When you go to Yosemite National Park in the fall, you're likely to have mild weather, making autumn one of the nicest times to visit. Cooler temperatures make hiking and rock-climbing more comfortable than in mid-summer, and bikers will not only find it cooler, but there's less traffic on the roads.
In the fall, because the Yosemite Valley is less crowded, hotel rates start to drop at some properties and the elusive campsites are easier to reserve. Although many of the famous waterfalls have dried up by autumn, there's still plenty to enjoy in the fall around the park and the fewer crowds make this one of the best times to visit Yosemite.
After months of dry weather, the fall is an especially precarious time for wildfires across California, including Yosemite Valley and the nearby forests. Fires can cause closed down highways and limit access to the park or bring about dangerously smokey conditions. In the most extreme cases, evacuations may be necessary. Pay attention to local news and alerts from the National Park Service. Most importantly, always follow park guidelines about when and where you're allowed to start your own fire.
Yosemite Weather in Fall
Yosemite weather can be variable at any time of year, and although fall is usually mild, there is a chance that early snowstorms can sneak up on you. Checking the annual Yosemite weather averages will give you a good picture of what the weather is like month by month.
|Average High||Average Low||Average Precipitation|
|September||84 F (28 C)||50 F (10 C)||0.7 inches|
|October||72 F (22 C)||41 F (5 C)||2.1 inches|
|November||57 F (13 C)||32 F (0 C)||4.6 inches|
These average temperatures are for Yosemite Valley, but keep in mind that if you're backpacking or hiking at higher elevations—such as Tuolumne Meadows—temperatures will be significantly lower.
It's possible that Tioga Pass and other higher areas can get closed off by snow beginning in mid-October, but significant showers before November is uncommon. In fact, 75 percent of all precipitation in Yosemite occurs between November and March. But anything is possible and because of this variability, it is important to be aware of road closures, snow reports, and river water levels via alerts put out by the National Park Service.
What to Pack
Pack layers and be prepared for many different types of weather. In early fall, daytime temperatures can still be quite warm—like summer—but by November, you'll need sweaters and a waterproof winter coat, especially after dark or at the higher elevations. Even in September nights can be brisk. If you're sleeping in a tent or expect to spend the evenings outdoors around a campfire, pack warm layers regardless of the time of year.
Pack for your activities. Bring gear and specialty clothing for hiking, climbing, and fishing. If you are into light activity and sightseeing, a medium-weight jacket over layers will suffice. Just in case, bring a hat and gloves to ward off the night chill.
Day hikers or treaded walking shoes are necessary whether you are walking a valley trail on a ranger-led hike or heading up steeper trails. If you are doing any technical hiking, higher boots with deeper tread are recommended. Day packs are ideal for packing essential items such as water, sunscreen, snacks, a headlamp, and more layers of clothing. If you're doing backcountry camping, you'll need more specific gear, including bear canisters to protect your food.
If you plan to have dinner in the formal Ahwahnee dining room during any season, pack clothing that meets their dress code. For men, that's long pants and a buttoned, collared shirt. Women are asked to wear a dress or a nice blouse with a skirt or pants.
Fall Events in Yosemite
Fall is a great time for outdoor adventures, sightseeing, and even attending the annual wine celebration.
- Fall Fishing: September through December is peak season for trout fishing, especially for brown trout that thrive in the lower Merced River. After the crowds leave, the fish become less wary and easier to catch. Easy places for beginning fishermen include the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir or Tenaya Lake, accessible from Tioga Road (CA Highway 120). If water levels permit, stream fishermen can also try the Merced headwaters near the Arch Rock entrance on CA Highway 140.
- Waterfall Watching: For those looking for waterfall scenery, note that Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil waterfalls run all year, but they usually 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.
- Fall Foliage: You may find that colorful fall foliage is limited to certain areas in Yosemite. That's because most of the trees are evergreen. In October, the color-turning deciduous trees in Yosemite Valley are photo-worthy, especially the dogwood trees and the maple trees near the Yosemite Chapel. Look for a Ranger-led camera walk as an ideal way to find subjects for your photos and learn about Yosemite along the way. If you are intent on finding more massive amounts of colorful fall foliage, head east from Yosemite to the forests around June Lake, which can be done as a day trip from Yosemite.
- Programs and Tours: Many tours continue into fall, including the open-air tram tours and moonlight tours on full-moon nights. The park-run Yosemite Theater typically offers live evening performances and ranger-talks mid-May through October, but the 2020 season has been canceled.
- Vintners' Holidays: This celebration of wine takes place at the Ahwahnee 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. The Vintner's Holidays 2020 event is canceled.
- Leonid Meteor Showers: Start watching for meteor showers 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.
Fall Travel Tips
- Although fall weather is usually mild, you should still be prepared for an unexpected snowstorm. Check last-minute weather forecasts before leaving, just in case.
- Watch for pass closures. Tioga Pass closes when it gets blocked with snow, usually beginning between mid-October or November. To get an idea of the annual variation, you can check previous opening and closure dates. Glacier Point also closes when the first snowfalls. It is important to be aware of road closures, snow reports, and river water levels via alerts put out by the National Park Service.
- Wildfires may occur spring through fall. Yosemite air quality may be hazy due to fires elsewhere in California, so keeping abreast of the latest fire news across the state is important.
- You'll need a permit to climb the top of Half Dome, which closes down for the season around mid-October. Be sure to plan ahead if you want to climb this iconic monument.