California National Parks: What you should know when visiting during the winter?

Cold. Wet. Oh cold. Oh, my shoes are wet. Oh, I’m cold.

For all of those who (like my family) when they hear California think about hot sun and beach:

Well, that’s not like that. California is huge. It’s bigger than my home country. And has at least 3 types of climate.

January in the mountains? It does snow, it’s not always sunny and the temperature there is around 30°F (°C).


One of the cute roads in Yosemite


[Just wanna say at the beginning, everything that I’ll write is for  greenhorns/ tourists who during the trip to the coast will decide to see fe.: one of the most famous National Parks which is Yosemite.
Those of you badasses who go there to do some winter hiking, prepared and geared with gaiters, mountaineering boots, poles and everything else- I’d love to hear some of your stories, but you probably won’t find out anything new from that post.]

So our adventure started in that cute little spot (much too late of course):
on the entrance to Sequoia NP with the Ranger with the hat straight from the Yogi Bear cartoon (answering question that probably appeared in your head- no, there is no grizzlys in California; there are Black Bears and those are sleeping now, at least this is what I’ve heard)

Here we found out about something I wish I knew before, which is California law requires everyone who enters a Park to have snow chains. In Yosemite they actually didn’t care so much, they just said id the weather will change we may need them, but that day 140 was open for 2WD cars, so we didn’t have any problem, but unfortunately in Sequoia they didn’t let us in without showing them….

So we got back to that pretty spot.
At the beginning, we went there asking for a shuttle because someone was sure we cannot put the chains on Dodge Caravan- “I’ve read it in the papers”.
But what we found out inside, the lodge and restaurant, located maybe one mile from the park, has also one more little business- renting snow chains for $60 with $20 refund if you’ll return them in good condition. But the ladies there told us there is no car (they know about) that cannot have chains on (if you know about any please let me know, I’d love to expand my knowledge). So after some question and concerns about a 2WD car, chains, and weak engine, and after YouTube tutorial how to put the chains on we went back to the park and was told an exact spot when we need to put our chains on.

As I’ve mentioned before we got there much too late and whole shitshow with chains moved our trip for another hour so while we were driving on the steep, curly and beautiful road sun was slowly setting.

So RULE NUMBER 1 have chains ;p

RULE NUMBER 2 remember sunset in the winter is much earlier than in the summer, so if you wanna see the attractions in the daylight better get there maximum by 1 pm.

Especially because first you need to drive 17 miles with the maximum pace 15m/h and with the chains on you drive even slower.

Unfortunately, I can’t say much about attractions in Sequoia National Park. Drive in is beautiful, yeah. Hmm.. General Sherman? It’s big. Huge I’d say. But it’s a little sad when you can see him fully only in the flash of the camera.


 About General Sherman? It’s the biggest (not the tallest!) currently living tree on Earth, named after Civil War general William T. Sherman. You can get to him, driving an additional mile or two after getting to the Giant Forest.

Have you ever heard the story of the Tunnel Tree? The tree that you could drive through? It may surprise you that huge tree wasn’t anywhere near to the largest tree on Earth, but in Yosemite, much more north from Sequoia & King’s Canyon. It fell during the winter at the end of the 60s. But Sequoia Natl Park has something similar right next to the Giant Tree.


But I have to say it was a lot of fun walking through snow in the middle of the night to find the famous tree.


Now, let’s move a hundred miles North to the most famous park among the rock climbers- Yosemite National Park.

Those of you who are at least a little into outdoor community know the name John Muir, he lived for a while in Yosemite and was a first person to climb Cathedral Peak in 1869.

“The magnitudes of the rocks and trees and streams are so delicately harmonized, they are mostly hidden.” ~John Muir

Then there come the 50s and 60s and times of Big Walls. Times of illegal camping in infamous Camp 4, fights between park rangers and the climbers.

If you know any climber ask them about Royal Raynolds or Warren Harding, about Half Dome or what’s more- El Capitan.

Oh, El Cap… Dream of every climber as long as I know. But the famous rock causes signing not only among the climbers. Vertical rock that rises up to 3000 ft (900 m) can take your breath away when you look up to find the top.

Unless you’re there in the fog a f***er decides to hide from you….. <crying>

So RULE NUMBER 3 if you’re not under pressure of time, choose some sunny day for your trip. Or at least not rainy/snowy one.
You know what else can take your breath away? When you raise your eyes to the sky, find the top of that giant rock and think about amazing free-solo climber Alex Honnold who climbed that shit (and others) without using any rope.

Oh man, I want to be him when I grow up… (not literally :P)

But, I gave you a little bit of climbing history of Yosemite. But there is also another one, like fights with Indians in Yosemite Valley that you can hear a lot about in Yosemite Museum. In Visitor Center, you can learn a lot about their rock formations and the way Yosemite Valley was created.

What a lot of non-Americans don’t know about are “coin machines” (this is how I call them), those are machines (usually located in every “touristic” location), where you put 50 cents and the penny, you turn the handle and you get a penny back with -MAGIC!- engraver.

Yosemite has one in front of the Village Store.

Yosemite is famous not only for giant rocks, sequoias but also for their incredible waterfalls. Some of the most famous are Yosemite Lower and Upper Falls.



There is very easy and short hike going up to the Lower Yosemite Fall and it’s for sure worth taking, even when you’re not into hiking.

And here is RULE NUMBER 4, yes you can see almost every touristic attraction through the wind of your car, BUT everyone wants a pic, right?  So even when you’re not gonna walk or hike, and especially if you will remember- it’s wet up there. And freezing cold. So you need to equip yourself with some warm, waterproof shoes and at least some nice winter coat and gloves.

So at the end, my personal RULE NUMBER 5- know what you’re going for, especially if you’re going there in the winter. Because in the summer, of course, you can have a picnic, hang around the big trees, have a nice photo session.
But in the winter?
It’s beautiful, it’s breathtaking, but again it’s cold, it may get wet. So if you don’t have a reason to go there, choose to spend that time on something else, because you may not enjoy it, or even regret spending $30 for the entrance and $40 for the chains.


Thanks for your attention, I hope you enjoyed it!


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