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Winter Getaway: Yosemite National Park

December 06, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Whether coated in white snow or shrouded in stark winter gray, Yosemite National Park takes on a serene identity from December through February. Without summer crowds or hot sun, the park is prime for skiing, skating and quiet hikes to majestic sequoia trees—weather permitting. Suit up in waterproof attire, equip your car tires for icy conditions and prepare to be awestruck by the winter scene at Yosemite.

Yosemite’s Winter Chill

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Approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island, Yosemite National Park stretches more than 1,000 square miles, with 800 miles of hiking trails, according to Travel Channel writer Emma Fox. In the wintertime, the park’s “secret season,” temperatures often remain comfortably mild and hotel rooms are easier to find, writes Fox. Wildlife is also easier to see among the barren trees—look out for coyotes and bears. Travel Channel also spotlights “10 reasons to love Yosemite in the winter,” including photography walks led by the Ansel Adams Gallery, and weekend culinary festivals at the renowned Ahwahnee Hotel.

Sunset magazine writer Peter Fish also enjoyed a stay at the Ahwahnee, where he and his family played a game of fireside Scrabble. Fish, whose son was 9 years old at the time of their visit, offers ideas for visiting Yosemite with kids, such as snow tubing at Badger Pass, and grilling s’mores at the fire pit near the ice rink. Fish also suggests listening for crashing ice at Yosemite Falls, which typically occurs “an hour or two after sunrise.” But just seeing Yosemite in the wintertime might be enough, as the season presents “[t]he chance to see it new,” Fish writes.

Winter Sports at Yosemite

Outdoor adventure Web site Gorp gives a detailed rundown of Yosemite skiing opportunities, including daytime skiing at Glacier Point and among the massive sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove; overnight ski trips to backcountry trails at Tuolumne Meadows; and downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Badger Pass.

Curry Village Ice Rink
is another favorite visitor attraction at Yosemite, offering dramatic views of huge surrounding rock walls that seem to “stretch forever into the winter sky,” according to Guy Keeler of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The rink was built in the 1960s, and sits near Glacier Point on the Yosemite Valley’s “shady and cooler south side,” which receives most of its sun in the early morning hours.

For hikers, winter is an especially challenging season at Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, home to enormous sequoia trees. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the Mariposa Grove Road is usually closed off to cars from November to April, but hikers can reach the trail by trekking up the two-mile road.

Yosemite Hikes
gives a “regional breakdown” of hiking spots in the area, including Southern Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. Don’t miss The Grizzly Giant, whose measurements are almost unimaginable— the base of the tree is 30 feet in diameter. The Grizzly is estimated to be 2,700 years old; “more than 50 billion people have been born and died” during its lifespan, according to Yosemite Hikes.

Yosemite Practicalities

Get ideas for places to stay at Yosemite National Park from a thread of Ask MetaFilter, which also includes suggestions from travelers on Yosemite restaurants and activities, and provides driving directions.

Another accommodation option for only the most adventurous of skiers is the Ostrander Ski Hut, a backcountry cabin on the Yosemite grounds, nine miles from a road. The hut is “distinctly unmodern,” writes Mark Suneen of The New York Times, with “no telephone or running water.” The hut is open only from December to April, and The New York Times provides contact information for interested travelers. Be aware that the Yosemite Association “strongly recommends” that skiers be “at least intermediate level” to “attempt to ski to the hut.”

Visual Yosemite

National Geographic Adventure named Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley one of the most beautiful places of 2008. View a stunning photograph of the falls on the Adventure Web site.

The Yosemite Blog has a photo of the day feature that showcases the park’s finest visual features.
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