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Packed In Summer

Yosemite National Park is most people’s vacation of a lifetime. All the superlatives apply to the favorite park of John Muir and Ansel Adams – vertical granite, snowy peaks, endless evergreen forests, quiet winding rivers. Most of those visitors will see it in the summer high season, when Yosemite Valley looks like an anthill somebody just kicked over.

Yosemite Valley south wall, December

Empty In Winter

There’s a much better time to enjoy everybody’s favorite park. In winter, most of the tourists are gone. You can actually contemplate the best vistas on foot, or get out and see the ones no one ever sees from cross-country skis or snowshoes.

XC Skiing near the Glacier Point Road, Yosemite

Skiing Glacier Point Road near Outhouse Meadow

If you’re short on time on one of your days, try skating beneath the Valley’s walls at the Camp Curry ice rink. Even between Christmas and New Years, crowds shrink to manageable proportions.

Skating at Camp Curry ice rink, Yosemite

Skating at Camp Curry ice rink

Everyone photographs the same iconic views in Yosemite. I always challenge myself to capture something different, especially since I’ve been there so much over the years.

The hand of man disappears under winter snow and fog, the cars drive away, and you begin to see Yosemite as the Ahwahneechee Indians saw it 200 years ago. You can get shots nobody else has.

Wawona Tunnel View - full-moon foggy December, Yosemite

Wawona Tunnel view and Moon

Shot Notes –

Yosemite gets dark in winter, so you’ll be using long shutter speeds – bring a tripod. I could also have used my tilt-shift lens for undistorted pictures of granite walls. The tripod was a must for the moonlight shots from the Wawona Tunnel View. A late-model dSLR like the EOS 5D mark II gives you high ISOs without too much digital noise. You may also want a prime, non-zoom lens for shots into bright light sources like the full moon. With fewer glass elements, primes are much less likely to flare than zoom lenses.

Skiing the Glacier Point Road, Yosemite

Skiing the Glacier Point Road