Yosemite in the Wintertime is a Worthwhile Trip

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA- There is perhaps no figure more closely associated with the establishment of the National Park Service than John Muir. For those inclined towards forays into the outdoors, “the mountains are calling and I must go” has served as a call to action and an excuse for adventure for generations of Americans.

Half Dome and El Capitan, seen from Tunnel View

Half Dome and El Capitan, seen from Tunnel View


As a traveler with a love for his own country, I had no choice when the granite monoliths of Yosemite proffered themselves to me on a hasty, two-day trip to the Valley during the last week of my time in California with Matt and Rachel. I knew it would be a bit cold, but I had no idea that as soon as we approached Yosemite the terrain would be coated with snow. It was only the middle of November, after all.


The roads were plowed, but it was chilly. Chilly enough that Matt insisted, fortunately, that we upgrade to a heated cabin. Sleeping in twenty-degree weather is never a fun thing to do, even when your sleeping bag is rated for temperatures so low. Ice coated the parking lot, and you needed to tread carefully, taking care not to slip. Gloves were a necessary evil, especially when the sun was down by 5PM.


Yosemite covered in snow was a blessing, undisguised. The crystalline aura that frost casts across the El Capitan make the distinctive formations of the valley seem alive, especially at the golden hour before sunset. The frost in the air—a harbinger of winter—was a cool and refreshing break from the rigors of a city atmosphere, and it also served as a deterrent to others who might have been inclined to visit Yosemite on that chilly weekend. We had the park to ourselves, which, I would imagine, is quite a rarity.


Tunnel View, the iconic location at the head of the valley where the majority of pictures depicting both Half Dome and El Capitan are taken (including the background on your Mac), was virtually empty. We were three of perhaps a dozen revelers that had the pleasure to stand and watch the sun cast a pinkish glow on the valley before us. I’d imagine that this same scene on a weekend in July would be quite a different experience, with little or no room to breathe and enjoy the experience.


The National Park System is meant to preserve the beauty of the great American landscape for all to see, but it’s also a public utility for all citizens to come and commune with nature. I can’t imagine that one would have the pleasure of the same experience were it not winter, with the trees adorned with snow, and the valley sparse with people. Yosemite in winter is a beautiful thing.