A Snowy Yosemite HolidayNovember 24, 2011 No Comments
I remember the first time I saw Yosemite National Park. My children and I were staying in Mammoth (Mammoth Lakes California). It was a steamy July, and I was still so new to the navigation of mountain roads with my kids along that I opted not to navigate them into the park. Instead, I took a bus tour with awesomely huge bus windows through which I could photograph everything, without driving. The bus landed us in Yosemite Valley proper, and in July it was a grand setting for a human zoo. We took short trails to the falls, waded in the warm river, walked to a meadow for our picnic lunch – all with that magnificent scenery around us, the towering granite monoliths, the last wild flowers in bloom on shaded paths. The problems: the heat in the valley floor was pretty intense.And then there were the crowds. They were everywhere. It was nature as Disneyland. And I couldn’t get out of the most heavily trafficked areas because I’d come by bus and by bus I would return.
Our Experience in Winter
So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I decided to take the kids to Yosemite again – but this time in a comparatively tourist-less season. This time instead of heat I’d be worrying about the cold, and I was relatively sure crowds would not be an issue. Yosemite is a picturesque place to visit over the holidays, but it’s not well traveled due to road closures and, well, the reason those roads can close – cold and snow.
But my worries were unwarranted. We had no crowds, no problem with parking, and although the temperature never crested a balmy 35 degrees, thanks to thermal underwear, gloves, hat, and a down jacket that was fashionable in the 80′s, I was comfortable. The kids, newly outfitted from discount clothing stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, were too. So when you’re budgeting for this trip, if you don’t have snow-weather gear, get some. Something else you’ll need to get: snow tires or chains. I was comfortable with the AWD in my Rav4, but I was also lucky. There were no ice patches, roads were cleared, and the soft snow that fell during our stay didn’t stick. So provision up. And then enjoy – and there’s plenty to enjoy indeed.
Picture perfect snow covered vistas. Artistically frozen streams and water falls. Pink sunsets glinting off the white snow and El Capitan. The kids can make snow angels. The rental cabin outside the park has a fireplace and I have Duraflame logs. You may not hike far – at least we didn’t. It was enough for us to just pop out of the car, flop down in some snow, throw a few snow balls, and then get back inside and get that heater going. No one is going to clear the snow drifts, and the people we saw walking very far off the road were wearing snowshoes – but the views are amazing, and the peacefulness of the park in the winter makes this a trip well worth taking.
And of course, there’s the simple wonder of snowfall itself. Living in Southern California, you don’t see that too often. Even if you do, will you see it with stunning iconic mountains and cliffs as a backdrop? With a fox, or was it a coytote, darting across an empty meadow? With a doe pausing to graze on some out-of-sight greenery and Yosemite Chapel behind her?
Picture taking aside, there’s something wonderful about tucking the kids into bed in a one-room cabin, watching the firelight flicker, and taking a last, moon-lit view out the window at soft white snow.
Our cabin was in Wawona, which is also home to Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park, a nineteenth century historic hostelry with a wonderful dining room. I made lunch and breakfast at the cabin, but confess to breaking my rule of using whatever kitchen I am fortunate enough to rent, and driving us the short distance to the hotel for dinner. The Victorian look of the dining room with its hand painted lights decked with sequoia cones was charming, and the service was friendly and relaxed. Best of all, the chef was happy to adopt meat dishes for vegetarian and vegan consumption, and the hot chocolate was a big hit with the kids, too. The hotel serves a delicious sounding Christmas dinner too, if you’re inclined to be in the park for the holiday.
In the park, the elegant Ahwahnee Hotel also has holiday dinners – in both cases you’ll want to reserve much in advance. The Ahwahnee may require a year’s planning. The hotel itself is a great respite from the cold, with a huge roaring fireplace in the lobby, a gift shop to explore, and a lobby bar that offers hot toddies for adults and hot apple cider for the kids.
Favorite moments: feeding chilly looking squirrels from the front porch of our cabin. Watching a sunset. Pelting my own car with snowballs. And the views, yes, those views. And no need to dodge around the heads of other tourists to get the best shots of Half Dome.
We entered the park via Highway 140, which is open year round. The road primarily follows the Merced River Canyon, and with two new bridges constructed after a recent rock slide, it’s easy to drive and relatively un-congested, even if you’re not traveling in the winter months.