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Looking at the webcam, it looks like things are still pretty wintery in that area. Being Michiganders, some snow is not going to deter us (we love winter camping), but we at least want to be prepared for what we're up against.

How accessible might Yosemite be in these conditions? Any precautions you might recommend due to the mountainous terrain?

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Keep in mind that the Sierra is very different from Michigan in that snowpack is extremely variable from year to year. Do you mean Yosemite Valley? Somewhere else in Yosemite National Park? It's a big park. Depending on conditions and where you're going, you may need ice ax and crampons. –  Ben Crowell Apr 19 '13 at 17:01
    
For reference, the route was from the Wawona tunnel to Sentinel Dome. Our route could be accomplished with only snow shoes, but that will certainly vary by location and how the winter is breaking. –  Brad Koch Apr 19 '13 at 17:34
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you choose to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada in April, prepare yourself as if you were going in winter, because there will still be significant snow, and you could be hit by a blizzard at any time.

To quote the National Park Service:

Hiking and backpacking options are still limited in April. Expect snow above 6,000 feet (this varies from year to year). The Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall usually opens sometime in April, although it is possible to reach the top of Vernal Fall via the John Muir Trail and continue on to Nevada Fall. The Yosemite Falls Trail is typically snow-free at least most of the way to the top (but snow is likely at the top, making for a snow-camping experience if you're backpacking). The Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point is closed (but may be open to Union Point, about halfway up).

Outside of Yosemite Valley, snow may still be present in the Upper Mariposa Grove, but the lower grove is usually mostly snow-free. Chilnualna Falls Trail (Wawona) may be mostly snow-free and hiking to Wapama and Rancheria Falls (Hetch Hetchy) is another usually snow-free option.

There are no multi-night backpacking options in April that do not involve hiking and camping in the snow

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I hiked to Rancheria Falls and back once in April. It was still quite cold, but you could always find the trail and didn't have to wade through snow or things like this. I guess the Hetch Hetchy area would be the place to go for early birds. –  m90 Apr 16 '12 at 10:21
    
@m90 there are probably areas of the park which are OK winter, but it also probably varies by year. If you're familiar with particular areas which are more suitable for backcountry travel this time of year, by all means add another answer! –  nhinkle Apr 16 '12 at 15:44
    
What about May? –  gerrit Mar 12 '13 at 22:53
    
@gerrit if you look at the same page that I linked, you'll see that they also have info about visiting in May. –  nhinkle Mar 12 '13 at 23:40
    
Wilderness permits are required and may be difficult to get. — interesting, I thought they would be easy to get off-season, because less people would be interested in the first place... –  gerrit Mar 12 '13 at 23:43
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My results:

That particular April was unusually warm. We needed to be prepared to start hiking in hot weather (70-80F) and end up hiking in 4 feet of snow at higher elevation. Snowshoes are a must.

The trail we were on was impossible to follow perfectly in the winter, so be prepared to end up off trail frequently. Cut logs are one helpful indicator of where the trail is when the ground is covered in snow.

Needless to say, the terrain is particularly slow going, so pace yourselves. We hoped to do 26 miles in 3 days, we ended up only doing about 20.

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