Yosemite: A magical winter destination This undated image provided by the National Park Service shows Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park in California in winter. (NPS Photo via AP/Kristal Leonard/Yosemite Hospitality via AP)
Yosemite: A magical winter destination
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Yosemite National Park might not seem like an ideal winter destination, particularly if you're from a part of the country with plenty of road salt and wind chill.

But Yosemite in winter is magical. I discovered this last year on a trip there with my family just after Christmas. There's snowboarding and skiing. You can try both downhill and cross-country. There is also sledding - pick up a plastic saucer at a sporting goods store on the way. You can also ice skate at a rink in the shadow of the famed granite formation known as Half Dome. Park rangers also lead snowshoe walks. They are free with $3 suggested donation.

Many of Yosemite Valley's shops and restaurants remain open. The Majestic Hotel is one of the country's most storied national park lodges. It has holiday decorations and a seven-course dinner with costumed performers called the Bracebridge Dinner. The  hotel is made of wood-and-stone. It was formerly known as the Ahwahnee. It was opened in 1927. It has hosted everyone from Presidents John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama to Queen Elizabeth and Walt Disney.

Winter can also be a time to enjoy the park's scenery without summer's crowds. But the weather can pose challenges as well. Here are some details.


The Scenery

Naturalist John Muir once wrote that Yosemite was "full of God's thoughts."

Driving in, thick forests of snow-dusted pine and fir trees block your view at first of the park's famous granite monoliths towering over Yosemite Valley. But there's nothing like that first glimpse. El Capitan rises 3,600 feet from the valley floor, more than twice the height of the Empire State Building. On the other side of the valley is Half Dome, rising 4,700 feet off the valley floor.

In winter, the options for seeing these landmarks from anywhere other than the valley are limited. Some roads in the park are closed until the snow thaws. The cables that climbers use to ascend Half Dome are also removed for the season.

But there are walking tours led by National Park Service rangers that explain how these huge chunks of granite came to be. They're not just the result of erosion, but were also formed by melting glaciers and forces under the ground that over the millions of years pushed them higher and higher. It's a way to understand the massive forces that formed the earth itself.

Visitors can also follow the footsteps of famed photographer Ansel Adams, who made his home here for a quarter century. You can even snap your own pictures from where Adams stood when he took some of his most iconic photographs. Classes cost about $100 but the Ansel Adams Gallery also offers free camera walks on certain days (tours fill up; reserve ahead).


Getting There

Getting there can be a challenge on roads that are potentially snowy and icy. Car rental places may tell you - as they told me - that snow chains aren't necessary. They are, to be blunt, lying.

"California law says if you are entering a chain control area, you have to carry chains," said Scott Gediman, a park ranger and a public affairs officer in Yosemite. "Everybody needs to have chains, even if you have four-wheel drive."

Rangers don't enjoy checking car trunks for chains and cables but they do it and they will send you out of the park if you don't have them.

The good news is that chains are not that expensive, costing as little as about $40. They can be purchased at any auto supply store nearby. Snow chain technology has improved dramatically, making it far easier to put the chains on than it used to be. But if you still feel like you can't do it, there are services along the road that will put the chains on for you for $30 or so.

Yosemite Valley is about 210 miles from San Francisco. But if the winter drive sounds intimidating, use the YARTS bus service which runs year-round between Yosemite and Merced. That’s a city located about 130 miles from San Francisco.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What makes winter in Yosemite "magical"?
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COMMENTS (13)
  • jaleef-lew
    12/15/2017 - 09:42 a.m.

    Yosemite seems like such an interesting winter vacation spot. I would personally love to go to Yosemite, from what the article has told me about. It seems very beautiful on the outside, and it seems there are many things to do in Yosemite. Maybe i could convince my mom that we should go to Yosemite during Christmas break next year

  • emilyy-lew
    12/15/2017 - 09:46 a.m.

    The snow and lights play a huge part in such a magical place. The way it is hidden behind miles of dark oaks and white snow gives that cozy, home feeling. I hope I get to see the place in person sometime.

  • jackiek-orv
    12/20/2017 - 11:17 a.m.

    it looks pretty i wish i could go there.

  • brycew-orv
    1/16/2018 - 11:24 a.m.

    I would like to go there but it looks cold so I don't know if
    I want to.

  • REINAQ-vms
    1/16/2018 - 06:20 p.m.

    Yosmite sounds like a pretty good place to go on a vacation to.

  • HannahH-dec1
    1/17/2018 - 12:45 p.m.

    It seems like a grand place for families to go and spend time together during the winter season. activities from snowshoe trails to sled riding, so much fun for everybody in the family. The beautiful snow reflecting the sun just adds a bit of spark. Just reading this makes me want to go there just to see the magnificent sights. Everything about it just seems magical.

  • TANAC-vms
    1/18/2018 - 06:30 p.m.

    Yosemite sounds like a place you visit in your dreams I would love to go there

  • DIANAR-vms
    1/18/2018 - 11:39 p.m.

    I would really like to visit this place, it seems so fun to do all of these snow activity’s especially since we live in a desert and never get snow.

  • ryleec-lew
    1/23/2018 - 01:08 p.m.

    I would love to go here during the winter with all the activities.Also The activities would be so fun to do.

  • VanceS-dec
    1/24/2018 - 10:11 a.m.

    Overall after reading this article I think that this place would be a great place to go on vacation during winter. Also I would love to visit this place one day and see it in person. I think it is very cool all the activities you can do while visiting Yosemite. Last, it would be great exercise and a lot of fun and overall this is a great article.

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