All American Road Trip: Exploring Yosemite National Park in Winter

When many people think of the grandeur of our public lands and National Parks, images of Yosemite Valley are most often their first thoughts. This is not by happenstance; this park has some of the most jaw-dropping vistas in all of North America. These are the places that inspired John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt and where 12-year-old Ansel Adams took his first photographs. While Inspiration Point, Half Dome, El Capitan and Mariposa Grove draw millions of visitors to Yosemite National Park annually, most of them arrive during the peak summer months. That leaves those in the know a remote and peaceful winter landscape to explore in the colder months.

A winter excursion to Yosemite does require a bit of planning; there are some areas of the park where snow chains or all-wheel-drive vehicles are required. Always check current weather conditions before setting out, and be mindful of changes in the forecast during your time in the park.

Our three-day itinerary takes us to the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite as our base camp for winter adventures in and around the park. Tenaya Lodge offers easy access to Yosemite National Park and the Badger Pass Ski Area, along with plenty of comforts and activities on the property. Guided snowshoe hikes, ice skating and sledding are all available at Tenaya.

DAY 1 – RIDING YOSEMITE SKI AND SNOWBOARD AREA

It is hard, nearly impossible, to arrive without a considerable amount of pent-up energy and excitement; after all, you are embarking on an experience few have and will be able to create instant Instagram credibility as an experienced outdoor adventurer. We recommend hitting the slopes to burn off some of your excess energy and get out and take in the crisp fresh mountain air.

Ski lift in Yosemite National Park. Photo Courtesy of Leonardo59.

The Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, formerly Badger Pass, has been hosting skiers of all skill levels since the 1930s. This is the place where parents take their children to ski for the first time, just as their parents had taken them a generation before. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. There are ten slopes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers. If you’ve always wanted to try cross-country or snowshoeing, this is the perfect place, with more than 90 miles of marked trails and more than 20 miles of machine-groomed trails.

Where to Eat Near Yosemite National Park

As you head back to Tenaya Lodge, we hope you’ve worked up an appetite. Enjoy a delicious dinner at Jackalope’s Bar & Grill for hearty pub fare with flair. Taste the freshness found in each dish, many of which are made with local and organic ingredients. If you enjoy beer, the Tenaya Red IPA is a must-order, brewed exclusively for the lodge by South Gate Brewing Company. You won’t find it anywhere else!

DAY 2 – TOURING YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Begin your adventure exploring the iconic sights inside Yosemite National Park. Driving to and inside the park will take you past spectacular vistas and along some twisty mountain roads; in order to be able to take in all the natural wonders and avoid the stresses of winter driving, take the full-day Yosemite 360 Tours. The guided adventure includes some of the most famous sights in the park. A trail lunch is included, but there are also some snack food options at the gift shop in the valley.

The Yosemite 360 Tours will take you to varying spots around the park, such as the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. You’ll be able to see a collection of wagons, a blacksmith shop, horse barns, and the original Wells Fargo Office. Also found here is the wooden bridge built by Galen Clark in the 1850s. This bridge passes over the stunning Merced River, the only southern access to Yosemite Valley for decades.

The tour passes through the Discovery View tunnel. As you exit the tunnel, you’ll have the entire Yosemite Valley laid out before you, with El Capitan in the foreground and Half Dome in the distance. Potential tour stops also include the 620-foot Bridalveil Fall, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan Meadow. The legendary El Capitan is located across from Bridalveil Fall and towers more than 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.

Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park in the winter. Photo Courtesy of Prayitno Photography.

Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be any more wondrous sites, the tour stops at Valley View. Valley View is the centerpiece of Ansel Adams’s “Gates of the Valley” and brings El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls into one panoramic and photo-worthy view.

Interested in a winter hike in Yosemite? Check the current conditions and trail closures ahead of time.

Where to Eat Near Yosemite National Park

Venture out for a night of wining and dining at Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst. Enjoy a tasting of local, handcrafted wines paired with a weekly rotating menu that changes based on seasonal ingredients.

DAY 3 – SNOWSHOEING MARIPOSA GROVE

For your final day of your Pacific adventure, start with coffee and breakfast from Parkside Deli before one last must-see on any visit to Yosemite, the Giant Sequoias for the Mariposa Grove.

This stand of more than 500 mature Giant Sequoias is the largest by far and the park’s most impressive grove of redwoods. It is difficult not to be awestruck when entering the grove, with some of the trees towering more than 200 feet and trunks spanning more than 50 feet in girth.

Sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove in the winter. Photo Courtesy of Lukas Vejrik.

Fun fact: New York’s iconic Flatiron Building is approximately the same height as the largest Giant Sequoias in the grove. Almost as impressive as their size is their age. The oldest sequoias are estimated to be thousands of years old, making them the oldest living things on earth. They were standing in Mariposa Grove when Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire!

Fortunately, we’re just a few miles from Mariposa Grove from our base at Tenaya Lodge. Even better, there is an exceptionally special way to see these natural wonders—by snowshoe.

One of Tenaya Lodge’s best winter amenities is a daily snowshoe hike through the nearby Sierra National Forest. This tour leaves at 10 a.m. and, over the course of 1.5 miles, will have you trekking through the snow like an expert. This is an unworldly experience as there will be very few visitors. The silence and vastness of the snow-covered grove will transport you.

Yosemite may be even more striking in the winter months as snow caps the peaks, and ice crystals reflect glimmers of sunshine from millions of evergreens and rock outcroppings. These three magical days will leave you yearning to come back spring through fall!

The Great American Road Trip. Photo from our Original Series Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

Read Next: Discover more than 50 Road Trips throughout the United States.

Watch Next: Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

Explore: Visit our partners at Explore Better to book your ideal winter road trip adventure.

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