Snow, Mountains, and Waterfalls? YES PLEASE!
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
Winter is right around the corner and typically we all plan to get out of the snowy tundra and escape to the beach. I mean, I don’t blame us! Being cold isn’t exactly the greatest. But last year, I found myself eager to travel and needed a nice change. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Cali weather, but sometimes you gotta switch it up and try something new. So I chose to take on winter in Yosemite.
For my birthday, some friends and I road tripped up to Yosemite National Park to the snow-covered mountains and let me tell you, it was MAGICAL! Mountains are cool, but when they’re blanketed in snowy awesomeness, it’s like you’re on another planet. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Visiting Yosemite in the winter is truly incredible!
However, winter in Yosemite can be tricky and making that decision on whether or not to take on such a trip is difficult.
But fear not!
If you’re curious what winter in Yosemite is like during the snowy season, you’re in the right place. Hopefully, my trip can offer some help and inspire you into making that big decision to visit on of the best national park there is!
Driving to Yosemite
The drive to Yosemite isn’t that long from Los Angeles. It’s only about an 8-9 hour drive with no stops. Around 8 am, we packed up the car, stocked in with a ton of snacks, and headed out.
*Sidenote: if you leave early enough and are driving from Socal, I highly suggest making a pit stop at Sequoia National Park, which is only about a 2-3 hour detour on a slow day*
// Pit Stop in Sequoia //
TREES ON STEROIDS!!!!!
We made a quick detour to Sequoia and boy was it worth it. THE TREES ARE INSANELY HUGE. Like imagine the biggest tree you’ve ever seen, and then double that. As we drove up the mountain, they just got bigger and bigger until we couldn’t even see the tops of them. We all had kinks in our necks from looking up for so long. Our main destination here was to see the biggest tree in the world: the General Sherman Tree. There’s a fun trail that leads you through all the sequoias to get to the Sherman Tree. It’s like walking through a magical kingdom. It really puts into perspective how tiny we really are. We couldn’t even get a single tree to fit into a picture. CRAZY!
Because of our stop at Sequoia, we didn’t end up getting the Yosemite until late, around 10pm. Try to get there before if gets dark because the mountainous drive is hard enough as it is. Plus, the views going up the mountain are to-die-for so take every opportunity to see them!
Make sure to bring tire chains. During the winter, the icy roads can be patchy and you never know when you’ll need them. You can find tire chains at Auto Zone for around $30-$70 on average for a passenger car. If you’re renting, you can always ask your rental company to add them to your reservation. Don’t be like me and wait to learn how to put them on once you’re stopped on the side of a mountain when it’s less than 20* outside.
There are tons of different lodging options at Yosemite ranging from campsites, cabins, and hotels in different areas of the park. We ended up staying at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in Yosemite Valley. During the winter season, a lot of the park is closed due to the hazardous weather.
For first timers, Yosemite Valley is a great location to stay. All the lodging areas are walking distance to a lot of the major sites and hiking trails. From our porch area, we even had a front row view of the Lower Yosemite waterfall which was super cool. Also nearby was a market for food/other basic necessities, a gas station, and even a car repair center for emergencies. It’s like a little village community up in the mountains.
Our room was the perfect size for our small group. The lodge offers wifi, a tv, and all the basic needs for a pretty good price. Sometimes you can even find deals on groupon, so be sure to keep an eye out!
Lodging info and reservations can be made here.
Yosemite Valley Hikes
// Lower Yosemite Falls Hike //
Lower Yosemite Falls is definitely one of the most sought out attractions in Yosemite Valley. Getting there is pretty easy, the path takes you on a nice stroll through the redwoods. Once you’re there, there’s a viewing area that offers great picture taking. I got a little adventurous and climbed up on some rocks for an even cooler pic. This is a GREAT place to start your Yosemite adventures!
For those who are adventurous, you can even hike up the rocks on the left side of the stream to get an up close view of the waterfall. It was an easy climb and totally worth it. The view of the valley once you reach the top is absolutely gorgeous. You’ve got the waterfall streaming on the left, the valley of snowcovered pine trees out in the distance, and the mountains looming in the mist.
At the top of the hike, there’s a little cove you can explore a bit. We hiked this area pretty early so there was still a layer of morning fog lingering, making for incredible pictures. This area took about 2 hours to explore.
// Upper Yosemite Falls Hike //
Right after we fished the lower hike, we took on the Goliath of all hikes, Upper Yosemite. We hiked up for a good 3 hours, through 12+ inches of snow in some areas, and still didn’t even make it to the very top. We made it to the waterfall but had to turn right back around becasue it was getting dark. This hike definitely requires an entire day to complete, if you want to make it to the top. We made several stops along the way to just sit and enjoy the stunning views. I’ve honestly never seen anything more beautiful…
The waterfall itself was incredible, towering nearly 2,500 feet. During winter the falls does this really cool thing where the water freezes as it hits the snow and continually piles up creating what’s called an ice cone. Essentially, it’s a massive bowl of ice that the waterfall falls into to while the mist adds to the cone. It’s a really neat natural phenomenon that is rarely seen.
This hike was extremely exhausting and quite difficult at times. The snow was as deep as my entire legs in some areas and it felt like we would never get to the falls. However, it was 100% worth the amount of time and extraneous effort. The views at the top, and even going up the mountain, is breathtaking. At one point, we realized that we were so high up that we were inside of a cloud. That was the closest I’ve ever felt to an out-of-body experience.
All in all, this hike took about 6 hours. I felt so proud of myself for accomplishing it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I would do it again in a heartbeat. This is the best hike that winter in Yosemite has to offer!
Overall Tips For Winter in Yosemite
As far as the hiking goes, some basic tips might help in your journey to conquer winter in Yosemite. These might be obvious, but for those who are new to the hiking world these simple things might be of importance.
Making my way up the mountains, I realized that water resistant boots are crucial. Most boots seem like they’ll protect you pretty well, but snow is unforgiving…I wore boots that I thought would be solid but didn’t hold up too well. So make sure to find a good pair of boots that will protect you from snow sneaking in.
PORTABLE BATTERY. I don’t know about you, but my phone dies so much more quickly when the weather is cold. It will be at 30% battery life and next thing I know, it’s dead. So keep a battery on hand because no one wants to be stuck on a mountain with a dead phone.
Also, this might seem obvious as well, not only bring plenty of hand warmers but also make sure to bring feet warmers. I knew it was cold but man, my poor little toes couldn’t handle the intense conditions. Of all things, this might just be the most important tip I can offer.
Lastly, make sure to drink lots and lots of water. Like I said, this might sound like common knowledge, but my friend nearly passed out halfway up the mountain because of dehydration. It’s not only during intese heat that one can dehydrate, but also when at higher altitudes, your body needs more water than usual. So stock up on plenty of it.
Unfortunately a lot of the park is closed off during winter so there isn’t a lot to explore. But there were definitely still a couple of other trails and areas that we got see in the valley like Mirror Lake and Tunnel View. Be sure to stop and see the latter on your way out of the park. It’s the perfect farewell site to see as your journey comes to an end.
Over all, winter in Yosemite is a must for all adventure seekers. It was truly one one of the best experiences of my life and I can’t wait to go back!
Leave a comment if you’ve ever been and tell me how your experience was 🙂