View Full Version : Yosemite in winter

29-Nov-2009, 11:45
When is the best time to go to Yosemite for winter pics? I'm looking at going in Late January I want the month with the most snow.

29-Nov-2009, 12:58
It's totally up to the weather gods. Try to keep your schedule somewhat flexible so that you can boogie over there on fairly short notice.

I have climbed on warm and dry rock in The Valley in January, and I've also been dumped upon. Being flexible is probably the best way to ensure some success. I think.


Drew Wiley
29-Nov-2009, 15:15
The Valley floor isn't very high in altitude, and you get those classic "Ansel Adams"
fluffy snows only intermittently. This is an odd year and we might have another dry
January but very wet spring, like last year. I seldom photograph in Yosemite but if
I had to choose a favorite time it would be planned by going in just ahead of the
worst storm of the year, so that the highway gets closed behind you and you have
the whole Valley almost to yourself. Even the skiers can't get in. Did that one year
when all the falls became frozen. Me and my nephew hacked our way up a giant
ice cone below El Captian falls and I chiseled off the top with my ice axe for a tripod platform for my Sinar. Got a unique edge-on shot of the monolith, but getting back
down was certainly a cheap thrill! If you need chains, 4WD, gaiters, and snowshoes
just to get around the Valley, that's the best time, as far as I'm concerned! But those
kind of conditions are exceptional even for January.

Jeffrey Sipress
29-Nov-2009, 17:41
Track the weather, and go on short notice. Getting there a week or two after a big dump is not what you want. The snow is all trampled down and dirty.

Lon Overacker
30-Nov-2009, 11:13
Have to agree with Preston and Jeffrey. "Scheduling" a trip to Yosemite in winter is a crap-shoot at best. It can snow in the Valley any time between now and May, but odds are that January is the coldest and if storms pass over, there will likely be snow in the valley. And as Jeffrey points out, if you don't hit it during or the day after a storm, Yosemite Valley is at it's least attractive state in the dead of winter, sans "the clearing storm."

If you can be flexible, watch the weather and make a last minute decision.

30-Nov-2009, 19:25
Watch the weather news from Fresno TV stations if they have on line versions. When they go into a total panic about snow in Yosemite Valley, thatwill be the time to go. They scare a lot of people away. I had a Monday off in January, years ago and the weather report on Sunday reported heavy snow in the Valley. They told people that it would be too dangerous to go into Yosemite. I went in via the Merced River Canyon. Piece of cake with great light.

Jim Fitzgerald
30-Nov-2009, 21:15
I agree about being flexible. The light is fantastic right after a snow storm if it is clearing and you are luckily stuck in the valley. If you have to put the chains on etc. as stated above then you know you are in luck. It is kind of a crap shoot. I know I'll be up there a couple of times in January and February for sure. So if you see someone with an 11x14 be sure to stop and say high.


30-Nov-2009, 22:03
Here's a page from the NWS-Hanford . It is a 7-day forcast for Yosemite Valley and is updated at least twice a day.

NOAA-NWS Yosemite Valley (http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=37.74031329210266&lon=-119.6026611328125&site=hnx&smap=1&marine=0&unit=0&lg=en)

I hope this helps in your planning.


Eric James
30-Nov-2009, 23:22
You should buy or rent chains and learn how to put them on efficiently when your hands aren't frozen. The NPS rangers are very strict about enforcing the chain regulations. Last winter I saw vehicles stranded because the rangers would not let them drive until conditions improved (two days in that instance). Here's a useful link.


By the way, it's well worth the effort!!!

Keith S. Walklet
1-Dec-2009, 09:51
Precipitation doesn't vary much month to month in Yosemite, with the exception of March and May, which have roughly 25% more moisture than the other months. The winter months all get between 12 and 14 inches of precip in a normal year. If you want the best chance of that being snow, then December and January are the coldest months on average, with the coldest temps fittingly showing up around solstice.

The most interesting light IMO is February.

Yosemite Valley is at 4,000 in elevation with the cliffs surrounding it 3,000 feet higher, and the peaks, even higher. Half Dome is 8,800 feet tall, Clouds Rest, 9,900. So, it is possible to have snow at higher elevations, and not on the valley floor, which makes for some beautiful scenes regardless.

The key with the weather in Yosemite is to look for the snow line. A snow line of 5,000 usually means the valley will get at least a little snow, usually first thing in the morning if the snow line is hovering between 4,000 and 5,000. The best winter conditions come when the snow line drops to 3,000 (El Portal and Mariposa elevations). When it does get that low, travel to the park gets interesting with Route 140 being considered the All Year Highway, excluding rockfalls brought on by...precipitation. ;-)

So as suggested by other posters, it is best to be in the valley when a storm breaks. The snow rarely stays in the trees for very long.

1-Dec-2009, 11:42
I try to make a habit of being in the Valley at the end of February. As Keith mentioned, the light can be wonderful. -- and the days are getting longer, too.

According to my notes, at the end of February (usually the 3rd weekend of the month), I had fresh snow in the trees in 2007 and on the ground in 2008. And I have seen fresh snow in March and April, too (but you have to be quick!)