Wilderness Conditions Update

March 15, 2023

General Conditions

While not quite over, the winter of 2023 will be one for the record books with one of the largest winter snow packs on record. Until the end of winter and when final measurements are made, it won't be clear where this winter season will rank, but it certainly can be in the top 5 and possibly in the top 2. This means there's a lot of snow out there! Snow amounts range from 10 ft + at the higher elevations to 6-7 ft at 6,000 ft. Snowline is roughly 5,000 ft., though snow amounts maybe different in each location due to aspect and topography. With this large amount of snow, snow will linger in Yosemite for many months and well into summer at the higher elevations.

With spring runoff around the corner, many streams and creeks are at high flow making them challenging or impossible to cross. Steep snow banks on either side of streams and creeks further complicate stream crossings.

With the heavy rain and snow this winter, some trails may have more than usual erosion damage or have experienced mudslides, rockfalls or multiple downed trees. Exercise caution when traveling on trails and turn around if you do not feel comfortable going forward.

Winter travel techniques and skills are a must if you wish to backpack in Yosemite in the next few months. Spring can be a time of variable weather with warm days and cool nights or more winter like storms. Be prepared for the extremes of freezing temperatures at night and warm temperatures during the day. Except for the lowest elevations and exposed areas, plan to camp and travel in the snow. Late winter or spring storms can come at any time with heavy snowfall, making travel and navigation very difficult. Always be sure to check a current weather forecast before you start your trip and be prepared for a multitude of conditions.

Summer backpacking will likely be delayed, with snow at higher elevations and high creek crossings well into July. Tioga Road will likely not open until late June at the earliest, though a precise prediction is far too early at this point. Spring weather will determine the amount of snow on the trails in July and August. A warm & dry spring will promote snowmelt whereas a cool & wet spring will diminish snowmelt. For summer trips, be prepared for high creek crossings, snow on the trail and possibly having to alter your route significantly.

Ski conditions from the Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers are listed on the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Conditions page. They did want to highlight some conditions entering the park from the east side, which we have listed here:

In a year like this, even the most fit visitors will find it difficult to make it in from the Lee Vining Gate to Tuolumne Meadows in a day especially with a heavy pack. It is a tough balance between being prepared to bivy and travelling light and fast.

The Lee Vining approach to Yosemite remains a mountaineering experience. We recommend an ice axe and crampons in the kit as hard and steep snow will likely be encountered if not on the way in then on the way out. Remember snow surface conditions are variable depending on time of day, wind, aspect, and elevation. What might be a moderate boot pack or ski traverse on softer snow may turn into a fearful slide for life scenario on hard snow at another time.

To elaborate, the Tioga Road grade has been replaced by steep, consequential, side hill traverses in places by the heavy snow, winds, and avalanches of January. There are countless alternative routes into Tuolumne, but they too require mountaineering skills. It is not just a “walk in the park” when snow blankets the ground.

Current Closures

All current trail closures are listed on the current conditions page.

Tuolumne Meadows Campground, including the Backpacker's Campground, is closed for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. There will be no camping of any kind in Tuolumne Meadows nor any exceptions for backpackers or hikers. Backpackers will have to camp at least four trail miles from Tuolumne Meadows.

Full or partial meadow closures to free-range grazing are in effect at Crescent Lake, Hook Lake North, Isberg Lake, Miller Lake, Rodger's Lake, Turner Meadow, and Upper Kerrick Meadow to align with the 2020 Biological Opinion for Yosemite toads and mountain yellow-legged frogs, and Virginia Canyon - Castle Camp for protection of sensitive vegetation resources. Further guidance is provided in the Superintendent's Compendium; detailed maps of meadow closures are at the stock use page.

Trails in Yosemite may be closed when there are hidden hazards or are impassable due to rock fall, snow, ice, or fire. Open trails are not necessarily free of hazards. By entering the wilderness, you are assuming responsibility for your safety and must use good judgment.

Wilderness Permits

Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the Yosemite Wilderness. Reserved permits can be picked up at the following locations:

Wilderness Permit Reservations

Wilderness Permit reservations are available online at recreation.gov (help desk available Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm). Reservations are available up to 24 (168 Days) weeks to 3 days ahead of your entry date.

Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center

Closed for the season. Will reopen spring 2023.
For winter wilderness permits, visit the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center open 9 - 5

Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center

Closed for the season. Will reopen spring 2023 when Tioga Pass opens. Wilderness permits for the Tuolumne Meadows area only are available on the porch (self-registration). Be prepared with your own bear canister.

Big Oak Flat Information Station

Closed for the season. Will reopen spring 2023. Wilderness permits for the Tioga Road area only are available on the porch (self-registration). Be prepared with your own bear canister.

Wawona Visitor Center at Hill's Studio

Closed for the season. Will reopen spring 2023. Wilderness permits for the Wawona area only are available on the porch (self-registration). Be prepared with your own bear canister.

Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station

Hetchy Road is open 8 am to 5 pm. Wilderness permits for the Hetch Hetchy area and bear canister rentals are available at the entrance station. There is no access to Hetch Hetchy beyond open hours (overnight parking is permitted in the overnight parking lot near the backpackers campground).

Food Storage

Bear resistant food canisters are required in the Yosemite Wilderness. Use a canister to store all food or scented items when left unattended. Remember that anything used in, on, or around the body is considered a food item. Whenever food or scented items are out, please keep them within arm's reach, even while day hiking.

If a bear approaches your camp, act immediately to scare it away. Maintain a safe distance while making as much noise as possible. Throw small stones or pines cones toward the bear, being careful not to strike the bear on the head. If the bear returns, repeat. Do not attempt to retrieve food or gear from a bear until it abandons the items.

Last updated: March 15, 2023

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