Beat the Winter Camping Blues with a Day Trip

Goat Meadow Snow Play Area is located on the southern border of Yosemite National Park, 1 mile off of Highway 41. The 1 mile road is not plowed, so chains or 4-wheel drive is required.

Goat Meadow Snow Play Area is located on the southern border of Yosemite National Park, 1 mile off of Highway 41. The 1 mile road is not plowed, so chains or 4-wheel drive is required.

It doesn’t matter whether you are in snowy New Hampshire or rainy California, winter weather can put a serious crimp in your outdoor family activities. Having never lived in the northern climates, I’ve always had romantic notions of how much better snow must be, than the (relatively) cold and rainy locations that I’ve spent my life in. There’s not much that you can do in the rain, except wait for it to stop and, even then, most outdoor activities are still a messy affair.

Over the years, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of friends from the northern climates and I’ve learned that although snow can be fun, being outdoors when the mercury drops into the sub-freezing domain is not nearly as much fun as the rest of us might imagine. One way to beat the winter blues, that is get the family outdoors and breathing some fresh air, is to take a daytrip for a little recreation.

There's nothing like a day of playing in the snow to shake off the winter blues

There's nothing like a day of playing in the snow to shake off the winter blues

Daytrips are great because they don’t require a lot of preparation. Sure, it’s a good idea to pack a lunch – even if your daytrip is hitting the ski slopes. a picnic lunch will be a lot cheaper than dining at the lodge. We’re not skiers, although the kids are just starting to show an interest in it, so when we look to get out of the house in the winter, it’s to anywhere that’s in the snowline and offers a decent slope for sledding. When we lived in Oregon, this was a relatively quick one-hour jaunt up into the Cascade Mountains. Now that we’re in Silicon Valley, however, it’s more like a three-hour slog up to the Sierra Nevada’s. I suppose that’s the rub with daytrips, depending on how far you have to go and what the road conditions are likely to be, you may have to hit the road pretty early, which is never an easy feat for the family!

After a day of playing, the drive home was very quiet!

After a day of playing, the drive home was very quiet!

Several weeks’ worth of rain and several business trips later, the Scribner Family was having a bad case of outdoor withdrawals. We loaded-up the family truckster with sleds, a change of clothes for everyone, a cooler for snacks, and headed up to Yosemite National Park for a day of R & R. And when I say R & R, I’m referring to mom and dad, because the kids didn’t slow down all day long. They were sledding, throwing snowballs, throwing the football (okay, dad helped with that) and generally having a grand old time! It was a great way to breakup an otherwise boring weekend of being indoors watching the rain, and they ended-up sleeping most of the way home. Perfect!

Does your family get the winter blues? What do you do, to get them outdoors in the winter?

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23 thoughts on “Beat the Winter Camping Blues with a Day Trip

  1. Snow play area a fee-pay area next year?
    I love goat meadow snow play area, Yesterday I saw forest service monitoring the road/parking lot. Rumor is next year you will have to pay to drive up there.
    Seems like that will axe some of the visitation… Will those families of 10 in the mini van be able to afford this? Seems like this will limit the ability of many to be able to experience the great outdoors. I agree the parking is atrocious, but it this really the answer?

    • They were monitoring it when we were there, too, Mark. They would only let people with chains or 4WD drive up. I’d say there was maybe 50 people at the top, and maybe half that sledding along the road, somewhere.

      I’m not sure charging to drive up to Goat Meadow is going to work very well. I think people will just go somewhere else.

  2. I love the fact that you are talking about helping people beat the winter time blues. I moved to Missoula Montana from Arizona 2 years ago, in the spring. That first summer was awesome, for those of you that have not been to Missoula we have three major rivers that fork up here. The Black Foot River, the Clark Fork River and the Bitterroot River. Also you can be in the wildreness in about 20 minutes. However the cold seemed to come super early and quite frankly we were not ready for it to be cold. This year we have gotten snow shoes and go hiking in the deep snow of Lolo pass between Montana and Idaho, when you get cold you can be at Lolo Hot Spring in just a few minutes for a hot swim to warm you up for the drive home. I will be getting out for more day trips this winter and hope you do the same in your town.

    • I’ve been to Missoula in the fall, Nathan. It was a really great experience – I had some great food and the area around Missoula is just breathtaking! I can imagine winters can be pretty long up there, though.

  3. Ha, ha! Yes, it is kind of a funny-looking sign (which is why I had to snap a pic).

  4. Sorry for the dumb question but what is a snow play area? What happens if you play outside that area? Will the play police show up if your not serious enough? That Snow Play area sign cracks me up.

  5. That is weird that you can’t see the shoulder belt? They’re always buckled-in, though, we’re neurotic about that. We might try to head back over there tomorrow, too – should be lots of new snow!

  6. Sounds like an awesome day! We may have to head over there.

    I have a question. Were your kids buckled in for the trip? That picture makes me nervous!

  7. Not sure about the golf course at Wawona – but the hill I saw was right across from the street from the Wawona hotel.

  8. Amy – that’s great! There’s a toboggan buried somewhere along one of the cabins at Shaver – my carpool buddy said his kids left it outside when they were up there over Christmas and it snowed so much that they couldn’t find it in the morning!

    Betsy – that’s a great writeup! We also found some better sledding up the hill from the parking lot, through the trees. I heard that the best sledding at Wawona is the golf course – was that at the hotel? I couldn’t tell from the description I found, whether the golf course was actually in Wawona, or further north of town.

  9. Sounds like you had a great time, Betsy Jane.

    I’ve always favored winter camping. It’s one of the most beautiful times to be outdoors, the crowds are gone, and the kids, when they were still with us, found all sorts of different things to do—like tracking animals in the snow.

    Some of my fondest memories, from my days of long-distance backpacking, are of following snow-covered trails, unmarked by other bootprints.

    We don’t get much snow, here in the Southland. But there are other benefits to winter camping; such as icicles hanging 30 feet and more from the clifflines. And, with the foliage out of the way, there’s so much more to see.


    Brook’s last blog post..Jan 6, Belly Boat Sneak Attack

  10. In my previous post I wrote “Goat Mountain”. The snow play area is called “Goat Meadow”.

  11. Our family went to the Goat Mountain snow play area near the south entrance (Highway 41) just outside Fish Camp over New Year’s Weekend 2009 with our 7 year old son. It hadn’t snowed real good for at least a week but we still needed to use chains to make it up the one mile off road to the play area. We arrived around 11 a.m. and the parking lot was fairly empty (this being a Friday on a Holiday weekend). Most of the people there played in the open area with the gradual snow banks near the parking lot. To avoid the crowds we hiked just a little ways into the trees and found some great runs and then an open meadow. We didn’t just sled – but hiked around and enjoyed the quietness of the woods in the snow. Plus we found some runs that we wouldn’t have found in the crowded parking lot area. I can only imagine it would be a great snow play area after a fresh snow!

    Get there early, because by 2 p.m. when we trekked back to the car the parking lot was full and cars were lined up on the road waiting for parking spots. We ate lunch near our car, then packed it in and headed into Yosemite for the weekend – right before it started to rain! We had timed it good :^).

    One more thing – when we got into the park we saw that there is snow play to the left off 41 near Wawona Hotel. I thought that sledding wasn’t allowed in the park except for near Badger Pass, but there was a pretty big group sliding down hills that looked decent. Also near the Curry Stables (and trailhead of Mirror Lake) in the park people were sledding, but it looked pretty steep and the run ended right at the road.

    Yosemite is beautiful in the winter – we go every year and it is the best way to see the park in it’s natural beauty without the crowds. Happy New Year!

  12. thanks so much for the numbers. I called the clovis number, she was real helpful and called a station up the mountain. they only had a couple inches and nothing fresh, they told us to call Shaver. That was the place to go, we had a blast. Thanks for your help.

  13. Amy – I’m sure there is, but you can call the Forest Service and they should be able to tell you for sure…
    Sierra National Forest HQ – (559) 297-0706
    Oakhurst Office – (559) 658-7588

  14. i would like to take kids to play in snow tomorrow 1-5-09. is there good play snow at goat meadow?

  15. Hmmmmm? Where’d the first part of my post go, I wonder?

    I had started it thus:

    >What do you do, to get them outdoors in the winter?)

    That’s never been a problem for us. Indeed, the real problem was getting them back inside.

    Perhaps that comes from them having been all but raised outdoors? Our youngest was still, literally, in a crib and playpen the first time we took him camping. The older one was a toddler. And boy, oh boy, do I remember the times they helped me erect the tent! A job I could do alone, in the rain, in about 20 minutes would take an hour and a half in the sunshine. But that’s what family memories are made of.


    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  16. >What do you do, to get them outdoors in the winter?)

    As they grew so, too, did their outdoor interests.

    Some of the best family adventures possible take place in the winter. Yeah, nonstop rain kind of sucks. But I’ve never met a kid that didn’t love snow activities. And down here in the mid-south, we don’t start to hike until the fall, and continue it all winter long. Better views, more dramatic scenic climaxes, and no heat, humidity, and bugs to bother with.

    A lot of great fishing takes place in the winter. No, I don’t mean ice fishing—well, that too. But when the lakes are hard (not often down here, btw), the streams are often open. For those families that hunt (with arms or with cameras), there are all sorts of winter opportunities.


    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  17. Great! I’ll post an update after our trip. We’ll be staying at a Cabin with Bath at Curry Village over the New Years Weekend. I think we will stay in Mariposa on New Years Day – and enter into Yosemite from the Southern entrance so we can play at the snow play area at Goat Meadow. Cheers!

  18. Betsy – we’re just starting a little warming spell here in Northern California, after this little storm, so I think you will have no problems as long as you have tire chains. We have some friends up at Shaver Lake right now (~5,000 feet) and they’re in a mini van with tire chains.

    Have a good trip!

  19. We’re planning a trip to Yosemite over New Years Day weekend (2009). Could we make it to Goat Meadow snow play area in a Sienna Van with Chains?

  20. Great post– I love the photo of the child who looked like he crashed mid-sentence (hehe). Re the rain being messy, I just bought my Vancouver-bound granddaughters (3 & 1, respectively) ‘rain activity suits’ called Muddy Buddy s. My sons had a version of these when they were little guys… they were a light-weight shell and you could put extra clothing under them if it was cold out, but the magic is that they kept them pretty dry from head to toe and also relatively clean, even if they played in the mud (which my kids did– a lot). But my kids were kids mighty long ago (30 years ago, at least) and I’m eager to see if my granddaughters have a similar experience with them (or if their parents do, I guess I’m saying).
    Do you know anything about these suits?


    Cynthia’s last blog post..Positively Pessimistic?