Yosemite in winter: it’s beautiful

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It bears repeating: Yosemite in winter is beautiful. This was proved to me again a few weeks ago, when my mum and I made our second annual joint-birthday pilgrimage to Yosemite Valley, where we stayed for five glorious days. We had a lovely time – despite the steady rainfall and the horrible US government shut-down. If you’ve only visited the park in the spring and summer, I highly recommend taking a winter trip to Yosemite this year. If you’ve never been at all, a winter visit would be a great intro to the valley, as there are far fewer people, and most of the landmarks can be admired from the valley floor. But perhaps you don’t believe me? Let me show you how wonderful it is there this time of year …


Winter visits mean winter weather, which means snow at this elevation. If California is having a good winter and the mountains are getting snow, the valley floor will still be mostly snow-free. It’s lovely when the snow reaches the valley floor, but just as lovely when it doesn’t. If a storm passes through, as it did on our visit, there’s likely to be rain down in the valley and snow up in the high country. Although it had snowed in the valley in the days before our visit, most of the valley’s snow had been washed away by rain by the time we left. We found that the north side valley trails were clearer of snow than the south side trails, and that the mid-valley trails by the Merced River were surprisingly smothered in snow and ice. Of course, the further east you went in the valley, the more snow and ice (the valley trends upwards as it narrows in the east) …

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While it can make for treacherous going, the fun thing about snow is that it makes it easy to spot the tracks of permanent valley residents – here my mum and I found the tracks of a coyote and a deer. Mind you, we also saw deer on quieter trails, and even got to watch a coyote hunt in the meadow in front of Yosemite Falls one morning. That was magical!


Winter in Yosemite has fewer distractions, and encourages slowing down to notice things that you might otherwise miss. You’ll have the time to notice bubbles in ice sheets, or wonder at the variegated green of tiny forests of moss and lichen. Winter here means water: water for the falls, ice on the pathways and river; moisture that fattens the moss and lichen, and urges the deciduous trees to start forming plump buds and washes clean the leaves and needles of evergreens. It’s true of nature in general in California – winter is when things start to come back to life after the brutally dry conditions of summer and fall.


This year – thanks to a healthy snow-pack and a dreadful government shut-down, almost all of the trails out of the valley into the high country were closed. We were told by another hiking pair that the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls was still open, but they said that there was FAR too much run-off gushing over the trail to make it safe to hike. But my mum and I didn’t care that the high country was off limits: we kept to the valley floor and had a lovely time of it. In fact, I prefer hiking the valley trails at any time of year, as they are used by fewer people, but still offer INCREDIBLE views of Yosemite’s more famous landmarks. And bonus, peeps: the free Valley floor shuttle system runs year-round*, which means you can drive into Yosemite, park your car, and ignore that car until it’s time for you to return home. At least, that’s the way my mum and I roll …


And while we hiked every day, and often got plenty wet from the rain as we did, we had many little comforts waiting for us in our room, like the ability to brew good, strong coffee every morning, and a deck of cards to play a few vigorous rounds of Go Fish and Crazy Eights at night. When cards weren’t on offer, I brought out my knitting and mum her acrostic puzzles. (Well, I didn’t knit much – I mostly unknit a hat and thought about the error of my knitting ways.)

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We brought our warmest jammies and comfy slippers, of course. That helps a lot, doesn’t it? We stay at the Yosemite Valley Lodge when we visit these days: it’s a happy medium between the luxurious Majestic Hotel (fka The Ahwahnee) and the rustic Half Dome Village (fka Camp Curry / Curry Village).** Rooms at the Lodge have mini fridges, which we filled with goodies from home, and we had a big bag filled with assorted healthy snacks like crackers and oatmeal cups and instant miso soup. Hot water for drinks or instant meals was a snap, as mum brought a giant electric kettle that met our needs nicely. In honor of the occasion, the Mister contributed two small cakes and a little box of choc-choc cookies. Thus provisioned, we didn’t have to wander out for breakfast or lunch, or waste time hunting down decent trail snacks. And while we could have had supper in our room every night, the Lodge does have several decent on-site restaurants to choose from, so we ate out most nights. But really, how heavenly to come back to the room after a day’s hike, cold and wet and happy, and take a hot bath, put on dry clothes, and soothe the soul with a cup of hot tea and a cookie. We travel well, my mum and me.

And that was our week in Yosemite: very lovely all around. I can’t think of much that I would change about the week if I were to do it all over again. Well, I do wish I’d brought a bunch of $20 bills, which I would have handed out to the few rangers we met on the trails and as we left the park. I didn’t think of it in time, but plan to do that the next time I visit an NPS park. Even without idiotic government shutdowns, rangers aren’t paid nearly what they’re worth – worth to the parks and to us, the beneficiaries of our national park system. Hrmph. Well, let me climb down from my soap box, as it’s time for me to wander off and get a few things done. That’s it for this post, but if all goes well I might have a nice little colorwork heart pattern to show to you on Wednesday. We shall see, we shall see! Until next time, my dears, and very fondly – yr little munakins

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My mum said the sweetest thing driving back from Yosemite, as I was attempting to snap a pic of the gloriously green hills we were rolling through: she said that only Californians take pictures of green hills and running water. It’s true, isn’t it? It takes a vicious fire season to make wet winter weather something to cherish…

*Be advised, however, that the shuttle doesn’t run its full route in the winter – for example, it doesn’t loop all the way down to El Cap. And also be advised that the upper loop to Happy Isles and Mirror Lake will be closed if there’s any snow on that road. This can lead to amusing increases of hiking distances if you DON’T check the shuttle status before you start your hike. Ask me how I know this…

**I cannot recommend camping on the valley floor, even though the campgrounds are very nicely managed. There are just too many fellow campers, and I’m afraid that some folks are not particularly nice in their camping manners: my last camping trip to Yosemite featured roaming feral children and dueling truck sound systems. It was all very sad and rather unpleasant. I suspect that camping in the more popular high country camps is much the same, with Bluetooth sound systems replacing the truck sound systems…

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