February in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is chilly, especially when temperatures can drop as low as -8°C. So on that Tuesday morning, as I was making last-minute checks before my road trip to Yosemite National Park, I made sure I packed my snowshoes with me, snow chains for the tires, and extra wool layers to keep me warm.
Winter in Yosemite relatively starts in November and lasts until March, but according to experts, February is the best time to visit, when the verdant Valley is 10 times more awe-inspiring. With the snow gently covering the ancient sequoias, and the hulking granite walls catching the mystical low-light of the winter spell, it is a sight to behold.
Here are some of the stuff I packed for the road:
- Fruits, nuts, chips, protein bars
- Water bottles
- Rain and storm gear
- Hiking gear
- Extra clothing, such as gloves, jackets, hats, snow boots, scarves, thermal underwear
- Flashlights (with extra batteries)
- Vehicle emergency supply kit
- First-aid kit
The Road Trip
So I got into my truck and left San Diego at 9:00 AM, expecting to arrive around 4:00 to 5:00 PM. I’d booked a two-night reservation at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. I wanted to take the most scenic route via Highway 395 and enjoy spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada mountains up close but since I was coming from San Diego under winter conditions, I took the easiest route: I-5 north to Highway 99 to Highway 41 north (Fresno), and entered the South Entrance, clocking in 8 hours of road-trippin’.
Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road are not due to open until late May, and so is Mariposa Grove Road. I discovered that plenty of other roads were closed as well due to inclement weather, which delayed my arrival.
Capture the Beauty
Yosemite- one of the most beautiful national parks in the world experiences snowfall for an average of seven days in February. Since I’d, fortunately, arrived on one of those days, I was rendered speechless when I got to Yosemite. There’s really something soul-healing when you are surrounded by the intense beauty of a valley that looks like a winter wonderland.
If you are an avid photographer, these are the essential cameras to bring:
- A camera that captures great shots in low light (phone or point-and-shoot)
- Video recorder
- Telephoto lens for your sophisticated camera
Most of the trails are closed in the winter, so expect only to have access to the lower trails. I wanted to catch up on a bit of history so the Ahwahnee village was on the top of my list.
Ahwahnee Village – If you’re looking for a glimpse into the lives of some of the earliest inhabitants of the place- the Miwok and the Paiute people, this is it. Head to the visitor center which is quite close to the Yosemite Museum and then follow the trail to a place that seems to have been frozen in time. It consists of a collection of bark-covered houses, some cabins, a sweathouse, and even a ceremonial roundhouse that continues to be used by the local Native Americans that still live in the area.
This is a self-guided tour and a great educational experience.
- 10 Best Hiking Destinations in The Golden State
- Is Yosemite Valley Lodge Worth The Money?
- Top 5 Places to Visit in California
Yosemite Valley Lodge
The Yosemite Valley Lodge is a great place to stay thanks to its proximity to Yosemite Falls. Perfect for families and large groups too, it offers a great view of the area. It was an ideal base camp for me since it was just a 10 minutes walk from here to the Indian village. I found its restaurant, the Dining Room too expensive, especially given the limited options they serve. So it’s best to venture out to find cheap but delicious eats near the area. Apart from that, I found the Yosemite Valley Lodge with its glass and wood facade, and its warm and cozy rooms utterly enchanting.
Mirror Lake – One of most iconic (and easiest) hikes in Yosemite, summers in Mirror Lake is usually crowded. But, man, in the February winter, I had the place all to myself. With the snow-covered ground, with an awe-inspiring view of the Half Dome, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
El Capitan – This is perhaps the best part of the trip. Here’s a tip; when you visit Yosemite in mid-February, you might be lucky enough to catch the stunning phenomenon at sunset The Horsetail Fall that drenches the eastside of El Capitan transforms into a flowing fire— this is because of the sunset bouncing off the water and creating a fiery illusion to the small waterfall.
Other essentials that I was glad I packed:
- Map and compass (we can’t forever rely on our phones)
- Trash bag (believe me, they come in very handy especially on the trail)
I’ve been to Yosemite during summer, fall, and spring too. But winter in Yosemite was a first, and much more magical as long as you come equipped for safety and comfort.