Essay

Snow in Yosemite: Peak Timing and Average Amounts

In the stillness of winter, Yosemite’s granite cliffs, lofty peaks, massive waterfalls, and breathtaking natural landscapes take on a special charm. Yosemite National Park receives almost seventy-five percent of its five million annual visitors during the six months when there is no snowfall. During the other six months of the year, visitors are treated to something extraordinary.

But going to Yosemite in the winter might be challenging. Several of the park’s key roadways, campgrounds, and facilities are closed by the National Park Service (NPS). When visiting the area in the winter, it’s crucial to make advance plans. It will help you plan if you know when the park is at its best and how much snowfall is typical.

Where Is Yosemite?

Yosemite National Park, which covers 1,200 square miles, is situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, roughly 175 miles east of San Francisco. The park, which was named a World Heritage Site in 1984, offers a wide range of interesting natural settings for exploration.

The park is the starting point of the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, which flow westward into the Central Valley of California. Climbers from the broad valley are drawn to the granite cliffs. Tourists are enthralled by towering waterfalls. Over the peak of El Capitan, Yosemite’s most infamous cliff, Horsetail Falls cascades. When the sunset backlights this amazing waterfall at exactly the perfect angle, it looks like it is about to catch fire.

At 8,600 feet, Tuolumne Meadows, one of the Sierra Nevadas’ greatest high-elevation meadows, entices visitors. Huge sequoia groves and mountain peaks reaching 13,114 feet at Mount Lyell’s top can be found inside Yosemite’s boundaries.

Snow in Yosemite

Anticipate snowfall if you intend to visit Yosemite between October and May. According to NPS, the park receives 95% of its precipitation during those eight months. Of such moisture, almost 75% arrives between November and March. For any elevation in Yosemite above 6,000 feet, that precipitation will take the form of snow.

Usually light, the first snowfall of the autumn melts in a matter of hours or days. But by the middle of November, the temperature is low enough for snow to begin to accumulate. Snowfall in Yosemite’s higher altitudes frequently occurs as early as September or October. The snowpack in the park grows everywhere it becomes cold enough for it to deposit, reaching its maximum depth in the middle of March.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley can experience rain or snow during any one winter storm, even though the majority of the park is blanketed in snow from about November through May. Reachable by car year-round, the valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet. During the winter, the average high temperature is around 54°F. Lows on average can go as low as 28°F.

Yosemite Valley receives 36 inches of snow on average annually, with accumulations of up to two feet. The best months to get snow are November through March. The month of January is probably going to have the most snowfall, with an average of 7 inches. February follows closely behind, averaging about 6.5 inches.

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is a popular destination for visitors to the park in the summer. At an altitude of 8,600 feet, these immaculate meadows are perched high above Yosemite Valley, encircled by granite peaks and domes carved out by long-gone glaciers. Fueled by springtime snowmelt, the Tuolumne River thunders through its meadow channel, providing nourishment for the rainbow of hues that bursts from the sun-warmed earth.

But the people disappear and remain silent throughout the winter. The noise of busy people is replaced by the chatter of American robins and mountain chickadees. Under the hold of snow and ice, even the river’s surge slows. Tioga Road, which connects to Tuolumne Meadows, closes sometime in November and remains closed until late spring, meaning that Tuolumne Meadows is unavailable to automobile traffic during the winter. Even in the winter, hikers can still visit the area, however conditions can become hazardous and harsh if they are not adequately prepared and trained.

The majority of the snowfall in Tuolumne Meadows falls between October and March. With an average of 8.2 inches, December has the most snowfall, according to historical meteorological data. January comes in right after with 7.9 inches. 39 inches of precipitation fall on the area each year, the majority of it falling as snow.

Badger Pass

One of Yosemite’s most well-liked winter locations is Badger Pass Ski Area. The 89 acres of the resort, which is open from December to March and may be reached by car or bus, range in elevation from 7,200 feet to 8,000 feet. There will be snow in the winter at these elevations.

The months with the most snowfall in the area are January and February, according to OnTheSnow.com. Every year starts off strong with an average of 17 inches of snow falling in January. February delivers an average of an additional 12 inches, so it does not disappoint. The resort receives approximately 41 inches of snowfall annually, with the snowpack reaching its maximum depth in March at an average base depth of 18 inches.

Record Snow in Yellowstone

A 54-year record and a five-year drought were broken in the winter of 2022–2023, when Yosemite Valley saw 40 inches of snowfall. 36 inches was the previous record set on February 28, 1969. Tuolumne Meadows and other higher altitudes in the park were covered in fifteen feet of snow! Due to an excessive amount of snow, the well-known national park closed on March 1, 2023. The high snowfall that year prevented Tioga Road from opening until late July.