And now for the good news, most of the higher trails are covered in snow in the winter. The passes are closed until spring and vehicles cannot travel over Tioga Pass to the other side of the Sierra Nevada’s. Yosemite is snowy and cold, and the roads are covered in snow and ice presenting a challenging driving environment for park visitors.
If you love being in the snow and not so much being in crowds , then the park is one of the most beautiful and awesome places on earth in winter. You will revel in the ability to experience the trails, paths, and vistas in Yosemite national park with snow. Strap on a pair of cross country skis, telemark skies, or snow shoes for a one of a kind adventure in a winter wonderland.
There are over 90 miles of marked back country trails to explore in the park. Or if your map and compass skills are strong, set off on your own and glide over trees, rocks bushes, obstacles and many other features that would make summer travel impossible.
When snow is on the roads the park service requires that all 2 wheel drive vehicles have snow chains. Even all and four wheel drive vehicles must “carry” chains. However in 30 years of driving in the park in winter I have never been told by a ranger that I must use chains with four wheel drive. Now for being 100%, there was one time when the snow was so deep and the storm so wild I used both chains and four wheel drive inside the park, only once. Got a photo of a Yeti in that storm, unfortunately the image is really blurry.
The winter conditions requires you to not only have good winter driving skills, (some visitors do not), but it also requires you to have some pretty specialized gear. Cold weather clothing, and snow play gear. And as Yosemite is a “wilderness” park it does not hurt to have some knowledge of surviving winter weather travel.
Am I saying it is challenging to come into the park in the winter? Yes! I am. It is very challenging and not for everyone. I will often explain to travelers who call for a winter booking some of the issues involved. I do not want to loose business but even more so, I do not want our guest to get into trouble, not make it to the lodge, or be at risk of injury or death.
Yes Yosemite National Park has the word park in it, but in the sense that it is a wilderness park, not an amusement park. Do not think "Disneyland", when you hear park, Yosemite is not as tame as our southern California park, though I did get a better photo of a Yeti there.
Ok, in truth we have some visitors who come to the park and never leave the lodge, or just go to the valley to see and enjoy the attractions there. You wont need the skill of Indiana Jones, or Grizzly Adams to drink a hot coco in front of the fire. And that is not a bad way to experience a Yosemite winter.
Just keep in mind that in our community of Yosemite West the roads are steep, snowy and icy even when plowed. Don’t even think about coming to the Peregrine Lodge without chains on a two wheel drive vehicle, you wont make it up the last hill to our lodge. If you do make it you very well may not get out again without chains. So consider purchasing chains part of the expense of visiting the park in the winter.
If the storm is big enough and the snow level low enough you may even get stopped by the California Highway Patrol before you get to the park gates for not having chains. You will be turned around. Your only option will be to find chains for your car in the small towns around Yosemite, good luck with that one.
So in a word, be prepared. If you need chains get them before you leave home. Put them on your car in the comfort of your driveway and make sure they fit and you know how to use them.
Some chains will have your tire size listed and when you stop to put them on by the roadside in that puddle of frozen slush with the snow blowing into your eyes and frozen numb fingers trying desperately to feel the chain behind the tire where you cannot see it, surprise! they will not fit. It happens, all too often, and no the universe does not hate you, you just did not follow my advice.
And lastly here is a tidbit of information regarding chains. If you get stuck in the park without chains the park service will call a tow truck to tow your car "out" of the park, you will have a very expensive tow, and a big fat ticket from the rangers.
Now with all that being said I hasten to make the point that there is no more wonderful, beautiful, austere, amazing, and captivating place on earth then Yosemite National Park in the winter.
If you like winter sports this is the place for you. We are just over 6000 feet and get more snow then the Yosemite Valley.
We have a lot of guests who come ready and prepared for the snow and conditions they will have. We tend to attract the kind of people who are knowledgeable, seasoned, equipped, and desiring to challenge themselves and their skills.
Conversely we also attract a fair number of guests who really just want to watch the lovely snowy vistas and landscapes, appreciate cozy comfort in front of a fire and revel in the relaxation and peace to be found here. That is why our tag line is "Encouraging outdoor adventure, and defining relaxation".
I like to think we can offer both sets of people what they want. Ok not ready to climb Half Dome in a winter storm?, no problem. No matter who you are, with a good storm you can also sled down the street by our lodge, cross country ski, or snow shoe right from our driveway to our local trails, and of course try your hand at building a snow man.
There is an outdoor ice skating ring at Half Dome Village and when it does snow there are opportunities to snow shoe, or cross country ski in meadows and along the trails.
For other winter actives we have Badger Pass Ski Area, a charming downhill ski resort just 20 minutes from our lodge inside the park along Glacier Point road. You can rent snow shoes, snow tubes (sleds are not allowed on ski slopes), cross country skis, and down hill skis.
From Badger Pass Ski Area out to the end of Glacier Point the park closes the road and sets up groomed cross country ski trials. There is no charge for parking, or bringing your own gear and getting on the trail. The snow base on the road can be more then 10 feet in some areas. Mostly you can just see the tippy tops of road signs poking out on the side of the road.
You can also go cross country skiing at Crain Flat inside the park. The area is located off the 120 about a 30 minute drive from the lodge.
The Yosemite Winter Club, cross country ski section also leads trans-sierra ski trips from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley each year. Go to http://yosemitewinterclub.com/cross-country/ for more information. They also organize and lead other ski trips in the park.
Of course when all the adventuring and playing is done there is nothing more relaxing then spending time in our lodge in front of the fire watching the snow and drinking your favorite beverage.
You can also visit the wonderful and charming old historic hotels in the park. Eat a fine meal, spend time in the cozy bars, or enjoy the grand rooms in front of a roaring fire, sipping a drink, people watching, playing games, or just reading.
The Majestic Hotel in the valley, or the Big Trees hotel in Wawona are an experience you will not want to miss. Both of these hotels are about 25 minutes from our lodge.
I am available and on site during snow storms to clear the snow in our driveway and from around the cars so our guests can get out and enjoy the park.
I am also available for any emergencies our guests may experience during their stay. If I cannot be here I have a local person who can respond.
And of course I've been coming to the park for decades, have cross country skied, snow shoed and snow camped in the back country. So if you need advice or a good story while you are here just ask, I love to share stories and hear them.