The 5 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park in January
You'll run out of winter before you run out of trail
Yosemite National Park doesn’t shut its gates for the winter. On the contrary, this might be the best time to visit the park (read: free of those summer crowds). Conditions vary wildly: Yosemite Valley might be flake-free while higher-elevation trails heave with snow. Check forecasts and consult rangers, as always.
These are our five favorite things to do in Yosemite in January — each one an iconic experience. And happily, some of them don’t even require being cold — turns out, the park’s iconic sights are equally enjoyable when experienced from behind double-pane windows and beneath the coziest of blankets.
In brief: Quite possibly the quintessential National Park lodge — just ask Queen Elizabeth II, who stayed here in 1983 — the Ahwahnee is the grande dame of Yosemite. (And thankfully, it’s back to its real name, after a season billed as the “Majestic Yosemite Hotel” — a regretful episode necessitated by a lawsuit involving the park’s former concessionaire.) The lodge was purpose-built to offer guests superlative views of sites like Half Dome and Glacier Point — so all you need to do to appreciate them is park yourself in front of a window. To luxe it up, reserve the Mary Curry Tresidder suite — aka the “Queen’s Room” after a stay by you-know-who.
Winter bravery required: 0/5. It doesn’t get any cozier than taking in the park from your actual bed.
In brief: A Yosemite tradition since 1928, the rink at Curry Village opens during the winter season, usually through mid-March — and definitely ranks as the only skating rink in existence that provides a view of Half Dome. When did the Central Park rink ever offer fire pits?
Winter bravery required: 1/5
In brief: One of just three serviced ski areas in national parks — the other two are at Olympia and Cuyahoga Valley — Badger Pass is a lovely place to learn the fundamentals. The Badger Pass Ski Area School offers a “guaranteed to learn” instruction package for newbie skiers and snowboarders that should see them safely down the bunny slope.
Winter bravery level: 2/5
In brief: There are easier snowshoe treks in Yosemite, but everyone loves this one for a reason — namely, the unbelievable panorama of views along the rolling 7.2-mile trail, which takes in El Capitan, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome. What could be better?
Difficulty level: 4/5. Opt for a ranger-led nature tour if you’re new to snowshoeing.
In brief: The Ostrander Lake expedition is an iconic experience for California’s experienced backcountry skiers — novices and snowshoers, look elsewhere. Visitors can easily exhaust winter’s minimal daylight making the 10-mile trek from the Badger Pass Ski Area — but once there, skiers can bunk at the fairly magical, $50-a-night Ostrander Ski Hut and make full use of the slopes above Ostrander Lake. (Weekends are booked through the season, but there’s plenty of midweek availability.) Get to it!
Winter bravery: 5/5
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