Lack of snow brings rare opportunities in Yosemite National Park

The calendar may say that its winter in the U.S., but you wouldn’t know it based on the weather. Large portions of the country have experienced warmer than normal temperatures, and snowfall across the western states has been practically non-existent in many areas. This hasn’t been especially good news to areas that depend on skiers to help bolster their local economy, but it has presented some rare opportunities to visit certain destinations that would normally be sealed off to travelers this time of year.

A perfect example of this is in Yosemite National Park in California, which is well known for receiving large amounts of snow each year. In fact, certain sections of the park, especially at higher altitude, are often inaccessible starting in November and lasting well into April and beyond. That hasn’t been the case this winter however, and as a result, the park remains open, offering unprecedented winter access to some of the its more remote regions.

Take for example the Tioga Pass Road, which is considered one of the most scenic drives in all of the National Parks. The narrow, twisty highway winds its way past Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, home to dozens of Giant Sequoias, while the Sierra Nevada Mountains tower over head. It is a breathtaking and beautiful ride any time of the year, but by mid-January, the road has usually been closed for the winter. It is not uncommon to have ten or more feet of snow blocking the route and preventing passage, but not so this year, as the road is currently wide open for travelers.

Better yet, the lack of snow has meant that most of Yosemite’s 800-miles of trail remain open, which has given hikers an extremely rare opportunity to see some of the park’s famous waterfalls and lakes in a frozen state. Much like the Tioga Pass Road, many of these attractions are often buried under snow by this time of year, but for now at least, visitors can take a day hike and see Yosemite as it is rarely seen – frozen over. For a shorter hike, I’d recommend the Gaylor Lakes trail, which is just 3 miles in length but can offer plenty of exploration into the surrounding area. Those with a bit more time on their hands may want to take in the Cathedral Lakes or Glen Aulin Trails, which wanders past several mountain lakes and waterfalls. As usual on any winter hike be, sure to dress appropriately and bring a few emergency supplies, just in case.

This weekend is the perfect time to visit Yosemite and take in these rare sights for yourself. Not only is the entry fee waved for today and tomorrow, but you also know it is only a matter of time before winter does arrive and spoils the fun. The snow will come eventually, and when it does, it’ll probably be heavy enough to close off access until spring. Take advantage of this rare opportunity and experience Yosemite as you’ve never seen it before.

8 winter hikes for outdoor enthusiasts

Warm-weather months aren’t the only time to get a good hike in. In fact, there are many trekking trails all over the world that offer superb hiking and snowshoeing. This winter, why not plan a trip to experience one of these active and enjoyable hikes for people of all fitness levels.

The Dolomites, Italy

While the Dolomite Mountains are beautiful all year long, there is something especially captivating about them covered in a layer of sparkling white snow. While snowshoeing in the Dolomites, you will be able to explore numerous trails while taking in high snow walls, white-capped mountains, and trees so covered in flurries they look fake. Adding to the charm of the trek, ambient Alpine-huts line the path, offering a warm and cozy place to stay with a fireplace, hot cappuccinos, and freshly made strudel. Interested in doing a long trek with a group? Dolomite Mountains, a locally based company, offers an 8-day Dolomite snowshoeing tour.The Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The beauty of the Swiss Alps cannot be described in words. No matter how many photographs I took while I was there I still felt as though the diverse landscape, the snowy mountains, crystal lakes, and lush green fields couldn’t be captured on film but needed to be seen in person. If you’re backpacking, home-base in Interlaken, a hotspot adventure destination on the backpacker circuit. From there, you’ll be able to access the beautiful Bernese Oberland as well as numerous trails and mountains, including my personal favorite, the Jungfrau. Click here to view a list of numerous Swiss Alp winter walks.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

For those who want to experience nature in winter but aren’t big fans of the cold, Zion National Park has mild winters while still getting those blankets of flawless snow that make for stunning photographs. For the most scenic winter hikes, go to the east side of the park (along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway), where the white frost sticks itself over sheets of flat burnt rock like iced oatmeal cookies. This is where the snow is deepest in the park, so snowshoes are advisable. For a less snowy hiking experience, the Watchman, Coalpits, Chinle, Huber, Eagle Crags, and Scoggins trails, which are unbearable in the summer, are pleasant and sunny in the winter.

Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

There are many excellent snowshoeing trails in Archorage, one of which is Chugach State Park, the third largest state park in America. Over a half-million acres of well-developed hiking trails give visitors options for easy, moderate, or difficult hikes along with the chance to experience the backcountry of Alaska (and possibly even encounter a moose!). For an easy hike featuring a mixture of lakes, mountains, and thick pine forests, as well as an educational preview of the trek, start at the Eagle River Nature Center, where you can access various paths for beginners, like the Rodak Nature Loop, which gives you access to beaver and salmon viewing, and the 3-mile Dew Mountain Trail, where you will be able to see Dew Mound, a unique glacial erratic, as well as Dew Lake and Eagle Creek Valley. For something a bit more challenging as well as historical, opt for the Crow Pass National Historical Trail, which you can access from either the Eagle River Nature Center or the Crow Creek Trailhead in Girdwood. The trail is 21-miles one-way and gains an elevation of 3,100 feet to 2,100 feet respectively, depending where you start. Along with seeing waterfalls, wildlife, glaciers, and old mining ruins, you will be following the historic Iditarod supply route. Click here for a detailed list of trail maps for the park.

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Traversing through Banff National Park during the winter will allow you to experience the Canadian Rockies from a unique perspective. The air is clean and crisp and offers a serenity that can only be found when snow covers the ground. According to, the region also contains about 932 miles of hiking trails, more than any other mountain park in the world. If you’re looking for an easy trek try the Fenland loop, a 1.2 mile round-trip flat stroll near the Vermillion Lakes that can be accessed along Mt. Norquay Road, between the railroad tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway. If you want something more difficult, do the Sulphur Mountain Summit, which is about 3.5 miles one-way and gains an elevation of 2,149 feet, helping to provide panoramic views of the Bow Valley. You can access the trailhead from the Upper Hot Springs parking lot. For more detailed hike descriptions, click here.

Nahuel Huapi National Park, Bariloche, Patagonia

Often considered the “true wilderness”, Patagonia is a prime destination for snowshoeing. Nahuel Huapi National Park encompasses 1,875,000 acres of land and stretches from the Patagonia Steppes to the high Andes. It is also the country’s first national park. Remember that their winter is from June to September, although all year round you can enjoy hiking on well-marked trails. One of the most interesting features of the area is the vast quantity of crystal-clear lakes and rivers set against backdrops of ancient glaciers, native forests dusted with white powder, deep valleys, and high peak mountains. Take in Tronador, an extinct stratovolcano standing at 11,454 feet, as well as the glacial-formed Lake Nahuel Huapi and panoramic views of the city of Bariloche.

Westland Tai Poutini National Park, South Island, New Zealand

There are many reasons that New Zealand makes for a perfect winter hiking destination. For one, the country usually enjoys a mild climate. Remember that New Zealand is another country where the seasons are switched, and when traveling there in December through February you will actually be experiencing summer. Nevertheless, a trek at Westland Tai Poutini National Park during these months will expose you to an array of seasons and landscapes. Because the park is split by the Alpine fault, the landscape is dramatically contrasting, with glaciers, the high peaks of the Southern Alps, ice rivers, rainforests, hot springs, coastline, and lakes. Visit Fox Glacier, a large ice rock with a unique location right next to a rainforest, cross over a 230-foot long suspension bridge that swings over Fox River, and, if you’re in really good shape, hike up the high peaks, which offer mountain hut accommodation for those looking to do some serious trekking. Click here for more information on hiking trails.

Yatsugatake Mountain Range, Honshu Island, Japan

While Japan isn’t typically known for its snowshoeing and trekking, the country is actually very mountainous, making it a great spot for winter trekking. The Yatsugatake Mountains, a volcanic mountain range, is home to eight major mountain peaks including Akadake, which is 9,511 feet high. A range of different trails are available for all levels, including rolling hill strolls and steep rocky climbs, all along snow covered trees, deep white valleys, stratavolcanoes, lava domes, and freshly iced mountains with striking definition and patterns. For those who want to do more than just a day hike, mountain huts are available for accommodation. While Yatsugatake is located on the island of Honshu, it is less than 3 hours from Tokyo.