Right around the autumnal equinox, dependable as your trusty compass, Yosemite National Park spins into a lower gear. Peak visitation has passed, traffic lightens up, and hiking trails – even in Yosemite Valley – are far less traveled. Early to mid-autumn is known by Yosemite insiders as prime time to be outside, and Yosemite National Park’s higher elevation trails hold best-of-year appeal.
Continuing on this contrarian vibe, the weather actually gets better after summer. The sky goes a deeper shade of blue, temperatures trend lower, and photographers rave over a golden range of Sierra sunlight. Magic all around.
Here are some favorite high country escapes to share (with only your best friends). Get ready for that satisfying, sandy crunch of crushed granite under your boots.
Get a cloud’s-eye view of Yosemite Valley from Cloud’s Rest, a destination described as having views similar to the top of Half Dome, except that Half Dome is also in your view.
Tioga Road (Highway 120) is the elevated ribbon of highway that provides access to Yosemite National Park’s Sierra Nevada crossing. Tioga Road starts outside Yosemite Valley and goes for 47 fantastically scenic miles until reaching the town of Lee Vining on Highway 395. It reopens sometime between Memorial Day and Fourth of July, depending on the snowpack – it’s no small feat to clear a winter’s worth of snow, ice and rockfall. As beautiful as the region is from the dashboard, it’s even better from a hiking trail. Here are just a few of the hikes above the “El Capitan” side of Yosemite Valley:
The views from May Lake are well worth the short hike.
There are few places in Yosemite more celebrated than Tuolumne Meadows, and the accolades are absolutely earned. At 8,600 feet, it’s one of the largest high-elevation and most accessible meadows in the entire Sierra. Three creeks feed Tuolumne Meadows as well as the Tuolumne River, which courses through the golden splendor before cascading over a granite riverbed. Bestowed with Wild and Scenic River status, the Tuolumne originates in the high country near the east side of the park. Fun fact: most of the water that filters through Tuolumne Meadows eventually reaches Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (later becoming the tap water of San Francisco).
A network of wonderful alpine hiking trails start near Tuolumne Meadows. Here are just a few:
Hike out to see the clear cool waters of Dog Lake or any of the other high country lakes – true gems in the Yosemite landscape.
The Panorama Trail in Yosemite is aptly named for the many panoramic views, including this one of Nevada Fall.
High above the “Half Dome” side of Yosemite Valley, hiking opportunities await via Glacier Point Road, which provides vehicle access to the trailheads. Glacier Point is seasonally closed due to snow, usually in November, and typically reopens by late May / early June.
Many of Yosemite National Park’s most iconic trails start at or nearby Glacier Point and are commonly taken in one direction from Glacier Point to the floor of Yosemite Valley (see Yosemite National Park’s website for information on Glacier Point transportation, seasonal warnings, and trail logistics).
The best holiday getaways bring family and friends together in places that honor the occasion. With breathtaking scenery and larger-than-life natural landmarks, the Yosemite Mariposa region sets the stage for epic Thanksgiving vacations.
Planning a visit to Yosemite Mariposa County in fall? This is a spectacular season to visit. Check out this amazing fall itinerary for ideas on planning your own trip.
The Ahwahnee hotel is magnificent in any season. However consider these top 7 reasons to prefer the quieter months of fall and winter for your stay.