It’s often asked, “When is the best time to visit Yosemite?” and the answer is not what you might think. If you are coming for the waterfalls, you may be surprised to learn that the most famous falls are only a trickle at the height of summer, or that the best time for hiking in the park is in fall, when cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make for the best trail conditions.
With that in mind, here are some of the pros and cons of each season in Yosemite National Park and the surrounding regions.
OK, maybe we’re a little biased because fall is in the air right now. But who doesn’t love to wake up to a morning with a slight chill in the air, the smell of last night’s campfire still drifting in the breeze as you look out on a valley covered in colorful foliage? Sweater weather is the best weather, we think. Not to mention, fall is the perfect time of year to visit Yosemite because of the significant drop in crowd sizes at most major attractions. Minimal traffic, milder temperatures and near complete access to the park from all gateways makes fall an excellent time to visit. Check out some great fall hikes or find that perfect cozy cabin to call home while you’re here.
Yosemite Valley is beautiful any time of year, but there’s something magical about a fresh blanket of snow covering the meadow as you stare up at a frosty Half Dome. Ansel Adams recognized this and shared the beauty of a Yosemite winter in his famous stark black and white images of the area. Winter also brings the chance to take an authentic sleigh ride, complete with jingle bells and Belgian draft horses through our partners at Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh Company. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are also perfect for winter in Yosemite. Just be aware of road closures, particularly on the east side of the park once snow starts flying. Check out these winter tips for Yosemite travel to ensure a safe and memorable trip. Learn more in our fall/winter Yosemite travel guide.
Spring is the prime time of the year to catch waterfalls, thanks to heavy snow melt-off all around the valley. The month of May affords many opportunities for waterfall spotting along some of the area’s most scenic hikes. Early spring can be variable around here. Tioga Pass, which allows access to from the Eastern Sierras is typically closed until the end of May, however the most famous waterfalls are all in Yosemite Valley, which is open all year round. Stay in Mariposa along highway 140 and travel or take the bus into Yosemite during this time of the year if you are nervous about driving in the snow. This route is at the lowest elevation and is the least likely to require you to chain up. If you don’t mind driving in a bit of powder then staying along highway 41 near Fishcamp offers access to the Valley, as well being the closest entrance to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Of course, spring being what it is, you may also encounter snowless meadows and sunny, blue sky days that will take your breath away. If traveling in spring be sure to check out our road conditions page so you can plan which gateway to use to enter the park accordingly. Also keep an eye on conditions by visiting the Yosemite Webcams, to see how much snow is on the ground or how much water is flowing at Yosemite Falls. More on Yosemite spring here.
Summer is by far the most visited season in Yosemite. We understand, the kids are out of school, the temperature is hot, and all the trails and roads in the park are accessible. From hiking to music and food festivals to horseback riding to panning for gold, there is a lot to explore in Mariposa County during the busy summer months. Just be sure to pack your patience and plan ahead to make sure you spend your time on the trail – and not looking for parking. Check out our tips for visiting in summer.
Whatever season you choose, make sure you book the right place for your needs. From bed and breakfasts to rustic cabins to hotels and motels, there’s a place for everyone in Yosemite Mariposa County. And don’t forget about the grub. Use our guide to Yosemite dining to fuel yourself up for the next day on the trail.
Don’t let the possibility of winter driving conditions keep you from enjoying Yosemite National Park in one of its most beautiful seasons. Many locals consider winter their favorite Yosemite season, and if you make the journey, you’ll see why.
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.
Whether it’s your first time on ice skates or you’re working on perfecting that triple axel, Yosemite offers some unique opportunities for outdoor ice skating.