A visit to Yosemite National Park in California is always an adventure, no matter what time of year you go. The attractions at Yosemite change throughout the different seasons. During the winter, snow limits access to some parts of the park, but also opens up the possibility of skiing. Spend some time hiking the trails in the spring and summer, or admire the fall foliage from a rustic cabin or luxurious vacation rental in Yosemite. Opt for an accommodation near one of the park’s entrances to enjoy this spectacular park as thoroughly as possible, regardless of the season.
Visiting Yosemite in the Summer
Summertime is the most popular season at Yosemite, in part because kids are on summer vacation and in part because the good weather opens all the roads for driving and all the hiking paths. By booking a vacation rental outside the park, you can spare your family some of the crowding issues that can plague Yosemite during the summer. Even so, be prepared to enter the park by mid-morning to avoid delays at the entrance gates. Weather during the summer tends to be warm, with the occasional thundershower. Late summer is when wildfires tend to strike, however, so be prepared for hazy conditions.
During the summer, Yosemite hiking is at its peak, and most of the high-elevation hiking trails are free of snow by mid-June. Pick up a trail map at Park Headquarters or any of the shops near the Wawona Hotel or the Majestic Yosemite Hotel to hike out of Yosemite Valley, Hetch-Hetchy, or Wawona. As the summer progresses and dry conditions set in, you’re less likely to see any of the spectacular waterfalls for which Yosemite is known, though years with a dense snowpack can keep falls flowing into the autumn, and Bridalveil Falls typically manages at least a trickle even in the driest summers. Late spring and early summer are prime time for wildflowers blooming across the floor of the Yosemite Valley.
Visiting Yosemite in the Fall
You can count on drastic drops in the crowd levels at Yosemite in the fall as kids go back to school. You shouldn’t expect much in the wall of glorious fall foliage, since most of the trees in Yosemite are evergreens, but the single sugar maple tree by Yosemite Chapel stands proudly for beautiful photographs at this time of year, or join a Camera Walk hosted by the National Park Service rangers to find other spectacular vantage points. You should enjoy full access to most of Yosemite at this time of year, though Tioga Pass and Glacier Point may close in late November, depending on the time of the first snowfall.
Fall is the time of year to visit if fishing is a high priority for you. Head to the lower Merced River to fish for brown trout that you can take back to your vacation rental to clean and cook for dinner. If you’re teaching the younger members of your family to fish, start at Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir or Tenaya Lake. More experienced fishermen can try the Merced River headwaters near Arch Rock, if the water levels are high enough. Fall is also harvest time, and in this part of the country, that means wine. Enjoy the Grand Grape Celebration at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel where experts from major wineries host seminars and tastings.
Visiting Yosemite in the Winter
Bundle up in your winter parka, and put snow boots on your “what to pack” list when you visit Yosemite in the winter. Snow closes down the high passes throughout the park, so you won’t be able to drive to Tuolumne Meadows or anywhere else on the other side of the Tioga Pass. Stroll through Mariposa Grove in the winter for the image of redwoods against the snow, or get up early to see Yosemite Falls and other waterfalls frozen solid. In late February, head to Horsetail Falls near sunset for the memorable view of the “firefall,” a once-a-year-phenomenon in which the falling water glows like fire thanks to the angle of the setting sun.
Book your tickets way in advance to attend the Bracebridge Dinners at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. These traditional dinners are recreations of a holiday feast described by author Washington Irving, and they feature a living theater production, choral music and festive dishes from the 1800s. Winter also brings skiing to Yosemite. Head to Badger Pass for skiing at the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, where you can book a back-country ski tour, take skiing or snowboarding lessons, or rent skis, snowboards, tubes, and snowshoes. Don’t be surprised if chains are required to drive to the ski slopes.
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Visiting Yosemite in the Spring
As Yosemite warms up each spring, creeks fill with water and waterfalls start to bounce down mountainsides. Spring can still be chilly, so dress warm, and bring chains for your car in the event of a late-season snowstorm, and be prepared to drive slowly throughout the park because young deer and bears may be crossing the roads without looking both ways. The roads to Glacier Point and Tioga Pass may open up toward late spring, though heavy snows will keep them closed.
As the snow melts, creating those majestic waterfalls and filling local rivers, it’s a great time to go river rafting in the Merced River. Rent equipment or book a tour guide from Zephyr Whitewater Rafting to enjoy a magnificent adventure. Spring is also a time when wildflowers burst into bloom throughout the park. Look for dogwood in late April in Yosemite Valley, lupine throughout the Wawona area into May, and, beginning in early March, mountainside wildflowers including California poppies, baby blue-eyes, goldfields, and redbuds all across the hillsides.
The Best Time to Visit Yosemite
While summer is often the best time to visit Yosemite, the ever-increasing crowds can take away a lot of enjoyment from a visit during the season. Because of this, the best time to visit is really the very end of spring, when you can still enjoy the beautiful waterfalls and wildflowers without all the people blocking your view. In late spring, you’re likely to have access to most of the park as well, unless the snowpack has been especially heavy. If you can’t visit in late spring, think about a trip in early fall, before snow starts to close roads and you can enjoy great temperatures.
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