Yosemite is amazing to visit in winter, but with winter conditions come extra complications. Winter conditions are common from November through March (but can can occur any time).
What weather should I expect?
The average high temperatures in Yosemite Valley are around 50°F (10°C); the average lows are around 30°F (-1°C). Sunny days are not uncommon, but cloudy or foggy conditions with rain or snow are possible.
Snow is sometimes present on the floor of Yosemite Valley and is usually present around 6,000 feet and above.
Will I need tire chains?
Tire chains may be required for all vehicles everywhere in Yosemite and surrounding areas when roads are snowy or icy. Since chain requirements are based on weather and conditions, it's not possible to predict if you'll need tire chains at any given time. Chains are often required on roads both inside and outside of Yosemite from November through March, less often in October and April, and rarely in September or May. The El Portal Road (Highway 140) is lower in elevation and therefore has chain requirements less frequently than other roads entering Yosemite.
Can I drive on Tioga Road?
Tioga Road (the continuation of Highway 120 through the park) is usually closed due to snow from sometime in November until late May or June. During this time, Highways 108 and 4, which cross the Sierra Nevada north of Yosemite, are normally also closed. When the Tioga Road and other Sierra roads are closed, you'll need to use an alternate route to get to and from Yosemite to cross the Sierra Nevada.
How do I travel between Yosemite and Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes, Death Valley, or Las Vegas?
Driving from these places to Yosemite when Tioga Road is closed (about November through late May or June) takes much longer, but is possible.
What areas of Yosemite can I visit?
You can drive to Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Crane Flat, and Hetch Hetchy all year (although, tire chains may be required). Additionally, the Badger Pass Ski Area is open from about mid-December through March.
YARTS provides bus service to Yosemite Valley. During winter, there is no bus service outside of Yosemite Valley, except to Badger Pass. Bus service to or near giant sequoia groves is not available in winter.
Where can I stay?
During winter, four campgrounds remain open in Yosemite: Upper Pines (Yosemite Valley), Camp 4 (Yosemite Valley), Hodgdon Meadow (45 minutes northwest of Yosemite Valley), and Wawona (45 minutes south of Yosemite Valley). Additionally, numerous lodging areas remain open in the park throughout the winter.
Where can I hike?
Where you can hike depends on how weather has been just prior to your visit. While it's not uncommon for hikes along the floor of Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy to be mostly snow free, expect most trails to be snowy and/or icy.
Winter traction devices for your shoes and trekking poles can be very helpful in icy conditions. Even with winter traction devices, hiking on snowy trails can be difficult. In addition to slowing you down, even a little bit of snow can completely obscure trails, requiring you to navigate by GPS (with map and compass as a backup in case of GPS failure). Bring a flashlight/headlamp (with extra batteries) and plenty of water and high-energy food. Wear wool or synthetic clothing, which keep you warm when wet (unlike cotton) and be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Stop by the Valley Visitor Center to check on conditions.
In winter, the consequences of an unplanned night out are more severe, so it is even more important to tell someone responsible where you are going and when you plan to return. Packing an extra jacket and hat, a couple of extra snacks, and a bit more water can turn such a night from a struggle for survival into an unpleasant but survivable experience.
Where can I go backpacking?
From December through April, backpacking in Yosemite nearly always involves snow camping and travel by skis or snowshoes. Even in November and May, if you want to avoid snow, you're likely to be limited to trailheads in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Hetch Hetchy, and, even then, you'll have a difficult time finding multi-night, snow-free trips.
A few marked winter trails are available for skiing or snowshoeing in the Glacier Point Road, Mariposaa Grove, and Crane Flat areas. Skiers and snowshoers traveling elsewhere should be prepared for traveling in avalanche zones.
All backpackers should be competent at route finding, navigating by GPS (with map and compass as a backup in case of GPS failure), and winter camping. Be sure someone (other than a ranger) knows where you plan to go and when you plan to return, so they can notify the park if you're overdue.
What else is there to do in winter?
The Yosemite Museum has an Indian Cultural Exhibit (open all year) and may have additional art exhibits. The Valley Visitor Center has an exhibit hall and two free films (both play every hours). Take a spin around the ice rink at Curry Village. Find more activities and services in the Yosemite Guide. Otherwise, you can take a short walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall or around Cook's Meadow, or out to Mirror Lake.
Last updated: December 6, 2021