Yosemite in November

8:45 p.m. on October 23, 2011 (EDT)
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My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco November 4th - 12th and we were thinking about taking a side trip to Yosemite.  We can afford to stay in the Curry Village for a couple of nights.

The problem I'm worried about is how to get there. We could rent a car but I have NEVER driven in snow and neither has my wife.

Any and all suggestions/advice on how to get there, what to take and what the best things to see in the winter are would be greatly appreciated.  

10:02 p.m. on October 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Get in your rental car at SFO. Follow US101 south to cross the San Mateo Bridge (Calif 92) to I880, north to I238, straight onto I580, across Altamont Pass (lots of HUGE windmills for electricity generation), staying left onto I205. I205 merges into I5 heading north. Stay in the right lane to take Calif 120 all the way to the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park (you do have one little quarter mile jog where Calif 120 merges northward for a short distance with Calif 99 to exit onto Yosemite Avenue/Calif 120 as you go through Manteca). Pay your entry fee (the "day" fee is good for a week).

I'm not sure I recommend Curry at this time of year - the tent cabins are a bit on the cool side, though they do have heaters. Yosemite Lodge is a bit more pricey, but a lot warmer. Do bring your ice skating clothes, since I think the ice rink near Curry Village might be open around Nov 1.

Unlike the eastern US, we Westerners have very efficient highway departments. The plows are out when the first flake appears in the sky. And if you rent an AWD (like a Subaru), it will have all season M+S tires, which will do just fine on any snow you encounter in early November (just obey the 25mph speed limit when there are chain restrictions - you are not required to have chains with an AWD or 4WD at stage 1, which is about all 120 gets before Dec 1). Besides, right now it looks like the first real snow won't arrive until Thanksgiving. And if the 120 entrance is a problem (there are huge lighted signs along the way that warn you well ahead of time), you can just go south on 99 to pick up CA 140 at Merced to go in the El Portal entrance at 3000 ft elevation (the Valley is about 3500 ft).

Oh, if you do go through Merced, you might want to stop at Castle AFB - they have some interesting exhibits there.

10:32 p.m. on October 23, 2011 (EDT)
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I see Bill put up directions for you while I was typing away. :)

I'm not that keen on the 120, too twisty for my taste; the 140 looks out of the way from SF, but once you are on it, it's more of a straight shot to the Valley.

Pretty sure you won't see any snow on the roads in the park in November, especially on the Valley floor, but you may see some on the mountains and you won't see any before you get there. The daytime temps in the Valley are in the 50s-60s right now. I've been up there in February the past few years (not last year, though) and there is plenty of snow up high, but not necessarily in the Valley, but that is middle of winter and November is far from that.

Bill is right, with AWD and snow tires, unless there is a ton of snow, you won't need chains. If chain controls are on, you may not be able to get into the park without them with 2WD, but I doubt there is any snow,except at the higher elevations and not much there from what I can see from the weather.

I've stayed at the tent cabins in Curry. Not exactly deluxe accommodations, but cheaper than anything else other than camping. They do have heaters, but bring a sleeping bag and winter clothes unless you are staying in better accommodations. Bring gear for temps down to low 30's-parka, sweaters, fleece jacket, pants, warm hat (fleece beanie) and gloves or mitts.  You can get by with jeans if you aren't camping, although I don't usually wear them in cold weather, but again, it won't be that cold.

A good book is the Rough Guide to Yosemite. Get it at REI or Amazon. It has small maps, lots of tips on where to go, eat, what to see. Also check the park's website.


The concessionaire has its own site, which you may have seen already.


Weather forecast-


As far as what to see, the park's website and the guidebooks have all that. There is a good shuttle bus system that runs throughout most of the park, so you can park the car and just ride around on the bus (free, if I remember right).


2:58 p.m. on October 24, 2011 (EDT)
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Make reservations.  Even the off season can be busy.


11:27 p.m. on October 24, 2011 (EDT)
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We are probably going to stay 2 nights.  Any particular sites we should see?  We were there 2 summers ago.  We saw the red woods, El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls. 

12:11 a.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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Just take it all in! Hike out to Mirror Lake and get some good photos of Half Dome reflected in the Lake. The various falls will be at an ebb this late in the year, but Yosemite Falls, Nevada and Vernal Falls, and Bridalveil are beautiful any time of year. Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires, Sentinel, Royal Arches, Glacier Point Apron - all good. If the weather is ok, drive up to Glacier Point. Better yet, hike the 4-mile trail (actually more like 5 miles each way) from the Valley floor to Glacier Point. The trail up to Nevada and Vernal Falls is good by either the "regular" trail or the Mist Trail - just remember to stay away from the river. As noted here on Trailspace, people have gotten too close to the stream which flows astoundingly fast and can carry you right over the edge (couple of the bodies from this past summer still haven't been found - don't go wading!!!!). The trail up to Yosemite Falls is spectacular, too.

As Tom mentioned, there is a free shuttle system around the Valley, plus you can rent bicycles. No need to waste gas driving your rent-a-car. You can get off the shuttle bus wherever you want and later jump back on another one.

If the Tioga road is still open, you might want to go out to Tuolumne Meadows. Beautiful area with lots of domes.

2 nights? Not enough time to really see the Park. Maybe enough to get a quick once-over of the Valley. Be sure to go to the "real climber" talk at either Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village (check the schedule to see which one is scheduled when you are there. If you are lucky, you might get a really famous climber like Royal Robbins giving the talk (if you had been going at the right time, you might have gotten me). If you do get Royal, or Lincoln Else (climbing ranger), say hello for me.

3:12 a.m. on October 25, 2011 (EDT)
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Nothing more that I can add to that other than if you and or your wife have never driven or ridden in the snow then using someone else’s car is a most excellent idea. In this case that would be a rental car. I would highly recommend that you buy their insurance, that way your fully covered and if anything happens it will not necessarily affect your regular insurance. All things considered the amount that rental companies charge for their insurance is rather low as to what the consequences could be in the case of an accident or a stolen car.

1:42 p.m. on October 31, 2011 (EDT)
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It should be great have a good time

April 23, 2018
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