Yosemite in Winter

  • 01 of 08

    What To Do In Yosemite In Winter

    Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View - Winter
    ••• Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View - Winter. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

     

    Winter is the least busy and possibly most beautiful season in Yosemite. The crowds go home, the wildlife comes out, and hotel rates go down. Frost coats the trees in the morning and snowstorms blanket the valley in white.

     

    If you get up early, you might see Yosemite Falls frozen solid and hear the loud crack of ice breaking loose and plummeting to the ground. Near the Falls, you might see an even rarer phenomenon: frazil ice, a slushy, icy, watery mixture that sometimes overflows the creek bed.

    Winter Weather at Yosemite

    Yosemite's winter weather can be cold, especially at the higher elevations. Check the average weather in Yosemite 

    You can check snow reports, river water levels, road conditions and more at the National Park Service website. 

    Snow at Yosemite in Winter

    The Yosemite Valley is at 4,000 feet elevation, and even if it snows, it seldom stays very long.

    The Yosemite Snow and Skiboard Area is at Badger Pass. It includes a terrain park along with beginner and intermediate slopes,...MORE making it a good place for kids and others just learning to ski. You can also go snowshoeing or snow tubing.

    Strong cross-country skiers can do a one-day or overnight ski trip from the end of the cleared road to Glacier Point, which is a 10.5-mile trip each way.

    More snow accumulates at higher elevations than in the valley. Tioga Pass closes when it can't be cleared, usually around mid-November. It stays closed until spring. The road between the ski area and  Glacier Point also closes in winter after the first snow.

    Yosemite Winter Events

    Yosemite Conservancy offers some fun winter programs that may include a full moon snowshoe hike or winter photography. Three of Yosemite's most popular events also occur in winter:

    Bracebridge Dinners: A Yosemite winter tradition since 1926, the Bracebridge is the ultimate Christmas feast. The four-hour pageant features entertainment from more than 100 cast members coupled with a seven-course meal to create an unforgettable experience. Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, enough performances are held to accommodate almost anyone who wants to go; the lottery reservation system was suspended several years ago.

    Taste of Yosemite: Held in January and February, these events feature cooking demonstrations and a dinner prepared by some of the country's most prominent chefs. 

    What's Open at Yosemite in Winter

    Valley Floor tours operate in winter with a warm bus replacing the open-air trams.

    In the Yosemite Valley, Upper Pines and Camp 4 campgrounds are open all year. So is the Wawona Campground and Hodgdon Meadow on Big Oak Flat Road. Get more information in the Yosemite campground guide.

    An ice skating rink operates at Curry Village (now called Half Dome Village) from mid-November through March, weather permitting.

    Getting to Yosemite in the Winter

    If you plan to drive to Yosemite in winter, take CA Hwy 140 through Mariposa. It's the lowest-elevation route, least likely to be affected by snow and ice. Check highway conditions outside the park at the Caltrans website or call 800-427-7623. Check current conditions inside Yosemite online or call 209-372-0200.

    If you don't have snow chains, you need to know the rules about them. They're all in the California Snow Chain Guide.

    Photographing Yosemite in Winter

    If you want to photographs snow in the Yosemite Valley, it takes timing. The snow can melt within a day or less after it falls, making it harder to get there in time to get your photographs if you start after the storm is over. A better strategy may be to get yourself into a Yosemite Valley hotel before a storm starts and then go out for photography after it ends.

    Views of Yosemite in winter and how to photograph it are below.

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  • 02 of 08

    Bridalveil Fall Can Freeze in Winter

    Frozen Bridalveil Falls
    ••• Frozen Bridalveil Falls. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Yosemite's waterfalls often freeze during the night, and at this time of day, Bridalveil is just starting to flow again.

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  • 03 of 08

    El Capitan On a Snowy Day

    El Capitan After a Snowstorm
    ••• El Capitan After a Snowstorm. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    This picture was taken in the afternoon, just as the snowstorm was clearing out. 

    The Merced River, which runs through the valley wasn't frozen in the middle (it seldom gets cold enough for this to happen), but it looks beautiful with snow-laden trees on its banks.

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  • 04 of 08

    Gates of the Valley Snow Scene

    Gates of the Valley on a Winter Morning
    ••• Gates of the Valley on a Winter Morning. au_ears/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Winter is an excellent time to photograph this classic view of Yosemite icons. With the other side of the valley deep in shadows, this photo contrasts the warm, sunlit face of Half Dome with the cool, blue shadows along the river.

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  • 05 of 08

    Half Dome Reflections

    Reflection of Half Dome in the Merced River, Yosemite in Winter
    ••• Reflection of Half Dome in the Merced River, Yosemite in Winter. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Its granite sides are too steep and smooth for the snow to stick to its surface, but Half Dome puts in a snowy, reflected appearance in the river.

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  • 06 of 08

    Frozen Yosemite Falls

    Yosemite Falls Frozen Solid
    ••• Yosemite Falls Frozen Solid. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    If you get up early on a cold morning, you may see Yosemite Falls frozen solid on a winter morning.

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  • 07 of 08

    Mariposa Grove in the Snow

    Yosemite's Mariposa Grove in Winter
    ••• Yosemite's Mariposa Grove in Winter. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    The Mariposa Grove is a great place to walk among the redwoods any time of year, but if you can see them in the snow, you'll never forget it. 

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  • 08 of 08

    Horsetail Fall Firefall

    Firefall on Horsetall Falls, Yosemite
    ••• Firefall on Horsetall Falls, Yosemite. Brian Hawkins/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    During the last two weeks of February when there's enough water, Horsetail Falls glows like it's on fire, backlit by the setting sun.

    The rare phenomenon doesn't happen every year, but when it does, the best place to photograph it is a small meadow between Yosemite Lodge and El Capitan. It's easy to find; just look for a lot of cars parked along the road. Get all the angles on it at the Yosemite website.

    Don't confuse this natural effect with the now-discontinued summertime ritual of dropping burning embers from Glacier Point, letting them fall down a cliff to the valley.