Let’s face it: winters are tough in New York. If it’s not the snow – and it usually isn’t– it’s the rain, ice, endless cloudy days… and let’s not forget the wind tunnels. Whatever “it” is, it sucks – so every February, the EB crew packs it up and heads West to explore our country’s National Parks. This year, Yosemite was Part 1 of 3 in 1200+ mile road trip, where we traveled from Yosemite National Park, to Sequoia National Forest, to Joshua Tree National Park.

Granted, getting to Yosemite isn’t the most convenient, and for this and several other factors most people opt for summer visits. But that’s when the park becomes a tourist trap. As we found out, off-season is the ideal time to visit for those of us who enjoy crowdless National Parks, as Yosemite sits pretty empty while winter does its thing. (Be warned, it does snow – but that’s what snowshoes are for!)

Our crew arrived just a day after a second snowstorm had bought nine feet of now in the past week… and we were worried. But after loads of validation from concierges, hosts, guides, and bartenders, we felt better in our decision to visit in winter, when Yosemite was simultaneously quiet, magical, wild and untamed. Following winter, in spring, Yosemite’s waterfalls burst back to life with winters snowmelt as the first flowers sprout up. In both off-seasons, visitors don’t have to fend off the masses at hotels, restaurants, or the park; instead, you’ll find solitude and great deals on hotels. (As it so happens, EB loves solitude and good deals.)

To get Yosemite National Park from NYC, fly into Fresno, San Jose or San Fransisco to approach from the west – or Las Vegas to the east. From the west, the approach takes you through the mountains; the eastward drive takes you through the Mojave Desert.

Where to Stay at Yosemite National Park: Rush Creek Lodge 

The first new lodge in the region in more than 25 years, the breathtaking Rush Creek Lodge is located at the doorstep of Yosemite National Park. The contemporary but rustic 143-room resort marries the indoors with the outside, inspired by the expanse of nature surrounding its 20-acre wooded hillside setting.

Guests have their choices of three room types: lodge rooms, suites, and hillside villas. Each room features a deck overlooking nature – the majority with sunset views. The amenities of the hotel are designed to create an outstanding getaway for kids and adults alike. The lodge has an onsite restaurant and tavern, heated saltwater pool (with a bar!), hot tub, and indoor game room. There’s also a massive lobby with a fireplace. Wellness offerings include a spa, yoga, plus tons of daily activities to get your legs moving.

How to See Yosemite in Off-Season

For those who want to see it all in a time-crunch, or just get the lay of the land before exploring on your own, we’d highly recommend booking a tour guide. It’s not cheap, but it’s not terrible – plus with any tour, your guide will be your driver. (In winter, this is can be crucial to seeing the park, as snow days can mean require visitors to have snow tires, or chains, for extra traction on the road.) Rush Creek Lodge provides their own tour guide services, but they often fill up, so you can opt for an outside company like Echo Adventure Cooperative too. In any case, the guide will pick you up at the hotel lobby, drive you and your crew around, and take you on hikes based on skill level. Most guides only take small or private groups, will provide or arrange snacks/meals/water, plus also carry weather essentials like snowshoes, gloves or ponchos.

For more off-season info on Yosemite, check out TravelYosemite.com.