Sleet, wind and other ‘interesting’ weather (including blowing snow that bites at your face if you are out in it) are rare but possible during our Yosemite winter camping (or not camping) trip.
Sometimes storms come in so quickly that the weather report would not have given us advance notice.
What if we really have a blizzard?
What if it storms so much they close the road to the ski resort? We won’t be able to ski, go on the ranger snowshoe walk or take one of the long hikes.
Will there be anything to do except hide in the car, play cards at the laundromat or go online at wherever they have it (usually for a fee and not always operable)?
First, let’s address the issue of sitting in your car with the engine running to stay warm.
In cold weather, batteries are 50 per cent less efficient.
Idling your car’s engine will charge the battery if the alternator and battery are in good condition. If either is slightly below par, or if the belt is just a little loose, or the weather is cold, idling may slowly discharge the battery, without turning on the charge warning light.
Prolonged idling may drain the battery to the point that the car won’t restart. This means that if you didn’t pack enough proper gear to stay warm overnight on a winter camping trip, and you decide to try sitting in the car to warm up, with the engine running in the middle of the night, not only will you risk waking up everyone else, you could make it difficult or nearly impossible to start the car later when you want to go home.
So if you want to hide from the weather, it should be in your tent or possibly at the laundromat or cafeteria.
If the owner of the Buick below had cleaned the battery terminals before the trip the half hour spent trying to get his car to start on the 2016 trip could have been spent on something more fun. Read Prepare for winter driving
For a list of required equipment to be able to stay warm and dry (and another list of the things you will really wish you had), a discussion of what to look for in tents, long-johns, fabrics and rain gear, as well as ideas to save money, go to: Snow or rain camp must-haves .
There is no such thing as bad weather,
there are only bad clothes.
If you don’t want to just play cards all day during a snow storm or even a blizzard, and if you have the right clothes and rain gear, you really could try getting out into the storm a little and experiencing it.
You could plan a few short walks to scenic places that will not take you far from shelter.
Our recommended tour uses the free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus. There are bus stops at each place people usually choose to stay during our winter trip: across the road from Upper Pines campground near the campground entrance, across the road from the front desk at the Lodge, and a couple of places at Curry Village.
You might want to ride one full loop to check things out.
At stop 3, the Ahwahnee Hotel, you can consider getting some chocolate truffles at the Sweet Shop
and/or get a peek at the dining room
where many if not all Outdoor Club winter trip adventurers go to brunch after we pack up the last morning.
On your second loop around get off at the main Valley Visitor Center and bookstore (early 2020 open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Two films play every half hour play in the theater behind the main building. (early 2020 – Mon.- Sat. 9:30 a.m. to (last film) 4:30 p.m. (Sunday first showing at noon). Yosemite – a Gathering of Spirit by Ken Burns shows on the hour and The Spirit of Yosemite, a great visitor orientation film with some swooping aerial views along with history and scenes from all seasons and all parts of the park, shows on the half hour. Free.
The Yosemite Museum, next to the main valley visitor center is usually open (early 2020) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., may close for lunch.
The Museum Gallery and Indian Cultural Exhibit (early 2020 hours from 9 to 5, may close for lunch), is a short distance from the Visitor Center, as is the Ansel Adams photography gallery and shop. (early 2020 hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Then get back on the shuttle bus and go to the lower Yosemite Falls stop. The walk to the base of lower Yosemite Fall is short enough that you should be able to do it without getting too cold or wind-beaten, especially if you wrap a knit scarf around your face. Check out the map at: How to find the location of John Muir’s cabin (hang nest) in Yosemite Valley
A quick walk you should not miss is in the vicinity. At shuttle bus stop #6, lower Yosemite Falls, looking across the road you can see a path leading to a bridge over the river. When you first step up on to the bridge, on the left hand side, there is a metal sculpture showing the depths of the water various years Yosemite Valley has flooded. It is amazing to stand on the bridge and see when Yosemite valley became a lake. Yes, the entire bridge has been under water at times.
Very recommended if you are not too wet / cold, you can include this in a longer walk by doing one or more of the routes at Cook’s meadow.
Another short walk (or the next bus stop) gets you to the Lodge.
The coffee corner is now a Starbucks
and by now it’s probably time for lunch. (Lodge menus are here) And maybe a card game.
If the first walk wasn’t too much for you, go across the road from the cafeteria, and walk through the row of hotel buildings, bear right down the road/trail on the far side of the hotel buildings and follow as it bears left it to a bridge over the river. (See the dotted line at the lower left of this map:
When the valley has been flooded this bridge was under water, look around and imagine what it must have been like. If the storm clears at all you can get a great picture of Yosemite falls reflected in the river. (There are restrooms on the far side of the bridge.)
Here, the view from that bridge in three seasons:
Back on the bus, you could get off at the Yosemite Village store, the biggest grocery in Yosemite Valley, with lots of tshirts and other souvenirs. There are plenty of snacks and even some prepared food (important if the cafeteria is closed). Early 2020 hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
One of the bus stops on the way back to the campground will be the laundromat at Housekeeping Camp, across the road from the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center (formerly LeConte Memorial Lodge), bear left in the parking lot, where you can dry clothes that got a little damp. (Early 2020 hours 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
The bus stop two or three after that will be the ice rink, which operates even if it is snowing, but not in a real snow storm or during flooding heavy rain.
Out and about after dark? In thick fog or blowing snow you will see better to hike/walk if you put your flashlight (electric torch) or headlamp on a belt at your waist instead of on your head.
There is a slight chance of our experiencing the “Mono winds.” These are up to 70 m.p.h. and have knocked down trees.
Here, a NPS photo of the result when a large tree broke in half during a February 2019 storm and fell on a campground restroom:
At the start of past Mono winds the Rangers moved people from the campground to the Curry Village parking lot, site of an old apple orchard, so no tall trees would threaten campers. They also moved people from their hotel rooms and tent cabins / cabins into the cafeteria, etc. One year the winds were high until 2 a.m. and only the campers got sleep; the hotel guests were kept from their rooms.
For campers this means the possibility of no picnic tables or fire rings, so bring lots of lunch box-type food and trail snacks, so you can eat a cold dinner if necessary. Then just plan on spending the evening in your tent solving the world’s problems, reading magazines or playing board games or cards while the storm whirls around you.
Previous Mono winds we have experienced lasted only part of one day, not a whole weekend.
Road trip advice and etiquette has practical advice from experienced and newbie carpoolers on cross country trips, including ways to keep from being so bored; planning before the trip; safety issues; drowsy driving; packing; road trip games, storytelling, debates and discussions you can use while stuck in your tent; links to gas price watch sites, and how to deal with windows that are fogging up faster than your navigator can wipe it off.
Those rumors about the dining conditions on club winter trips are unfounded.
First-timer’s instructions has tricks for winter camping.
Trip details are at: Snow Camp
Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded.
For the answer to the question:
How do I convince my parent(s)/guardian that I can go on this trip? or How do I convince them to pay for some gear for the trip?
Go to: Snow camp FAQs
NOAA weather radio in Yosemite is found at 162.450 MHz.
Yosemite Falls and snowy meadow February 4, 2008.
In the NPS photo below (taken from the same location as the photo above), of flooded Sentinel Meadow taken May 16, you can just make out the sunken edge of the boardwalk across the meadow between the two posts on the fence and can just see Yosemite Falls thru the low clouds in the background. Next to it is the same place in June, 2005,
and in February 2017 with heavy flooding: