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Three-day winter itinerary for Yosemite National Park

By: Cindy Villasenor + Save to a List

About 6 hours away from LA is the beautiful Yosemite National Park, one of my favorite parks to visit. Have you had the chance to visit Yosemite in the Winter Season? If not, I highly recommend it! Visiting Yosemite in the winter is truly magical, especially if you get to see it after a fresh coat of snow and you get a chance to visit during Horsetail Fall (firefall) time! Since it snows during the winter, it is very important to come prepared. Make sure to carry snow chains in your car - weather can change quickly and you may be required to put them on. During peak days of firefall, reservations are required, so keep this in mind if you plan to visit Yosemite during the winter in February. Those dates typically include the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th weekend of February.

Day 1 - Arrive at Yosemite Valley

Upon arrival we checked into Yosemite Valley Lodge, unloaded, and took some time to rest before dinner. Our room offered a beautiful view of Upper Yosemite Fall from the balcony. It had a cozy lodge vibe.

We dined at Base Camp Eatery, located in the Lodge. Ordering is at the self-order kiosk, with a variety of food options available, including soups, wraps, and a vegan burger that I ordered. We enjoyed our meal by the floor-to-ceiling windows, offering a view of the granite walls peaking through the trees as the sun set.

After dinner, we prepared with layers for ice skating in Curry Village, about 2 miles from the lodge. It takes about 16 minutes for the drive, since you have to loop around the valley. I recommend leaving 20-30 minutes before they open up the rink at 7pm. For tickets, you can either order tickets online or head to the kiosk 15 minutes before opening.

If you haven’t tried ice skating before, like myself, don’t fret - walkers are available! I had the walker with me all night since I was nervous about falling. Even with all the nervousness, it was such a great time going around the rink while they played music on the speaker. The rink is open until 9pm, so you’ll have two hours to enjoy, sit by the large fire pit when taking a break or even have some s’mores!

Day 2 - Snow Activities

The next morning we headed back to Base Camp Eatery to grab breakfast. They have a stack of pancakes available, bowls, or breakfast burritos - I got the vegan breakfast burrito and it was delicious! There is a Starbucks, as well as self-serve coffee available. Tip: take your reusable cups, just let them know at the counter that you don’t need the coffee cup and you’ll be using your own. Yosemite does have a zero-waste initiative, so that helps!

After breakfast, it was time to head up to Badger Pass for some snowshoeing. Depending on road conditions, it will take about 45 mins to an hour drive to get there, or you can take the free shuttle bus. I recommend leaving right after breakfast to get there early and have plenty of time up there, especially to beat the crowds.

Once parked, walk over to Yosemite Cross Country Center to rent snowshoes. Snowshoe rentals are $28 each, with a return by 4pm. There are self-guided snowshoe walks as well as guided walks if you are interested. Ski rentals are available too. Once we checked out and strapped on the shoes, we headed up the nearby trails. Keep in mind the higher elevation, make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, and don’t forget sunscreen! We spent a little over 3 hours taking our time, enjoying the trail, and the views. With different trail options, you can stay on the wide ski/snowshoe trails and go up to see beautiful vistas and/or take some of the marked side trails that are more enclosed within the trees, like we did!

We left Badger Pass around 2:30pm to have time to grab a quick bite, and to walk over to see Horsetail Fall (firefall). Public parking for Horsetail Fall is at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, another good reason to have the extra time to get back to Yosemite Valley Lodge to park by the room, as it may start to get crowded to enter the lodge area.

For Horsetail Fall (firefall), I recommend to come prepared with layers, a chair to sit down, a blanket, snacks, and water. The walk over to see it from the lodge is about 30 mins, leaving around 3:30 is a good time to head out and find a good spot to set up. Depending on weather conditions (cloudy, partly cloudy), you may or may not see the firefall, sometimes conditions change right before! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it with the clouds over us, but it was still a good time.

For dinner, we had reservations at the beautiful Mountain Room - another building with floor-to-ceiling windows, and also on the grounds of Yosemite Valley Lodge. During the day you can actually see Yosemite Falls through the windows! They have a great selection of wines, with a menu featuring organic & seasonal plates made with local ingredients as well as a selection of steaks and pastas and great service! A great way to end the day after a long day of hiking.

Day 3 - Enjoy Yosemite Valley

Since it was our last morning, we went to grab coffee in our reusables and enjoy it while we got a view of the falls from our balcony.

For breakfast, we had reservations at The Ahwahnee Dining Room, which just recently reopened! Reservations are HIGHLY recommended, and there are a couple of different options to get there:

Driving- about 20 minutes from the lodge since you have to loop around, so leave around 30 mins before reservation. Hike - if you decide to hike in the valley to get to The Ahwahnee, leave about 1 hour earlier. Shuttle -The Yosemite shuttle starts running at 7am, and will most likely take more than one hour to get to The Ahwahnee, considering it loops around and has multiple stops.

When we arrived, we dropped off our car at the valet (the only way to park there). You are greeted with a red carpet at the entrance. As you walk into and inside the dining hall, you’ll get to see the beautiful architecture all around, and of course the big windows giving you views of the surrounding granite walls, as well as Yosemite Falls. Once seated and greeted by the waiter, we headed over to the self-serve buffet. Options include a vegan hash, scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, bagels, and more. Fresh coffee or juice is served at the table. Once we were done with our breakfast, we walked outside the hotel to take in the view of Half Dome.

To end our time in Yosemite, we made a quick stop at one of the picnic areas to check out part of the valley trail. Then we parked at Yosemite Village Parking where you can catch the valley shuttles, and also visit: Yosemite Exploration Center, Yosemite Museum, The Ansel Adams Gallery, Village Store, Degnan’s Kitchen, or take the trail to Lower Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite is a hard place to leave, so we actually decided to stay an extra night and enjoy it a little longer before heading back home!

Keep up with Cindy Villaseñor and her adventures by following her on Instagram: @CeroWasteCindy

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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