The Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California USA
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The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is in the spring. It's a time when the flowers bloom, waterfalls are at their max, and it's not too crowded, especially during the week.

Peak season at Yosemite is summer. That's the only time of year you can climb Half Dome, hike to the High Sierra Camps, see the view from Olmstead Point or visit Tuolumne Meadows and Hume Lake on your way east. Otherwise, you may have more fun in other seasons which are outlined below.

Weather

Yosemite Valley weather is seldom unbearably warm or cold. Winter is snow season especially in the high mountains, and it may rain in late fall or early spring. Summer is typically free from precipitation. To get an idea of what the monthly average highs, lows, and rainfall are, use our guide to Yosemite weather.

Crowds

So many people try to go to Yosemite in the summer that it can feel less like a chance to enjoy natural beauty and more like New Year's Eve in Times Square or rush hour on a Los Angeles freeway. If you want to visit the mountains and see the big trees in the summer, consider visiting Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon instead.

Spring

Spring is the best time of year to visit the park. The Yosemite waterfalls will be flowing at their highest levels of the year. Wildflowers and dogwood trees will be in bloom. If you avoid the busy spring break season, the place will be less crowded. Get an overview of everything that's fun to do at Yosemite in spring.

In a year when there's enough melting snow to fill the Merced River, you can go rafting. Inside the valley, the river is smoother but you can also experience level 2 to 4 rapids nearby along the Merced River.

If you want to drive into the high country or drive across the mountains, the only way to do this is by crossing Tioga Pass which may open in early May but sometimes stays closed until late June.

Yosemite hosts few special events in the spring. There's so much going on outside that they would be upstaged by Mother Nature anyway. If you are a runner, you can participate in the Yosemite Half Marathon in May.

Summer

Summer is the most popular time of year in Yosemite National Park. Spring wildflowers fade, and the waterfalls start to dry up, but that doesn't keep vacationers from arriving by the thousands. If that's the only time you can visit, find out to make the most of summer in Yosemite.

If you're headed to Tuolumne Meadows or into eastern California, Tioga Pass is usually open by late June. Waterfalls fed by melting snow slow to a trickle by the time summer begins and rafting season also ends.

If you want to climb Half Dome, the trail opens for the summer around the last weekend of May. Summer is also the only time you can hike to the Yosemite High Sierra Camps. If you want to do that, start planning and get into their lottery in September.

Events to check out:

  • All of the Yosemite tours operate in summer, including the open-air tram tours and moonlight tours on full-moon nights.
  • Yosemite Theater offers live evening performances mid-May through October, often featuring Lee Stetson's acclaimed portrayal of John Muir. 
  • Park rangers host lots of hikes, talks and other activities in summer which you can find on their calendar.

Fall

If you visit Yosemite in the fall, you can enjoy mild weather. Cooler temperatures make hiking and rock-climbing more comfortable than in mid-summer. Bikers will not only find it cooler, but the roads are less busy, too. You can also take in some fall foliage but don't let Instagram or any other source of photos fool you into expecting a blaze of autumn leaves: with only a couple of exceptions, the trees in Yosemite Valley stay green all year.

The fall weather at Yosemite is usually mild, but early snowstorms can sneak up on you toward the end of the season. Tioga Pass closes when it gets blocked with snow, usually between mid-October and mid-November. If you want to climb Half Dome, do it before the second week in October, which is when they usually close the trail.

As the busy tourist season winds down, there are few big events going on, which gives you more time to be out and about instead. The Yosemite Theater continues to give live evening performances through October.

Winter

If you visit Yosemite in the winter, you can enjoy a crowd-free experience. The wildlife comes out, and hotel rates go down. Frost coats the trees in the morning, and snowstorms can blanket the valley in white.

Yosemite's winter weather can be cold, especially at the higher elevations but the Yosemite Valley is at 4,000 feet elevation, and even if it snows, it usually melts within a day or two. In winter, you need to know the California regulations about snow chains including some which are in effect even when the roads are dry.

Tioga Pass and the road to Glacier Point are often closed all winter, except in rare years with very little snowfall. You also won't be able to visit Tuolumne Meadows or drive across the mountains to eastern California.

Events to check out:

  • Grand Grape Celebration gives you a chance to meet winemakers, attend wine tasting seminars and best of all consume a five-course gala dinner at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
  • Taste of Yosemite is when food takes center stage. You can meet renowned chefs, go to cooking demonstrations and enjoy a fabulous five-course dinner. 
  • Bracebridge Dinners give you a chance to time travel to merry old England. The evening's entertainment recreates Christmas Day, 1718 at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England.
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