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Central California Life Magazine

2016 Guide to Winter Activities at Nearby National Parks

Feb 15, 2016 02:34PM ● By Kevin
As we wind down the winter season, we wanted to take some time to once again appreciate the beauty our region has to offer when it comes to the great outdoors, regardless of the time of year. Here is our 2016 guide to activities you can explore over the course of the next month at our nearby national parks. Some, if not most, of this information applies to the entire year, as well!

All information comes courtesy of the National Parks Service (NPS).

Yosemite National Park

"First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more," the National Parks Service says. "Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of mountainous terrain in the Sierra Nevada of California."

Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and no reservations are required to visit. The website notes that the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station is open only during daylight hours and there may be road closures due to inclement weather from November to June.

The National Parks Service alerts:

"While Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain accessible by car all year, the Tioga Road is closed (usually by sometime in November). Once closed for the season, vehicles are not permitted between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass, including in the Tuolumne Meadows area. The road to Glacier Point is also closed (usually sometime in November). 

"However from mid-December though early April, the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed to the Badger Pass Ski Area, where both downhill and cross-country skiing are popular. Tire chains are often required on park roads. When they are, you must carry and know how to use them, regardless of the type of vehicle you are driving."

Expect snowy and cold weather, along with hazy, smoky conditions during some periods. "Water levels tend to be low, but once some snow and rain have fallen, Yosemite Falls begins flowing again," the service says. Backpacking options are limited, but there are accessible trails to hike in the Yosemite Valley (Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, Cook's Meadow Loop, Mirror Lake Loop, Valley Loop, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Yosemite Falls, Snow Creek, Four Mile, and Half Dome).

An outdoor ice skating rink in Yosemite Valley (at Curry Village) is also open from mid-November to mid-March.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon

"These parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley. Activities and weather vary a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370' to 14,494'. Sequoias grow, in the snow, above 5,000,'" says the National Parks Service.

Current conditions indicate that Generals Highway is closed between Lodgepole and Grant Grove. "Due to winter snow levels, the highway is closed beyond Wuksachi Lodge (near Lodgepole) to the Woodward gate (near Montecito Lodge). It's not possible to drive between Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The highway is tentatively scheduled to open in mid-March."

Tire chains or cables may be required in the parks at any time. For road conditions, call 559-565-3341 (press 1, 1). Arrive early to avoid delays. For more information on equipping your vehicle for winter driving, click here.

The parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting. "Sequoia groves are snowy, peaceful, and cold, and rangers offer free outdoor activities," the service website continues. "Foothills are cool, green, and decked with wildflowers starting as early as January. Solitude is abundant."

Winter will last until approximately mid-April. Some places to go include:

  • Foothills Visitor Center
  • Giant Forest Grove
  • The General Sherman Tree
  • Grant Grove Village
  • Kings Canyon Visitor Center
  • Wolverton Snowplay Area
  • Wuksachi Village
  • Ash Mountain
  • Sequoia Field Institute
  • Potwisha Campgrounds
  • Azalea Campgrounds
  • Pear Lake Winter Hut
  • Wolverton Trailhead
  • High Sierra (snowboarding)

Death Valley National Park

"In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley," the National Parks Service writes.

The park is open year-round, with fun options both during the day and at night. There are two visitors centers, including Furnace Creek (also a museum) and Scotty's Castle; however, Scotty's Castle is indefinitely closed due to a flood that occurred in October 2015.

On March 12, a free event will be held at Salt Creek, called BioBlitz. The event helps celebrate the centennial of the NPS, and it is predicted that the weather will be warm. Volunteers will work with scientists such as biologists, ecologists, geologists, ornithologists and hydrologists. "This is an opportunity to explore and catalog the biodiversity at the very edge of life's tolerances," the NPS says.

Salt Creek is in a badlands terrain 190 feet below sea level. "In spite of being one spite of being one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, Salt Creek has endemic pupfish (Cyprinodon salinus salinus)," the NPS continues.

Additional outdoor activities in the winter include: hiking, backpacking, backcountry camping, backcountry roads, biking, mountain biking, horse and stock use, and birdwatching.

Mojave National Preserve

"Singing sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and carpets of wildflowers are all found at this 1.6 million acre park. A visit to its canyons, mountains and mesas will reveal long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts. Located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mojave provides serenity and solitude from major metropolitan areas," according to the National Parks Service.

The preserve is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are three information centers, which maintain their own regular hours of operations. The centers include: Kelso Depot (offers exhibits of cultural and natural history, art gallery, orientation film, restrooms, water and picnic area), Hole-in-the-Wall (has bookstore, campgrounds, picnic area, trailhead, restroom, water and telephone, as well as ranger-led programs), and Barstow, which serves as the headquarters (includes bookstore and restroom).

This time of year, the average temperature highs are in the 50s, while lows are in the high-30s and low-40s, at Granite Mountain; while highs fluctuate to the high-60s to mid-70s, at Zzyzx.

Activities include backpacking, camping, 4-wheel driving, hiking, horseback riding, wildflower viewing, hunting, ranger programs, and wilderness exploration.

We would love to help you share your experiences at these National Parks. Do you have photos/stories to share? Send them to us by contacting us and we will post them here on!

Still looking for more information? Check out our guide to Yosemite National Park from Summer 2015!

Visiting Yosemite in the Winter

Yosemite National Park - Winter Moments