With its iconic granite domes and spires etched in snow, and a hushed beauty that’s both intimate and wild, Yosemite National Park makes a magical—and surprisingly accessible—winter getaway. And with crowds a distant summer memory, you can relax and take time to enjoy the snowy finery.
“One of my favorite things about winter in the park is to walk around Yosemite Valley and see all of the families out building snowmen,” says Ashley Meyer, spokesperson for the park. “Some of these folks are experiencing snow for the first time—you can see the excitement in their eyes.”
But it’s by no means all DIY fun at Yosemite in winter. The park offers a full slate of seasonal activities: ranger-led snowshoe walks, special dinners, ice-skating at the valley’s Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), winter photography workshops, and starry night sky events. Go sledding at play areas near the park’s main entrance, or take the family skiing at the park's low-key ski area, near the historic Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) at the park's south entrance.
“You can’t get much more wintry than Yosemite’s Ostrander Ski Hut, a 1941 two-story stone structure nestled in a remote glacial cirque at an elevation of 8,500 feet.”
While some high-country routes do close for the winter (usually November through June or even later in heavy snow years), you can still get to the park—especially Yosemite Valley—on well-maintained roads. If storms do blow in, you might need 4WD or tire chains, so be prepared (check current road conditions here). Another option: Ditch the winter driving entirely and catch the daily Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus from Merced. Once you get to the park, you can expect everything from sunny, 60° F days to blustery winter storms and plunging temperatures, so pack accordingly.
If it gets too chilly for you, head to the Valley’s interpretive center to learn about natural and human history in the region. A small theater regularly shows the short movie Spirit of Yosemite, and exhibits fill the Indian Cultural Museum. Also stop by the Ansel Adams Gallery to see works by one of California’s photographic legends.
Most lodgings in and around the park stay open year-round, with many offering special events and packages. Plan well ahead to join annual Bracebridge Dinners—holiday extravaganzas with music and feasting—at the park’s grand dame hotel, The Majestic Yosemite (formerly Ahwahnee). The Majestic Yosemite also hosts two multi-day events focusing on food and wine: Chefs Holidays and Vintners Holidays. Big Trees Lodge also stays open through winter, and it’s a great place to try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. (Snowshoe and ski rentals and lessons are available at Yosemite Cross-Country Ski School.) And you can’t get much more wintry than Yosemite’s Ostrander Ski Hut, a 1941 two-story stone structure nestled in a remote glacial cirque at elevation 8,500 feet. The hut has basic overnight accommodations and cooking facilities for up to 25 adventurers who don’t balk at the 10-mile cross-country ski or snowshoe tromp from the cross-country ski school to reach the hut. It’s so popular, in fact, that it requires a lottery system for reservations.