Yosemite’s towering granite peaks, meandering rivers, and stunning frozen waterfalls create the perfect backdrop for winter adventures in the mountains. If you’re planning a trip to this National Park and are looking for all the best things to do in Yosemite in winter, I’ve got you covered!
As a Central California local, I’ve been to Yosemite in every season – but there is something magical about visiting Yosemite in the winter. During the off-season, you can witness the classic Yosemite locations in a whole new aspect covered in a blanket of magical snow.
From snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to ice skating and downhill snowboarding, winter months also bring a lot of new activities to the park that you can’t enjoy in the summer.
In this post, I share 20 of the best things to do in Yosemite in winter so you can find the perfect activities for your trip and have a great time!
Ready to book a hotel for your trip to Yosemite? You’ll find all the top-rated Yosemite winter accommodation options here on Booking.com!
20 Best Things To Do In Yosemite National Park In Winter:
1. Mariposa Grove Of Giant Sequoias
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a unique area in the southern part of Yosemite that is home to over 500 mature Sequoia trees. This is one of my favorite places for hiking year-round, but winter months bring an especially beautiful setting.
To reach Mariposa Grove in winter you will need to walk 2 miles along Mariposa Grove Road each way. Once you arrive at the grove, there are a few trails that you can explore:
- Big Trees Loop Trail – 0.3 miles long (very popular)
- Grizzly Giant Loop Trail – 2 miles long (less popular)
- Mariposa Grove Trail – 7 miles long (strenuous, long day hike)
At the minimum, I recommend bringing microspikes so you don’t fall and injure yourself. We saw many people turn around at the beginning of the trail due to slippery, icy trail conditions.
A few of the most notable attractions that we were able to visit in the winter were the Fallen Monarch tree, Bachelor & Three Graces, Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree which has a hollow, carved-out center.
Read Next: 20 Best Winter Hikes In California
2. Tunnel View
Perched along Wawona Road, Tunnel View is one of the first viewpoints that you can stop by as you enter Yosemite National Park. Tunnel View is a must-see location throughout the year, but winter adds that extra magical touch to this already stunning viewpoint.
Tunnel View offers panoramic views of some of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. The contrast between the rugged granite cliffs set against the white snow will leave you in awe!
Driving Tip: For driving to Yosemite in winter, it’s likely that you will need cable tire chains for your car. The mountain roads that lead into Yosemite are very narrow and windy with steep drop-offs.
Tire chains are crucial for improving traction in snowy conditions and are often required by the law. Read more about Yosemite’s tire chain requirements here.
3. Winter Camping
While some Yosemite campgrounds close during the winter, Upper Pines Campground within Yosemite Valley remains open. On our latest Yosemite trip, we stayed at the Upper Pines Campground in our campervan which was a bucket list experience for us!
Overall, it is very difficult to reserve a campground in Yosemite during the warmer seasons. The colder months bring fewer visitors and less competition for booking Yosemite campgrounds, especially during the week.
Camping Tip: It gets extremely cold in Yosemite during the night. We installed this air heater in our campervan before our trip to stay warm through the night. If that’s not an option, bring lots of clothing layers, blankets, and a sleeping bag to stay cozy.
4. The Ahwahnee Hotel
If winter camping is not for you, there are several hotels within Yosemite Valley that stay open year-round. The Ahwahnee is a luxurious 4-star hotel nestled in a quiet part of the valley with beautiful granite peaks all around.
Built-in 1926 with grand architecture to attract wealthy park patrons, this hotel has been since declared a National Historic Landmark. The Ahwahnee’s excellent location offers guests a front-row seat to the park’s winter transformation, turning every window into a living postcard with winter wonderland scenery.
During your stay, you can enjoy a heated outdoor swimming pool, grab drinks at the bar, and unwind in the inviting common spaces. Even if we don’t stay at The Ahwahnee overnight, we like to come here to enjoy a meal and walk around the hotel grounds.
5. Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is one of the most iconic places to visit in Yosemite during winter. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the United States and consists of three tiers that can be seen throughout the park.
For the best views of the waterfall, I recommend heading on a short 0.5-mile walk from the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead to the base of the Lower Yosemite Falls. Here you can observe and marvel at this towering waterfall from a designated viewing platform.
As the waterfall flow slows down towards the winter months, you can see parts of the waterfall freeze creating a unique backdrop for photography. When the snow starts to melt towards the spring months, the waterfall will return to its full flow.
Photography Tip: I personally use the Sony a7c camera for my travel photos. This is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera available on the market – perfect for traveling, hiking, and road trips!
6. Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake is one of the best winter hikes in Yosemite that stays open year-round. While Mirror Lake is a seasonal pool within Tenaya Creek that dries out by the fall, in winter it regains some of the water level creating those picture-perfect reflections that it’s famous for.
To reach Mirror Lake in the winter, you can follow the paved 1-mile-long service road that leads directly to the lake. Depending on winter conditions, I recommend wearing microspikes to avoid slipping on the icy road.
Once you reach Mirror Lake, you can walk around the lakeshore, enjoy views of Half Dome, and read information signs about the history of this region. If you’re looking for a bit more challenge, you can continue along the 5-mile-long Mirror Lake Loop, but come prepared for snowy conditions and very few people.
Hiking Tip: Before heading out on any day hikes, I like to download an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app. This way I always have access to the trail map, even if I lose reception or get lost.
7. Badger Pass Ski Area
Badger Pass Ski Area is a wonderful place to head for some winter fun in Yosemite National Park. Here you can enjoy a variety of winter activities from downhill skiing and snowboarding to backcountry snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails.
Badger Pass Ski Area offers full-day or half-day ski lift tickets that fit different budgets and skill levels. With short and easy runs, this is a great place to come learn skiing for first-timers and families with little kids. There is also an area for snow tubing which is always a fun time for everyone!
8. Yosemite Valley View
Yosemite Valley View is one of my personal favorite viewpoints in the entire park. With snow-draped trees, towering granite cliffs, and views of the meandering Merced River, Yosemite Valley View is the ideal location for photography and nature enthusiasts.
When visiting Yosemite in winter, be sure to stop by this viewpoint on your way out of the park. There is a small visitor parking lot along Northside Drive where you can pull over to park your car and enjoy the views.
9. Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is a scenic hike that travels through the Yosemite Valley floor. Although the trail is officially 20 miles long, I usually like to hike shorter sections of it at a time.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is mostly flat and offers excellent vantage points of Yosemite’s most notable attractions including Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley Chapel amongst others.
This trail stays open year-round but sections do require microspikes and snowshoes the further you go away from the popular visitor areas. You can start the hike in Curry Village, Yosemite Village, or Yosemite Lodge, whichever location you decide to stay or park your car.
Looking to rent a car for your trip to Yosemite? I recommend and personally use Discover Cars on my trips because they offer the best pricing and free cancellation up to 48 hours before your pickup.
10. Snowshoe To Dewey Point
In the winter, many of the park’s popular trails turn into beautiful winter landscapes that can be accessed by snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Whether you are experienced at snowshoeing or never tried it before, Dewey Point Trail promises an unforgettable adventure!
The Dewey Point Snowshoe Trail is 7.5 miles long round trip. While this is a longer day trek, it is doable with an early head start. Just keep in mind that in winter the daylight hours are much shorter, especially in the mountains.
The route starts at Badger Pass Ski Area where you can rent snowshoes if you don’t have your own set. To reach Badger Pass, you can drive up there yourself with tire snow chains or take a Badger Pass shuttle from Yosemite Valley.
11. Sentinel Bridge
If you enjoy photography, you’ll want to stop by Sentinel Bridge to capture the iconic views of Half Dome framed by the meandering Merced River. The snow-capped peaks of Half Dome reflected in the mirror-like river create a breathtaking setting that is any photographer’s dream!
I love to stop by the Sentinel Bridge during the golden hour just before sunset. While there might be more people competing for the best photography spots, golden hour creates better lighting, colors, and less harsh shadows for photography.
Photography Tip: For photographing Sentinel Bridge, I like to use the Manfrotto carbon fiber travel tripod. A tripod will help you capture a clear shot, especially when using a long exposure setting around sunset.
12. Stay In a Cozy Vacation Rental
One of the best parts about visiting mountain destinations is staying in a cozy vacation home. Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway for two or a fun trip with family and friends, there are plenty of charming rentals to choose from near Yosemite National Park!
Boho Chic Oasis By Casa Oso is a recently renovated vacation home close to Yosemite where you can enjoy a relaxing stay surrounded by pristine nature. The home features luxurious amenities including an outdoor pool, hot tub, an outdoor fireplace, and a spacious deck for enjoying mountain views.
The home can sleep up to 8 guests so it’s the perfect place to stay for a family vacation or a friend’s trip. Yosemite South Entrance is just 23 miles from this gorgeous vacation home.
13. Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
I love to visit locations like Yosemite in the off-season because it allows you to explore and photograph popular landscapes – without the big summer crowds!
Cathedral Beach is a scenic picnic area in Yosemite National Park that provides breathtaking views of the iconic El Capitan granite formation and the Merced River. The sheer El Capital rock face rises dramatically above Yosemite Valley creating a captivating scenery.
14. Curry Village Ice Rink
If you’re looking for unique activities to do in Yosemite in the winter months, head over to Curry Village to strap on ice skates and glide across the Curry Village Ice Skating Rink. This seasonal outdoor ice-skating rink has been operational since 1928 offering fun for the entire family!
Ice skating at this location costs $16 for adults and $15 for kids under 12. If you don’t have your own skates, you can rent a pair for just $5.25.
15. Go On a Scenic Drive In Yosemite Valley
If hiking in freezing conditions does not sound like fun to you, opt to go for a scenic drive through Yosemite Valley instead! That way you can enjoy all the same scenery – from the comfort of your car with the heater blasting.
It takes about an hour to drive the entire Yosemite Valley Loop route in winter by following Southside Drive to Northside Drive. There are plenty of viewpoints along the way where you can pull over and jump out of the car to snap a few quick photos.
When driving in Yosemite in winter be sure to bring cable tire chains and navigate the roads slowly and carefully. While Yosemite Valley roads stay open year-round, other areas like Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road do close for the winter season.
16. Cook’s Meadow Loop
If you’re wondering what to do in Yosemite in winter, head on a scenic hike along Cook’s Meadow Loop! This trail is only 1 mile long and is doable for all skill levels (plus it allows dogs on leash).
Cook’s Meadow Loop stays open year-round and is the perfect location for enjoying beautiful views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the surrounding meadows that are blanketed under a layer of snow during the winter months.
17. Yosemite Valley Chapel
Situated along Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley Chapel is another iconic location to visit in Yosemite year-round. Surrounded by snow-draped trees, this small yet charming chapel offers a picturesque backdrop for photography.
Yosemite Valley Chapel is still an active chapel and offers services including a Christmas Eve Service. If you’re here just for the views, there is a small parking lot where you can pull over and marvel at one of the oldest structures built in Yosemite.
18. Bridalveil Fall
Along with Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls is another popular waterfall to visit in Yosemite Valley. Located just off Southside Drive, you can stop by and marvel at this towering beauty any time of the year!
For better views, you can also head on a quick 0.5-mile walk along Bridalveil Fall Trail to the base of the waterfall. This offers a better vantage point to see the year-round waterfall plunge down a 620-foot-tall granite cliff.
19. Horsetail Fall Firefall
If you’re looking for things to do in Yosemite in February, seeing Horsetail Falls is a must! This unique natural phenomenon happens only mid to end of February when the evening sun casts a fiery glow upon Horsetail Fall creating the illusion that the waterfall is set on fire.
During this time period, photographers and nature enthusiasts flock to Yosemite to capture the elusive Firefall. In order to manage the visitor crowds, entrance reservations are required on the weekends from the middle to the end of February.
20. The Ansel Adams Gallery
Situated next to Yosemite Valley Welcome Center, Ansel Adams Gallery is a great place to warm up in between snow activities. Here you can enjoy various exhibits by the famous Yosemite photographer and get some inspiration for your own winter photography.
To celebrate the winter season, The Ansel Adams Gallery often features winter prints, showcasing some of Ansel Adam’s most captivating shots taken during the colder months. The gallery frequently hosts educational programs and workshops allowing visitors to gain insights into the artistry behind the lens.
The gallery is open seven days a week throughout the year, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Map Of Things To Do In Yosemite In Winter:
Map Tip: Click on each location to see more details!
Snow-capped granite mountains, frozen waterfalls, and crowdless trails are just a few of the best parts about traveling to Yosemite in winter.
Winter in Yosemite requires a bit more preparation, but the rewards of seeing the landscapes transform into a magical winter wonderland are so well worth it!
Looking for more California travel inspiration? Here are a few other popular posts that you may like:
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- Guide To Visiting Yosemite National Park In Fall
- California Winter Packing List (By a Local)
- 15 Fun Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes In Winter
- 16 Amazing Places To See Big Trees In California
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