Off-season Yosemite: Wonderland Awaits

Road Journals Blog—If you haven’t spent much time in California’s Yosemite National Park, please move it to the top of your to-do list. Now.

And if I can make a further suggestion, I recommend planning your visit in the fall, winter, or spring, so you can avoid the crush of summer visitors who come from around the world to admire Half Dome, El Capitan, and other geologic celebrities.

El Capitan, Yosemite, image

Yosemite's El Capitan wears a mantel of snow in winter. | Kenny Karst/DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.

My most recent trip was this past February, courtesy of Tenaya Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel. The snow was light, but we found just enough white stuff for a guided snowshoe hike one day, and then spent another day skiing at Badger Pass Ski Area, an adorable, uncrowded gem, where my 5-year-old son conquered the rope tow, and my husband discovered peaceful cross-country trails.

My family also loved the comforts of the Tenaya Lodge, located two miles from the park’s south entrance. There’s an ice rink, a heated indoor pool, a new spa, and a bouquet of house-made potato chips waiting at every table at Jackalope’s Bar and Grill (one of the lodge’s five restaurants).

On our final morning, we ate pancakes in the grand dining room at the Ahwahnee, gazing out the immense windows at a gentle snowfall. From there, we walked along the Merced River into the woods, savoring the hush and chill of winter and the surprise of feeling completely alone in one of the most visited places on earth.

Do you enjoy visiting Yosemite in the off-season? What do you like to see and do?

This blog post was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.


Yosemite is a very special place. I was lucky enough to go twice within a few months, fall of 2010 & then June of 2011 so I could the waterfalls running full force. Places I had been in 2010 were not accessible due to the huge amount of water. I could appreciate the difference having just been there a few months before. There are not enough adjectives to describe Yosemite. Do put it on your list of must see places & go soon.

Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

A great way to explore Yosemite is by hiring a naturalist-guide through the park's non-profit Yosemite Conservancy. They can show you around, know all the geology, wildlife and John Muir history, etc. Your fee goes to help the park.

Jeff from AAA Travel here. Redbeard, we have a great updated map called "Sierra Nevada-Lake Tahoe & Yosemite Areas." One side features the central Sierra Nevada with Yosemite National Park as the centerpiece. The map shows all routes into the park, with detail of the Tioga Road and an enlargement of Yosemite Valley. Oaklhurst and Bass Lake are prominently featured as well. Check out the other side of the map too: Lake Tahoe is the featured attraction. Any full-service AAA branch in Northern and Central California, Nevada and Utah will have this map in stock. Have a wonderful trip!

We are planning a trip to Bass Lake, which is near Yosemite, in the Spring. I am an avid photographer and plan to run through a couple of memory cards and battery sets while there. I'll be heading down to my local AAA office for some maps or handouts soon to I can mark a few locations to shoot. Hope they have a map of the park.

Ken, I so appreciate and agree with your call for safety. It's very important to read and obey safety signs in our national parks.

Took 4 day-trips to Yosemite last year (2011): late Feb, early June, late June, mid-Oct. I live in Sacramento, so it's not that far for me to enjoy one of Earth's special places. Like the article says, if you haven't been to Yosemite, move it to the top of your list. The waterfalls, especially in early June, were spectacular because of the 200% snowfall received the previous winter. Standing on the Lower Yosemite Falls footbridge was like standing in a gale because of all the water. The spray, wind and roar of the falls were incredible! Bridalveil Fall was gushing, the creek spilling over onto the paved trail to the falls. Late spring is the best time for waterfalls, as that's when snowmelt is usually at its peak. BUT, please be careful, Folks. Yosemite is all about nature and Mother Nature can kill you if you're careless or unprepared. I'm sure most of you heard about all the deaths in Yosemite last year - most due to stupidity. Enjoy all the splendor of Yosemite and BE SAFE.