What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Yosemite?
Yosemite National Park is one of those unique destinations within the US that not only has hot and sunny summers but also has cold and snow-filled winters. With such a wide array of temperatures throughout the year, Yosemite offers its guests unique beauty in each season.
Climate and park access will be big factors as you begin planning your Yosemite vacation. We’d like to assist you with making the right decision for you and your family. Of course, we have our opinion as to when we think is the best time of year to visit Yosemite, but before we reveal our pick, we’ll highlight the pros and cons of each season in Yosemite.
To start, let’s take a moment to bask in the natural beauty of Yosemite. The park is over 1,200 square miles found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and filled with granite monoliths, giant sequoia groves, waterfalls, hiking trails, glacier lakes, and breathtaking views. Yosemite is home to hundreds of black bears plus over 400 other species including fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Millions of visitors come each year to experience this massive span of wilderness.
**Feb 2021 Update**
Overnight camping has resumed in the park but only by reservation and only at the Upper Pines Campground. If you plan on overnight backpacking in Yosemite be sure to grab your wilderness permit at one of the Wilderness Permit Stations in the park. Here are the most up-to-date and current details on road closures, plowing progress, and safety information about the Park. The shuttles within the park are currently not operating.
The Best Time of Year To Avoid Crowds
November – March
Smaller crowds are one of the best perks of visiting Yosemite in the winter months. During the winter, average temperatures range from the mid-40s to the low 20s. For those who love winter sports, this is your best time of year to visit Yosemite. Visitors can participate in tubing, snowshoeing, and skiing (downhill and cross country) at the Badger Pass Ski Area found on Glacier Point Road. (Please note, due to ongoing concerns related to COVID-19, Badger Pass Ski Area will not open for the 2020-21 season.)
Beyond snow sports and fewer crowds, winter is the only time of year that guests can see the unique phenomenon, the Horestailfall Firefall in Yosemite Valley. This natural beauty can normally be seen during the last two weeks of February at the Horsetail Fall located on the eastern edge of El Capitan. On clear evenings as the sun is setting, the light reflects on the waterfall causing it to glow with vibrant oranges and yellows that look like fire.
**Feb 2021 Update**
For the safety of guests, visitors will be required to park at the Yosemite Falls parking lot and walk back one and a half miles (each way) to the El Capitan viewing area near the picnic tables. One lane of Northside Drive will be closed off allowing pedestrians to walk on the road. Check out NPS.com for more specific details on where and when you can park, drive and walk to see the Firefall.
Another winter-only event in Yosemite is the annual Bracebridge Dinner, where guests have the chance “to party like it’s 1899!” This event has been a legendary part of Yosemite’s history since the 1920s, surprisingly inspired by legendary photographer Ansel Adams as director.
Attending guests are transported to 18th century England for a Christmas pageant and multi-course dinner. The Ahwahnee Dining Room is transformed with elaborate decorations and costumes, and the room is filled with beautiful music sung by members of the San Francisco Opera.
For many years, tickets for this event could only be obtained through a lottery system. In recent years, organizers have added more performances making it a bit easier to obtain tickets for this amazing traditional event! We highly recommend adding this event to your Yosemite winter vacation.
The challenge of the winter months in Yosemite is temporary road closures. With 75% of the total precipitation for the year happening between these months (most of which falls in the form of snow), some roads become inaccessible to plows and other vehicles. Tioga, Glacier Point (beyond the Ski Area), and Mariposa Grove Roads are closed due to snow during the winter. This also means the eastern entrance of the park is inaccessible. Snow chains are required many times throughout the portions of the park that remain open.
Yosemite National Park has several Free Entrance Days throughout the year where guests are welcomed into the park at no charge. (These dates change annually.) Two of those days are found during the winter this year on January 18, 2021 (in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday) and November 11, 2021 (in honor of Veterans Day). We will list the other Free Entrance Days under the season in which they fall.
The Best Time of Year To See Waterfalls
April – May
Wildflowers, waterfalls, and white water rafting are the major pros of springtime in Yosemite. In the valley, wildflowers and dogwood trees begin to bloom bright and beautiful. As the snow begins to melt, waterfalls throughout the Park begin flowing and gushing to their fullest. With this increased water flow comes the beginning of the white water rafting season. In April the average temperatures will range from the mid-50s to the mid-30s. Moving into May, the averages range from the 60s to the mid-30s.
Even though the snow stops falling around March in Yosemite, the plowing process normally isn’t completed for a couple of months. There’s a local saying that “winter isn’t officially over until snowfall has dusted the dogwoods.” NPS.com keeps visitors up to date with their progress. Access to the Mariposa Grove typically reopens in April. Tioga and Glacier Point Roads reopen between late May and early June most years.
Trail hiking becomes accessible during the Spring starting in lower elevations like Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy. As the temperatures warm, snow and ice melt and more trails become passable. Depending on the amount of sun the trail gets during the day, some patches may still have snow and ice on them, so watch your step.
The downer of Springtime in Yosemite is the continued limited access within the Park. Skiing and other winter sports will end in April. Depending on the amount of snow from the previous winter determines when seasonal roads reopen. During these months, high elevation hiking isn’t recommended without proper equipment and experience.
Special Days & Events during the Spring include Earth Day on April 22, 2021. NPS hosts events across the country at each of the national parks, educating visitors about nature, safety, and protecting the parks while having fun with music, tours, and more. The Free Entrance Day in the Spring this year is April 17, 2021 (in celebration of the 1st Day of National Park Week).
Early May also brings the annual Yosemite Half Marathon. This event sells out quickly so participants are encouraged to reserve their spot early. If you’re planning on running in the half marathon, we recommend you book your stay and your spa appointment at the all-new Rush Creek Lodge spa for a relaxing recovery after the race.
The Best Time of Year For Camping
June – August
Summer in Yosemite brings with it complete access to the park. This is the only time of year that all roads will be accessible. Temperatures average in the 80s during the day and 40s during the night. Depending on your elevation, you can see daytime temperatures in the 70s in the mountains or the 90s in the valleys. With these warmer temperatures, summer is also the only time of year for snow-free high alpine hiking. For those looking to climb Half Dome or hike the High Sierras, Summer is your season. (Please note, permits are required for most high alpine hiking and backpacking trips.)
We recommend visiting Tuolumne Meadows off of Tioga Road during these months. The elevation is about 4000 feet higher than the ever-popular Yosemite Valley which makes for much cooler temperatures. The Meadows are also filled with beautiful wildflowers during the Summer months.
Summer is the best time of year for camping in Yosemite. All of the campgrounds are open and there is very little precipitation during these months. The evening temperatures also make it wonderful for stargazing and exploration of the park to find Moonbows (rainbows formed at night near the falls by the full moon).
Along with the sunshine, open roads, and beautiful nature come the bustling crowds. Summer is known to be Yosemite’s busiest time of year. Overnight reservations within the Park fill up quickly and must be made generously in advance. All days during the summer will be busy, but the peak dates are the weekends surrounding Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Another con of Summer in Yosemite is the waterfalls will begin to dry up and only those found at higher elevations will still be flowing by mid-Summer.
If you are planning to visit during the summer months, you will have the chance to participate in the annual Apple Picking Day which happens in mid-August. Guests are invited to help pick apples in the historic apple orchards in Yosemite Valley. By picking these apples, the bears’ temptations are removed, and this helps prevent human-bear conflicts.
Free Entrance Days during the Summer are August 4, 2021 (in honor of the 1st Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act) and August 25, 2021 ( in observance of the National Park Service’s birthday).
The Best Time of Year For Hiking
September – October
Autumn in Yosemite means fewer crowds, cooler temperatures, and Fall foliage. After Labor Day, crowds greatly diminish at Yosemite. The cooler temperatures make for great hiking and rock climbing weather. Locals refer to the month of October as “Rocktober” when you’re most likely to spot big wall climbers scaling the face of El Capitan. At night you can spot their headlamps dotting this world-famous granite monolith.
Although the window is short, stunning Fall foliage will sprinkle the Park. (Do be aware, many trees in the park are evergreens so the landscape has only portions with typical fall colors.) In September, temperatures range from the 60s to the mid-40s; October sees temperatures in the low 50s to low 30s.
The further into October, the higher the risk for road closures. October 15th is noted as the last day for overnight parking on Tioga and Glacier Point Roads due to the threat of snowstorms. Before this date, you may see temporary closures for smaller snowfalls. But after the first heavy snowstorm (normally between mid-October and mid-November), seasonal roads such as Tioga Road begin closing for the season. Also, several of the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley will have dried up by Fall.
The Free Entrance Day in the fall this year is September 25, 2021 (in observance of National Public Lands Day).
The Best Time of Year To Visit Yosemite
Our Pick: Late May or Early September
Our opinion is the best time of year to visit Yosemite is a tie between late May and early September. Both of these times have fewer crowds, moderate temperatures, and natural beauty. The deciding factor will be which do you want to see more: thundering waterfalls or more areas of the park?
Spring has limited access to the park, but this is the best time of year to see waterfalls at their peak. Autumn has complete access to the park, but most of the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are dry or barely trickling. We recommend you plan a vacation for both times of the year and help us decide which one is truly the best!
We mentioned many annual events in this article, but we didn’t have time to name them all. Throughout the year, Yosemite Conservancy hosts numerous events including nature walks, art classes, backpacking tours, and more. Yosemite Hotels also plan special events that are held at Yosemite as well as on-site at Rush Creek Lodge and Evergreen Lodge.
We hope this breakdown of each season in Yosemite has helped you along in the planning process. If you require any further information, feel free to reach out, and we will do our best to answer your questions. Hope to see you soon!
33160 Evergreen Road 34001 Highway 120
Groveland, California 95321 Groveland, California 95321
(209) 379-2606 (209) 379-2373