Yosemite’s Winter Magic: Your Essential Camping Guide

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Yosemite, California’s most iconic National Park, is a winter campers dream destination. Not only will this spectacular park be less crowded during the winter, but you’ll also get to experience a quiet side of the wilderness that only comes during the colder months. The solitude and contemplative atmosphere make this our favorite time to explore Yosemite, and camping is not only possible but quite enjoyable.

We’ve gathered all the info and intel you need to plan a successful winter camping trip to Yosemite in this guide. We cover everything from where to camp, how to get there, backcountry camping, and how to prepare for a successful trip.

Let’s dive in.

In this Guide

View of El Capitan in winter.
Winter can be a wonderful time to visit Yosemite, and it is possible to camp!

Yosemite National Park Winter Camping Guide

Where to camp in Yosemite National Park during the Winter

Yosemite is one of our favorite winter camping destinations in California and four of the park’s developed campgrounds stay open during winter: Camp 4, Upper Pines, Hodgdon Meadow, and Wawona. Of these, we like Camp 4 for its rugged location (it is a walk-in site) and fame as a climbing campground, as well as the Wawona Campground for its proximity to a stunning grove of Sequoia trees. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the campgrounds.

Keep in mind that Yosemite is instituting a required reservation system for Camp 4, Hodgdon Meadow, and Wawona for much of February.

If you’re experienced and prepared you can also venture further afield into the national park and explore Yosemite’s winter landscape on a backpacking trip. This will almost certainly entail snow camping and the use of snowshoes or cross-country skis, but you’ll get an experience like no other. You’ll need to secure a wilderness permit in advance and also be sure you have a bear canister for your food. Yes, even in winter!

Finally, it may be possible to find a free dispersed campsite just outside of Yosemite, but be sure you are prepared for winter conditions and phone the NPS or Ranger District before heading out!

Map showing winter campgrounds in Yosemite National Park.
Winter campgrounds in Yosemite are circled in red. Map credit NPS.

Let’s take a closer look at the four developed campgrounds that remain open in the winter months:

Upper Pines Campground

# of Sites: 235 sites // 32 RV only // 5 tent only
Trash collection, food storage lockers, dump station, potable water

When considering a winter camping trip to Yosemite, Upper Pines Campground is your go-to option. Nestled in the heart of Yosemite Valley, this campground provides an unrivaled experience for those seeking to immerse themselves in the park’s winter beauty.

Surrounded by iconic formations like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, you’ll find that the views from your tent are nothing short of spectacular.

The campground is also close to services as it is just a short drive to Yosemite Village and Curry Village, where you’ll find a grocery store and other services.

Upper Pines Campground remains open year-round, offering 238 campsites that cater to both tent campers and RV enthusiasts. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Accessible Sites: Specific sites are cleared of snow and made accessible during winter, ensuring a comfortable experience.
  • Amenities: Each campsite is equipped with a fire ring, picnic table, and food storage locker. Centralized restrooms and drinking water are available, although shower facilities are closed in winter.
  • Reservations: Required. Winter in Yosemite might be less crowded, but the unique experience of snow camping attracts many adventurers.

Nearby activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and simply enjoying the serene, snowy landscapes are within easy reach from Upper Pines Campground.

Whether you’re gazing up at the starlit sky or waking up to a view of snow-draped sequoias, your winter camping trip here promises to be unforgettable.

Camp 4

# of Sites: 25 tent only sites
Trash collection, food storage lockers, potable water

While Upper Pines Campground offers a more traditional camping experience, Camp 4 is where you’ll find the heart of Yosemite’s climbing community, even in the depths of winter. This legendary spot is well-known for its historical significance to rock climbers around the world and offers a unique vibe that you won’t find anywhere else in the park.

In winter, Camp 4 transforms into a snowy wonderland, providing a rustic and communal camping experience. Unlike Upper Pines, facilities here are more basic, so you’ll need to be well-prepared and self-sufficient.

However, the sense of camaraderie among campers braving the cold together makes it all worthwhile.

Key Points to Note:

  • Camp 4 is a walk-in campground, meaning vehicles are parked nearby, and you’ll carry your gear in.
  • Due to its popularity among climbers, securing a spot can be competitive. During the winter months, sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The key exception to this is during February, when reservations are required!
  • The campground is equipped with shared fire rings, and you’ll often find campers gathering around a communal fire in the evening, sharing stories or planning the next day’s adventures.

One of the greatest advantages of winter camping at Camp 4 is its proximity to some of Yosemite’s most iconic climbing spots. Even if you’re not a climber, you’re strategically placed to explore lower-elevation trails that remain accessible throughout the winter months.

Snowshoeing and hiking from Camp 4 can lead you to breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, often draped in snow, offering an entirely different perspective from the bustling summer months. The trail to Yosemite Falls/Columbia Rock begins from the campground and is highly recommended.

While the experience is more rugged than Upper Pines, the rewards are in the unparalleled access to Yosemite’s raw beauty and the sheer exhilaration of embracing the park in its most tranquil season.

Hodgdon Meadow

# of Sites: 103 total sites // 68 tent only sites // 4 group sites
Trash collection, food storage lockers, potable water

While Camp 4 grabs the spotlight for its climber-friendly vibe and history, Hodgdon Meadow offers a contrasting experience for winter campers seeking tranquility amidst the forest. Nestled at about 4,900 feet elevation, this campground presents a different slice of Yosemite’s winter wonderland.

Hodgdon Meadow is only 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley, making it an appealing alternative for those who wish to explore the park while enjoying a quieter base camp. Unlike the more communal and rustic Camp 4, Hodgdon Meadow provides a setting that’s closer to the wild essence of Yosemite. With fewer visitors during the winter months, you’re likely to find a peaceful spot beneath towering pine trees, offering a serene backdrop for your winter camping adventure.

Preparation is key when camping at Hodgdon Meadow in the winter. Although the campground remains open year-round, services are limited compared to the summer season. Ensure you’re fully equipped with:

  • A 4-season tent
  • Insulated sleeping pads
  • Sub-zero sleeping bags
  • Extra layers for warmth
  • Adequate food and water supplies

The beauty of Hodgdon Meadow in winter cannot be overstated. The snow-covered meadows and frosted trees transform the landscape into a picturesque scene straight out of a winter postcard. For those who enjoy snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, trails around Hodgdon Meadow provide plenty of opportunities to explore Yosemite’s less-trodden paths. Remember, winter weather in the park can be unpredictable, so always check the latest conditions and trail closures before heading out.

Although facilities at Hodgdon Meadow are basic, the campground hosts are known for their warmth and are a valuable resource for information about current conditions and tips for making the most of your winter camping experience. The opportunity to stargaze on clear winter nights, free from the light pollution of larger cities, is another reason many campers flock to Hodgdon Meadow during the colder months.

Wawona Campground

# of Sites: 95 total sites // 47 tent only sites // 4 RV only // 1 group site
Trash collection, food storage lockers, potable water

When you’re considering winter camping in Yosemite, Wawona Campground presents yet another fantastic choice. Nestled in the southern part of the park, this campground offers a slightly different experience compared to Camp 4 and Hodgdon Meadow. Wawona is well-known for its historic hotel and proximity to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, making it an exceptional location for those interested in combining camping with a touch of history and nature exploration.

Winter at Wawona brings its own set of challenges and delights. The area receives a fair amount of snow, which blankets the campground and surrounding sequoia grove in a pristine, white layer. This transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland, perfect for photography, walks, and snow play. However, due to its elevation, which is lower than Hodgdon Meadow, the snow levels can be less predictable here. This means that while you may get lucky with a snow-covered campsite, there are also chances of encountering drier conditions.

Accessibility is a key advantage of Wawona. The campground is accessible by car year-round, weather permitting, making it easier to bring in supplies and gear. Remember, though, roads can be icy, so chains may be necessary during your visit. It’s always a good idea to check current road conditions and weather forecasts before your trip.

Wawona also offers unique opportunities for winter activities. Besides visiting the nearby Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoias cloaked in snow, you can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on less crowded trails.

Backcountry Winter Camping in Yosemite

When you’re ready to elevate your winter camping experience, Yosemite’s backcountry might just be the adventure you’re seeking.

Unlike the more accessible campgrounds like Camp 4, Hodgdon Meadow, or Wawona, backcountry camping in the winter requires a Wilderness Permit, which you can obtain from the Yosemite National Park website or park visitor centers.

It’s crucial to plan this part of your trip well in advance, as permits are limited and demand is high, even in the colder months.

The allure of Yosemite’s backcountry in winter is undeniable. Vast, snow-covered landscapes, profound silence, and the chance to truly disconnect make it an unforgettable endeavor. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. Preparing for backcountry camping involves more than just packing a 4-season tent and warm clothes. You’ll need to be self-reliant and prepared for emergencies. Essential gear includes:

  • Navigation tools (map, compass, GPS)
  • Avalanche safety equipment (if traveling in avalanche-prone areas)
  • Extra food and water supplies
  • First aid kit and knowledge of how to use it

One of the most compelling backcountry destinations in Yosemite during winter is the area around Glacier Point. This spot offers unparalleled views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley blanketed in snow.

While the Glacier Point Road closes for vehicles in winter, it becomes a track for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, allowing the truly adventurous to explore the park in its winter glory.

Safety should be your top priority when embarking on a backcountry trip. Always inform someone of your itinerary and expected return date.

Stay updated on weather conditions, which can change rapidly in the Sierra Nevada. Finally, be prepared to turn back if conditions become unsafe or if the trip becomes too challenging. The backcountry in winter is beautiful, but it demands respect and preparation.

How to Get There

Traveling to Yosemite in the winter months offers a beautiful experience, but it does require some extra preparation. Key access routes like the Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road usually close from November through May due to heavy snowfall.

This leaves the Highway 140 through Mariposa, the Highway 41 north of Fresno, and the Highway 120 from Manteca into Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance as your main winter gateways.

Always check current road conditions and closures on the National Park Service website before heading out.

Upon deciding which route to take, you’ll need to get your vehicle winter-ready. Snow chains or tires are not just recommended; they’re often mandatory on park roads during winter. Even if you’re driving an all-wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicle, carrying chains is required.

Rental locations near Yosemite’s entrances provide chains, but it’s wise to practice putting them on your car in advance.

Temperatures in Yosemite can be quite chilly, dropping well below freezing. Ensure your vehicle is equipped with an emergency kit including blankets, water, food, a flashlight, and a first aid kit. Gas stations are sparse within and near the park, so fill up your tank before entering.

Lastly, considering the limited daylight hours in winter, plan to arrive early in the day. This not only maximizes your time in the park but also ensures better visibility on snow-covered roads. Public transportation options are reduced in winter but not entirely absent.

The YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) operates year-round, offering a hassle-free way to reach the park from various locations. Checking the YARTS schedule in advance is a good move to align with your camping plans.

Driving to Yosemite in winter reveals a magical, snow-covered landscape that few visitors get to see. With proper preparation and an adventurous spirit, you’ll find the journey as rewarding as the destination itself.

What to Bring for Winter Camping in Yosemite National Park

Winter camping in Yosemite is an experience like no other, with the park’s stunning landscapes blanketed in snow. However, it requires careful planning and the right gear to ensure your adventure is both safe and enjoyable. Here’s what you’ll need to pack:

Appropriate Clothing: Layering is key to staying warm and comfortable. Make sure to include:

  • Moisture-wicking base layers
  • Insulating layers, such as fleece or down jackets
  • Waterproof and windproof outer layers
  • Warm hats, gloves, and waterproof boots

Sleeping Gear: Nights in Yosemite can be extremely cold, so a quality sleeping bag rated for temperatures well below what you anticipate is essential. Don’t forget a sleeping pad for insulation against the ground.

Tent: A four-season tent will stand up to winter winds and snowfall, ensuring you stay dry and sheltered.

Cooking Supplies: A reliable stove, fuel, and lightweight cooking utensils will make meal prep easier. Remember, bear-proof containers are required for storing food and scented items.

Snow Gear: Depending on your activities, you may need:

  • Snowshoes or skis for exploring
  • Ice axe and crampons for more technical treks

Safety and Navigation: Yosemite’s winter landscape can be challenging to navigate, so include:

  • A map and compass or GPS device
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • First aid kit

Emergency Supplies: Preparing for the unexpected is vital. Pack a whistle, fire-starting materials, and a multi-tool. Consider bringing a portable charger for your phone and an emergency shelter.

Whether you’re a seasoned winter camper or new to the experience, proper preparation is the key to a memorable visit to Yosemite National Park. With these essentials, you’ll be well-equipped to enjoy the serene beauty and tranquility of Yosemite under its winter cloak.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I need to camp in Yosemite during winter?

You need appropriate clothing, a warm sleeping bag, a four-season tent, cooking supplies, snow gear (such as snowshoes or skis), safety and navigation equipment, and emergency supplies. Preparation is key for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Do I need a permit for winter camping in Yosemite?

Yes, for backcountry camping in Yosemite during winter, you must obtain a Wilderness Permit from the National Park Service. This is crucial for both your safety and preserving the park’s natural environment.

How do I get to Yosemite National Park in winter?

Access routes may vary due to weather conditions. Typically, you can reach Yosemite via Highways 41, 120, or 140. Check current road conditions and closures before planning your trip. Consider carrying snow chains for your vehicle.

What should I do to prepare my vehicle for winter conditions in Yosemite?

Ensure your vehicle is in good working condition, carry snow chains, and have an emergency kit. Additionally, it’s advisable to have extra blankets, food, and water in case of unexpected delays.

Is there public transportation available to Yosemite in the winter?

Yes, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) operates year-round, offering a convenient option for reaching the park without driving. Check their schedule for winter times and routes.

Why is it important to arrive early at Yosemite for winter camping?

Winter days are shorter, providing limited daylight for setting up camp and activities. Arriving early ensures you have enough daylight to safely set up your camp and enjoy your surroundings.

What emergency supplies should I bring for winter camping in Yosemite?

Carry a comprehensive emergency kit that includes items for warmth (extra clothing, blankets), food and water, a first aid kit, and tools for signaling help (whistle, mirror). Also, include a map and compass or GPS for navigation.

Have a great trip!

We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a winter camping trip in Yosemite, and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure!

Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!

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