April 21, 2017
Yosemite has experienced one of its wettest winters ever. Because of this there are copious amounts of snow throughout the park which contrasts significantly with the last 5 years of drought. Snow amounts range from 10 ft + at the higher elevations to 6-7 ft at 6,500 ft. Snowline is roughly 5,500 ft., though snow amounts maybe different in each location due to aspect and topography. With this large amount of snow, snow will linger in Yosemite for many months and well into summer at the higher elevations.
With spring runoff starting, many streams and creeks are at high flow making them challenging or impossible to cross. Steep snow banks on either side of streams and creeks further complicate stream crossings.
With the heavy rain and snow this winter, some trails may have more than usual erosion damage or have experienced mudslides, rockfalls or multiple downed trees. Exercise caution when traveling on trails and turn around if you do not feel comfortable going forward.
Winter travel techniques and skills are a must if you wish to backpack in Yosemite in the next few months. Be prepared for freezing temperatures at night and cold or cool temperatures during the day. Except for the lowest elevations and exposed areas, plan to camp in the snow. Springs storms can come at any time with heavy snowfall, making travel and navigation very difficult. Always be sure to check a current weather forecast before you start your trip and be prepared for a multitude of conditions.
Summer Outlook: Yosemite the most precipitation in recorded history his winter (water year from Oct-Sept). However, the overall 2017 snowpack is only the 4th wettest on record in Yosemite and 176% of average. How can this be? Many of the storms this winter were relatively warm, meaning that while snow fell at the higher elevations it rained at lower elevations where it often times snowed in the past. This bears out in the snowpack with an uneven distribution of snow. The higher elevations, approximately 8,500 ft and above, are about 215% of average and are the highest on record, whereas the lower elevations are only 150% of average. Hence, the overall average of the snowpack is not a record.
It bears repeating, don't let the overall snowpack number average fool you. At elevations at 8,500 ft and above, this year is the highest on record! This Wilderness ranger echoes what the park hydrologist says, that it would be 'overly optimistic' to think about hiking easily in the higher elevations until August.
Spring weather will determine the amount of snow on the trails in July and August. A warm & dry spring will promote snowmelt whereas a cool & wet spring will diminish snowmelt. The chances of a warm, normal or cold spring are roughly equal, meaning a 33% chance for each. To make a significant change in the snowpack, the spring will have be particularly warm and sunny, making it even less likely. Spring weather can be highly variable and with any weather, it is unknown what it will be in the coming months. So far spring has been cooler and wetter than normal, with April already have received more precipitation than normal.
For summer trips, be prepared for a different than usual hiking experience. There will likely be high creek crossings, snow on the trail and you may have to alter your route significantly depending on the conditions. Creek crossings in particular maybe challenging because if the creek is too high there are few options to cross and you may have to turn around.
Ski conditions are listed on the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Conditions page.
Wilderness Permit Reservations
Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center
Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center
Big Oak Flat Information Station
Wawona Visitor Center at Hill's Studio
Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station