The main difference between Yosemite in the winter vs Yosemite in the summer is of course the weather. Snow vs sunshine. But there are a few other differences that might hinder your travel plans either way.
Yosemite is famous not only for its gorgeous scenery, but for it’s nature hikes; most of which are strenuous, very steep, and looonggg. With that being said, during winter months, some of these trails are closed down due to snow making them too dangerous to hike. The big one, that is one of the most popular summer time hikes, is Half Dome. Another popular road, Glacier Point Road, which gives you a great, closer -up view of Half Dome, also closes down in the winter because the snow is too hard to plow off the road.
Also, during the summer, you have the option to mountain bike some of the trails. Those are all closed during the winter, but I mean, duh? Who’s going to mountain bike through 3 feet of snow? I’m not sure that’s even possible.
So now let me talk about the AMAZING hikes we did! If you ever visit, I highly recommend stopping by the visitors center to get the lo-down on what’s open, what’s closed, etc. They’ll give you a hiking map/guide with all the trails, distances, approximate length of time to finish, etc, and they’re all grouped on level of difficulty.
Our first day we did the Mirror Lake Meadow; an easy, flat, 5 mile hike that took 2 hours.It was absolutely beautiful. Most of the lake was frozen over but the ice was a unique thing to see. ALSO, we happened to be heading back as it was getting dark, which was the sketchiest thing EVER. Thank God we had flashlights, otherwise we would not have been able to see a thing.
The second day, we made sure to get an early start to see the sunrise from a lookout point called Tunnel View. It was everything a sunset should be, made even better by the snow topped mountains and trees. Then we embarked on the “Upper Yosemite Falls” hike, a 4 hour, 2,700 foot, 7 mile hike THROUGH THE SNOW. If I would have known how crazy this hike was when we started, I’m not sure I would have done it. But having completed it, I’m so glad we did. The trail is steep and you zig-zag your way up the mountain for the entire first hour.
I was so upset because so much time had gone by but I felt like we covered zero distance. We were just going straight up the entire time. Once we got pretty high up, the zig-zags stopped and we would move horizontal for a bit and then straight up once again. I literally fell like 4 times because I would slip in the snow trying to climb up.
The hike is totally worth it though. You end up level with the famous Yosemite Waterfall, overlooking the entire valley. You also walk right across 5 other waterfalls while you’re in route to the “big one.” That’s a pretty unique thing to experience, literally stepping on stones crossing a waterfall, amazing.
Then we made our way to another waterfall, the Bridalveil Fall. This is an easy hike, entirely flat, 1 mile, 20 minute hike. You end up right at the bottom of the waterfall. Another easy one, is the Lower Yosemite Falls hike. Also flat, short, and you end up at the bottom of that waterfall as well.
Below I’ve grouped all of the trails on level of difficulty. The one’s we had a chance to do are starred.
Easy (flat & short hikes)
- *Bridalveil Fall
- *Lower Yosemite Fall
- Cook’s Meadow Loop
- *Mirror Lake Meadow (frozen in winter)
Moderate (flat & long hike)
- Valley Floor Loop
Strenuous (steep & long hikes)
- Four Mile Trail (closed in the winter)
- Panorama Trail (closed in the winter)
- *Upper Yosemite Fall
- Vernal & Nevada Falls
- Half Dome (closed in the winter)
I cannot wait to return to Yosemite, this time I’m hoping to get there once again in the summer months to do some mountain biking! Below I’ve listed some things I learned during/after our snow filled hikes!
Tips for hiking in the snow
- SHOES: Make sure you have some good weather-proof hiking boots! Hiking boots will make sure you have some traction on your feet- especially important when you’re hiking uphill in melting snow. That makes for a very slippery scene. Having weather-proof shoes will ensure that your shoes don’t soak in the water, keeping your feet dry. ( I learned the hard way that weather proof shoes are worth the extra $$$. My feet were soaked at the end of the Upper Falls hike and it was FREEZING.)
- LAYER: Layering is great because before you embark on a hike, you’re freezing (it’s anywhere between 19-34 degrees) but once you really get going, your body warms up and you’ll want to remove some of your heavier layers for the time being.
- GLOVES: Wear gloves!!! Even if your hands aren’t cold, chances are, especially on some of the above mentioned hikes, you’ll touch something that is very, very cold. Like snow if you’re about to face plant as I did, a rock to help stabilize you, a tree to keep you from falling, etc. Gloves saved my hands!
- WATER: Well we were in luck here. We forgot to bring water in our backpack and boy did we need it! Luckily, the mountain was covered in snow, so we did what Bear Grylls would and grabbed some untouched snow from off the trails and used it as water.
That’s all I’ve got for now! Hope you found my descriptions helpful.