Yosemite is open year-round and it’s always a great time to visit, but the autumn and winter offer uniquely beautiful settings with fewer crowds that fill Yosemite Valley in the summer. It’s easy it is to get to Yosemite in the autumn and winter. You can either drive yourself, or take a guided tour. Many of the same activities enjoyed in spring and summer can also be done in the autumn such as hiking, zip lining, horseback riding, and rock climbing. In winter months, when the snow arrives, you can also go snowshoeing, downhill or cross country skiing, sledding or snowtubbing, ice skating and mid-December through New Year’s day step outside Tenaya’s front door and enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Where to Stay
The best place for luxury and relaxation is Yosemite’s only AAA Four-Diamond resort: Tenaya Lodge. Located just 2 miles (3.2 km) from Yosemite’s southern entrance and surrounded by the Sierra National Forest, Tenaya Lodge provides lush comfort in a rustic setting that is perfect for any fall escape. Not looking for luxury? We have a wide range of excellent properties inside Yosemite and in the nearby gateway communities for every type of travel and budget.
Tenaya Lodge is also highly recommended as the place for culinary experiences on the southern entrance to Yosemite as they have five seasonal restaurants to choose from. Check out all dining options in Yosemite and Mariposa County here.
Most Asked Questions about Autumn Travel:
When does it start to snow in Yosemite?
Many people ask what to pack for autumn in Yosemite? The weather is very pleasant and warm generally until mid-October. A light jacket and a few layers of clothing are usually all that is needed, but bring short-sleeved shirts as well since days can be very warm even into the end of October. The first snows arrive in late November or early December, but they are generally light and will not really begin to accumulate enough to cover the meadows and mountains until early January. There is a free shuttle bus that runs the Valley floor and the roads are kept clear. If you arrive when a storm is coming you may want to schedule a half-day or full-day tour into the park to avoid driving in snowy conditions. If you are driving yourself then be sure to check out our winter transportation video.
Do the colors change in the fall?
While most of Yosemite is covered in pine trees which stay green all year there are certain plants that do change colors in the fall. There are sugar maples, redbuds, and black oak trees which have a change of color. Also the grasses in the Valley change to a beautiful golden color that is perfect for framing the granite domes and peaks around Yosemite Valley. You can start to see the colors in October, with colors generally peaking in mid-November.
When do the bears hibernate?
There are several species of wildlife that visitors see in the park on a regular basis. These include coyotes, mule deer, and even American black bears. Interestingly, most bears in Yosemite are not black but actually a reddish color or even blonde. Bears do hibernate in the winter time when their pulse rate slows and they go into a deep sleep. However, the temperature in Yosemite never goes so low that they are in a sleep all winter. They will often emerge in the winter from hibernation to snack on grasses. They have been known to give birth to their cubs during hibernation and emerge from their dens with them in the early spring. Bears are roaming the Valley in the fall looking for food before winter so don’t be surprised if you see one. They are not generally aggressive towards people, but they have been known to break into cars in search of food so be sure to remove any item with a scent from your vehicle. Do not approach or feed any wildlife as it is not healthy for them.
Where is the best place to go for photography?
There are many amazing spots for photography around Yosemite in winter. Some of the classic ones like Tunnel View are easily accessible. Glacier Point Road stays open until late fall. Another good spot for winter photography is just below El Capitan. It’s easy to get to the meadow and you can get a photo looking up at the massive face of the granite that is extremely popular with climbers from all over the world. See our blog about fall and winter photography.
What are some special fall and winter experiences that I should try?
In fall, a walk around the valley floor in the early morning is not to be missed. You can see the grasses in the meadow are a beautiful golden color and there are mists that rise from the meadows. This is where you often see deer grazing in front of Half Dome and the leaves are changing colors all over the valley.
At Tenaya Lodge in the fall, one of the best things to do is enjoy hot cocoa and s’mores at the outdoor firepit. It’s perfect after taking a hike in the Sierra National Forest to sit down and with a cup of steaming hot cocoa in hand and enjoy the grandeur of Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite and the surrounding mountain vistas.
Top reasons to visit Yosemite this fall: less people, perfect temperatures, fall colors, and Tenaya Lodge!
Content sponsored by Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
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