A guide to Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy in late winter and spring!

Bridalveil Falls is the first big water feature seen upon entering Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Falls thunders into a sunny, blue-bird day.
Snowshoers head for a scenic outing to Dewey Point (photo courtesy Andria Hernandez).
Icicles hang precariously off the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel, with snowy Glacier Point Overlook towering 3,000 feet above.
Cross-country skiers near Glacier Point (photo courtesy National Park Service).
Horsetail Falls peers out of the snowy, treed landscape.

Plan a spectacular trip into Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy in late winter and spring!

We made a recent trip to Yosemite on a sunny Friday 10 days ago – our first winter trip into the park where snow blanketed Yosemite Valley. And, did it ever!

We came in on Highway 120 – a lineup of cars at the park entry portal foretold a good crowd. Chain controls were up, though there weren’t too many places where the roads were tricky and our four-wheel-drive Ford Escape made driving sure footed. But, with two to four feet of snow piled beside the road, and snowy vistas and icy buttes towering above, the always spectacular Yosemite scenery was even more so.

Or first stop in the valley was to snap some pictures of Bridalveil Falls, pouring a wide stream of winter snow melt from the snowy bluffs above. Another stop along the Merced River give us a good view of the river and boulders topped by crowns of snow, with El Capitan looming in the background.

Photo opportunities present themselves at almost every corner, though, in winter, with several feet of snow beside the road, places to pull off, for a short walk or photo-taking, are more limited. We proceeded up the valley, stopped for a picture of the snowy chapel and could soon see Yosemite Falls thundering across the valley.

We made our way through Yosemite Village to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee), with huge icicles hanging from the eaves. Sumptuous lunches always await in the hotel’s spectacular dining room or bar. Another dining and overnight option is nearby Yosemite Lodge, where food is a little less spectacular and somewhat less expensive. One campground in the valley remains open year-round, and we noted a number of trailer campers and several tent campers enjoying the snowy vistas.

With about 16 inches of snow on the ground and the Glacier Point Overlook towering above the hotel, we could look across the adjacent valley meadow to see a handful of cross country skiers enjoying the snowy trail. The snow in the valley presents many cross country ski or snowshoe opportunities, and many of the main trails are packed by enough foot traffic to make general hiking a possibility – though some of the trails like Vernal Falls are closed due to snow and ice dangers.

Downhill skiers, cross country and snowshoe folks will want to head to Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Resort (formally Badger Pass) up the Wawona Road from the valley, where downhill skiing is an option. From the ski area parking lot, skinny skiers and snowshoers can head down the Glacier Point Road. For truly hardy outdoor enthusiasts, Glacier Point is 11 miles ahead, with arguably some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. Other destinations like Dewey Point make for good options.

If you’re a fan of Hetch Hetchy Valley, the county maintains the 20 mile Evergreen Road to O’Shaughnessy Dam and the valley. It’s usually open in the winter, other than just after the most severe storms. Best to phone ahead if that is one of your planned destinations.

Hetch Hetchy is a sister valley to the mighty Yosemite – and was the scene of one of the most epic environmental battles more than 100 years ago, as John Muir, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups fought to keep this valley pristine. Unfortunately, they lost the fight and the dammed valley now provides water for the City of San Francisco. But a trip to the dam, and the trail just beyond, adds stunning views almost the equal of the Yosemite Valley.

In late afternoon, as we headed out of the Yosemite valley on the exit road, we passed a big crowd below Horsetail Falls. They were waiting for their chance to snap pictures of the “Firefall”, which happens in late February where the rays of the setting winter sun light the falls, making it look like it’s on fire. We were too late to park anywhere nearby, so made a note to book two days next February for a chance to see and photograph this spectacular phenomenon.

With Sierra snowpack already in the 150 percent of normal range, more snow to come in March and the falls in the park already blasting away; this spring should be a stunning time to visit. So, make your travel plans.

How to get there: From Stockton, it’s about 120 miles and 2.5 hours. Take Hwy. 4 east to Copperopolis, go right on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and follow Hwy. 120 past Chinese Camp and Groveland (two great Gold Rush towns) into Yosemite. To reach Hetch Hetchy: from Hwy. 120, turn north on Evergreen Road to O’Shaunessy Dam.

For more info on Yosemite: nps.gov/yose; (209) 372-0200.  Camping can be booked through recreation.gov, (877) 444-6777.

Read more from Tim’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

This entry was posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives