Off-Season Yosemite:
What to see and do before and after snow falls
By Kathy Chin Leong

If you’ve ever visited Yosemite National Park in the summer, you will agree that the crowds can add stress to what should be a de-stressing vacation. Here’s a tip I’ll give you for free: go to this national treasure between now and April or between October and December.

That’s when the crowds fall off significantly, and I can prove it. According to the park’s usage statistics, this past January of 2005, approximately 95,000 guests passed through its gates. In August, however, that number swelled to 491, 114. That’s almost five times as many tourists!

So, what can a family do during off-season? Plenty. Although the falls may be dried up during those non-peak months, local hotel rates are cheaper and rooms are easier to come by. Rangers can spend more time with you, explaining the geology of the region. You can sign up for nature hikes and programs without being wait-listed. And, since you don’t have to compete with others for dining slots and camping areas, your family is most likely to see more and enjoy more of Yosemite in its stillness.


If your family enjoys local history, several places within the park will prove inviting. In Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Museum displays the cultural history of the Miwok Indians and Paiutes who first inhabited the area. The day we went, a Miwok Indian resident who was demonstrating beading using nuts and shells.

Secondly, the newly-renovated Yosemite Visitor Center features natural history displays, relief maps, and audiovisual programs. The 23-minute movie, Spirit of Yosemite , is free to the public and considered a must-see for all tourists.

The Indian Village, also in Yosemite Valley, is an outdoor venue, exhibiting authentic Indian wares and artifacts. Schools often come here to re-enact life during the Miwok Indian era of the nineteenth century.

Over in the Wawona Campground by the South Entrance, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center displays horse-drawn carriages and historic buildings. A visit here reveals why other national parks are patterned after Yosemite. The Mariposa Grove Museum, meanwhile, is a log cabin which displays information the giant sequoias.


Yosemite is an extremely kid-friendly place with a truckload of fun events and meaningful activities. In the Ahwhanee Hotel, a daytime program called Wee Wild ones, is a 45-minute story and activity time for kids six and under. Call the hotel for the storytime schedule.

In the evenings, the hotel also features a fireside storytime for all ages. Many state and national parks sponsor a Junior Ranger program, and Yosemite is no different. Here, kids 7 to 13 can earn a certificate and patch while learning about the natural geology and foliage of Yosemite. By purchasing a $3 booklet, kids who complete its activities, collect a bag of trash and attend a program, earn the special patch.

Younger children from three to six can earn a Little Cubs button by going through activities in the $3 booklet obtained at any Yosemite visitor center.

And from November through March, families can ice skate together at the outdoor rink at Curry Village. Renting bicycles is also another option if it’s not too cold. And in the winter, families can go to Crane Flat Campground for sledding, tobogganing or inner-tubing. At Badger Pass, everyone can also enjoy skiing, showboard, snowshoeing or tubing.

Free art classes thorugh the Yosemite Art Center and photography walks are avialbel thorugh The Ansel Adamas Gallery. Kids can enjoy learning something new while on vacation. Ranger walks are also available daily. These activities are listed in the newspaper Yosemite Today which features all the programs for the week and month.


Inside the park you can camp, but be forewarned that spaces are extremely lmited. Wth 13 campgrounds inside Yosemite, there are only four within Yosemite Valley. One campsite is limted to six people and two cars, and costs $18 per night. Call 800/436-7275 for reservations. You can call no longer than five months in advance.

Want a step up in comfort? Tent cabins with heaters are available inside Curry Village for $64 to $71 per night, and provides visitors with access to a swimming pool, amphitheater, and a gathering room for meals, games, and fireside communing.

And for $110 to $156, you can reserve a room at the Yosemite Lodge, a clean, comfortable hotel near Yosemite Falls. With 226 rooms to choose from, the lodge is part of a larger complex of eateries, shops, and an activity center for booking excursions.

On the opposite end of the scale, the Ahwahnee Hotel, a four-diamond property, offers exquisitie rooms and suites from $379 to $936 per night. Designed in luxurious craftsman-style architecture, this historic hotel features a famous dining room where appropriate coat and tie attire is a must at dinner. On weekends, there is a popular Sunday buffet brunch which is more casual. If you ever get a chance to step into the Ahwahnee, come and walk through its lobby to get a taste of its grandeur and majesty.



*Bring several layers of clothing and types of shoes for different activities.
*Reserve activities such as tours and shows ahead of time.
*Check the Yosemite website for special events.
*Be forewarned that gas is not available in Yosemite Valley.


*   – for lodging, activities, and other Yosemite happenings.
*  – wilderness permits for Yosemite National Park.
*  – California welcome center.
*  – for campground reservations.
*  – Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System rates and hours.

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