Updated: Mar 11, 2021
I had been to Yosemite at least 20 times prior to this trip but it had always been in the late spring, summer and early fall. Never before had I considered staying in Yosemite in the winter on account of me being a pansy (at least this is as good an explanation as I can conjure). But never again will I allow my old bones keep me away from this majestic place, not in the winter, not anytime.
We planned this trip about a day in advance and drove from the bay area. In order to avoid snow camping we decided we'd just camp in the valley. We checked out campsite 4 in the heart of Yosemite Valley which in April-September is basically a zoo, and it was only at about a quarter to half capacity. We easily found a spot, found some good neighbors and set up shop. I typically avoid car camping these days as I feel like the crowds, RV's, noise, cramped quarters sort of ruin the whole appeal of camping. But I digress... This site was nearly empty and was just about perfect. The valley itself is only about 3,500 feet so while it was cold at night, it wasn't uncomfortable in 15 degree bags.
We ended up just going on day hikes from campsite 4 and would head back to the valley each night to fill up, kill some beers and enjoy a fire. This shot is actually from the night we came in, right after we set up shop. We hopped on the upper and lower Yosemite Falls trail that is right behind campsite 4 and made a good 3-4 miles before the sun set, prompting the end of our little trek (see the map of Yosemite below in picture and PDF forms for your viewing pleasure).
The next day we chose another hike starting at the 4 mile trailhead near swing bridge (also on the map above). We took the trail towards Moran and Glacier point from there. This requires a bit of elevation gain so we brought yak tracks and snow shoes with the assumption we would need one or both during the snow covered portions of the trail. Of course we used neither, mostly due to the snow being well packed and not very slippery (but not due to the lack of snow). This one was pretty much up hill the entire way to both Moran and Glacier point but the views were incredible!
The last day we mostly just sauntered around the valley a bit which included getting some good looks at El Capitan and some hot chocolate at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. On the drive out we got a few more incredible pictures from Valley View just before the tunnel road (below and the initial image above).
For an impromptu trip and a first visit to Yosemite in the winter, this one really couldn't have been much better. Would highly recommend!