The Best Time of Year to Visit Yosemite…

No matter when you visit Yosemite National Park you’ll probably find yourself thinking that you are experiencing Yosemite at its best. That’s because like sipping hot chocolate on a snowy day, Yosemite is always amazing. In fact I once had the pleasure of biking through Yosemite Valley while a massive wildfire was raging nearby. Even with an eery orange colored sky and ashes falling into my eyes, the meadows and granite cliffs were still beautiful. At least what I could see of them through my watering eyes.

The point is there isn’t much that can ruin the infinite splendor of Yosemite. Every season offers it’s own unique type of natural beauty and appeal to visitors.

View of Yosemite Valley and Bridal Veil Falls
View looking down through Yosemite Valley from the “Tunnel View” vista point.

Deciding When to Visit Yosemite National Park

There are pros and cons to each season. Deciding when is the best time of year to visit Yosemite depends on what you’re hoping to do and see. Dreaming of being sprayed by thundering waterfalls? Don’t go in November. Hate crowds? Avoid late spring and summer. Below is a detailed description of what the park is like throughout the year.

Fall

Pros:

By late September the leaves begin to change colors and summer crowds start to dwindle. All the roads throughout the park are open making it possible to do endless hiking. Day time temps at the higher elevation spots such as Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point are pleasant. In September the Merced River and the park’s lakes are about as warm as they get, meaning you can take a dip without immediately going numb. However, by October lower night time temps mean colder water temps.

Cons:

Historically Fall has been one of the best times of year to visit many of California’s most beautiful places. The beaches shed the chilly summer marine layer and the mountains get dotted with fall foliage. Recently with the drier weather fall has also becomes a time of year when large scale wildfires are commonplace. Smoke from these fires can blow hundreds of miles, meaning that even far away fires can impact air quality throughout the state. If you are planning on visiting Yosemite in September or October there’s a chance that you might encounter a bit of smokey haze from wildfires.

Another downside of the drier fall weather is that it’s very unlikely that the waterfalls in the park will be flowing. Some might have a trickle but chances are you’ll just be staring up at darkened granite.

Why You Should go to Yosemite in the Fall

  • warm weather but without the summer crowds
  • exploring Tuolumne Meadows
  • fall foilage
Yosemite Meadow on a smokey fall day
Fall in Yosemite can mean hazy, smokey skies
The Merced River in Yosemite National Park. Fall is one of the best time of year to visit Yosemite if you want warm weather with crowds
A gorgeous, uncrowded September afternoon on the Merced River

Winter

Pros:

The park gets a lot quieter in the winter. While you probably won’t be hiking to the top of Half Dome during this colder season, there are a few fun ways to enjoy winter in Yosemite. The seasonal ice skating rink in Curry Village has to be one of the prettiest ice skating rinks in California and Badger Pass Ski Area is the perfect spot for families with young skiers. After a snowstorm the valley is a spectacular spot to spend the afternoon snowshoeing. If you’re looking for a cozy winter weekend without the traffic of getting to Lake Tahoe, head to Yosemite.

Cons:

If you have the misfortune of being in Yosemite during a warmer winter storm, it won’t be snowing, it will be raining. Either way expect less daylight, which limits the amount of time you can spend outside exploring and chilly weather. Also, you won’t be able to see all of Yosemite since Highway 120/ Tioga Road which takes visitors through Tuolumne Meadows typically closes in November and stays closed until June.

Winter is one of the least crowded times to visit Yosemite. And you can snowshoe in Yosemite Valley!
The Ahwahnee Hotel in winter
Snow capped Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
A dusting of snow makes Half Dome even more spectacular
Yosemite Falls in the winter is just a trickle of water
Just a trickle of water is all that remains of Yosemite Falls in the winer

Why You Should go to Yosemite in the Winter

  • affordable, beginner friendly skiing at Badger Pass
  • lower prices on accommodation
  • ice skating at Curry Village
  • snowshoeing in Yosemite Valley

Spring

Pros:

There’s a reason that Yosemite is overrun by tourists in the spring, it’s quite possibly when the park is the most beautiful, and many will argue that spring is the best time of year to visit Yosemite. The meadows are green, the waterfalls have an abundance of water, and the sky seems impossibly bright blue. April-June is peak season for seeing the waterfalls at their best, and one the main reasons to visit Yosemite in the spring.

Cons:

Spring weather can be vairable, it’s even possible to get a dusting of snow in May. Because of the possibility of snow, some of the roads stay closed until the end of May/beginning of June. Having fewer accessible trails and a large number of people visiting the park makes the areas of the park that are open feel extra crowded.

Why You Should Visit Yosemite in the Spring

  • Incredible waterfalls
  • waterfalls, wildflowers, and lush meadows = endless photo opportunities
  • very low risk of wildfires
mist trail waterfall yosemite
The legendary Mist Trail is the best during the spring months
view from Sentinel Dome area near Glacier Point in Yosemite
Springtime’s clear air makes Yosemite’s best views even better
Vernal Falls in Yosemite
There’s nothing like seeing Yosemite’s massive waterfalls in the spring
spring is the best time of year to visit Yosemite
A waterproof jacket protects you from chilly waterfall mist and unexpected spring showers

Summer

Pros:

A trip to the Sierra’s is an annual summer pilgrimage for many Californian’s, with Yosemite National Park being one of the most popular summer Sierra vacation destinations. During the summer the weather is hot enough to make floating down the Merced River enjoyable and a quick dip in an alpine lake appealing after a sweaty hike. The entire park is typically open, giving backpackers and day hikers plenty of trail options.

Cons:

If you’re planning on staying inside the park, including in the campgrounds, you’ll need to make reservations months in advance. If you’re staying outside the park and planning on taking day trips into the park you run the risk of being stuck in traffic getting into the park. During peak times it can take upwards of forty-five minutes to get through the park entrance kiosks.

Lastly, depending on what the snow levels were like for the year, the waterfalls may not by flowing during the later summer months.

Tip: Evergreen Lodge is one of the closest places to stay outside the park and perfect for families.

Why You Should Visit Yosemite in the Summer

  • ideal weather for camping/backpacking
  • floating down the Merced River
  • Long days for long hikes
  • Spending an afternoon on Tenaya Lake
Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite has a few hikes
Hetch Hetchy doesn’t allow swimming but it sure is tempting on a hot summer day
being able to explore the Tuolumne Meadows area is one of the best reasons to visit Yosemite in the summer or fall
Taking a dip in one of the many lakes in the Tuolumne Meadows area

What To Bring To Yosemite National Park

Fall

  • Hot weather clothes for early fall when daytime temperatures are still summer-like
  • A down jacket for chilly evenings and mornings

Winter

  • Waterproof pants/jacket for rainy/snowy hikes
  • Warm hat/gloves
  • Waterproof boots
  • An insulated water bottle for toting around a hot beverage
  • Books/games for cozy evenings

Spring

  • Layers for unpredictable weather
  • A bike for biking around Yosemite Valley
  • Bug repellent for late spring mosquitos

Summer

  • A headlamp for walking back from ranger programs at night
  • An inner tube or fun floaty for the Merced River
  • Bug repellent for lingering mosquitos
  • Hat/sunglasses/plenty of sunscreen

Helpful Tips for Visiting Yosemite

Use Hiking Poles: Some of Yosemite’s most spectacular hikes are also very steep. Hiking poles are knee-savers, especially if you plan on hiking consecutive days.

Bring a Bike: Aside from winter, it’s almost always an incredible experience to bike around Yosemite Valley. There are bike rentals in Curry Village but you can save some money by bringing your own bike.

Be Careful About Where You Stay: If you’re staying outside the park look closely at exactly how far your hotel or campground is from the park. Know that a place that is thirty minutes from the park entrance is probably more like an hour from Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Traffic: Getting into Yosemite on a Friday or Satruday can mean a long wait at the entrane kiosk. Good luck!

Spotty Cell Service: Cell service/wi-fi isn’t great in the park.

Get Out of the Valley: A lot of visitors come to Yosemite and never venture out of Yosemite Valley. There’s more to see than just the Valley so if the roads are open it’s worth it to drive to other parts of the park.

The Bottom Line: Deciding the best time of year to visit Yosemite National Park depends on what you want to do on your Yosemite vacation and how many people you want to share the park with!

lake elizabeth in Tuolumne Meadows

Further Reading on Yosemite and California Travel

Staying in Curry Village: What it’s Really Like

What os the Best Side of Lake Tahoe?

Camping in Mammoth Lakes, CA

Escaping the Crowds in Lakes Basin, CA

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