How to visit Yosemite in the winter: Travel and adventure advice for visiting Yosemite National Park

I’m nearly a month into my 50K training. One of my favorite forms of cross training is hiking…and Yosemite is my location of choice! Last week (on 12/29/20), hubby and I hiked “Four Mile Trail” starting at the Yosemite Valley floor, taking it all the way up to Glacier Point (here’s a video from our hike – it was DREAMY!). Visiting Yosemite during the winter is definitely different than other seasons, due to weather and our region’s current “stay at home” restrictions.

If you’re planning to visiting Yosemite this winter, here are some important tips to maximize your visit:

  • Day use reservations are no longer required, but there are some new pandemic-related restrictions. Due to the regional stay at home order, the park is only open from 8am to 5pm with no overnight stays permitted. Gates are closed before 8am and you can be ticketed after 5pm. We were planning to enter the park at our usual early hours (we love getting to the trail at sunrise!) but the gates were locked. A line of cars formed at the South Gate, but thankfully we were in the front of the line.

  • Purchase your pass ahead of time to speed things up! Every minute counts, since 5pm comes really quick. Trust me.

  • Crowds are still limited (by Yosemite standards), but you will notice an increase in vehicular traffic, especially on the valley floor during the afternoon hours. We left the trailhead around 3pm and it was really busy, most likely due to the 5pm closure (we all had the same idea – leave before 5pm!).

  • Bring those chains! Even with 4x4 and snow tires, chains can be required at any time. Call the Yosemite hotline ahead of your visit to learn about road conditions and chain requirements: 209-372-0200 (press 1 and then 1 again). We haven’t had to use chains yet this winter, but we have needed them for various “chain checks” within the park.

  • If you’re planning to hike, be prepared! Hit the trail early to maximize your time in the park (and to make the most of daylight). Bring your microspikes and poles if you plan to reach higher elevations. And if you're visiting immediately after a winter storm, consider bringing snowshoes on the trail.

  • As with any mountain adventure, be prepared for anything! Bring extra food, water, and blankets just in case. During our most recent visit, on our way out of the park, we were stopped for 40 minutes due to an accident ahead of us. The perfect time to break out those extra snacks!

  • Be prepared for limited cell phone service. I have AT+T and surprisingly, I have consistent service on the valley floor. But I never rely on my phone, since dead zones are quite prevalent throughout the park.

  • Reminder: Tioga Pass (Hwy 120) and Glacier Point Road are closed for the season, so many of Yosemite's iconic hikes and destinations are inaccessible. Badger Pass is also closed for the season due to COVID-19.

Helpful Resources:

Important park info:

I also recommend following Yosemite on Instagram for helpful tips! And their social media team is super responsive if you have questions:

Call the Yosemite hotline ahead of your visit to learn about road conditions and chain requirements: 209-372-0200 (press 1 and then 1 again).