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After the hustle and bustle of a summer season in Yosemite, a sense of calm descends across the park in winter. Snowfalls transform the park into a wonderland blanketed in snow. Most visitors only come to the park during the summer high season, which makes winter visits one of the best kept Yosemite secrets – until now. This guide provides the practical advice of how to best prepare for a winter visit. And as always, please recreate responsibly and enjoy your national park!

tl/dr

  • Park is open year round: How weather impacts access
  • Yosemite Winter Club: Join in the winter fun
  • Winter Travel: Let’s talk about tire chains

Park is open year round: how weather impacts access

  • Yosemite National Park is open year round including on all holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Holiday weeks can be busy in the park. In between those rushes, the park tends to be a bit quieter.
  • When planning a visit to Yosemite it is always a good idea to check the current conditions page of Yosemite National Park’s official website for park updates. Moving from top to bottom, the park has assembled critical information:
    A classic Yosemite in Winter scene: looking up the Merced River filled with snow covered rocks at a foggy El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall.

    Snow covered view of Valley View by Patrick Rodden. According to Rodden, “Yosemite has the power to build community and relationships because of its grandeur. It gives us something to talk about, be humble about, be excited about.”

  • The biggest change in access over the winter months occurs when snow closes the high altitude roads: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road. For more information on those closures check out our FAQ: Tioga Road in Winter. Certain weather events can impact other park roads which is why checking the park’s current conditions page is an important trip planning resource.
  • Travel after winter weather can involve rerouting around closures or putting chains on your tires (see below for more info). Yosemite National Park’s roads crew work to ensure that roads are safe for the public.Infographic showing snowline. On the left there is a mountain with a small triangle of snow and text that reads: Here the snowline is 6,000 feet in elevation. On the right the mountain image has a much larger triangle of snow at the top and text that reads Here the snowline is 3,000 in elevation.
  • Understanding weather forecasts for Yosemite Valley and the rest of the park is important when making plans to visit in the winter. When there is winter weather predicted, especially with an advisory or warning, there is a term – snowline – that is often used. Snowline, in relation to weather forecasts, is the predicted elevation of snow fall vs rain fall.
  • For example: If the snowline of a storm is predicted to be at 4,000 feet or lower, then Yosemite Valley will receive snow. Elevations lower than 4,000 feet would expect rain. If the predicted snowline is for 6,000 feet then the Valley walls would be topped with snow and Yosemite Valley would most likely receive rain.

Yosemite Winter Club: Join in the winter fun!

Curious what there will be to do once you get to Yosemite? The short answer is lots.

  • A picture is worth…?
    • Tunnel View is here for you! And have you always dreamed of seeing sunrise at Tunnel View, but couldn’t be bothered to make it there by 5am in June? During the winter months, the later sunrises mean you can “sleep in” and still make it to the vista to see those rays of light cresting over the High Sierra.
    • Throughout Yosemite Valley there are various pullouts along meadows that offer stunning vistas of our favorite landmarks: El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. When stopping to take in the view or snap a few photos, please make sure that you park your vehicle completely off the roadways for everyone’s safety.
  • Hiking, or snow shoeing depending on the year. Many of the park’s trails remain open throughout the year. The Conservancy’s Outdoor Adventures team offers several winter programs every year.
    Group of bundled up adventurers with snow shoes standing in nature for a photo. Lots of smiles and conifers in the Yosemite winter scene.

    Everyone is all smiles on this Conservancy snow shoe walk. Photo by Alexandru Nagy.

    • Groves of giant sequoias: The Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced groves typically remain open throughout the year. If you think sequoias are impressive in the summer, you should try visiting when the trees are blanketed under a fresh coat of snow.
      • The Tuolumne Grove is a great option for a moderate day hike. The 3 mile round trip, moderate hike follows an old logging road down to a small loop.
      • For a more strenuous experience, the Mariposa Grove is a great full day. In the winter the Mariposa Grove Road closes to vehicular traffic. People can hike, snow shoe, or ski the 2 miles up to and then the many miles through the grove.
    • Most of the Yosemite Valley
      • Four Mile Trail closes below Union Point over the winter. After major storms the entire trail may close. When the trail is open, this 6 mi/ 10k round trip provides wonderful views of Yosemite Valley.
      • For a casual or moderate hike try Mirror Lake, Cook’s Meadow, or Lower Yosemite Fall. Each of these hikes offer beautiful views of Yosemite’s icons.
    • Looking for more suggestions? Stop by a ranger information station in Yosemite Valley for personalized recommendations for your visit. No one knows the trails like a Yosemite park ranger.
  • Learn more about Yosemite in the Yosemite Village.
    • The Yosemite Museum is open year round. Staffed by members of park’s Indian Cultural Program, the permanent museum exhibit features basketry and artifacts from the seven associated tribes of Yosemite.
    • The Ansel Adams Gallery is just a few doors down from the Yosemite Museum. There is a rotating gallery as well as a selection of Adams’s classic prints on view.
  • When it snows, everyone heads to Badger Pass Ski Area. Badger Pass has a little something for everyone. Downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross country routes, and snow tubing. Offers change depending on snow and staffing levels. Best to check the website before making any definite plans.
  • Ranger Programs are available year round. The easiest place to check in the current edition of the Yosemite Guide or you can check Yosemite National Park’s online calendar of events.
Winter road through Yosemite. Snow piled up on either side as it curves through a forest.

Snowy winter roads from the winter of 2019. Photo by Christopher Michel.

Winter Travel: Let’s talk about Tire Chains

  • Who: Everyone is required to follow state and federal laws while visiting Yosemite National Park – even if you are driving a rental car. Under certain weather conditions, CalTrans or Yosemite National Park may require tire chains.
    • Pro tip: The YARTS bus is an excellent alternative if you do not want to worry about tire chains. You can pick up the YARTS bus at various locations along the 140 corridor outside of Yosemite National Park throughout the winter months.
  • What: Tire chains are devices that improve your vehicle’s traction. During certain winter conditions (snow and ice) they can be required by state and federal laws to have in your vehicle or on its tires.
    • Tire chains come is a variety of sizes and styles. It’s important that the tire chains fit the tires on your car.
  • Where: Chains can be required on any roadway. It is important as a driver to have the chains in your car ready to go.
  • When: Chain control most typically occurs between November and March but could occur as early as September and as late as May.
  • Why: The use of tire chains helps reduce the number of accidents that occur during winter weather events.