What to do in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley, Bridalvail Falls

Yosemite is majestic, romantic, peaceful, and mysterious all at once. The picturesque views, the waterfalls, and the vast views of the Valley are breathtaking. Note: There is a $20 entrance fee to visit the park.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

Getting ready to go snowshoeing

During winter, the best way to explore is by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. I had never been snowshoeing before and have to admit that while the gear was a little awkward at first, I can’t wait to do it again.

In powder snow, I can imagine the experience to feel as if you’re one with nature. In crunchy icy snow, as I was in, it’s rather loud, but well worth the journey to get to places you’d otherwise miss. It’s a workout and can tire your inner and outer thighs but is truly a fun winter activity that all can enjoy at any fitness level or age.

  • There is a variety of snowshoe and cross-country trails at Badger Pass/Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, and Crane Flat area (these areas are usually snowy from mid December through March).
  • The National Park Service offers ranger-led snowshoe walks from mid-December through March (conditions permitting). See Yosemite Guide for a schedule of current programs.
  • Just outside of Yosemite National Park at Tenaya Lodge is another snowshoe trail, but if you can do it in the park, it’s best to do it in the park. That’s why you’re there!

Note: several marked winter trails are available, generally from mid December through March. Yosemite Valley usually doesn’t have sufficient snow for skiing or snowshoeing.

Brochures (including maps) for each of the areas with winter trails can be found here:

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

Snowboarding at Badger Pass

For skiing and snowboarding in Yosemite, there’s one place to go – Badger Pass ski area. The small resort (4 lifts, one of which is the bunny hill) is surprisingly home to the oldest downhill skiing area in California and offers downhill skiing and snowboarding from mid-December through March.

This is a great place to go to learn or improve your skills, but if you’re a serious skier or snowboarder, you probably won’t find it challenging enough as the runs are short, relatively easy and there are few runs to really push boundaries. That said, it’s a beautiful spot and casual skiers and snowboarders will love it.

The day I was there proved to be somewhat challenging however, as the warm temps made for icy, crunchy conditions. In fact, the weather was warm enough to go without a warm ski jacket – I wore a light fleece and was plenty warm!

The first-time snowboarders in the group ended up as most first-timers do – on their derrieres most of the day with black and blue war wounds to show for it later that evening. The saving grace, as my friend said, “at least I can ice my bum right after I fall!”

Something clicked for me at Badger Pass. Icy or not, it was just my second time snowboarding ever (my first time was more than seven years ago!), and after a 2-hour lesson in the morning, I was ready to go. A couple successful runs down the bunny hill and I was on to the blue runs! I was proudly one of the few snowboarders that day who escaped the slopes without a bruise.

Badger Pass Summit

If you go: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite rents downhill and cross-country skis, snowboards, and snowshoes at Badger Pass. DNC also offers skiing and snowboarding lessons at Badger Pass, including group and private lessons for kids. Snowshoes (but not skis) are also available for rent at the Crane Flat store. There is a restaurant that serves basic offerings like cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, and fries. Get a beer at lunch (Blue Moon was my choice) to take the edge off before you head back to the slopes. Keep in mind – don’t expect Deer Valley. Badger Pass is awesome, but it’s small, simple, and understated.

Ice Skating & Sleigh Riding

An outdoor ice skating rink in Yosemite Valley (at Curry Village) is open from mid-November to mid-March. There is also one at the Tenaya Lodge, located about 40 minutes outside the South entrance to the park. There, you can also go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride (or wagon ride if there’s not enough snow).

Laid-back exploring

El Capitan

If a casual adventure is more your style, you can book time with a park ranger to learn about Yosemite or get a broad overview by taking a bus tour.

On the two-hour Valley Floor bus tour ($25 adults, $23 seniors, $13 children), you will be introduced to some of Yosemite’s most famous sightseeing points including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, Bridalveil Falls and more. You will also learn the history, geology, wildlife, and biology of the region. The tour is offered year-round departing from Yosemite Lodge– open-air trams operate from late spring through early fall. From late October through April, you can ride in an enclosed and heated motor coach with large windows.

To be honest, the Valley Floor bus tour is not something I’d recommend unless you like a really slow pace. The bus was full of seniors and there’s a reason why – it’s perfect for seniors. Most who visit Yosemite will have a vehicle of their own, and for the more active explorer, I’d suggest doing your research, getting a map, and planning your own driving tour through the Valley. You can purchase one of several guidebooks that gives you the same info, history, and detail. Plan the route, mark the pages, and read them while there.

In warmer months, the best way to explore Yosemite is by hiking or biking.

Hiking in Yosemite

A few things to remember while hiking:

  • Stay on trails: taking shortcuts causes trail erosion–and is both dangerous and illegal.
  • Carry (and drink) plenty of water: a leading cause of injuries on the trail is dehydration. Be sure to treat river, stream, lake, or spring water.
  • Pets and bicycles are only permitted on bike paths.
  • Horses and mules have the right of way on trails.
  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Trails are not maintained nor are they regularly patrolled: travel carefully and at your own risk.Read more on Yosemite here.

    About the Author:

    Lindsay Taub is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience as a writer/editor/photographer covering travel, lifestyle, culture, arts, food, health, and all facets that make life a journey. Follow her on twitter @lindsaytaub58.

Lindsay Taub About Lindsay Taub

Lindsay Taub is a writer/editor, producer and photographer covering travel, lifestyle, culture, arts, food, and all facets that make life a journey. She calls Los Angeles home when she’s there, but prefers to leave the city for the mountains and open spaces as often as possible. She loves cooking, gardening, live music, hiking with her three rescue dogs, and nothing beats cheese and wine during a spectacular sunset. If you can’t find her, she’s trekking through a jungle, seeking a seeker, admiring wildlife, or on a plane, quite possibly jumping out of it when the adrenaline junkie is at her best. She is the co-founder of Voyage Vixens. Follow her on twitter @lindsaytaub.

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