles and Mist Trail: Hike to Vernal Falls Footbridge via the "Winter Route." Be prepared for icy conditions.
  • Mirror Lake: A flat, 1-mile walk rewards you with up-close views of Half Dome—winter visitors should be ready for snow and ice.
  • El Capitan: Marvel at the granite monolith is famous for its rock-climbing routes that attract climbers globally.
  • Snag a picture at Valley View: This expansive viewpoint near Pohono Bridge offers a different perspective of Yosemite's landmarks. Located along one-way Northside Drive, stopping here on your way out of Yosemite Valley is best.
  • Fern Spring: Spot the smallest Waterfall in Yosemite just after the Pohono Bridge, a peaceful stop when exiting via Hwy 41.
  • Bridalveil Meadow: Reflect on Yosemite's history where John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt met, a significant site for conservationists.
Snowshoes in Yosemite

Snowshoes are a must have in snowy Yosemite for unplanned and planned adventures

Exit Strategies from Yosemite: Safe Winter Travel Routes

Navigating Yosemite's majestic landscapes requires knowing your exit options, especially during winter when weather conditions can be unpredictable.

  1. Hwy 140 through Merced River Canyon:

    • This route leads you straight out of the park with a gentler descent, making it less likely to require chains due to its lower elevation.
    • For travelers heading to Oakhurst, continue on Hwy 49 southbound from Mariposa.
    • If you're bound for Merced or Highway 99, take Hwy 140 westbound to connect with routes going north or south.
  2. Hwy 120 West towards San Francisco:

    • Ideal for those aiming for a direct route to San Francisco.
    • Exercise extreme caution in winter; this path includes sharp turns and can be hazardous when icy.

Important Winter Travel Advisory:  

Yosemite's winter weather is variable and can swiftly transition from mild to severe. Regardless of the month, it's crucial to be prepared:

  • Always carry tire chains or cables in your vehicle.
  • Park entry may be denied without this equipment during winter.
  • Fines are enforced if conditions necessitate chains and you're without them.
  • Rental cars are also subject to these regulations.
  • Chain requirements are determined by weather, not the calendar, with snow sometimes occurring as late as May.

Understand Chain Requirement Codes:

  • R0: Chains not required.
  • R1: Chains required, except for autos and pickups with snow tires.
  • R2: Chains required, except for 4-wheel-drives with snow tires.
  • R3: Chains are required on all vehicles, without exception.

Where to Purchase Chains or Cables:

Chains or cables are available for purchase in the surrounding communities of Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Fish Camp, and Mariposa. For more information, contact the Oakhurst Visitor Center at (559) 683-4636.



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Visitor Guide

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite.

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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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