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Yosemite National Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the park is known for giant, ancient sequoia trees, towering waterfalls, dramatic granite cliffs, and fun shops, restaurants, and museums in the gateway towns.
If you’re planning an outdoors trip, there are some key advice and tips for traveling in Yosemite National Park during the off-peak winter season. Here’s everything you need to know to visit Yosemite National Park in winter.
It’s a Lovely Time to Visit
Winter is a beautiful time to be in Yosemite National Park. Peak season is May through October, which can be a little crowded to really explore the wonders of the park. It’s less crowded in the off-peak season, and the prices in the gateway towns are a little lower. Some of the most spectacular scenery is found in winter as well, such as snow-capped mountain peaks and icy falls. On top of that, there’s virtually endless outdoor activities in the colder months.
Be Aware of Weather Conditions
Winter in Yosemite runs from December to March, which is when you’re most likely to see snow and cooler temps. The temperatures and snowfall depend on the location in the park and the elevation, though the average is 33 degrees to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Yosemite Valley is open all year and boasts the warmest temperatures. Early and late in the winter season, you may not experience snow at all at the lower elevations, though the higher trails may be snow covered.
It’s also important to remember that mountain weather can be unpredictable, so you need to be prepared and anticipate changing weather conditions. Be sure to listen to weather reports on the road and snow conditions within the park. Cell phone service is spotty in the park, so check before you go. Any road closures or dangerous condition information can be found on the National Park Service website.
Pack the Proper Gear
Winter hiking is a lot of fun, but you could put yourself in a vulnerable position if you’re unprepared. Hiking in Yosemite National Park in winter will most likely bring you to snow-covered and icy stretches that can be slippery, so be sure to pack the appropriate hiking gear for the conditions, such as walking poles and ice grips.
You should also prepare for drastic temperature changes within the park by layering clothing and bringing a warm wool or synthetic jacket, knit hat, warm gloves, and waterproof hiking boots. It’s better to remove layers than suffer the weather without the right clothing. You may want to pack some additional clothing, gloves, and socks in case yours get wet.
Other travel tips include preparedness for hiking and wilderness situations. You should pack plenty of water and snacks in case your hike runs longer than expected or you get lost. You should also bring helpful supplies for the trip, such as a flashlight and extra batteries and a GPS with a map and compass as backup.
What to Know About Transportation
Yosemite National Park has public transportation in Yosemite Valley all year, provided the weather is safe. In the park, you can take a free shuttle bus to get to different destinations.
If you’re going to be driving yourself, there are a few things you’ll wish you knew in advance. The gas prices tend to get higher the closer you are to the park, and there are no gas stations in the park itself, so be sure to fill up before you get there. You may also be required to use tire chains on your vehicle in certain weather conditions or designated Chain Control areas, and there’s a significant fine if you fail to follow the rules. Park rangers can even deny your entry into the park.
Generally, you’re supposed to have tire chains with you November through March, but a chain requirement can be announced earlier or later in the season.
Prepare for Closures
In winter, some parts of Yosemite National Park are closed for dangerous conditions. Hiking and driving options are limited, so it’s important to know before you go, especially for the parts of the park you’re looking to visit.
Tioga Road and sections of Glacier Point Road are closed, so you won’t be able to visit Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. Inclement weather conditions may also lead to other closures within the park, especially the trails that go up the sides of the valley.
You can drive to Yosemite Valley, Crane Flat, Hetch Hetchy, and Wawona all year, though tire chains may be necessary in some areas.
Plenty of hiking trails are open year-round, however, including Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Bridalveil Fall, and the Valley Loop Trail. These trails are less likely to experience closures and great places to tour the landscape.
Plan Winter Activities
Winter in Yosemite National Park has plenty of adventures, such as:
- Cross-country skiing
- Downhill skiing
- Ice skating
- Sledding and snow tubing
- Winter camping
- Horse-drawn sleigh rides
- Zip lining
The surrounding gateway towns have an array of galleries, museums, shops, and restaurants that are open year-round for indoor fun as well.
Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the country, especially in winter. Hopefully, these tips will provide you with all the essential information you need before visiting Yosemite National Park in winter. If you’re planning a trip to the park during the off-season, check out Expedia to find great deals on hotels near Yosemite National Park to prepare for your trip!