Yosemite National Park has some of the most beautiful cross-country skiing trails anywhere. Experience skiing in a variety of environments, from silent snow blanketed forest to trails with outstanding panorama views of the Sierra Nevada’s and many famous Yosemite landmarks.
A truly unique ski experience can be found only 30 minutes from the Peregrine Lodge at the Tuolumne Grove of big trees.
We are dwarfed by Earth’s most massive tree. The giant sequoia fills Yosemite visitors with awe and astonishment. It’s hard to believe that a living thing can be so immense. For me, standing next to one of these trees, a sense of time and age overcomes the senses.
The sequoia towers above all other trees around it rising like cathedral spires in the surrounding forest. More then any other kind of forest, skiing in a sequoia grove is like skiing in a sacred place, filling a person with a sense of respect, wonder, and humility. Like a church, monastery, a native american smoke house or any other place we go to find enlightenment, sequoia groves are a place to find something more than ones self.
The ski trail is accually an old highway toll road that used to run from the North entrance long before Yosemite was a National Park. With enough snow you can actually ski from the North entrance up to the grove.
When starting at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead the trail enters the forest and descends to the big trees. As this was an old highway the trail is a pretty easy grade, but it is an out and back, meaning down and up to return to the parking lot.
The trail winds down through a forest of mostly pine mixed with some cedar, oak, and other deciduous trees. You will occasionally see a view of the distant mountains here and there along the way as it winds down toward the grove.
There are lots of animal tracks along the trail and you may even get lucky enough in March and April to see some of the first bear tracks in the park as the Yosemite black bears come out of hybernation.
Skiing the Crane Flat area, Tuolumne Grove, and the highway 120 is a wonderful and beautiful experience that is far less crowded then the Badger Pass Ski Area off of the Glacier Point road. Of course there are no facilities such as cafeteria, flushing toilets, or rentals as with Badger Pass Ski Area. But if you have your own gear, and enjoy a relatively crowd free experience that you will not want to miss this ski.
Inside Yosemite National Park this grove is located on the Tioga Road, (highway 120) just east of Crane Flat. You will find the parking lot on the left side of the road just before the NatureBridge Facilities. Highway 120 is closed just past this point for the winter and is only open for ski and snow shoe travel.
From the Peregrine Lodge at 6,200 ft, you will travel down to the valley at 4000 ft, and cross over to the Northside drive. Travel out of the park and turn right at 120 to ascend back to 6,200 ft. At Crane Flat turn just after the gas station in highway 120. Continue to the trail head parking on the right about 1 mile before the 120 is closed.
The parking lot is small and when there is a lot of snow parking is limited on the highway. The park does not allow parking in many places along the road due to snow removal. Many pull outs along the highway available for parking in the summer are covered in snow during the winter. So be sure to get there early for a parking space. The lot is plowed by the park service, and the bathrooms are maintained during the winter.
If the parking lot is full try parking at the end of the road where the gate is closed for the winter. There is space for a few vehicles. Excellent skiing and snow shoe opportunities abound along highway 120. This highway is not groomed like the Glacier Point road out of the Badger Pass Ski Area, but the road is normally divided between ski trail and snow show trail. To help a sign with trail etiquette is posted at the beginning of the highway.
The trailhead is normally raised due to the snow level and you will probably need to climb a snow berm to get to the trail head sign. This is a multi use trail and you will find both cross country ski and snow show enthusiasts on the trail.
As is the case on all back country trails in the park, the park service encourages two separate paths for skis and snow shoes. On many trails you will find signs posted reminding visitors of this trail use etiquette.
After enough use on the snow shoe trail the snow may become packed enough for people to hike it with snow boots. You can try it even with regular boots or shoes but you will not have insulation or waterproofing that will keep your feet warm and healthy.
I recently spoke with visitors from Germany hiking the trial with sneakers. I have to commend them on their go for it attitude. After coming so far I probably would have made the same decision. However, I over heard one of them saying they could not feel their feet anymore. They were young, healthy, motivated and I don't think any toes were lost, but do try and come prepared.
Warning if you try this trail with only shoes or boots do not leave the trail! If you do you may find yourself knee, or even waist deep in the unpacked snow just off the trail.
You can also car shuttle between Hodgdon Meadow and the Tuolumne Trail head at Crane Flat making this a through ski.
I would suggest starting at Tuolumne Trail head at about 6,200 ft and descend to Hodgdon Meadow (at 4,900 ft), near the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120). The Hodgdon Meadow and camp ground are about 45 minutes northwest of Yosemite Valley and adjacent to the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station. There is a camp ground there with facilities.
Wear warm layers so you can thermo regulate.
Always bring along extra food and water in case of emergencies. Keep hydrated, drink lots of water.
Have a good trail map and a compass—not to mention the knowledge of how to use them.
Remember that you’re sharing these trails with other winter recreationist. If you’re snowshoeing, stay out of ski tracks.
The Tuolumne Grove has about two dozen mature giant sequoias. Sequoias are only visible after a one-mile hike with 500 feet of elevation loss. (The one-mile hike back to the parking lot gains 500 feet and is strenuous.) Water is not available in the parking lot; bring drinking water for everyone in your group who will be hiking this trail. The drive takes about 30-40 minutes from the Peregrine Lodge. Remember, parking is limited.