EARLY WINTER ITINERARY
1ST DAY: Standard Sightseeing With Some Hiking, Waterfalls & Overlook Point In Yosemite Valley
Valley Loop Drive for sightseeing: Half day about 1 hour + bus ride around. We recommend finding a place to park and taking a free Valley Shuttle Bus around Yosemite Valley for your camera to explore. It goes around to the El Capitan Meadow on the Loop now. Get out where you want, another bus is 20 minutes behind. Try to shop outside of Yosemite Valley before your trip into the Park because Yosemite Village is a time wasting mess (unless it’s raining or midweek whereas it’s worth it for the Museums).
Vernal Falls Mist Trail & Overlook and John Muir Trail Loop: Get off at Happy Isles Trailhead for this excellent falls hike. It is paved until halfway at a view bridge for young children, dogs or strollers. After that plan on getting very wet up the refreshing Mist Trail granite step to the overlook above the Falls. Take the relaxing John Muir Trail back down. You can go all the way to the Nevada Falls further up the John Muir Trail for a day hike. 3 miles R/T 1000 foot gain 2-4 Hours. Almost double for Nevada Falls. Take a lunch and 1 liter water.
Old Inspiration Point and Tunnel View: The Valley View from Tunnel View is classic, but you may wish to cross the road to the small overflow parking and take a hike up the hill to the old Inspiration Point for solitude and tranquility at the old stagecoach overlook that was paved in the 1920’s. A fork to the right goes to the New Inspiration Point, and the fork to the left you can also walk downhill on the old roadbed to Bridalveil Falls if you are not glued to a vehicle. Great for sunsets and a bottle of wine. 1000 ft gain and 2.3 miles R/T
Alternative Overlook Point or Big Day Hike? Mirror Lake Loop & Snow Creek Trail. Once past Mirror Lake for fall colors, go as far you you can go up Snow Creek Trail at the far end of Tenaya Valley loop. At top of Valley Rim where the trail flattens, skip over trees on your right for a commanding view of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest. No reason to go further for the snow may stop you for the view half way up. 4-5 Miles R/T with loop, Just under 2000 foot elevation gain at 3-5 hours R/T depending upon how far you go. Take a lunch and 2 liters water. Dogs can go on Mirror Lake loop part of trail.
2nd DAY or HALF DAY Hiking & Overlook Point, Columbia Rock for overlook point:
Columbia Rock: Park at Camp 4 or at Yosemite Lodge for the Upper Yosemite Falls hike. You will like this south facing hike in cold days for it is a warm hike. You are not going the whole way up (unless there is no snow up there) just to Columbia Rock for lunch and pop around the corner 500 meters further for a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Falls and it’s winter ice trim and the snow cone that develops at it’s base over winter. 980 ft gain at 3 miles R/T Liter of water and lunch.
Tuolumne Sequoia Grove: The Tuolumne Grove is open off of Highway 120 going west towards Tioga Pass just 30 minutes north of Yosemite Valley. The Tuolumne Grove is busier and larger. It has small elevation loss/gain on an old roadbed at about a mile in/out. The Tuolumne Grove has great interpretation and is okay for strollers, children, and dogs! Take a liter of water. Ask if you will need snowshoes!
Winter Fun: in the form of ice skating opens at Half Dome Village December 1st through the winter at the Apple Orchard Parking Area. Hot Chocolate and Skate Rentals with a Half Dome view.
The Yosemite Ski and Snowboarding Area will likely open after Christmas along with the Cross Country Ski Trails, Ostrander Hut and other backcountry spots.
Alternative Big Day Hike: Four Mile Trail Hike From Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. The Glacier Point Road is closed, and until snow closes this trail what a better way to experience the point crowds free! You can always stop where you like for beautiful views. 4 Mile Trail is almost 4 Miles and 3200 feet up! Take 2 liters of water and lunch.
3rd DAY or HALF DAY for Hiking, Overlook Point, Sequoia Trees and Waterfalls or going to SF or Sacramento using Hwy 120.
Hetch Hetchy Valley: Not as busy as Yosemite Valley, just take the day and walk over the dam, through the tunnel and along the south facing very warm side for beautiful lakeside cliff views and waterfalls along the way. Flat, turn back as time permits or go all the way to Rancheria Falls for a full day. 1.4 hours from the Bug, take a lunch and 2 liters water.
Merced Sequoia Grove: Quieter and smaller, but a bit longer walk than Tuolumne Grove, stop here enroute to the Hetch Hetchy and the North exit. About 1.5 miles in and 600 foot drop. Take a lunch and a liter of water and lunch! Look for Sugar Pines, Douglas Fir and Jeffrey Pines on this route too! Ask if you will need snowshoes!
HALF DAY GOING HOME OR RAINY DAY: Mariposa and Merced River Wild & Scenic Area
Merced River Wild and Scenic Area & the Bug From Briceberg Bridge upstream there is a single track trail for dogs or Mountain Bikes. You can also mountain bike up the Burma Grade going up right there or cycle downstream on the dirt road (5 miles each way). Downstream at the end of the dirt road trek along the River you can walk to a cascade just before the North Fork of the Merced with your dog.
Hite’s Cove Trail: 10 miles further up the river where the South Fork marries the Merced park across from the houses there and walk up the road to the trail sign. Great for dogs, salamanders and ultimately winter and spring flowers. This trail is the local Ahwahnee Miwok trail to their winter grounds (Yosemite Valley was their summer grounds) and they were massacred and pushed out for John Hite’s gold mine. He did marry the Miwok woman who showed him the gold. Remnants entice you to the opening of the site. 100 ft gain and 9 miles R/T
Mariposa Old Gold Town & Museums: Shop along the old 1850’s era block and see the Old Jail and the oldest operating western Courthouse. The Mariposa History Museum takes you back to the Gold Rush, whereas the California State Gem and Mineral Museum at the Mariposa Fairgrounds shows what was dug up here and the rest of California. Music on the Green every Saturday eve.
Further Down Highway 140 is the historic 49’er town of Hornitos where Ghirardelli Chocolates were first made and outlaws ruled. The old Plaza Bar on the small square is a classic stop for a beer. Bear Valley north of Mariposa has some Gold Rush buildings. Also north on Highway 49 stop at Coulterville for some great gold rush era buildings, John Muir and Coulterville Museum! Go home via Highway 132 or go further up Highway 49 for Gold Towns or Caverns!