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 was right. Spring is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park. Thawing snow fills the streams and brings waterfalls to their most dramatic, 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.
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 end 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's usually between early May and late June.
Late snowstorms can close other roads in the park and make tire chains mandatory. You should carry them with you while traveling around Yosemite through the month of April. And be prepared to use them even if you have four-wheel drive vehicle. Learn more about using tire chains in California.
Watch the Waterfalls
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 spray can reach half of its 620-foot height. Of course, that makes the path wet, and you'll need rain gear and nonslip shoes if you want to get close and stay safe.
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.
See the Wildflowers
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.
Yosemite is one of the few places you can see the bright red stalks of the Snow Plant, a striking sight even if it's technically a fungus and not a flower.
Other real flowers you may see include poppies, goldfields, meadowfoam, baby blue-eyes, and redbud trees. They can put on a multi-colored display beside California Highway 140 as it passes through the foothills and the Merced River Canyon in March and April.
Blue-purple Lupines bloom in April and May along the Merced River and near the Wawona Hotel.
One of the best places for spring wildflowers is on the outside the national park off CA Highway 140 at Hite Cove Trail.
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.
Photograph the Spring Beauty
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 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.
Go for a Hike
Backpacking is limited in spring, but you will find plenty of places for day hikes.
Mirror Lake is more of a meadow most of the year, but it's water-filled in spring. Views of Half Dome reflected in it can be spectacular as you take a two-mile, reasonably flat hike around it. To get there, 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.
See a Moonbow
A moonbow is like a rainbow, but it only happens in 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, go early to the area the bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls or El Capitan Meadow near where El Capitan Drive crosses the Merced River.
See the Mountain Dogwood
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 from mid-April into early May. From a distance, their white blossoms look like giant 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.
Go Rafting on the Merced River
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. To plan your adventure check their website.