Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic national parks and the third oldest park in the United States.
Yosemite boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, from the awe-inspiring Half-Dome to the gorgeous meadows of Yosemite Valley. It’s no wonder why Yosemite is a favorite destination for many.

Around 2 million people visit Yosemite from all over the world every summer, but only about 300,000 people visit in winter. Yes, Yosemite is a great destination for summer travel, but in my opinion, it is even better in the winter. Yosemite with a dusting of snow covering the evergreen trees creates a magical winter wonderland feel. You can ice skate and see wildlife, and there are a lot fewer crowds.

Cian at Yosemite National Park in winter.

One of the coolest reasons to visit in winter is to see the amazing natural phenomena of “Firefall”. Have you heard of Firefall?
This stunning event only happens when the sun hits Horsetail Falls at just the right angle, during sunset. When this happens, the waterfall glows red, like a lava flow pouring down the cliffs of El Capitan.
Firefall only happens for about 15 minutes a year in February. It is not a given to be able to see it, as the conditions need to be just right. It cannot be too cloudy or too cold since there needs to be enough water for the seasonal waterfall to be flowing. Firefall shows itself for only 1 to 5 minutes each day for around 20 days in February. If you’re lucky enough to witness it, it’s a breathtaking sight!

Firefall at Yosemite National Park

When visiting Yosemite in winter, there are a few essential items you’ll need. One of the most important things to bring with you are chains for your car. California state law requires you to have chains while driving in snowy areas, regardless of whether it’s a rental car or your own. Park Rangers will check and turn you back if you do not have them, even if the roads are not snowy.
Another thing to remember is to dress warmly with many layers and bring a pair of waterproof shoes. Personally, I prefer hiking boots with good grips on the bottom, but even then, they can still be slippery on ice and snow. To avoid this problem, I wear microspikes, which can be slipped onto any pair of shoes to create better traction.
If you plan to visit Firefall, there is often a lot of time sitting around waiting for the sun to set. Many visitors bring chairs, blankets, snacks, and even hot cocoa to have while they are waiting. When I was there, we walked from the official parking area to the viewing area, though the Park also offers shuttle buses to take visitors back and forth.
As you can see, winter is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park! You can still go on hikes, see Firefall, look for animals (we saw a bear!), and just drive around to see the amazing sites of Yosemite from your car. You may even be lucky enough to spot frazzle ice which flows very slowly down the rivers from frozen waterfalls.

Cian and bear tracks in the snow.

In my opinion, winter is a great time to visit Yosemite, and I hope if you get the chance to experience the snow-covered landscape of this beautiful park, you will!