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When is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park?

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Maybe you’ve heard of Yosemite Sam, or perhaps you just finished holding your breath during Free SoloWhatever the reason that brought you here, we’re here to talk about the best time to visit Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is a national treasure that attracts over 3.5 million visitors per year. We can confidently say there is no wrong time to visit. However, based on your interests, some months may be better than others to frolic through Tuolumne Meadows.

Mariposa Grove Sceneries

This guide will help you determine when to make your journey to Yosemite National Park. We’ll start by comparing the park seasons by when is the best time to visit Yosemite based on what you like to do and some suggestions on where to stay based on your budget.

Guided tours of Yosemite National Park from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and San Jose make for easy access without having to do the drive yourself. If you’re traveling solo or mountain passes make you nervous behind the wheel, these guided tours are the best way to see the park’s highlights.

Yosemite Valley Skyline
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Comparing the Seasons at Yosemite National Park

Season Activities Weather Best Things to See
Spring Hiking, Bird Watching Variable, can be rainy Wildflowers, Waterfalls at their peak, Wildlife
Summer Camping, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Tuolumne Meadows Warm to hot, dry Clear views of landmarks, no road closures
Fall Photography, Starry Nights Chilly temperatures, snow at higher elevations Autumn foliage, Less crowded landmarks, wildlife are active
Winter Skiing, Snowshoeing Cold, snowfall Snow-capped views, Winter wildlife

As we said above, any time can be the best time to visit Yosemite. Let’s break down what to expect during the four seasons to help you determine the best time to visit Yosemite National Park.

Summer (June-September)

Summer view in Yosemite National Park
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Summer in Yosemite is characterized by clear sunny days and warm nights. You’ll generally find daytime temperatures in the low 80s (F) to high 90s. Mountain weather can change quickly, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. Due to the overall dry conditions, the wildfire season tends to begin in late June.

Due to the predictably lovely weather, mid-summer is the peak season for tourists, and you’ll find a lot of eager summer crowds. As a result, you may find yourself waiting hours to get into the park. However, if you have patience and time to kill, you will be greatly rewarded with fully-bloomed wildflowers and the chance to see playful wildlife.

Are you an adrenaline fiend? Try a tour of Yosemite in a Jeep 4×4 for all the thrills.

Visit Yosemite in Summer for: hiking, horseback riding, jeeping, Tuolumne Meadows, and rock climbing.

See Related: Sierra Nevada Mountains Travel Guide: Things to See & Do

Fall (September-October)

Autumn in Yosemite National Park Valley
haveseen / Adobe Stock

September through mid-October is a delightful time of transition in Yosemite Valley. Milder daytime temperatures linger from the 60s to 70s, and tourists begin heading home.

The numerous waterfalls in the park may be a bit less full than in the summer, but they are still well worth a look in the early fall. With the summer crowds dimming, you’re more likely to see active wildlife like elk or black bears. As October progresses, it’s not uncommon for the first snowfall to occur.

While the autumnal weather can be a tad more unpredictable than the summer months, the warmer daytime temperatures make leaf-peeping a delightful stroll. Or, drive around Tioga Pass to take in the entire park from the cozy heat of your car.

Fall is a great time to cuddle up around the campfire. Try a 3-day camping adventure to get an up close and personal look at Yosemite.

Visit Yosemite in Fall for: leaf-peeping, camping, and wildlife viewing.

See Related: Best Places for Fall Foliage in the U.S.

Winter (November-March)

Winter in Yosemite National Park Valley
f11photo / Adobe Stock

Get ready for snow! The park experiences over 75% of its wet season from November to March, bringing snow and daytime temperatures ranging from the low 30s to mid-40s, with colder weather at higher elevations.

Visiting Yosemite in the winter months presents challenges, as park roads and hiking trails may be closed due to unsafe conditions. Some of the park’s hotels and restaurants are not open year-round. That being said, winter brings the fewest visitors, allowing those who make the trek a tranquil experience that can’t be replicated.

Pro tip: Ensure you have the appropriate gear for winter weather, like tire chains on your vehicle and extra clothes.

Visit Yosemite in Winter for: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

Spring (April-May)

View at Washburn Point, Yosemite
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

The park begins to thaw out around April. Visitors can expect temperatures in the mid-50s all the way up to the low 70s. 

If you’re chasing waterfalls, spring is the time to be in the park. With the melting snow and changing weather conditions, the park’s 25+ waterfalls are at their most brilliant. Plus, wildflowers begin to show their stuff. Add a walk through Tuolumne Meadows to catch spring in all its majesty.

Of course, spring weather can be unpredictable. Note that some hiking trails will be snow-covered, and not all services are available. However, tourist season still hasn’t hit, so the opportunity for a more peaceful park experience prevails. 

Visit Yosemite in Spring for: wildflowers and waterfalls.

See Related: Top National Parks in the USA to Visit

Best Time to Visit Yosemite Based on Interests

Let’s determine the best time to visit Yosemite by discussing which season offers the activities you’re most interested in.

Wildlife Viewing

Lone Bear in Yosemite National Park
Samantha / Adobe Stock

If you want to check “See a Bear” off your bucket list, autumn is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park. The crowded trails are typically thinning, and the weather is cooling, making it the ideal time to see animals like bears, bighorn sheep, and even mountain lions wandering about the park.

Try Vernal and Nevada Falls via Mist Trail or Upper Yosemite Falls Trail for the best shot at seeing some furry friends.

Adventure Seekers

El Capitan in  Yosemite
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Granola folks unite – tie up those hiking boots and grab your backpack. Any good adventurer knows you can chase thrills at any time of year. However, summer in Yosemite offers endless opportunities with full access to the park. 

If you’re up for a real challenge, try to grab a permit for the famous Half Dome trail. Or, try white-water rafting just outside the perimeter of the park. Perhaps even tie up and climb the iconic Big Wall route on El Capitan if you’re an experienced climber.

The winter months are another excellent time for outdoorsy folk to visit as it transforms into a winter wonderland. An 8-mile snowshoe from the Nordic Center can take guests the entire day.

There is also an opportunity for ice skating at the Curry Village Ice Rink. Finally, cross-country and downhill skiers can enjoy the fresh snow at Badger Pass Ski Area, located within the national park. 

Photographers

View of Firefall in Yosemite National Park
Raymond / Adobe Stock

It should come as no surprise that photographers flock to Yosemite during autumn. Astrophotography has become increasingly popular beginning in early October, as the crisp autumn air makes for clear skies. Amateur and professional photographers can expect to see golden yellow leaves on Black Oaks and vibrant pink and reds on the Dogwoods. 

Fall isn’t the only time visitors will find photographers swarming the park. Once per year, generally, toward mid-late February, visitors can catch what has been called the “Yosemite Firefall.” 

During this time, the staple waterfall of the park, Horsetail Falls, appears to be spewing fire rather than water. Don’t worry – it’s just an optical illusion from the light – but what a sight to be seen!

Families with Children

Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

The spring and summer months are the busiest time to visit, but it’s perfect for families with young children. 

Spring is filled with wildflowers, and the waterfalls are at their most spectacular. Popular family-friendly spots like the Lower Yosemite Falls trail tend to have fewer visitors, allowing for a more relaxing experience. 

If visiting in the summer season, kids can participate in the Yosemite Junior Ranger program. These programs are a great way to get children excited about conservation and connect them with other young ones from around the country. Or, enjoy a family-friendly swim in Mirror Lake.

Yosemite National Park: Spring and Summer

Washburn Point in Yosemite National Park
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Whether you visit Yosemite National Park in the early spring or mid-summer, these warm-weather attractions are a must-see:

Snap Photos at Glacier Point

Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley

Situated at an elevation of 7,214 feet, Glacier Point is an incredible viewpoint offering panoramic views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and nearly the entire park. Plus, it offers a visitor center, gift shop, and washrooms.

A lesser-known viewing spot is Washburn Point. It’s just minutes from Glacier Point but far fewer crowds. Washburn Point offers similar views of Yosemite Valley as Glacier Point but with far fewer visitors, even during the busy summer.

For an even more daring adventure, check out Taft Point. Taft Point provides all the thrills of Glacier Point–but without any of the guard rails.

Note that Glacier Point Road is a seasonal road only open from late May to November (depending on the weather) and is the only road that can take you to this lookout.

See Related: Most Famous Landmarks in California to Visit

Hike Half Dome

View of Half Dome from Washburn Point
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Your Instagram feed is likely filled with incredible stories of folks conquering their fears and tackling the famous 400-foot cable climb on Half Dome. This 14-16 mile hike is not for the faint of heart. It requires skill, fitness, and grit to reach the top.

Many who have completed the hike say the 5,000-foot elevation gain is well worth the struggle. Due to overcrowding, hikers must secure a permit in advance.

Due to extreme weather conditions, Half Dome permits are only available from late spring to early fall. Generally, the first summits of the season take place over Memorial Day weekend.

Visit Over 25 Waterfalls

Yosemite Falls Up-close

Yosemite National Park is known for its impressive waterfalls. There are 25+ waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, but the collection of Yosemite Falls is largely the most iconic.

Coming down over a giant granite wall and hitting the rocks at the base of the cliff, these 3-tiered waterfalls gush over stones–making it nearly impossible to look away.

At just under 2,500 feet tall, you can enjoy the striking view of this natural attraction from different points throughout the park. It features a unique look from every angle, making it impossible for visitors to take their eyes off it. The three falls that make up Yosemite Falls are the Upper Yosemite Fall, Horsetail Fall, and Lower Yosemite Fall.

Other gorgeous waterfalls include Sentinel Fall (2,000 feet tall), Bridalveil Fall (620 feet), and Ribbon Fall (1,612 feet tall). The peak season for these falls is between May and June. 

Mirror Lake (which reflects the Half Dome), Merced River, Tuolumne River, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Falls Creek, and Piute Creek are other famous water features you can’t miss.

Take a Scenic Drive or Hike Around Yosemite Valley

View of Yosemite Valley during a hike
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

At 7.5 miles long, there is no shortage of viewpoints in Yosemite Valley. If you’re coming prepared to hike, the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail has 20+ miles of mesmerizing views. It’s a hot spot for camping, biking, hiking, and even just meditating.

The valley features many spots for photography, including Tunnel View, Sentinel Bridge, and El Captain with Cathedral Rocks views. The 47-mile loop on Tioga Road is one way to take in the valley’s best sights.

Note that Tioga Road is usually open by the end of May and closed by late fall. However, in recent years, Tioga Road has been closed by snow as early as October.

See Related: Most Beautiful Valleys in the U.S.

Stroll Through Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows  in Yosemite National Park
Rick Vega / Flickr

Tuolumne Meadows is a unique sub-alpine meadow, sitting at a high elevation of 8,575 ft. The ideal time to visit Tuolumne Meadows is from early summer to mid-fall when Tioga Pass is open.

Visitors can find the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and Tuolumne Meadows Wildlife Center, as well as the Parsons Memorial Lodge. Interestingly, the lodge is where John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson came up with the idea of turning Yosemite into a national park. Those High Sierra views were too good to ignore.

Tuolumne Meadows is part of the Tioga Road scenic loop that we mentioned under the Scenic Drive section. It is a preferred spot for hiking, scenic viewpoints, wildlife viewing, and public ranger programs.

Yosemite National Park: Fall and Winter

Autumn is a magical time in the mountains. After Labor Day weekend, the crowds dwindle, and the weather in the park doesn’t start to get extreme, typically until late fall. Of course, you’ll want to be prepared because snow comes early to the higher elevations, so be sure you have appropriate gear for any weather you may encounter.

Tuolumne Meadows is stunning under a blanket of snow. While parts of Tioga Road and some trails are closed during the winter snow, there are still endless opportunities to enjoy Yosemite’s winter wonderland and take advantage of cooler temperatures.

Enjoy Yosemite by Exploring Badger Pass Ski Area

Skiing in Yosemite Valley

Badger Pass Ski Area is a popular winter recreation area in Yosemite National Park. Badger Pass offers tons of winter fun and is a favorite ski spot among families and winter enthusiasts. Yosemite National Park’s winter scenery is at its best from the top of the pass.

You can enjoy that beautiful High Sierra snow by trying fun winter activities, including cross-country skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing. Badger Pass stays open until early Spring.

Warm-Up in Historical Centers and Interesting Buildings 

Historical Centers and Interesting Buildings 

Get out of the snow and slush and spend some time indoors, too. Yosemite National Park is home to historical centers and buildings that reflect the history. The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center features an exhibit hall portraying the formation of this landscape and the unique Native American heritage & culture. 

Next to the Visitor Center is the Yosemite Museum. It features all the details visitors need to plan their trip around the national park. Similarly, the Ansel Adams Gallery features a vast collection of photography and artwork from around the national park and outside of it. 

Catch Fall Colors and Giant Seqoias in the Forests 

Yosemite Valley Forests

Surrounded by Stanislaus National Forest from the northwest and Sierra National Forest from the southwest, the coniferous forests of Yosemite Valley make it distinctive from others.

For instance, Mariposa Grove. In the southern section of Yosemite, Mariposa Grove is the largest grove of sequoias in the park, featuring over 500 mature giant sequoias. Two of the trees in Mariposa Grove are among the 30 largest sequoias in the world.

Though sequoia trees are available throughout the park, Mariposa Grove is the only location for most of them grouped. These awe-inspiring trees are the real inspiration behind establishing the national park system and preserving these unique natural features.

Traveling from San Francisco? Try out this Yosemite National Park & Giant Sequoias Hike that offers pickups from the city.

View Stunning Rock Formations 

Rock Formations, Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Park is also best known for its unique granite rock formations. Millions of tourists visit the park yearly to see or even climb these awe-inspiring rock structures. 

Towering cliffs rise from the base of Yosemite Valley to create stunning views and photo opportunities for nature lovers. El Capitan (Rock climbing, anyone?), Cathedral Rocks & Spires, Half Dome, Glacier Point, Half Dome, Mt. Dana, Three Brothers, and Mt. Gibbs are some of the most visited rock formations. 

Lodging Options in Yosemite National Park 

Regardless of your budget, various lodging options exist within and around Yosemite Valley. You will find luxury hotels, mid-range stays, and campsites for every type of visitor.

Luxury: The Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park
The Ahwahnee Hotel / Yosemite Mariposa County

Initially built in the 1920s, the Ahwahnee Hotel was created with affluent clientele in mind. For example, President John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth rested their heads on the Ahwahnee Hotel’s luxurious furnishings.

Guests will enjoy classic Yosemite views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. The Ahwahnee Hotel offers guests an on-site restaurant, outdoor pool, and lounge. If you’re looking to treat yourself, this is the spot to be when you visit Yosemite Valley.

Mid-Range: Wawona Hotel

Traditional Room with one bed and table

Wawona is a small town in the southern part of Yosemite National Park. The town is home to the historic Wawona Hotel and is a great base camp for exploring the park. 

The Wawona Hotel is a historic property in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The hotel is open year-round, with a restaurant, gift shop, and occasional special events. It’s charming, conveniently located, and not too hard on the waller.

Mid-Range: Yosemite View Lodge

Yosemite View Lodge

Situated along the Merced River, this gorgeous property with a striking view is only about 5 miles from Yosemite Park. Yosemite View Lodge features several amenities, including parking, 24-hour front desk service, four pools, a hot tub, an indoor spa, and a restaurant & bar. All rooms come with a small kitchenette.

Campfire  experience in Yosemite View Lodge
Cait Kontalis / ViaTravelers

Camping: Bass Lake Recreation Area

For those interested in “roughing it,” Bass Lake Recreational Area is about 25 minutes south of the park. Visitors will find family-friendly campsites with boat rentals, paddle boarding, jet-skiing, and a casual burger joint.

Moreover, the park has around 13 campgrounds, restaurants, and a grocery store for last-minute necessities. To plan a trip to visit Yosemite, check out the National Park Service website to get your itinerary together.

See Related: Best Vacation Rentals in California

FAQs

Who was the founder of Yosemite National Park?

John Muir was the founder of Yosemite National Park. Also known as the “Father of National Parks” or “John of the Mountains,” he was an environmental philosopher, zoologist, and botanist in the USA.
 
Muir inspired travelers who visit Yosemite Valley to look under the surface through his magical, poetic imagery– “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” His books, magazine articles, and letters raised awareness about the distinctive beauty of Yosemite. 

Muir had spent years studying everything he could about the valley. He started a campaign to preserve Yosemite Valley as a national park after realizing the increasing rate of the devastation of nature’s beauty caused by overdevelopment.

Thanks to Muir, the Yosemite Valley region became the third national park in the United States on October 1, 1890.

Do I need to make prior reservations to enter Yosemite Park?

At this time, there are no reservation requirements to visit Yosemite National Park. You only need to pay an entrance fee. However, since the summer of 2023, the park has been experiencing extreme delays during peak season. Arrive early to ensure you make the most of your time in the park.
 
However, if you plan to spend the night in the park, you should get a campground or lodging reservation to ensure a comfortable stay.

When is the best time to visit Yosemite?

There is no wrong time to visit Yosemite. Summer offers open trails and roads (like Glacier Point Road), while spring brings waterfalls like Bridalveil Falls to their best. Winter is a playground for snow lovers, and fall brings lead-peepers from around the world.

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