Winter Activities in the Yosemite Valley

Snow dusting on Yosemite Falls. Photo by C.G.

The Yosemite National Park may not be high on the family fun radar for winter but it has way more to offer than a trip to the visitor center and drinks at the Ahwanee – however much we love them. It’s an ironic contradiction that when the park dons its snow white cloak, snow enthusiasts flock to Tahoe and leave the Yosemite valley alone. The lowest visitor numbers are recorded in January and February each year. I say – their loss, your gain! After snow storms dust the Yosemite Valley with a fresh layer of white powder, the valley truly resembles the winter wonderland photographed by Ansel Adams. It’s classic, it’s picturesque, and it features the most jaw-dropping background for a snowman or snow-tubing afternoon. Here are activities to enjoy the Yosemite Valley with your family.

Sledding in the Meadows

Even a few inches of snow are enough to get the loudest giggles out of any child. Low tech and carbon-friendly, sledding is one of the first snow activities our girls enjoyed in the meadows. Now, the valley doesn’t feature any major slopes to go downhill but you’ll find a few bumps to justify a short thrill – and miles of flat terrain to pull your little ones as a good cardio exercise.

Details

On that trip, we were staying staying at the Yosemite Lodge and just needed to step outside and walk less than a half mile to find fun sledding spots by the river. However there is a free sledding site at Big Oak Flat Road on Hwy. 120 all winter.

Tubing at Badger Pass

If you’re looking for an exciting sliding adventure, try the Badger Pass Ski Area where a tubing area is entirely dedicated to younger kids. Rent a tube for a couple hours, hop on board and slide away!

Since there is no minimum age for tubing, you can pretty much schlep your little ones as soon as they are snow-ready – meaning that they will keep all their winter gear on with a smile.

Details

Cost: $15/person, 2 hour sessions at 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m, through April. (209) 372-8444. htpp://yosemitepark.com. For current Northern California snow tubing conditions and information, check the Daily Snow Report for Badger Pass.

Snowmen and Snow Angels

Talk about “leave no trace behind” – have I got the ideal activity! Building snowmen takes a little time but kids can’t get enough provided you give them a hand. If you want them to be perfect, don’t forget to pick up sticks for the arms and rocks for the eyes. As much as carrots are fun for noses, I’m afraid they would not be allowed in a national park. It might be considered feeding the wildlife! Nobody wants a ranger warning for a snowman.

As for snow angels, children are really the best at that sport. Who else would take such pleasure out of lying in the snow and waving arms and legs around? Any area works for both activities but the best time is the warmest afternoon after a fresh snowfall.

Skiing at Badger Pass

Friendly, small, no lines – Badger Pass is Yosemite National Park’s ski resort and at 7,200 feet of elevation, it gets the same snow conditions as Bear Valley. Don’t expect double black diamond runs but it’s a great family experience. Sign up the kids at the ski school and hit the slopes! The added plus? Since you’ll most likely be staying in the valley – unless you snow camp – you can simply take the shuttle bus from the valley to Badger Pass and leave your car behind. No parking hassle = happy skiers.

Details

You can find all about the downhill ski conditions here and all about the cross country ski here. The ski school program for 4 to 6 year olds is called the Badger Pup Program.

Ice-Skating at Curry Village

I have this love/hate relationship with Curry Village because it is the biggest resort of the valley but I’ll grant them that: they know how to entertain their guests.

Since the 1930s, Curry Village has managed an ice skating rink right under Half Dome and Glacier Point and what a lovely tradition that is. The only time we tried to go there it was closed because of warm temps so I suggest you call ahead and check.

Details

From mid-November until early March, the Curry Village Ice Rink is open daily for several 2.5-hour skating sessions, conditions permitting. Call (209) 372-8319 for more information.

Hike to the Yosemite Falls

If this sounds like “been there, done that in the spring”, reconsider with a fresh coating of snow. When I took my parents to the Yosemite Park in December, we were conveniently staying at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and were right on the short trail to the falls. Walking under the majestic trees and watching snow dust giant fir trees in fluffy white was magical.

Snowshoe on the trails

Whether you join a full moon snowshoe walk or a nature snowshoewalk at Crane Flat, guided snowshoe walks are a fun way to discover the park and learn about the winter world.

Details

You can rent snowshoes at the Cross-Country Center as long as the Badger Pass resort is open and until march 9, 2012 at the Curry Village ice rink.

Crazy Winter Deals

Staying in the Yosemite Valley in the winter allows you to take advantage of some great winter deals but two particularly crazy deals stand out. As I said, it’s the quietest months of the year and room prices drop significantly. For the adventurous, here goes:

  • Temp-RATE-ture offer at Curry Village: it’s crazy cheap but there’s a reason. You stay in an unheated tent cabin! Let me repeat the interesting part: unheated. Bring your best long johns and sleeping bags folks, you’re going to need them. The rate for an unheated tent cabin is based on the previous night’s low, in degrees Fahrenheit each night, with a maximum cost of $39 plus taxes and stuff. Check the monthly average temps and do your math – you could paid to stay in the Yosemite Valley! But then again, you could catch the century’s biggest cold. Offer good until march 17, 2012. Blackout dates apply, including President’s Day week.
  • All You Can Heat Offer: for the squeamish amongst us. Same offer as above except you stay in a heated tent cabin. That’s $20 extra for a chance not to get a nasty winter disease. Don’t smile too fast though. I hear you’ll still need your sleeping bag.

What else do you like to do in the winter in the Yosemite Valley?

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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