To ring in 2018 this year, we packed our duffle bags and drove to Yosemite National Park! Originally, we wanted to go to Tahoe to snowboard during New Years weekend, but hotel prices were just ridiculous (think at least $100/night for a Days Inn) and all the affordable AirBNBs were already booked. Plus, there were a couple of major events happening that weekend that meant too many people and too much traffic.
Then, I had an “a-ha” moment and thought–what about Yosemite?
Yosemite is a common destination year round, but so many of us have the notion that Yosemite is no fun and absolutely unbearable in the winter. Typically during winter, there is snow which makes skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing possible. Fun alternative, right?
There actually wasn’t any snow for our trip since there had been a month-long dry spell in California. In fact, everyone was pretty concerned that our winter was going to look pretty dry like it did during the drought. Though snowboarding, skiing, and snowshoeing were basically ruled out for us, we ended up having a lot of fun hiking and exploring Yosemite Valley. In fact, the “warmer” than usual weather made it possible for us to really enjoy walking around in nature while breathing in the crisp fresh air.
I wanted to put together a list of winter activities you can enjoy in Yosemite so you can see what they have to offer during a quieter and less crowded time of year. Specifically, I’m going to focus in on the valley since that’s mainly where we were and one of the most popular areas of the park.
Calling this a hike is a bit of an exaggeration since it’s such a short walk from the main road and the parking lot. In fact, you can get a beautiful view from the parking lot itself, but it’s worth the short and slightly uphill trek (again, a bit of an exaggeration) to the rocky base of the falls. Here you’ll see some ambitious and adventurous hikers climbing on rocks to get closer to the falls. Depending on when you go and how much water there has been during the season, Bridalveil will look just like what you think it should look like–a bride’s veil.
Hike to Mirror Lake
The hike to Mirror Lake was well worth the view. The way we saw it, there were two ways to hike to Mirror Lake–one included taking the real trail full of stepping stones and slightly rocky terrain, and the other included walking along the street. The two diverge as you get closer to Mirror Lake, but we ended up taking the real trail which just let us immerse ourselves further into Yosemite’s beauty. Bring a snack and some water, as it’s about a 3 mile hike there. It’s a good idea to give yourself at least 2 hours to walk there and back (unless you are taking the bus) and a half hour to rest and enjoy the beauty of the lake.
The hike to the upper falls is much longer than a visit to the lower falls, so we just walked to the lower falls to the bridge and saw families enjoying the falls and kids climbing all over the rocks. Getting that closeup view of the waterfall was nice and it gave me a good idea of what the height of the full waterfall is like–pretty tall! If you have the time and the energy, you’ll get some fantastic views of the falls and of the valleys if you hike to the upper falls.
I felt like I was walking into a magazine when I stepped foot into this hotel. It’s conveniently located right in the middle of Yosemite Valley and offers hotel guests and other visitors a good bar to grab a drink, an upscale dining experience, and a giant yet cozy lounge you’ll never want to leave. If you plan to have dinner here, make sure to make reservations (you can make them online) and bring the right clothing as there is a dress code and your hiking gear isn’t going to cut it.
A Visit to the Yosemite Valley Chapel
This chapel is too cute to not see in person. Resembling a tiny home, this chapel is in regular use for and has services. Other than that, there’s not too much to do or see here but I had to point it out because I loved it.
Ice Skating in Half Dome Village
Yes, you can ice skate just about anywhere, but can you ice skate in a place with view of Half Dome anywhere? Didn’t think so! It’s a fun winter activity you can do at Yosemite regardless of whether it has snowed or not!
The Ansel Adams Gallery
Paying a visit to this gallery is a must for photography fans. If you have an interest in photography, you can also partake in an Ansel Adams Photography Workshop to help you learn to use your camera better and let you know of the best spots to shoot some of Yosemite’s most popular points of interest.
Skiing & Snowboarding
We obviously didn’t do this one but we had planned on it just in case it did end up snowing magically and opened for the season. This one is a bit self-explanatory, but the Yosemite Ski & Snowboardarea is actually a bit south of Yosemite Village so if you plan to go there, make sure to note its location. You can cross-country ski, snowboard, rent snow tubes, and rent snow shoes. There are also ski and snowboard lessons for first-timers or those who want to improve on their basics before heading down the slopes.
I’m a pretty inexperienced camper, so I was shocked to see people camping in winter! But it was so popular, all of the campsites were full! If you’re open to the idea of camping in the valley which is a cold area due to it’s geography, book a campsite that will let you get close to nature and still stay close to the action.
Check out the events calendar to see what’s being offered at the park! During our stay, we saw a tour of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a photography workshop, a guided hike, and snowshoeing as just a few of the activities and events they were putting on. Plus, other activities that involve food and wine! If we had a longer stay at the park, I would have jumped on the photography workshop.
Other notable spots
At the beginning of the valley loop, you’ll have so many opportunities to take photos of the valley. Be sure to stop here for some breathtaking views. It’ll be the best area to get photos of El Capitan and Half Dome at the same time. Also, some of the bridges have beautiful views. And, all of the meadows are great spots to stop by.
That’s my list! Remember that when traveling in Yosemite, if there is a slight chance of snow, it’s best to have chains for your car. Also, be mindful when planning that some sites might be closed due to weather/construction, and same with roads. Be safe and have fun! There are truly some beautiful sites to see, even if they are topped with some pretty white snow.
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