It’s a hit-or-miss proposition.
On one hand you have some of the most beautiful views anywhere on earth that people are willing to travel the globe to see the sweeping granite walls of a valley that were carved by glaciers over millions of years.
Waterfalls dance into the wide open expanses. Lush, green meadows are abundant. Wildlife is legendary. And it’s where one of America’s most storied Presidents walked with one of its first conservationists and agreed that such places needed to preserved for the betterment of mankind.
But visiting Yosemite National Park in the spring is a crap shoot. The steep walls along the arterial highway route to the Big Oak Flat entrance have been known to give way when the torrential rains of March come. Roads can become impassable with just a single storm, and the odds are that if you’re looking at a weather report that shows for sunshine, thousands of other people are probably doing the same thing.
Is it the same as visiting during the summer? Not even close. But uncertainties in what you’ll experience when you arrive – thunderstorms can come out of nowhere in the higher elevations in The Sierra and ruin an otherwise beautiful day without warning, even in July – are like deciding whether picking up your chips or pressing them.
Northern California residents – those in the northern San Joaquin Valley specifically – have an advantage, however, over others that can only visit during the peak season and when the floor of the Yosemite Valley is overrun with tourists that can make getting anywhere a frustrating excursion.
That crap shoot can pay off handsomely.
Even during the harsh winters, brief windows open up where with the right vehicle (chains are required to be carried on vehicles not equipped with four-wheel drive) can pass right through and into a clear, white landscape reminiscent of the portraits that made Ansel Adams a household name.
Fog lingers off the vertical face of Half Dome. Ice shimmers on El Capitan. Even the waterfalls, which slow to a trickle in the winter, create a ghostly effect when mixed with the freezing temperatures and the adhesive nature of the rocks that surround them.
It’s not the cheapest park to buy your way into – carload access has crept up to $25 over the years – but the views are truly million-dollar and if you’re lucky enough to catch one of the world-class break days, it’ll be something that you’ll be describing to jealous friends and family members for years to come.
To get to Yosemite National Park, take Highway 120 through Escalon and into Oakdale. Follow the signs, where 120 merges with Highway 108, east and look for the split several miles up the road. Conditions are posted along the route by Caltrans, and routes through the park to higher elevations on the back side of the Sierra are often impassable until late spring.