Situated in the southern section of Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Grove offers some of the best wilderness trails that stay open for hiking and snowshoeing in the winter months.
It has been my dream to visit Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove in winter for years, and we finally made it happen! With the right gear and preparation, visiting the Mariposa Grove in winter can be a magical experience where you can find yourself submerged in snow-covered nature amongst some of the biggest trees in the world.
To have a safe and enjoyable winter experience in Yosemite, it’s important to know what to expect especially when it comes to unpredictable, cold weather.
In this post, we cover all you need to know about visiting Mariposa Grove in winter for a fun adventure in the snow!
Mariposa Grove Trail Overview
Mariposa Grove offers several trails to choose from for visitors:
- Big Trees Loop Trail – 0.3 miles long
- Grizzly Giant Loop Trail – 2 miles long
- Mariposa Grove Trail – 7 miles long
- Guardians Loop Trail – 6.5 miles long
In the summer when the days are longer, it’s possible to hike any of these available trails. But in the winter with the colder weather, deeper snow, and shorter days, most people hike either the Big Trees Loop or the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail.
In the winter the park closes the 2 miles long Mariposa Grove Road that leads to the trailhead. So when planning your trip be sure to account for the extra 4-mile round trip hike that you will need to do just to get to the starting point.
Why Visit Mariposa Grove In Winter
At Mariposa Grove, you can enjoy hiking amongst some of the world’s oldest and largest trees that look especially magical in winter when the landscape is covered under a blanket of fresh snow.
Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 Giant Sequoias. This grove is one of United State’s first protected public lands that was created to prevent these giant trees from being logged in the 1800’s.
Many of the majestic Sequoia trees are located further into the grove and require a longer day hike to reach them, but there are plenty of Sequoias that you can experience in the winter including the Fallen Monarch, Bachelor & Three Graces, Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree.
Mariposa Grove is also one of the first places to visit within Yosemite so many people stop here for sledding and some snow play. It’s less crowded and easier to access than other parts of Yosemite National Park.
Location & Parking
Mariposa Grove is located by Yosemite National Park’s south entrance off Highway 41. This is the most convenient route to take if you’re coming to Yosemite from Southern California cities such as Los Angeles, Fresno, Bakersfield, or anywhere south of Yosemite.
Once you pass through the entrance you will get to a roundabout. Take the first exit and the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza will be shortly after.
Near the parking lot, you will find a visitor center with maps, trail descriptions, and flush restrooms that stay open in the winter months.
In the summer typically you can take a shuttle up the Mariposa Grove Road to the trailhead (although in the past few years the shuttles have not been operational due to covid). In the winter this road is closed so you will need to hike this portion in and back out.
The route to the Mariposa Grove starting point is about 2 miles long with 500 feet elevation gain and you have the option to take the Mariposa Grove Road or the Washburn Trail that runs next to it. Both are about the same distance but the paved road is much faster than trekking through the narrow snow-covered trail.
Driving To Yosemite In Winter
If you’re coming from Los Angeles, the chances are that you probably don’t drive in the snow very often. If you’re planning to visit Yosemite in winter for snow activities, be sure to check road conditions and tire chain requirements before heading out there.
It’s likely that you will need to get chains for your car to drive safely in Yosemite National Park on these slick and winding mountain roads. Even if chain requirements are not enforced, it’s a good idea to have a set in your car just in case.
During our visit chains were not required upon entering but were enforced the next day. While most of the roads were somewhat cleared and free of ice, some sections were difficult to manage.
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Our Experience Visiting Mariposa Grove In Winter
It always feels remarkable visiting California’s giant Sequoias that make you feel so small standing next to them. But visiting Sequoias in winter just puts the experience on a whole another level!
After parking by the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza, we set out on the 2-mile-long trek via Washburn Trail to the starting point.
This trail is often covered in snow so you will need insulated winter hiking boots and microspikes to trek on it. Many people start out with just hiking boots and soon after turn around after slipping and sliding all over the place.
If you want to avoid all that, you can take the Mariposa Grove Road instead that was easier to manage. You can easily do this portion as long as you have decent winter hiking boots.
We decided to try both routes so we took the Washburn Trail to the starting point and the Mariposa Grove Road back. It took us an hour to trek there on the trail vs only 30 minutes on the wide road.
Once you reach the official trailhead, you can stop to check out a map and read more about the ancient Sequoia trees that can be found within this grove. There are also several porta-potties at the starting point for hikers and visitors.
We had just enough time to do the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail which is around 2 miles long and incorporates a portion of the Big Trees Loop within it. This rote took us around 3 hours to complete in the snow with 300 feet elevation gain.
The first mile of the trail was fairly traveled and people before us had compacted the snow enough that we just needed micro-spikes to prevent slipping on the icy parts.
The first notable tree along this trail is the Fallen Monarch. Here you can see the roots of a fallen giant Sequoia Tree and how far they spread.
There are many interpretive signs along this trail to learn more about the majestic Sequoias although many were covered in snow or hard to reach.
Keep going and you will pass the Bachelor & Three Graces tree group. From there the trail gets a bit confusing and we lost track of it but were able to find it again after following our Maps.Me offline hiking app.
One of the biggest attractions of this loop is the Grizzly Giant tree which is the oldest tree in this grove and one of the largest Giant Sequoias in the world.
After stopping to marvel at this tree you can continue on to the California Tunnel Tree that has a hollowed-out interior where you can walk through.
This tree was carved out in 1895 to serve as an auto tunnel for park promotion. The tree continues to survive and is slowly growing inward trying to repair itself.
At this point, most people turn around and head back the way they came, but we decided to put on our snowshoes and continue along the loop. It seemed that very few people had gone this way before so the snow was a lot deeper and less compact.
The second portion of the loop doesn’t have any major attractions but provides a serene snowshoeing experience with nobody else around except for the occasional squirrel sprinting across the trail.
It’s not often that you can experience Yosemite trails all to yourself but winter is one of those special times!
Eventually, the loop connected with the starting point and we were able to take the Mariposa Grove Road back to our car.
What To Bring
Heading out on winter adventures can feel intimidating if you’re unsure what to bring for snow activities. After years of testing out different winter gear, here are some items that we recommend to pack for your visit to Mariposa Grove!
Waterproof Hiking Boots
Having waterproof hiking boots is one of the essential items to have for winter activities. Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry and warm which is so important when trekking across snow, mud, and ice.
Having a set of microspikes to put on our hiking boots has been a game-changer for winter adventures. Microspikes have metal spikes underneath that will grip onto snow and ice preventing you from slipping and falling.
You can find a set of microspikes for as low as $15 on Amazon. Mirospikes are somewhat small and lightweight so they’re easy to carry with you in a day pack on winter hikes.
For the longer Mariposa Grove Trails you will need a set of snowshoes to manage trekking through knee-deep snow. We brought our snowshoes in a backpacking pack and used them when the snow got too deep for hiking.
Along with snowshoes you’ll want to get a pair of backcountry poles that will help you with stability and uphill sections.
Having a good outer layer will keep you warm in cooler mountain temperatures. I have an alpine jacket by Mountain Hardwear that is lightweight and easy to move in, yet protects me from cold and wind.
While it’s common to layer up with warm tops in the winter, don’t forget about the bottoms too! For snow hikes, I usually wear thermal leggings or waterproof hiking pants that will keep me comfy.
Having a good pair of wool socks can make or break your winter hiking experience. My favorite socks are by Darn Tough that wick away moisture keeping your toes nice and cozy while providing comfort and cushion on longer day hikes.
One of the worst parts about winter hikes is taking off your gloves every time you want to take a video or photo. For that reason, I recommend getting gloves with touch screen compatibility.
I have a pair and they work great! I don’t have to take them off when I take photos which helps keep my hands warm even on the coldest days.
The great part about visiting Yosemite National Park in the winter is that you don’t need entrance reservations. In the winter Yosemite gets a small portion of visitors compared to the busy summer months so the park lifts its entrance quota.
On the downside, many of the park attractions, trails, and facilities close in the winter so there are less food and lodging options.
Currently, the Yosemite National Park entrance fee is:
- $35 per car
- $30 per motorcycle
- $20 for hikers, bikers, horses, or non-commercial buses or vans with more than 15 passenger seats
As an alternative, you can also purchase America The Beautiful Annual Pass for $80. This is the pass that I have and it grants you unlimited entry into any US National Park for a year. In the past year, I have been traveling to US National Parks quite a bit and this pass has paid itself off many times over!
Where To Stay
Yosemite in winter offers many incredible accommodation choices that include campsites, cabins, vacation rentals, and hotels.
Believe it or not, many people camp in Yosemite during the snowy winter months, especially in campervans and pop-up tents. Winter is one of the rare occasions when you may actually have a chance to reserve a campsite in Yosemite which is nearly an impossible task during the busy summer months.
On our latest Yosemite winter trip, we stayed at a campsite in the Upper Pines Campground. While the temperatures dropped below freezing at night, with a RV air heater and plenty of blankets, we were able to stay comfortable through the night.
While some Yosemite hotels and lodging options close during the winter months, there are several hotels that stay open all year long.
- Yosemite Valley Lodge – this lodge is centrally located inside Yosemite near Lower Yosemite Falls and offers 245 comfortable rooms along with a restaurant and a bar.
- Tenaya Lodge – located just 2 miles from Yosemite National Park, the Tenaya Lodge is surrounded by rustic nature yet features modern amenities such as a spa and gourmet on-site restaurant. This hotel is also pet-friendly!
- Yosemite View Lodge – situated 8 miles to the west of Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge is a riverfront hotel with 4 pools and a hot tub. Furry friends are also welcome.
Opting to stay in a cabin rental near Yosemite National Park is one of the best and most convenient ways to experience this stunning park in the winter.
Here are some of our favorite VRBO rentals near Yosemite National Park:
- Yosemite Hilltop Cabin. This is a one-bedroom rental tucked away in the small town of Foresta within the National Park boundaries. Yosemite Valley is about a 15-minute drive away and there are excellent hiking trails that lead to waterfalls nearby.
- Mountain Lodge. This beautiful mountain lodge just outside of Yosemite gladly welcomes pets, and has everything you need for a good time. The property comprises five acres perfect for furry friends to roam and play and is also close to a friendly pet boarder for those who wish to explore the park more extensively.
- The Peregrine Lodge. This grand three-bedroom cabin is conveniently situated inside the National Park gates, allowing guests to skip the long lines and enjoy more time for relaxation.
Looking for more Yosemite inspiration? Here are a few other Yosemite guides and posts that you may like:
- 10 Day Hikes In Yosemite That Should Be On Your List
- Visiting Yosemite In October & November For Fall Colors
- Hiking The Cathedral Lakes Trail In Yosemite
- 18 Amazing Things To See & Do In Yosemite
- Staying At Curry Village Tent Cabins In Yosemite
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