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

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 swarm the park in summer haven't arrived yet, and photography opportunities abound. It is also an excellent season to save money on a visit to Yosemite because entry fees are waived during the annual National Parks Week in April.

Spring is arguably the best time to visit Yosemite. The weather is milder, with occasional rain or late-season snow and most winter activities come to the end of their season by March 31. This is also the time of year when snow-prone roads like Tioga Pass, Mariposa Grove, and Glacier Point reopen—sometime between early May and late June depending on any late-in-the-season snowstorms. If you're driving through Yosemite in April, snow chains are recommended.

There are many ways to enjoy Yosemite in the spring, whether you consider yourself a shutterbug or a rugged adventurer, you'll find inspiration in the springtime beauty of one of the country's most popular national parks in the spring.

01 of 07

Go Horseback Riding

Horses resting in a stable with Yosemite mountains in the background
Michael Godek / Getty Images

In the spring, the horse- and mule-riding season starts again, offering a tremendous opportunity to experience the park like a pioneer. You can organize a tour with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures starting in May, which organizes rides for all levels up mountain trails and across creeks and streams. Mule rides are also available, which may be more comfortable if you intend to go for a longer ride since mules are more acclimated to mountain conditions and are built for endurance. You can arrange your mule ride at the Yosemite Valley Stable, Tuolomne Stable, or the Wawona Stable.

02 of 07

Watch the Waterfalls

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

Winter snow starts melting 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. 

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. It's just west of El Capitan, across the valley from Bridal Veil Falls. Bridal Veil Falls is spectacular in spring, with a spray that covers half of the waterfall's 620-foot height. Of course, that makes the path wet, and you'll need rain gear and non-slip shoes if you want to get close and stay safe. Another seasonal waterfall is Horsetail Falls, which can be seen from the roadside stop on Northside Drive just before you get to El Capitan. 

03 of 07

See the Wildflowers

Yosemite Wildflowers Beside the Merced River

Betsy Malloy Photography

You'll find wildflowers blooming everywhere in Yosemite in the spring. Try looking for especially spectacular flora like poppies, goldfields, meadowfoam, baby blue-eyes, and redbud trees. They 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. A car will help you in your wildflower hunt since one of the best places for spring wildflowers is outside the national park off CA Highway 140 at Hite Cove Trail.

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. Technically a fungus and not a flower, Yosemite is one of the few places you can see the bright red stalks of the Snow Plant, a striking sight especially if there's still a bit of snow on the ground. In April and May, keep your eyes peeled for blue-purple Lupines which grow along the Merced River and near the Wawona Hotel.

04 of 07

Go for a Hike

Mirror Lake, Yosemite
JB Broccard / Getty Images

Multi-day hike options are limited in spring, but you will find plenty of places in the park for a brisk day hike. At Mirror Lake in the spring, the views of Half Dome are reflected spectacularly and it's only a two-mile hike—and a reasonably flat one—to get around it. To get there, take the Valley Shuttle bus to the Mirror Lake Trail stop. For vertigo-inducing views, you can take the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, but if you want to try your luck at wildlife spotting, opt for the Valley Floor Loop.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Spot the Rare Moonbow

Moonbow Over Lower Yosemite Fall Horizontal
  Don Smith/Getty Images 

A moonbow is like a rainbow, but it 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. 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 can capture 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. You can check online. to see when the next moonbow is predicted.

06 of 07

See the Mountain Dogwood

Mountain Dogwood in Yosemite National Park

Betsy Malloy Photography

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. 

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 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. In Yosemite Valley, you tend to get a smoother ride which is better for beginners. You can check out Curry Village Raft Rentals for tours and rentals. They also offer ADA-accessible services to assist wheelchair users.