Quick Guide: Plan Your Winter Camping at Yosemite National Park

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guide to yosemite camping

Just ask anyone who has been to the Yosemite National Park if they’ve seen anything as stunning as the park in winter, and they’d likely tell you they haven’t.  Indeed, the park is breathtaking in its beauty.  It offers people the chance to enjoy solitude while exploring the wilderness.  Yosemite camping along with other winter activities is a great way to spend your winter vacation.  Any traveler who has experienced exploring Yosemite during the winter months will eventually want to go back for more.

Yosemite Winter Camping

Most of the park’s campgrounds close for the winter season.  However, four campsites are open for adventurous campers and hikers. Wilderness permits are given on a first come, first serve basis.

yosemite winter camping

Here are the camps that are open for Yosemite camping:

  • Camp 4 and Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley.  No RVs are allowed in Camp 4. You need to bring a tent with you.
  • Wawona Campground in southern Yosemite and Hodgdon Meadow Campground on Highway 120.  You’ll find the Wawona Campground near the Wawona Hotel while the Hodgdon Meadow is located near the Big Oak Flat entrance.

Nabbing a campground can be a bit tricky during summer, but this isn’t true for winter campers.  You will find very few neighbors at the Yosemite campgrounds in winter.  People are not too eager to brave the freezing temperature to go camping.  Still, the beauty of Yosemite’s winter landscape is worth all the discomfort.

Winter Wilderness Camping Permits

Securing wilderness permits are necessary for all overnight trips in the park.  The permit may be obtained from the following:

  • The Big Oak Flat Information Station
  • Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
  • Badger Pass Ranger Station
  • Wawona Visitor Center
  • Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station

You can just register at the station closest to your starting point.  Permits may not be available from November through April.

summit meadow winter yosemite

Campers are allowed to camp at least one mile away from a plowed road.  Winter Yosemite camping is not allowed in the following areas:

  • Within 1.5 miles of the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area boundary
  • Summit Meadow
  • Dewey and Glacier Points. Camping is allowed near these points but not at these points.
  • Tuolumne Grove
  • Four Mail Trail

Typically, sections of John Muir and Mist Trails are closed for winter camping, but some portions stay open, so you could still go for a hike to the top of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Little Yosemite Valley through these trails.  Be careful, however, for these trails are likely snowy and icy.

Winter Conditions

Unlike most areas of California, Yosemite receives a significant amount of snow during winter.  Still, driving into the park may be relatively safe.  Unless it hasn’t snowed recently, the roads will likely be free of snow or ice.  However, you should consider packing snow chains for your tires just in case.  In extreme winter temperatures, the park sets up checkpoints to ensure that visitors have chains.

yosemite in winter

Make sure to bring subzero sleeping bags to protect yourself against the freezing temperatures.  You might want to bring plenty of gore-tex and wool layers as well to ward off the cold.  Avoid leaving your tent at night to keep yourself warm.

During daytime, the weather can be pleasant enough especially in the months of February, but nighttime is a different story. You need to bring a wind-and-storm-resistant tent to protect yourself from nasty storms or weather. Pack plenty of batteries or fuel for your lanterns. It can get dark at nighttime. Camping during winter can be deadly if you do not come prepared. Make sure to use your common sense when planning your trip. Be mindful of the weakest members of your team. The altitude and the freezing temperature can take a toll on a weak body.

Yosemite camping can be a lot of fun, but make sure that you come prepared.  Bring the warmest clothes, most comfortable outdoor blankets, self-inflating pillows, and other camping essentials.  When you’re safe and comfortable, there is no reason why you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite in the winter.

outdoor blankets

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