5 Reasons Why Yosemite National Park Should Be Added To Your Winter Bucket List

Explore Yosemite in its most peaceful season.

By: Sonja Saxe
February 24, 2016

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Yosemite is one of America's most popular national parks, attracting over four million visitors in 2015! Like most parks, the majority of that activity occurs during the warm summer months. The days are long, camping is easy, and all the roads are open, which help usher in crowds of nature-seeking individuals from around the world. However, the winter months should not be overlooked! In fact, it might be the best time to visit this iconic park. Here's why:

1. Fewer Crowds

Winter offers a quiet solitude in Yosemite. On average only 9% of the annual park goers visit Yosemite from December through February. This decreased number of visitors results in moments where you feel like you have the entire park to yourself! The shuttles still run but are much emptier than in peak season. This also means that you won't have to fight for a spot at one of the many popular vistas; you can even have all of Tunnel View to yourself!

Nordic Ski and Snowshoe to Glacier Point | Photo: Greg Owens

2. Snow Activities Abound

The winter season brings snow to the Sierras (and with it, snow sports). Situated at an elevation of 4,000 ft, Yosemite Valley only receives an average snowfall of 29 inches. At 7,000 ft, Badger Pass is a close and snowier neighbor to Yosemite Valley, receiving an average snowfall of 300 inches per year. The Badger Pass Ski Area has five lifts and a majority of the hills are beginner to intermediate, making it a great place to learn how to ski. The snow covered trails and closed roads also offer great opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, including a 21 mile round trip adventure to Glacier Point. Snowshoes, downhill and cross country skies are all conveniently available to rent at Badger Pass. Another fun winter activity is ice skating, which you can enjoy at the Curry Village Ice Rink while looking up at the iconic Half Dome. It's hard to beat that view!

3. Unique Photography Opportunities

The short days in winter are actually beneficial to photography. The sun doesn’t get as high in the sky so the light offers a softer glow. Additionally, the winter storms dress some of Yosemite’s more famous landscapes in beautiful blankets of snow. Half Dome looks great in its white winter cap and Yosemite Falls takes on a new appearance as it's bordered by ice and snow as it cascades into the valley.

Photograph Yosemite Valley Tunnel View | Photo: Sonja Saxe

4. More Affordable Lodging

The simple economics of supply and demand mean that the lodging prices in the winter go down and dates are more flexible. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is a more budget-friendly winter lodging option while The Ahwahnee is the more luxurious choice (JFK stayed there once). Of course, backcountry camping is the most budget-conscious option, if you so choose. Just make sure to bring your 4 season tent, do some research, and pick up a permit from a ranger station before you head out!

5. It's Yosemite National Park

The park holds Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and countless amazing granite formations like El Capitan and Half Dome within its massive 1,190 square miles. Do you really need a fifth reason to make the journey? So hop on a plane, bus, or car, channel your inner John Muir, and find a home away from home in the awe-inspiring wonders of this park.

Hike to Lower Yosemite Falls | Photo: Sonja Saxe

Final few tips for those of you who choose to visit Yosemite in the winter:

  • Make sure to rent or buy tire chains before your trip as they are required to enter the park in the winter months. Even those of you with 4WD will be required to at least carry chains.
  • Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road beyond Badger Pass are not plowed and thus closed until the snow melts.
  • Keep up to date with the latest park news by visiting the NPS website.

Cover photo: Sonja Saxe

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.