Help me plan a December trip to Yosemite
November 6, 2007 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I want to do something memorable for my 30th birthday, so my current plan is to head to Yosemite--I've never been there. However, my birthday is in December, so that's when we're going to go. Most of the Yosemite-in-winter advice online and in guidebooks seems to be outdated, and the official Yosemite website just doesn't seem that useful to me. Please give me your personal recommendations on what to do, where to stay, etc., particularly those based on recent experience.

We'll be leaving from Fremont, California (SF Bay Area) and I'll be driving an AWD car (I'll buy chains, since I know they may be required, but I do have some ice/snow driving experience). And yes, I also checked previous posts here without much luck for my specific questions.

Details:

1) 2 nights is probably all we can manage, as one person needs to get back to work.
1a) Leaving December 15th or 16th and returning December 17th or 18th.
2) 4-5 people, all of whom don't mind staying in one room or suite, but only 2 of whom will be sharing a bed.
2a) Electrical outlet near one bed is absolutely necessary for medical reasons.
2b) A place with character and comfort would be nice, but the only important things are location, cleanliness, and especially LOW COST (we've got ... one librarian, two unemployed ESL teachers, one part-time ESL teacher, and one part-time math college teacher, so our budgets are small).
3) Food: we're concerned about cost but we still want kind of tasty food, and one of us is a vegetarian.
4) We range from "extremely out of shape but fairly persistent" to "more or less in shape," but none of us are athletes or experienced winter hikers.
5) At least one person wants to snowshoe and one person wants to ski or snowboard, but any equipment will have to be rented (and all but one of us live in the SF Bay Area, so we don't have Serious Cold Weather clothing). I assume Badger Pass is our best bet here.
6) Seeing the most beautiful winter landscapes at Yosemite is really our #1 priority.

What I need:
1) Where to stay--current lead contender is an $89 3-bed suite at the Best Western in Oakhurst.
2) Where to eat
3) What specifically to do (e.g., not "snowshoeing" but "the ranger-led snowshoeing trip that leaves from XYZ) and see
4) How you'd get there
5) Any other tips and suggestions for enjoying a winter trip there

Despite the restrictions I really do think we're going to have a good time. :) Thank you so much for your suggestions!
posted by wintersweet to Travel & Transportation around California (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know if it will be available in winter, but I drove into the valley and rented a bike. There are lots of smooth (and many paved) trails around the valley. We scooted around all day, saw all the major sites and didn't have any parking or hiking hassles. Best way for a beginner to see the valley, IMO.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:12 PM on November 6, 2007


During a trip to Yosemite a few years ago I stayed in Oakhurst. I remember that it took quite some time to get to Yosemite Valley and that was during the summer without much traffic into the park. I don't know if it would be more feasible for you to stay within the park, but I would recommend that you consider it. Hopefully some one else can chime in and give you more insight.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2007


CPB, that's good to know--even if they don't have bikes during the winter, I'm sure I'll be back.

Coyote, that's useful too, thanks.
posted by wintersweet at 6:16 PM on November 6, 2007


They Yosemite bug in Midpines on the 140 is an absolutely great place to stay when visiting the park. It's a very international camping/hostel, listed in lonely planet, so always full of interesting foreigners to chat with, that offers everything from dorms to tent cabins to furnished rooms. Their lodge is great, with good food, good drinks, and good cheer. Everything is surprisingly affordable, too. Think 40 bucks for a tent cabin that sleeps 4. Ask for extra blankets though. It gets cold in the winter. They also just opened a spa.

If you're really on a tight budget, they even have public kitchens that are well stocked and clean. There's a decent supermarket in Mariposa where you can get most everything for a bit more than you'd expect to pay at Safeway.

There's a very good diner in Mariposa, called the happy burger or somesuch. Great food at an affordable rate, but like I said, the Bug itself also has a very good menu, with at least one veggie dinner option every day. Both places do a fine breakfast as well, and the Bug even has trail lunches to go.

As for getting there from the bay area, simply get to merced, then follow the 140. It's a nice drive with some lovely views of the valley.
posted by Capostrophe at 6:45 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you can swing the extra cash, try to stay in park - getting to and from the towns on 140, for instance, takes a lot longer than one would think because the road is narrow and winding. Midpines looks to be about 30 miles into the heart of Yosemite Valley, and when there's Weather, you'll have to drive slower, and I can imagine it might take an hour or more.

We stayed at the Wawona, which is old and charming and creaky. It has a restaurant, which is overpriced and the food is meh, but convenient. And they have snowshoeing and x-country skiing available.

Most (all?) of the higher elevation roads will be closed by then, although the Glacier Point road to the Badger Pass ski area should be open - I'm not a skier, so I can't comment on its wonderfulness (or lack thereof).

Dress warm, because even the Valley is at 4000 feet, and will be chilly even on sunny days.

You pretty much can't walk or drive five feet in Yosemite without a "holy shit!" moment. As Half Dome and El Cap come into view, it's just...Wow. Big, enormous, wow. You'll walk around with your mouth hanging open most of the time and it's impossible to be bored or "meh" there.

Happy birthday!
posted by rtha at 7:06 PM on November 6, 2007


2nd the Wawona, my family stayed there a couple of Easters back and loved it. It's not terribly central and there was ice on the lawn even in the spring; I bet it'll be absolutely amazing in winter. And, yes, driving around there always takes more time than you think it will. I really recommend staying in the park.
posted by crinklebat at 7:21 PM on November 6, 2007


Yikes, the Wawona represents a huge increase in the overall cost ... I'll check out out and make calculations, though. Will also consider the Bug; at least it's closer than the Best Western.

(Thanks for the birthday wishes, rtha!)
posted by wintersweet at 8:06 PM on November 6, 2007


You're welcome!

Maybe tent cabins in Curry Village? It's in the Valley. Availability here (scroll down for Curry Village, aka "CV"). Or maybe Housekeeping Camp? Might be kinda cold that time of year, though. Haven't stayed at either, so I can't comment.
posted by rtha at 8:21 PM on November 6, 2007


My husband & I stayed in a tent cabin with a heater in Curry Village in November a couple of years ago. We brought a heavy down comforter and it worked just fine and the price was right.
posted by mogget at 8:38 PM on November 6, 2007


I have nothing to add regarding Yosemite; hope you have a fantastic time. I'm turning 30 in December too, and I felt compelled to acknowledge this very slight bond. That's all!
posted by operalass at 8:43 PM on November 6, 2007


I went to Yosemite in January a couple years ago and stayed in the park at the Yosemite lodge (I thought it was maybe $120/night or so in 2003). The great thing about being in the park was we could go for sunset walks and the place was deserted. We also could go to the major falls at 9am and have the entire place to ourselves. The Badger Pass ski area is fairly easy skiing and a good day's fun.

The highlight of the entire trip was nighttime iceskating in curry village. It was very cold, but great fun to skate outdoors (growing up on the west coast, I've only ever skated in indoor rinks).

Here's a little video I made of the trip and if you notice you barely see anyone around in any of it. It was totally deserted in January and really made the trip wonderful.
posted by mathowie at 8:50 PM on November 6, 2007


2nding the tent cabins..i think they would work out great. Also, 2nding that Oakhurst is too far. Lodge would work out well too. I've camped out there in February too if you are a camping type - Camp 4 works out great.
posted by rlef98 at 8:54 PM on November 6, 2007


Hmm, I can't get the official reservation site for Wawona, CV, etc. to work in Firefox *or* Safari--dandy. :p Guess I'll have to try them tomorrow on a PC. I'll have to do a lot of calculations the next couple of days to try to figure out the most economical/closest solution, eh? Trying to find 3-4 beds, including one full or larger, is making things awkward...

Happy birthday in advance, operalass! Mine's December 8. I'm debating whether to follow the tradition of some friends of mine, which dictates that starting with one's 30th birthday, one is entitled to wear a tiara on each birthday. I hope you have a fun day, whatever you do!

Thanks for the video, mathowie! That's going to be fun to show my friend from Japan who'll be going with us.
posted by wintersweet at 9:18 PM on November 6, 2007


Curry Village also has wood cabins with wood walls and roof and heat and electricity. The cabins are pretty sparse-- 2 beds, a dresser and a desk and non-connected bathrooms--but not too expensive. It's sort of like camping. Definitely stay in the valley if you can. You will likely see deer and bear. And access to the trails is very near.

Going in the winter is really nice because there will be almost no tourists and it will seem like you're the only ones in the park. On the other hand, a lot of the touristy restaurants and such are closed for the season.

Essential clothing/gear: waterproof boots (or multiple sets of shoes), rain gear (or at least a poncho), hats, and water. You probably won't need "serious cold weather clothing" as long as you dress in layers and avoid getting wet.

Best hike for non-athletes in the valley is the Mist Trail!
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2007


Thanks, everybody, very useful. I still can't find any indication that there's anything IN the park with three beds (don't families stay there?!) besides the Ahwanee, but I'll keep looking.
posted by wintersweet at 7:40 PM on November 8, 2007


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