Visiting the Yosemite region during winter is an unforgettable experience. Meadows, forests, and Sierra Nevada peaks are all covered in powdery blankets of snow, while the valley becomes a winter wonderland.
Although some park roads are closed during winter, there’s still plenty to do. Family-friendly recreation includes ice skating, guided snowshoeing walks, cross-country ski trails, and a small downhill ski area at Badger Pass.
Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, you’ll find more opportunities for winter recreation, including in nearby national parks and at ski resorts around Lake Tahoe and at Mammoth Mountain east of Yosemite. Note that the road over Tioga Pass, which connects Yosemite with the eastern Sierra Nevada, is closed during winter.
When winter arrives in the Yosemite Valley, its legendary beauty is only magnified by snow falling on photogenic granite rock formations such as Half Dome. Some of the valley’s waterfalls flow year-round, including Yosemite Falls, which sports a picturesque ice cone at its base in winter. Between December and April, Horsetail Fall is visible on the valley’s north side – if you visit in late February, the sunset glow makes it appear to be on fire.
Some hiking trails around the valley floor and out to Mirror Lake remain open in winter to both hardy hikers and snowshoers. At Curry Village, an ice-skating rink opens in winter for old-fashioned family fun. Guided sightseeing bus tours around the valley floor are available for those who would rather take it easy.
Generations of families have learned to ski at Yosemite’s beloved Badger Pass, off Glacier Point Road. Take your pick of a small downhill skiing and snowboarding area equipped with chair lifts or a 90-mile network of cross-country ski trails. Friendly instructors and rental equipment are available near the inner-tubing bunny hill for kids. For backcountry enthusiasts, overnight accommodations are available for cross-country skiers at Glacier Point and Ostrander Lake. Free shuttle buses connect the Yosemite Valley with Badger Pass at least twice daily. You can also drive yourself, but only if your car is equipped with snow tires and you bring tire chains.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
More snow play awaits in these twin national parks, a half day’s drive south of Yosemite. Closest to Yosemite, the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon offers sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, including rental equipment and ranger-guided walks. Open during winter, weather-permitting, the Generals Highway leads south through Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest, another great place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing among giant sequoia trees.
The nearby Wolverton area is packed with kids sledding and building snowmen. Expert backcountry skiers can take overnight trips to Pear Lake ski hut. Between the two national parks, Montecito Sequoia Lodge offers family-friendly winter sports of all kinds, including over 30 miles of groomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Rental equipment and ski lessons are also available at the lodge. Kids enjoy the downhill tubing area with a tow rope, as well as the ice-skating rink, snow-biking trails, and dog-sledding trips.