Yosemite Half Dome A rear view of Yosemite's iconic Half Dome. Photo © Elise Schultheis

Adventure like a Local: What to do in Yosemite National Park

Staffer gives insights from her childhood in Yosemite National Park.

The Other Yosemite: Off-season in Yosemite National Park

“Secret” isn’t a word often associated with Yosemite. Some 4 million people from around the world visit the park each year, with more than half of visitors coming in the summer season. Avoid the crush of summer, and discover Yosemite in the off-season.

With national park rangers for parents, I spent many of my family vacations exploring California’s great outdoors. When I was 9 years old we moved to Yosemite National Park, and it became my gigantic backyard playground.

I was able to experience the park in all four seasons. The off-season solitude of Yosemite—when Half Dome is dusted with snow and the summer crowds disappear—still stands out in my memory as the most spectacular time at the park. As winter wanes and spring approaches, March and April are great times to discover Yosemite.

Here are my top four favorite activities to discover during Yosemite’s off-season.

1. Snowshoe under the stars. The guided full-moon snowshoe hike is an unforgettable experience. The moon peeking through the silhouettes of snow-covered pines and the stars twinkling overhead are stark contrasts to Yosemite’s bustling summer crowds. If you’re not around for the full-moon hike, National Park Service naturalists also lead free snowshoe walks from the Badger Pass ranger station. Hurry, though—guided snowshoeing hikes only run through the end of March.

2. Ski Badger Pass. As a “pup” in Badger’s ski school, I learned how to form a pizza with my skis on the bunny hills. When we lived near the park, my school would hold gym class out on the runs so we could practice proper ski technique. Badger Pass is the oldest downhill ski area in California; it offers a family-friendly atmosphere—away from the hubbub of bigger ski resorts—to find your footing on the slopes. Skiing is offered through the end of March.

3. Enjoy the early spring waterfalls. When the winter snow begins to melt, early spring visitors will find waterfalls at maximum flow and meadows greening up. Yosemite, Bridalveil, Vernal and Nevada Falls—Yosemite’s best-known waterfalls—turn from trickling to torrential with early spring flows. One of my family’s favorite hikes was the one to Vernal Falls. We’d compete to see who could reach the top first, counting all the steps while trying not to get soaked by the spraying mist. I loved watching the water dance off the falls, creating a misty spectrum of colors.

4. Bike Yosemite Valley. Catch a glimpse of the first buds of spring as you cycle through Yosemite Valley. Free from the congestion of summer traffic, the valley is the perfect place to explore Yosemite at your own pace, stopping to soak in the incredible views of some of the most picturesque spots in the park. The floor of Yosemite Valley is mostly flat, which makes learning to ride a bicycle easy—like I did when I was 7 years old!

Even in the off-season, Yosemite’s grandeur is unparalleled. Now is the best time to maximize your visit and enjoy minimal crowds.

Check out Outside Online’s article for more tips on visiting Yosemite in the winter.

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