Everyone knows of the wonders of Yosemite in the summer. Less famous, and equally magical, are the wonders of the National Park in the winter, especially during the holidays.
Instead of verdant greens, crashing waterfalls and balmy hikes, picture a white fairyland, glistening icicles and sleigh rides. The quiet and coziness of the season are a stark contrast to the crowded warmer months. and the pleasures are equally delightful. These things to do in Yosemite National Park will make your winter magical.
The Great Outdoors
Holidays or not, it is nearly impossible not to feel festive with snow covering the ground like a blanketing of fairy dust.
Let It Snow. Breathtaking scenery makes the Badger Pass Ski Resort a unique place to learn, practice, or excel on skis. In addition to 10 runs and a beginner-friendly terrain park, the resort offers top-notch lessons at a variety of levels, plus cross-country skiing for those looking for a little snow fun without the adrenaline rush. Conversely, cross-country becomes the epitome of adventure on a Back-country Ski Tour, which may include snow-camping a night in the Glacier Point Ski Hut.
It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter. Kiddies young and old are sure to love frolicking in Yosemite’s winter wonderland. The sheer fun of speeding over the snow on a rubber tube will make you shriek until you laugh and laugh until you cry. Snow tubing at Badger Pass is great for those who want thrills without skis, and the little ones can ride along with their parents ($17 per person, 2-hour session).
Joy to the World. Nestled below Glacier Point and Half Dome, the Curry Village Ice Skating Rink is truly one of a kind. Established in the 1930s, it has a storybook feel, replete with breathtaking views and a fire ring for making s’mores or simply cozying up ($10 adults, $9.50 kids, $4 skate rental).
Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling. Does it get any more picturesque than a horse-drawn sleigh through Yosemite? Tenaya Lodge serves up its own brand of holiday cheer with this delightful activity throughout the winter months ($30 adults, $20 kids). Through Incense Pines and Sugar Cedars, this 45-minute ride is pure heaven and will have you caroling and reminiscing in no time.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
As much wonder as snow angels, ice skating and the magical wintry landscape provide, one of the best things about low temps is warming up by the fire with a cup of cocoa. Thankfully, Yosemite hotels provide all the cozy you require, with a good amount of merry-making thrown in to boot.
Merry Middle Ages at the Ahwahnee
Deck the Halls. A tradition since 1927, the Ahwahnee Hotel’s Bracebridge Dinners take the holidays to a whole new level. Inspired by the yuletide festivities outlined in Washington Irving’s Sketch Book, the four-hour production features more than 100 actors and a traditional seven-course feast including “Peacock Pie” (Sonoma Duck Confit Strudel), “Baron of Beef” (Roasted Angus Beef Tenderloin), and Plum Pudding.
There is dancing, singing, and merrymaking in the manner of a Middle Ages pageant for the royals—and guests play the roles of the lords and ladies. Renaissance rituals, court jesters, and Christmas carols turn the evening into an English Christmas extravaganza nonpareil. (Dinners run daily from December 13-25, and menus are available to meet dietary restrictions.)
In addition to Bracebridge, the Ahwahnee serves up many other seasonal delights, from concerts and live piano recitals to story time, historical lectures, guided tours, and even holiday portraits.
Victorian Holidays at Wawona Hotel
12 Days of Christmas. Located up the road from Yosemite Valley, and a little off the beaten path, the Wawona Hotel offers its own celebrations and libations for the Christmas season. Beginning with a tree lighting ceremony on December 20, this traditional white clapboard jewel presents a host of activities through the 25th, ranging from gingerbread house making, to Christmas Bingo, to a visit with Santa himself.
A special delight—a park treasure even—comes in the form of Tom Bopp at the piano. A presence at the Wawona for the past 30 years, Mr. Bopp regales with stories, dazzles on the piano, and overall delights with his vast catalog of songs. During one blissful evening he had a couple waltzing to “What a Wonderful World” and my four-year-old boogying to “Linus and Lucy.” Hot chocolate (peanut butter, peppermint, and others) and brandy by the fire make you feel like you’ve stepped into the cozy charm of Meet Me in St. Louis or Miracle on 34th Street.
Post-holidays, winter revelry comes in the form of the annual Yosemite Chefs’ Holidays. The culinary, which takes place through January and February, features demonstrations and lectures from esteemed chefs and notable foodies around California.
Directions: Take Amtrak’s San Joaquin train. With connecting bus services, the journey from the Ferry Building to Yosemite is seamless.