Summer might be peak season for catching Yosemite Valley in full bloom, but winter here has its perks, with far less crowded trails and enchanting snowy vistas. Our pick of the best winter hikes in Yosemite will have you pulling out your cold-weather layers and wrapping up warm to check out these world-famous trails at their most peaceful.
Though Yosemite National Park is open 365 days a year, weather permitting, some areas are off limits to hikers come the winter months. The winding Tioga Road is closed altogether in winter since it winds up to 10,000ft above sea level and becomes impassable. Meanwhile, Glacier Road which winds up to the incredible vista at Taft Point is closed to cars at five miles in so it can be used by cross country skiers and snowshoers.
Yosemite Valley tends to experience temperate weather throughout the winter, and you can still enjoy some of the trails that are most popular in the summer, only without the hordes of people. It’s also easier to find lodging in Yosemite in the winter than in the summer months. The trails can be snow and ice covered, so we recommend good hiking boots, hiking poles, Yaktrax or Microspikes and lots of warm winter layers so you’re prepared to go and check out these winter hikes in Yosemite.
Make sure you also check out our guide to the best hikes in Yosemite for fair weather hiking in spring, summer and fall.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Distance: 1.2 miles
Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the entire world, tumbling 2,425ft from a tributary of the Merced River over the high walls of Yosemite Valley. The Falls is actually a set of three waterfalls creating a plume of mist that can be seen from vantage points all over the park and in the summer, you might find yourself hiking almost 8 miles roundtrip to catch the rainbows in the upper falls. In the winter, you’ll only be able to hike to the lower falls but don’t be disappointed – these falls are a spectacular final 320ft cascade and will still take your breath away. On below-freezing days, the mist from the falls freezes and then floats downstream which you’ll be able to see in the waters of Yosemite Creek below the falls. Plus, this hike is wheelchair accessible and family and pet friendly.
Distance: 0.5 miles
Bridalveil Falls is a 620ft cascade that is often the first waterfall you see as you drive into Yosemite Valley. The Ahwahnechee tribe believed it to be a spirit protector of the valley and that inhaling the mist from the falls would increase your chances of marriage. The falls themselves form a threadlike, wispy mist that on a breezy day look like a bride’s veil and late winter and early spring are actually the best times to see the falls because the runoff is much higher than in mid-summer. The path to the falls is paved making it an easy but picturesque stop for all-levels in winter.
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
Distance: 2.5 miles
We love this hike in the winter as well as the summer. Tuolumne Grove is home to nearly two dozen giant sequoias, a species of redwoods which are the biggest trees in the world. Tuolumne Grove is at almost 6,000ft above sea level so in the winter, it can be snow covered and there are few experiences more memorable than padding through the deep snow amongst the silent majesty of these mammoth trees. Snowshoes are highly recommended for this peaceful hike in the winter.
Mirror Lake Loop
Distance: 5 miles
Mirror Lake loop is an iconic Yosemite hike that is accessible in winter largely due to it being a less strenuous hike – the first mile is a wide road so it’s easy to walk on even in snowy and icy conditions, though Yaktrax or Microspikes may be helpful. The hike takes you along Tenaya Creek to Mirror Lake which is the last remnant of a glacial lake that once filled the entire valley. It sits in Tenaya Canyon between North Dome and Half Dome and offers near-perfect reflections of the snow-capped surrounding cliffs in winter.
Artist Point Trail
Distance: 2.3 miles
This trail is considered a bit of a hidden gem by locals as it offers a near-identical view to the jaw dropping world-famous Tunnel View but without the crowds. It is so-named because for a time it was believed to have served as the inspiration for a drawing by Thomas Ayres which was published in California Magazine in 1856, however critics later came to the conclusion the drawing must have been done somewhere else nearby. By taking a short walk to Artist Point, you’ll enjoy tranquil vistas of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Bridalveil Meadow, Royal Arches and the Merced River, all frosty and glistening in the low winter light. Simply drive to Tunnel View and start hiking the Pohono Trail, then turn left after half a mile, where the trail intersects the old stagecoach road into Yosemite Valley.
Valley Loop Trail
Distance: 5.8 miles
Finally, the Valley Loop Trail offers a level trail along the valley floor that takes in many of the great sights of the park on a level trail that is accessible in most conditions. The entire trail is up to 20 miles long but you can access it from points all over the valley and make it as long or short as you like. The trail follows many of the old wagon roads established by early settlers in the valley taking you across snow meadows, along the banks of the icy Merced and under the hulking presence of El Capitan. In winter the trail may be covered in snow and ice so grips and hiking poles are advised.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.
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