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Things to consider when thinking about a winter visit:
Travel ~ roads may be snowy
Crowds ~ not as many people!
Trails & paths ~ may be snowy, icy, or slushy
Daylight hours ~ will be shorter.
Weather & what to wear ~ be prepared
Tours, Programs, & Amenities ~ some things will be closed
NPS Road Conditions It is likely that Glacier Point Road (past Badger Pass) is closed and that Tioga Road is closed. Mariposa Grove might be open to cars or might just be open to people (on foot, skis, or snowshoes.)
Using Hwy 140, the All Weather Route, is the usual choice for many folks who drive to Yosemite in winter.
In winter, drivers are required to carry tire chains in their car as chains may be made mandatory on any park road at any time. There are several articles in the Top Questions about renting or buying tire chains.
If you’re driving a rental car, you still need to carry tire chains in your car. Most rental companies have a clause in the rental agreement that states something like “The use of tire chains is strongly discouraged” or “Using tire chains invalidates the insurance” or something like that.
Driving a 4WD or AWD car means you’re less likely to need to put chains on, but you’ll still be required to carry them. Note that 4WD or AWD does not help with stopping on snowy or icy roads.
Someone else driving:
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) is a great option for folks who do not want to drive themselves into Yosemite. Park your car in Mariposa or El Portal and take the fee bus to Yosemite Valley. You might want to stay in one of those towns and visit Yosemite Valley for the day or to leave your car there for a night or two and to stay in Yosemite Valley.
Take a tour from a gateway town. Check to see which tours are running as some are seasonal or just once or twice a week. Tour Options Gateway towns include 120: Groveland, 140: El Portal, Midpines, Mariposa, and 41: Fish Camp, Oakhurst.
December through March is gloriously uncrowded. Expect about 1/5 as many visitors as in July or August.
There are two trails that are closed in winter (the latter part of Mist Trail and Four Mile Trail), but everything else is open. Walking along some of the Valley Loop Trail is a lovely way to spend some of a day. Wander out into an open meadow. If there is snow, make a snowman to greet other walkers.
Definitely check the hours of sunrise & sunset. Remember that Yosemite Valley is a valley, so it loses daylight early. The east end of the Valley (Curry Village, campgrounds, Happy Isles) has very little sunlight.
www.SunriseSunset.com will help you determine the exact number of hours of daylight.
The official forecast on the NPS home page is usually the most accurate. Calling the current road/weather recording works well. 209-372-0200 In the Valley, the average high might be in the upper 40’s or low 50’s and the low in the upper 20’s or low 30’s. Snow is possible.
Wear layers. No one needs expensive ski clothing, but staying warm is essential. An inexpensive polar fleece jacket or pullover is ideal. Top it with a raincoat or water-resistant layer. Wear gloves. Wear a warm hat. Bring lots of socks. Waterproof shoes will help, but if you’re careful you can walk some places in regular shoes or tennies. They may be slippery.
The Valley Floor Tour will be running but it will be in an enclosed bus. The free shuttle will be running. In season, a free bus to Badger Pass Ski Area runs from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Tours from outside the Park may be running.
Check the current Yosemite Guide newspaper to see what programs are being offered. Maybe take a ranger walk, attend a photography clinic, or go to a campfire program.
A few dining options are closed. Check the Yosemite Guide for options and open hours.
This is the only time of year that the Ice Rink in Curry Village is open. Badger Pass is open for skiing, boarding, cross country skiing, tubing, or snowshoeing. Maybe take the bus up and pay $5 to go on a ranger led snowshoe walk.
Read the winter Trip Reports to see what others have done.
Information about other seasons can be found here.