Snow and Road Conditions
For current conditions, call the park at: (209) 795-2334.
Local Forecast for Arnold, CA (95223): Weather.com
What's Open During the Winter?
A walking trail through the North Grove of Big Trees is always open. This 1.5-mile (approximately) trail is not cleared of snow, so it is in the condition that Nature and human foot traffic leaves it. The Visitor Center, a warm, friendly place to browse the natural history displays, see our Park history on film, or purchase tasteful souvenirs, is open on weekends 11-3 unless severe weather conditions persist. The Park road to the Stanislaus River and the South Grove is closed until Spring. All campgrounds are closed until spring. The North Grove Trail will be maintained for hiking, x-country skiing, and snow shoeing through-out the winter. The trail surface may be deep mud, packed snow or it may be very icy so come prepared. There is a 3.5 mile x-country ski trail available when snow contitions allow. This trail loops up to the scenic overlook and back. Dogs are allowed in the main developed areas (campground, picnic areas, main roads) on leash, but are prohibited in the North Grove of Sequoias and on the designated trails, including the Ski Trail.
What's our snow like?
Snowfall at this elevation (approximately 5,000 feet) of the Sierra can vary widely. During the "cold" storms we will get snow, but during the "warm" storms we could get rain or a slushy combination of sleet, hail, snow and rain.
Snowflakes come in many different types, depending on temperature and water content, for example. For snowplay, just about any type of snow will do, though fresh, dry "powder" is difficult to compress to make snowballs or snowpeople. For Cross-country skiing, however, the best snow is the driest and most recent, and squeaks when you push into it. "New" snow is often "dry", that is has a lot of air in the crystals. "Wet" snow is usually nearer to the temperature where it turns to water, and has less air in the structure. As "dry" snow ages, it condenses and forms "wetter" snow and the individual crystals become bigger. This elevation sometimes experiences long spells between snowstorms, so the snow can get "old". "Old" snow is generally coarser in grain, and is easier to turn to ice with compression. Ice is certainly slippery, and makes for difficult skiing, often resulting in unpleasant slips and hard landings. Early in the mornings after a sunny previous day, an ice layer can sometimes form atop the snow that will disappear by midday. The variations are endless, and conditions can change by the hour.
What to bring:
Snow is cold. You already knew that, of course, but people who aren't used to snow sometimes forget what prolonged exposure to cold can do. Heads, hands, and feet are where most body heat is lost, so keeping these areas warm takes first priority after the body core is properly dressed. A hat is probably the best deterent to heat loss (a wise old saying goes, "If your feet are cold, put on a hat"). Dressing in several light layers rather than one thick one is helpful to regulate body temperature when going frequently from active to less active energy levels. More of the body's water is lost in cold weather than you might think, so keep plenty of liquids around. Snacks help fend off the cold, too.
State Highway 4 is a good, paved, all-weather road and is maintained by plows during the winter. Roads in the Park are usually more snowy than the oft-used highway. Drivers are responsible to adjust to conditions as they find them. Conditions can vary even over a few minutes, so there is no way to predict what kind of road conditions you may encounter. Be sure your tires have plenty of tread on them and always carry tire chains (that fit YOUR car, and know which wheels to put them on!) when coming to the mountains in winter. If you see "chain control" signs up, THEY MEAN IT! Sometimes the "Chains Required" signs are up at the Blue Lake Springs turnoff below the park where it may be only raining, but the elevation rise above Blue Lake Springs is often sufficient to form snow. There is NOWHERE to chain up on the narrow winding highway leading to the Park, and sliding vehicle accidents are common. Winter driving requires extra alertness and LOTS of extra distance between vehicles.
The Park, the forest, and the Big Trees look and feel different in the Winter. Plan to enjoy a different Big Trees experience by coming during the Winter.