The immense snowpack in the Sierra Nevada this year has dramatically altered Yosemite National Park, and the effects are expected to continue throughout the summer and potentially beyond. The park’s renowned waterfalls are roaring as vast amounts of melted snow pour thousands of feet down sheer granite cliffs. Flooding is anticipated in Yosemite Valley between late April and early July due to the heavy snow at higher elevations, which may result in the park’s closure at times.
The park is currently experiencing drastic changes from previous years, with wet, lush meadows, a rising Merced River, and thunderous waterfalls. Clearing Tioga Road into Yosemite’s backcountry began on April 17, but public access to the area and Glacier Point Road may be delayed until after July 1, the latest on record, according to park officials.
The High Sierra camps, popular among backpackers and accessed via a lottery system, will be closed for the entire summer. Parks officials are cautioning hikers to exercise extreme care on snowy trails, especially near strong streams and rivers, which have caused fatalities in past wet years. With increased water risks throughout the park, officials are emphasizing the need for caution this year.
On April 1, the snowpack at Tuolumne Meadows reached 15 feet deep, breaking the 1983 record for the deepest April 1 measurement since records began in 1930. The area, at around 8,600 feet elevation, received an additional 2 feet of snow a few days later. Though snow did fall in Yosemite Valley, it did not accumulate, and campgrounds and hotels remain open. Trails out of the valley are still covered in snow and largely impassable.
Following three years of severe drought and wildfires, Yosemite experienced closures this year due to snow accumulation. The park was closed for three weeks from February 25 to March 18 as 10 feet of snow accumulated in Yosemite Valley, causing infrastructure damage. Apart from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, this has been one of the longest closures for the park, which welcomes over 4 million visitors annually.
Experts believe that animals should be able to cope with the snowpack, which is two-and-a-half times the historical average in higher regions. In extremely snowy years, animals may migrate to lower elevations, delay reproduction, or hibernate. However, inexperienced tourists should take extra precautions. It’s important to be prepared for walking through water, mud, and wet snow during hikes at high elevations.
High water levels in streams pose a significant risk, and Yosemite sees approximately a dozen fatalities annually, often due to heart attacks and car accidents. However, several drowning deaths also occur each year. After wet winters, tragedies tend to increase as rivers and streams flow more forcefully, highlighting the potential dangers for visitors this year. Notable accidents in the past include the 2011 Vernal Fall incident, the 2012 drowning of two young brothers in the Merced River, and a 66-year-old man’s death in 2017 after falling off a footbridge at Wapama Falls.
Visitors should be aware of the inherent risks and the importance of exercising caution in the park. Yosemite is not Disneyland, and crossing large creeks or rivers can be extremely dangerous. Respecting nature and its potential hazards is crucial.