The last time I visited Yosemite National Park in the winter was over ten years ago. I had slowly started to dip my toes into backpacking, but the trip was mainly researched by a friend of a friend who was in my company during this trip. Last week, and roughly two weeks after a significant snow storm dumped multiple feet of precipitation in the Sierra Nevada I repeated the itinerary, with a few modifications.

Snatching a site at Upper Pines Campground

I had monitored availability at Upper Pines Campground (the only campground open this time of year, in addition to Camp 4) the week prior and noticed a couple of campsites going in and out of availability as I refreshed the page. I eventually decided on one of them (site 011) for $36 a night.

After about a four-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, I arrived in the Valley and the campground around 12:30 pm. To my dismay, the valley floor was completely free of snow already, with temperatures in the fifties and clear and sunny skies. A friendly ranger greeted me at the check-in kiosk by the campground entrance and instructed me on proper food storage etiquette.

Site 011 is right on the first loop, facing the meadow to the north. Despite the considerable noise during the day, with generators running and energetic youths hollering and playing music a few sites over, the campground dropped into silence during the quiet hours from 10 pm to 6 am. As I enjoyed my campfire in quiet contemplation after 10 pm, I saw two rangers with headlamps patrolling through the grounds, ensuring campers followed the rules.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

On advice from the ranger at the campground, instead of driving to Yosemite Falls and parking at the designated parking lot, I took the Yosemite Valley shuttle (valleywide/green loop) to avoid finding a full lot with nowhere to park, given it was already past midday. However, waiting for the shuttle and making it to the trailhead (stop #7) took a bit over thirty minutes, and once I got there, I noticed plenty of parking spots available. This will likely be very different during the busy summer season.

Conditions at the start of the Yosemite Falls Trail felt like late spring/early summer: warm temperatures, the trail sun-facing (albeit in the trees), and very much free of snow. There was a fair amount of trail traffic, especially past the halfway point. Trail conditions also changed in the second half of the hike, with the occasional snow patch on the trail and the path fully snow-covered for the final one to two miles.

The evening was spent procuring firewood and water at the gift & grocery store at Curry Village, making dinner and sitting around a cozy campfire.

Dewey Point from Badger Pass Ski Area

After a night spent sleeping (or trying to) in the back of my 2020 Toyota RAV4, I headed to Badger Pass Ski Area. The objective was to try out my recently purchased Atlas Montane snowshoes on the trek out to Dewey Point. While the snow in Yosemite Valley had melted completely already, Badger Pass still had a solid snow base of multiple feet. The temperature was already quite warm in clear blue skies when I arrived at the half-full parking lot around 10 am.

I found a reasonable amount of trail traffic at the start, encountering a handful of people on trail #14 out to Dewey Point. The view of the Valley with El Capitan on the left and Half Dome in the distance never ceases to impress. About two dozen other enthusiasts enjoyed the view at the overlook with me. I took trail #18 back towards Glacier Point Road and tagged on a short stint on Old Glacier Point Road back to the parking lot.

Campground Reservations

During the winter months, there are only limited camping options in Yosemite Valley, which include Camp 4 and Upper Pines. Upper Pines has reduced capacity, with about half of the sites unavailable. Reservations need to be made via, which has detailed information for each campsite regarding specific amenities and features as well as reviews from previous campers.


Supplies can be purchased at the Grocery & Gift store at Curry Village (closest to Upper Pines) or the Village Store at Yosemite Village.

Things to note

  • Water spigots at the campground were shut off at Upper Pines for the winter, but I later learned that there are (or at least should be) several water bottle filling stations in operation in Yosemite Valley.
  • Firewood (and other basic groceries) can be bought from the Curry Village gift and grocery store (which is closer to Upper Pines than the Village Store at Yosemite Village.

I did two hikes on this two-day/one night trip to Yosemite Valley:

  • Upper Yosemite Falls (AllTrails, Strava activity). AllTrails classifies this as a “hard” hike, with an elevation gain of 3,254ft and a length of 6.6 miles out and back. The NPS website labels it “strenuous”. Estimated time to complete is stated between 5.5 and 8 hours, depending on fitness level.
  • Dewey Point from Badger Pass Ski Area (AllTrails, Strava activity). This snowshoe trek has way less elevation gain than the hike up Yosemite Falls, however you start at higher elevation, it is slightly longer, and navigating the terrain in snowshoes requires slightly different muscles.

Hiking in winter requires slightly different/additional gear to stay comfortable in lower temperatures and navigating on snow. Some excellent resources are:

Maps and Trail Info

Current Conditions