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I'm planning a camping trip in Yosemite with a group of friends for some time around mid-March. I know it can get cold at that time of year, but that's the only time we could all arrange the time off.

Firstly, has anyone camped there around that time of year? Is it still pleasant despite the cold weather? And where is the best spot to camp?

Secondly, I'm about to start buying the camping equipment we'll need. I've already looked into tents and have been doing some research on cold weather sleeping bags. Other than these two things, and a good sleeping mat, what would you recommend we take?

We'll be there for 4 - 5 days and hope to do plenty of hikes / exploring. Any and all advice would be much appreciated! Thanks :)

  • Does Yosemite mean somewhere in Yosemite National Park? Does it mean Yosemite Valley, which is one small part of the park? Elevations in the park range from 4000' to 13000'. – Ben Crowell Dec 24 '19 at 20:35
  • Getting there might be challenging depending on weather & where you are hoping to come from. Be prepared for snow camping conditions and consider snow shoes or skiis. – copper.hat Dec 24 '19 at 20:40
  • Does "hikes/exploring" mean daytrips from a central camp, or will you be lugging all your equipment with you? – Ray Butterworth Dec 25 '19 at 3:45
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March in Yosemite is considered winter, so you need to be prepared for cold temperatures and for snow. A sunny but cold day in the snow can be gorgeous and fun, but you have to also be prepared, so if the weather turns, you won't find your self in a situation where you are struggling for survival.

Trails on the valley floor may be open, but the high trails and roads will almost certainly be buried in several feet of snow. Taking snowshoes might give you more options, but if you are new to backcountry snowshoeing, you should look into a guided trip.

Check out this NP video for an overview of visiting Yosemite in winter.

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I have never been to yosemite so I cannot answer about this part based on experience. There is however a question about backpacking in april which suggests that there will be still a lot of snow in March. If you consider this enjoyable is a matter of personal opinion. I personally probably would only enjoy this with a warm and cozy camper van, but others like camping in the cold. However, I would not really recommend a beginner camper to start camping in the snow

For the camping equipment, the basics are a tent, sleeping bag and insulation pad. Per group you also need a camping stove and a pot. Everything else is bonus and for comfort. What you take will strongly depend on the type of camping you do. If you are camping out of the car, weight and space are less of an issue and the trade-off will go towards comfort. Examples of my camping gear are a big and roomy tent (standing height rocks, although not necessary for beginners), a camping chair and a table, the 20cm air mattress (great for leveling uneven ground). In colder conditions putting a hot water bottle to warm up your sleeping bag is absolutely great. Maybe you could add a solar shower and a cooler box. If you are on a multi-day hike and have to carry all the equipment, you would most likely not carry any of these things.

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  • The link in this answer about backpacking in April gives much useful information. See also Yosemite in March -- a Good Idea?. Forget the solar shower. The Yosemite store will be open, so the cooler box is not necessary either. Because you have to be prepared for a snowstorm, or worse, a rainstorm, consider staying in one of the tent cabins unless you are on a truly Spartan budget. Take waterrepellent gear, and extra socks and gloves. – ab2 Dec 24 '19 at 18:02
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My girlfriend and I camped at Hodgdon Meadow last year in May, we had very colder weather and snow. During the day the temperature at the upper elevations went as low as -10 Celcius with a cold wind and light snow. Overnight it probably went down to -20 with freezing rain. However Hodgdon Meadow is at ~7000 feet elevation, down in Yosemite valley proper it was a warm 10-15 degrees and clear skies.

Given that this was several months after the proposed camping date of March, Definitely be prepared with winter tires and chains for driving into the valley, the roads into Yosemite are narrow and very winding, you would not want to have your vehicle sliding about. Also, as the elevation changes make drastic changes in the weather you should know the elevation of your campground. If you're higher in the mountains around Yosemite you will surely experience colder temperature and more snow than if your campground is in the valley. In either case though be prepared for very cold weather camping in March.

In terms of gear aside from the winter tires and chains, keep in mind that Yosemite campgrounds warn of hantavirus, to avoid it its recommended that you keep some space between yourself and the ground. You will certainly want to make sure your sleeping mat has a high R value, likely at least 4 if not 5+, to insulate you from the frozen ground.

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In my experience and opinion, sleeping outdoors in below-freezing weather can be pretty miserable. Certainly there are people who enjoy it, but if you've never tried it you don't know if you're one of those people. Don't bet your entire vacation on an unknown like this.

Find a way to spend at least one night sleeping in similar camping gear in similar weather, prior to your vacation. This should tell you whether camping is the best idea for you for this trip. Make sure you do this within walking distance of your car, so you can bug out early if your feet start to freeze in the middle of the night.

Good-quality winter camping gear can be a considerable investment, so it may be more economical to rent gear instead of buying. Even if you plan to do more camping in the future, you may not want heavy winter gear for that. Invest in the gear that you will use most often, and rent the expensive specialty gear only needed for a single trip. You can rent camping gear from REI, and possibly other retailers. And you may have a local outdoor or hiking club that will help you find equipment to rent or borrow.

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