Yosemite in Fall

A Guide to Visiting Yosemite in Autumn

Fall in Yosemite Valley
••• Fall in Yosemite Valley. Victoria White2010/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

If you go to Yosemite National Park in the fall, you'll have good weather. Cooler temperatures make hiking and rock-climbing more comfortable than in mid-summer. If you want to ride a bicycle, you will not only find it cooler, but the roads are less busy, too.

In the fall, you won't have to drive in busy traffic and dodge the crowds in Yosemite Valley. Hotels rates also start to drop in the fall at some properties, usually at the end of October.

It all adds up to make autumn one of the best times of the year to go to Yosemite. Here's what you need to know to make the most of your visit.

Water at Yosemite in the Fall

September through December is peak season for trout fishing, especially for brown trout who thrive in the lower Merced River. After the crowds leave, the fish become less wary. Easy places for beginning fishermen are Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir or Tenaya Lake, which you can get to from Tioga Road (CA Hwy 120). If you want to go,  find out more about visiting Hetch Hetchy. If water levels permit, stream fishermen can also try the Merced headwaters near the Arch Rock entrance on CA Hwy 140.

Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil waterfalls run all year, but they slow to a trickle by the end of summer. Yosemite Falls may still be flowing if it's a wet year, but other waterfalls are likely to be dry. You can find more about them in the Yosemite Waterfall Guide.

Fall Foliage in Yosemite

In spite of what the colorful photo above implies, Yosemite isn't the most colorful place to go in the fall. That's because most of the trees are evergreen. In October, the few deciduous trees in Yosemite Valley with leaves that turn color are in Yosemite Valley, especially the dogwood trees and the maple tree near the chapel put on their best show.

If you're looking for really spectacular California fall foliage, don't go to Yosemite. Instead, head east of the Sierras around June Lake and Mammoth.

What's Open at Yosemite in the Fall

Tioga Pass closes when it gets blocked with snow, usually between mid-October and mid-November. To get an idea of the annual variation, you can check previous dates. Glacier Point also closes when the first snow falls.

Many tours continue into fall, including the open-air tram tours and moonlight tours on full-moon nights.

Yosemite Theater offers live evening performances mid-May through October.

Events and Programs at Yosemite in the Fall

The Grand Grape Celebration happens at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel in late fall. This popular program features prominent wineries and industry experts in two- and three-day sessions of seminars, panel discussions and wine tasting moderated by wine authorities. A five-course, Gala Vintners' Dinner concludes each session. Reservations are a must. 

Fall brings the Leonid Meteor showers. They usually occur in mid-November, but you can find out exactly when they'll happen this year at StarDate. During the shower, 10 to 20 meteors fall per hour. The Leonids are at their best when the moon is dark and Yosemite's clear skies will enhance the show even more.

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Photographing Yosemite in Fall

The National Park Service offers morning Camera Walks. These free, two-hour tours with a professional photographer can help you learn how to make better photographs of Yosemite in Fall. 

Some of the best spots to photograph the fall foliage in Yosemite include Tioga Road, along the Merced River and Fern Spring. In Superintendent's Meadow, you can frame a yellow-leafed Black Oak with Half Dome in the background.Or look for the single, bright-red Sugar Maple near Yosemite Chapel.

Tips for Going to Yosemite in the Fall

Yosemite weather can be variable any time of year, and early snowstorms can sneak up on you.

Check the annual Yosemite weather averages to get a good idea of what the weather is like year round. For road closures, snow reports, river water levels and more, check the National Park Service website.