Yosemite in Spring

  • 01 of 09

    Best Things to Do In Yosemite In Spring

    Water is Abundant in Yosemite in the Spring
    ••• Water is Abundant in Yosemite in the Spring. ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Spring in Yosemite is the best time to visit, especially if you can go during the week. 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. There's more information about highs, lows, and rainfall on the  Yosemite weather page. For current river water levels, wildflower status and road closures, check the National Park Service website.

    Spring is also a good 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). You'll find the current year's list of dates here.

    On the downside, Glacier Point and Tioga Pass close because of winter snow and remain closed...MORE until May or later in most years.

    Yosemite in Spring Is About Water

    The waterfalls are some of the most beautiful parts of Yosemite in spring. As the snow begins to melt at higher elevations, the streams fill, and the waterfalls run at full throttle, cascading down the mountainsides. In years of maximum water flow, they make thundering sounds that you can hear throughout the valley. You can find more about them in the Yosemite Waterfall Guide.

    Yosemite in Spring is also full of unusual water-related phenomena. If there's a full moon, head for the bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall and you may be able to photograph a rare lunar rainbow, sometimes called a moonbow. Unfortunately, human eyes can't see its colors at night, but you may see a silvery glow in the mist. However, a camera can capture the scene in color, and you're likely to find hundreds of photographers there, jockeying for the best spot to stand. If you'd like to see what it looks like, check this photo of a Yosemite moonbow.

    If the weather is cold enough, another rare phenomenon occurs. So-called "frazil ice" may form at the base of the waterfalls. When the air temperature suddenly drops below freezing, tiny ice crystals get pressed together, making the water into a stream of slush. It can sometimes be as much as 20 feet deep along Yosemite Creek at Lower Yosemite Fall.

    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.

    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 will probably stay closed until late May or early June. Late snowstorms can close other roads, making tire chains mandatory. You should carry them with you and be prepared to use them even if you have four-wheel drive whole traveling around Yosemite in April, May, or June. This article explains everything you need to know.

    Photographing Yosemite in Spring

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

    If you want to capture Yosemite in spring with your camera, try a photography workshop. The National Park Service offers morning Camera Walks starting in mid-April. These free, two-hour tours with a professional photographer can help you learn how to make better photographs of Yosemite in spring. You'll find more info at the Yosemite Park website.

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  • 02 of 09

    Spring is a Good Time to Go Rafting on the Merced River

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

    With the Merced River running full, local whitewater rafting companies are busy every day. Zephyr Whitewater Rafting (shown here) operates from a convenient location on CA Hwy 140. You can paddle (like the people shown here) or choose an oar boat, where your guide does all the work. 

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  • 03 of 09

    Yosemite Wildflowers in Spring

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

    Spring wildflower bloom in Yosemite varies, depending on the temperature, rain, and snowfall. If you don't find flowers at your elevation, try going lower or higher. A few of the most abundant flowers are:

    • Snow Plant, a fungus plant with striking, red stalk that looks like a flower. It's found only in the Yellow Pine and Red Fir forests of California and southern Oregon and is the first sign of spring often peeking through the snow.
    • California poppies, goldfields, meadowfoam, baby blue-eyes and redbud trees flower in the foothills along CA Hwy 140 through the Merced River Canyon in March and April.
    • Lupine blooms in April and May near the Wawona Hotel.
    • Dogwood blooms in the Valley from late April into May.

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

    By May, many of the early spring flowers are gone, but in mid-month, I found lots of blue lupines along the river. 

    For current river water levels, wildflower status and road...MORE closures, check the National Park Service website

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  • 04 of 09

    Mountain Dogwood in Spring

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

    Mountain Dogwood typically blooms from mid-April into early May, but catching these delicate blossoms at their peak is tricky. Photographed a week after the expected peak bloom, this specimen was one of few that was still looking good. Mountain Dogwood flowers have four to six petals and look a bit different than what you may find in other parts of the country.

    If you see one in rare form, capture it against dark tree trunks to accentuate it's gleaming beauty. To best capture Yosemite in spring with your camera, try a photography workshop. The National Park Service offers morning Camera Walks starting in mid-April. These free, two-hour tours with a professional photographer can help you learn how to take better photographs of Yosemite in spring. You'll find more info at the Yosemite Park website.

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  • 05 of 09

    Yosemite Waterfalls in Spring

    Yosemite Falls in the Spring
    ••• Yosemite Falls in the Spring. Ron Thomas/Getty Images

    Winter snow starts to melt in the spring, filling streams and rivers and tumbling over cliffs as waterfalls.

    Yosemite Falls is a double waterfall that takes a rest in the middle. When there's a lot of water, its roar can be heard across the valley. 

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  • 06 of 09

    Bridalveil Fall

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

    Bridalveil is truly 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.

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  • 07 of 09

    Horsetail Falls

    Horsetail Falls at Yosemite
    ••• Horsetail Falls at Yosemite. ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    I've always wondered why this seasonal waterfall had such an odd name until I saw its shape. You can see it from a roadside stop on Northside Drive just before you get to El Capitan. If you happen to be in Yosemite in February, stop here at sunset, when the sunlight makes such a glow that you might think it's on fire.

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  • 08 of 09

    Ribbon Falls

    Ribbon Falls, Yosemite
    ••• Ribbon Falls, Yosemite. by Mike Lyvers / Getty Images

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

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  • 09 of 09

    Fern Spring

    Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park
    ••• Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    This little waterfall is only about a foot tall, located at the first turnout after you enter Yosemite Valley, just past the Pohono Bridge. There's water here year round, but most of the time it's just dripping. In spring, its flow is stronger.