12 Stunning Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California in Winter

November 23, 2021


Yosemite in winter is just as beautiful (arguably more) in the winter - and MUCH less crowded. Here's everything you need to plan a trip to Yosemite National Park in winter!

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Freshly fallen snow dusting towering redwoods. A waterfall that looks like lava. A 17th century English feast?? Wait, are we still talking about Yosemite National Park? Yes, y’all: Yosemite in winter is a whole new park! If you’ve only visited Yosemite in the warmer months, prepare to be dazzled, because it’s just as beautiful (arguably more) in the winter. And like, a LOT less crowded.

Visitors who venture to the park between November and April will be treated to stunning views of snow-capped mountains, a fraction of the crowds, and long nights with epic stargazing. 

We tapped Suzie Dundas, a northern California-based travel writer and a frequent Yosemite visitor, to give us the scoop on the best things to do in Yosemite National Park in the winter. Take it away, Suzie!

Yosemite National Park At-a-Glance ✍

Here’s a bite-sized snapshot of everything you need to know to plan your trip!

  • When to Go: Summer is most popular, and most crowded. Visit during fall and winter to see a quieter side of Yosemite!
  • Where to Stay: Rush Creek Lodge is our recommendation for where to stay near Yosemite National Park, just minutes from the Big Oak Flat entrance.
  • How to Get Around: You can get to and around Yosemite on public transit, but we recommend having your own car in the winter, bring chains). Use Kayak to snag rental car deals.
  • Top 3 Highlights: When it’s warm, watching the sunset at Glacier Point, hiking around the perimeter of Yosemite Valley, and taking a dip in Mirror Lake – this guide has more. When it’s snowy, ice skating in Curry Village, snow shoeing, and the Bracebridge dinner – visit our Yosemite in winter guide for more.This tour is an excellent introduction to Yosemite, and this tour hits all the major landmarks and departs from El Portal or Oakhurst.
  • Before You Go: Book your accommodation well in advance – our where to stay in Yosemite guide will help. We also recommend picking up a Annual Parks Pass. And if you’re low-key morbid, read this book on Deaths in Yosemite to know what NOT to do during your trip!

Psst: Exploring Northern California? We have a ton of travel guides for our home! Browse them all or take a look at these guides to destinations in the Sierra Nevada mountains:

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Need some help packing for your trip? Sign up below and we’ll send a printable winter packing list straight to your inbox, plus our favorite travel tips to help you plan your next adventure.

Printable Winter Packing List

This FREE 3-page printable packing list will help make sure you don’t forget anything for your next winter trip. We’ll also send you our favorite travel tips!

Yosemite National Park in the Winter
Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park is perhaps even more striking during a winter whiteout!

Yosemite National Park winter FAQs

Thinking about visiting Yosemite National Park in the winter? Here’s what you need to know before planning your off-season trip.

When is winter in Yosemite National Park?

Snow in the upper areas of the park (like Tuolumne Meadows) usually starts around October and can last into June, shutting off the thru-roads in the park and dusting the surrounding peaks in glistening snow. But at lower elevation, winter doesn’t really hit the Valley Floor around early December. Snow in the Valley is possible through April, though big storms aren’t a daily occurrence.

The average temperature in Yosemite in the winter ranges from highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s. This means on a sunny day out it can actually feel quite warm, but once the sun goes down it can get downright nippy – bring warm layers!

Though the upper peaks of Yosemite are pushing 9,000 feet in elevation, Yosemite Valley – which stays open year-round – sits at a reasonably low 4,000 feet above sea level. So while it does snow and snow flurry in the Valley here and there, it doesn’t usually get the crazy blizzards associated with higher elevation areas of the park like Tioga Pass. And if it’s sunny, you may find valley floor temperatures in the 50s F, making it ideal weather for off-season hiking. 

How do I get to Yosemite National Park in the winter?

Yosemite isn’t hard to reach – as long as you have a car, and depending on the season (and the amount of snow in the Sierra Nevadas). Yosemite is about 3 hours east of San Francisco and about 4.5 hours north of Los Angeles by car – assuming you don’t hit any traffic.

One important thing to note when driving to Yosemite is to bring snow chains for your car tires (unless you have all-wheel drive): they are frequently required when driving in the Sierras in the winter! Check the road conditions page before you start driving to find out.

Yosemite has four primary entrances. If you’re coming from San Francisco, the Big Oak Flat entrance will be the closest. Visitors coming from Los Angeles and Southern California will enter via the Southern entrance.

If you’re coming to Yosemite from the east in the winter, well, think again. Tioga Pass Road is the only entrance on the eastern side and it closes all winter, which means you can’t access the park via that route. When it opens and closes is dependent on snowfall, but it’s usually mid-November through May. 

Public transportation isn’t much of an option in the winter. The only public transport into the park is the YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation Shuttle). The only route that runs year-round is the one between Merced and the Valley, and even then, it only runs about three or four times a day in the winter. Fortunately, since winter crowds in the park are much smaller, it’s usually relatively easy to find parking near wherever you’re going. 

Once you’re in the park, the Yosemite Valley free shuttle does operate daily, though it makes fewer stops and runs less frequently.

A snowy road during a snowstorm surrounded by a forest on both sides in Yosemite National Park
When roads are snowy, your car will need chains or cables to enjoy the wintery magic! (Photo Credit)

How do I get around Yosemite National Park in the winter?

Your best bet is to drive – the park is enormous and the roads running through the park are incredibly scenic. And the shuttle systems are infrequent in the winter.

On a non-snowy day, any vehicle should be fine. But if you’re visiting when there’s any chance of snow in the forecast, you’ll need to have an AWD or 4WD vehicle with snow tires and/or tire chains or cables. Many of the small roads around the park are subject to chain control during storms, and to pass by the staffed checkpoints, you’ll need to have snow tires on your AWD vehicle or have chains/cables correctly mounted. Check the California Road Conditions Map (and the forecast, naturally) to see what’s required during your visit. 

Once you’re in the park, the Yosemite Valley free shuttle is the only transportation open. There’s no transportation between the Valley and any other areas of the park. In addition to the Tioga Pass seasonal road closure, Glacier Point Road usually closes around the same time. Other roads in the park are subject to closure due to avalanche risks and heavy snow.

Don’t be afraid to visit in the winter, though. You’ll know in advance what the weather is going to be like and most winter days in the Valley are sunny and in the 40 degrees F. You should be prepared for icy driving conditions and road closures, but they’re precautions, not frequent occurrences. Except for Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road, which are always closed in the winter.

If you don’t have a car or you only have one day in the park, a fantastic option is to take a guided tour from San Fransisco. You can sit back and relax as you’re driven to most of the major sites in one day, including Tunnel View, Tuolumne Grove, and Yosemite Valley, plus lunch and hiking.

You can also choose to visit the park on a guided tour with transportation from Los Angeles. If you’re concerned about transportation, wanting to add Yosemite to an existing California trip, or don’t want to mess with the hassle of planning, these tours are a fantastic option.

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