The 7 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park in the Spring

Legendary naturalist John Muir wrote this about Yosemite in spring: "Now is the birth-time of leaves; the pines are retassled, and the oaks are sprayed with young purple." 

Muir may have been prone to flowery, poetic language, but he wasn't wrong. Spring is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park. Thawing snow fills the streams and brings waterfalls to their prettiest flow, the dogwood trees bloom, and plants sprout delicate green leaves. The crowds that plague the park in summer haven't arrived yet, and photography opportunities abound.

Yosemite weather is usually mild in spring, with occasional rain or late-season snow. For current river water levels, wildflower status, and road closures, check the National Park Service website.

Spring is also an excellent time to visit Yosemite if you're on a tight budget. Entry fees are waived at Yosemite National Park and in more than 100 other parks nationwide during the annual National Parks Week (held in April).

What's Open at Yosemite in Spring

Most winter activities such as the skiing area close for the season by March 31 if not earlier.

Tioga Pass, Mariposa Grove, and Glacier Point Roads open when the park service can get the winter snow off them. That might be early in a dry year, but they sometimes stay closed until late May or early June.

Late snowstorms can close other roads in the park and make tire chains mandatory. You should carry them with you and be prepared to use them even if you have four-wheel drive while traveling around Yosemite in April, May, or June. Learn more about using tire chains in California here.

  • 01 of 07

    Watch the Waterfall

    Bridalveil Fall in the Yosemite Valley
    Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

    Winter snow starts to melt in the spring, filling streams and rivers and creating powerful waterfalls that run at full throttle, cascading down the mountainsides. 

    In years of maximum water flow, Yosemite Falls makes a thundering sound that you can hear throughout the valley. 

    Bridalveil Fall is genuinely spectacular in spring, with the water flowing so fast that the spray rises to half of its 620-foot height. Of course, that makes the path wet, and you'll need a raincoat or umbrella if you want to get close and stay dry.

    Some Yosemite waterfalls only appear during spring (and then, only if it's wet enough). One of those is Ribbon Falls. At 1,162 feet, it is one of the world's tallest falls, but you can only see it during the spring. It's just west of El Capitan, across the valley from Bridalveil Fall.

    Another seasonal waterfall is Horsetail Falls, which can be seen from the roadside stop on Northside Drive just before you get to El Capitan. 

    The tiny waterfall at Fern Spring is only about a foot tall. Most of the time it barely drips, but in the spring, its flow is stronger. It's located at the first turnout after you enter Yosemite Valley, just past the Pohono Bridge. 

  • 02 of 07

    See the Wildflowers

    Yosemite Wildflowers Beside the Merced River
    ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    You'll find wildflowers blooming everywhere in Yosemite in the spring. You can see scores of varieties, but try looking for these especially spectacular blossoms.

    Snow Plant isn't precisely a flower but a fungus plant with striking, red stalk that looks like a flower. Yosemite is one of the few places you can see it, and it's often the first sign of spring peeking up through the snow.

    California wildflowers, such as poppies, goldfields, meadowfoam, baby blue-eyes, and redbud trees, put on a multi-colored display as they flower beside California Highway 140 as it passes through the foothills and the Merced River Canyon in March and April.

    Lupines put on a show of blue-purple blooms in April and May along the Merced River and near the Wawona Hotel.

    One of the best places for spring wildflowers is on the Hite Cove Trail outside the the national park off CA Highway 140.

    By May, many of the early spring flowers are gone, but the blossom season in Yosemite varies depending on the temperature, rain, and snowfall. Your best bet for finding them during your visit is to ask a park ranger who will know the current conditions.

  • 03 of 07

    Photograph the Spring Beauty

    Yosemite Falls in the Spring
    Ron Thomas/Getty Images

    Photographs of Yosemite in spring feature gushing waterfalls with rainbows in the spray and gleaming, white dogwood blossoms highlighted against dark tree trunks.

    You can just explore and take photos if you want, but if you want to learn how to capture better images of Yosemite in spring, the Ansel Adams Gallery offers free camera walks several times a week.

  • 04 of 07

    Go for a Hike

    Mirror Lake, Yosemite
    JB Broccard / Getty Images

    Backpacking is limited in spring, but you will find plenty of day hikes that are good for spring hikes.

    While Mirror Lake is more of a meadow most of the year, it's water-filled in spring. Views of Half Dome reflected in it can be spectacular. It's a two-mile, fairly flat hike on a well-marked trail that takes about an hour. Take the Valley Shuttle bus to the Mirror Lake Trail stop.

    More good spring hikes are Vernal Falls Trail for getting wet, Upper Yosemite Falls for vertigo-inducing but spectacular views, and the Valley Floor Loop for wildlife viewing.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    See a Moonbow

    Moonbow Over Lower Yosemite Fall Horizontal
      Don Smith/Getty Images 

    A moonbow is like a rainbow, created by the bright light of a full moon. At Yosemite, the combination of mist from the waterfalls and the angle of the moon combine to create a moonbow only during the spring. You can use this guide to find out when it's predicted.

    Unfortunately, human eyes can't see its colors at night, but you may see a silvery glow in the mist. Although your eyes don't see much, a camera captures the scene in color.

    To see or photograph it, head for the bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls or El Capitan Meadow near where El Capitan Drive crosses the Merced River. Go early to find your perfect picture spot before hundreds of other photographers beat you to it.

  • 06 of 07

    See the Mountain Dogwood

    Mountain Dogwood in Yosemite National Park
    ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    For some people, Mountain Dogwood blossoms are the most beloved sign of spring at Yosemite.

    The 10- to 30-foot-tall trees put on a show of white flowers from mid-April into early May. From a distance, they look like giant white butterflies floating in the air. You can see them throughout Yosemite Valley, especially on the banks of the Merced River on the west end of the valley. 

    To get the best photo, capture it against dark tree trunks to accentuate its beauty. 

  • 07 of 07

    Go Rafting on the Merced River

    Rafters on Merced River
    Phil Schermeister/Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

    When there has been enough winter snow to get the Merced River running, local whitewater rafting companies are busy every day.

     Zephyr Whitewater Rafting (shown here) operates from a convenient location on CA Highway 140. You can paddle (like the people shown here) or choose an oar boat, where your guide does all the work.