Grab your camera, and hiking boots, wax your skis, and get ready for a magical visit to Yosemite in December. December is a great month for visiting Yosemite National park. If you’ve already managed a visit to Yosemite during the winter months, you know the special charm of a snow-covered landscape, beautiful enough when it was bare, now decorated in a soft blanket of white to heighten the grandeur.
December welcomes the winter season with promises of evergreen trees naturally garlanded in fresh snow, sparkling with icicles, and topped with all the stars of the Milky Way above.
It’s a time when the park naturally slows down. The hustle and bustle of the summer months settle into a more peaceful and restorative rhythm. Perfect for the kind of quiet year-end holiday celebration that values family and a connection with nature
There is so much to explore in this winter landscape, and tons to do. Plus, without the summer throngs, it’s easier to find last-minute lodging at great rates for a spontaneous trip to a winter wonderland.
What is the weather like in Yosemite in December?
In December the temperatures in Wawona or Yosemite Valley (at 4,000 ft/ 1,200 m elevation) range from a balmy average high of 53°F (12°C) to a still-mild average low of 28°F (-2°C). Those temperatures drop as you go up in elevation to places like Badger Pass Ski Area which ranges from 7,200 to 8,000 feet in elevation. Because you can adjust the temperature by going higher or lower in elevation, it’s easy to find things to do at the perfect temperature.
December also sees an average of 5.6 inches (142 mm) of precipitation on average. After a summer of nothing but dry it’s delightful to finally see moisture in the forecasts again. The sky celebrates with clouds that light up in purple and peach colors for sunrise and sunset. Just as it’s likely to get colder as you go up in elevation, the higher you get the more likely that precipitation will fall as snow.
When snow accumulates on the road, particularly during snow storms, rangers could ask for vehicles to put on tire chains for extra traction. Because there are different levels of chain controls, the best way to avoid needing to install tire chains on your vehicle is to drive (or rent) a 4WD or AWD vehicle, though you will be required to carry chains in your vehicle even if you don’t have to put them on. Learn the essentials of chain controls in Yosemite.
The best way to find out about current Yosemite road conditions is to call the hotline at 209-372-0200 (press 1 and 1 again) to listen to the recording.
Finally, just before your trip, make sure to check the interactive Current Conditions map on the NPS page for information on weather, forecasts, webcams, water flow in different parts of the park.
What to Do in Yosemite in December
Yosemite’s hiking options are legendary. Walking is the perfect pace to appreciate all the small exquisitely beautiful details of this magnificent landscape. And even then, you’ll want to stop to enjoy your favorite scenes.
In a dry year, you may be able to find snow-free hiking at lower elevations, like in Wawona or Yosemite Valley. A few of the most popular hiking trails on Yosemite Valley’s floor are even cleared of snow to make year-round access easier, such as the Lower Yosemite Fall loop.
You’ll also find that after a day or two, most of the popular Yosemite trails have a footpath packed out through the snow, making hiking possible practically year-round. Consider bringing hiking poles or snow traction devices like Stabilicers for extra grip on the hard-packed snow.
Photography and Sightseeing
While you’re out exploring, make sure you don’t forget your camera! December conditions lead to some of the best opportunities for stunning photographs. Yosemite is naturally photogenic, and you’ll find the largest gatherings of professional photographers at Tunnel View when there is a storm in the forecast looking for that unique play of light and clouds.
All of the incredible and iconic viewpoints in Yosemite Valley are open year-round. After the first storms of the season, the waterfalls reappear and begin flowing again, and if you’re lucky enough to be there during a cold snap, you might even have a chance to see Frazil Ice.
Sledding and Snow Play
There is nothing quite like snow to bring out the inner child in us all. Once the snow starts to fly, you’ll find opportunities for snow play around every corner. The small hills in Wawona Meadow provide gentle slopes for sledding, and the open spaces fill with snow people of all shapes and sizes.
There is a designated snow play not far from Wawona, at Goat Meadow, just outside the park boundary with plenty of parking. If you get up early, you might also find a place in a pull out along the road to Badger Pass Ski and Snowboard Area, though the parking here is very limited.
You can also go snow tubing (for a fee) at Badger Pass Ski and Snowboard Area, but sledding is not allowed at the ski area.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
The Badger Pass Ski and Snowboard Area usually opens in mid-December (conditions permitting). Spend time outdoors enjoying the fresh air while carving down snow-covered slopes. Rent skis or snowboards, and take a lesson from the friendly Badger Pass ski instructors.
Cross country Skiing
Once you’ve gotten the hang of skiing at Badger Pass Ski Area, be sure to take the next step by exploring Yosemite’s winter landscapes on cross country skis. With lighter boots that have a “free heel” and a patterned base that helps you grip the snow, cross country skiing combines everything you love about hiking, with the fun of gliding downhill.
Take a lesson at the Nordic Center at Badger Pass, and then set off on your own adventure. Trails specifically groomed for cross country skiing lead to Old Badger Summit and all the way out to Glacier Point via the snow-covered Glacier Point Road. Plus, marked (but ungroomed) ski trails lead you to overlooks like Dewey Point where you can look down into Yosemite Valley.
You’ll also find excellent opportunities for ungroomed cross country skiing at Crane Flat, and in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
In the winter, a good pair of snowshoes also opens up miles of beautiful terrain. Float on top of the snow instead of sinking in.
At Badger Pass, join a guided ranger snowshoe walk, or head out with a Yosemite Mountaineering School snowshoe guide for a more wide-ranging adventure.
Snowshoe rentals are available locally at the Nordic Center, a smaller building across from the main lodge at Badger Pass.
Outdoor Ice Skating
Whether you’re lacing up your ice skates for the first time, or perfecting that triple toe loop, Yosemite offers two outdoor ice skating rinks for your skating pleasure. The ice rink at Curry Village sits below the iconic face of Half Dome. The slightly smaller rink at Tenaya at Yosemite has a covered roof that provides more protection from the elements while still allowing you to look out at the beautiful outdoor scenery while you skate. You can rent ice skates at either rink and both have a nice warm fire pit perfect for warming up or roasting marshmallows.
What’s Open (or not) in December in Yosemite?
The majority of Yosemite is open and accessible all year long. However, some roads and trails do close during the winter months.
The high-elevation Tioga Road that cuts through the park from east to west closes for the winter.
Beyond the Badger Pass Ski Area, Glacier Point Road turns into a groomed cross country ski trail in the winter. Parking is available at Badger Pass once the ski area opens, but beyond that, you’ll need to ski or snowshoe 10+ miles (16 km) one way to visit the iconic overlook at the end of the road.
Those looking to hike to Vernal Fall or Nevada Fall in December should plan to take the Winter Route – which avoids the ice hazards of the Mist Trail and the Upper Ice Cut. And the 4-Mile Trail is closed at the gate near Union Point.
How is Yosemite for the December Holiday Season?
Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, or just time off of work and school, there is no better place to be than Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite is an ideal place to gather family and loved ones at any time of year. When you rent a vacation cabin at the Redwoods In Yosemite, you don’t need to worry about who sleeps where. You can rent a home away from home that is the perfect size for the extended family or your group of best friends. Some people prefer multiple houses close to each other for extra space and privacy without sacrificing the convenience of being able to easily gather and mingle when you want.
Vacation rental cabins with full kitchens mean you can cook up your favorite holiday recipes, with everyone pitching in to fill the house with laughter and the best aromas of the season. And after the meal, there is plenty of space to relax together, spreading out on sofas or in front of roaring fireplaces.
Because your Redwoods in Yosemite cabin is located in the small community of Wawona, inside the park boundary, you’ll have great access to all that the park has to offer. That makes it easy to organize the crew for a day of park exploration.
If you have a really big group, ask about using the centrally located Wedding and Event Center at The Redwoods In Yosemite. This beautiful area accommodates up to 100 for group meetings and 80 for formal dining, so everyone can join in.
As you can tell, there is plenty to do in Yosemite for all ages and activity levels. An unforgettable landscape like Yosemite sets the perfect scene for memories that will last a lifetime, and a tradition of gathering that will span generations.
And Don’t Forget – December Deals!
Winter is also a great time to find some of the best deals of the year on lodging. Talk about a great value – some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, with your favorite people, at a magical time of year, and at some of the best prices you’ll find. What are you waiting for? Plan that December visit to Yosemite now.