There’s so much to love about Yosemite’s off-season. Spring, when the waterfalls thunder and the California Golden Poppies pop.
Fall, when warm days and cool nights might have you stripping off layers of clothing as the day warms. The Merced River, strewn with autumn’s golden leaves, turns lazy reflecting golden meadows and the shadowy face of Half Dome.
Winter, as a pristine hush comes over the Park and snowflakes fall between the bare branches. Indeed, a true love of Yosemite requires devotion…a devotion to less commotion.
Just like all of us, our National Parks sometimes need a rest. A respite from the crowds, a window of downtime to let nature take its course and rejuvenate. Visiting in the quieter Yosemite off-seasons aids in this process, and just as importantly regales travelers with their own life-affirming experiences that are equally breathtaking and perhaps — in the grand scheme of things — even more rewarding.
What is the off-season for Yosemite National Park?
Early spring, fall and winter months feature less visitation than the summer, making them Yosemite’s off-season, and a great time of year to visit.
Yosemite in Spring
“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.”
– John Muir, The Wilderness World of John Muir
Spring is nature’s busy season in Yosemite Mariposa County. Melting snow in the High Country brings waterfalls roaring back to life with a supercharged zeal as their rumbling mist kisses your face and rainbows dance in the sunshine of the lengthening days.
Determined wildflowers reach skyward in a spray of oranges and yellows and blues, first at the lower elevations in early spring then continuing uphill to the higher elevations later in the season. But you’ll find some of the best wildflower displays in the lower elevations down-canyon from Yosemite National Park in the early spring season.
Black bears emerge from their dens and sniff the air for their first meal, while grey squirrel, mule deer and mountain coyotes embody Muir’s “joyful enthusiasm” as they bounce, scurry and trot. Spring is a season of shared purpose, and the perfect time for spotting wildlife with friends & family in Yosemite Mariposa County.
Envision a visit to Yosemite in spring with this 5-day itinerary.
Yosemite in Fall
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The fall reset is a beautiful thing in Yosemite Mariposa County. The hikers thin, leaving quiet paths through the mixed forests where the cooling air aids & abets clear thoughts on the finer points of life. In Yosemite Valley, the Merced River resolves to a lazy turn, its dark waters effortlessly collecting reflections of the surrounding granite cliffs.
Come October and November, autumn colors mix it up, a contrast of reds, golds and browns against the dark green conifers. Leaf peeping becomes a worthy quest in fall as the sun angles lower, daytime temperatures are perfect and each leaf trembles with nature-made electricity. Maple, oak, dogwood, aspen — the palette is broad, and extends into a long viewing season as the colors turn first in Yosemite Mariposa County’s higher elevations, and work their way downhill.
Fall is harvest time, and there’s no better way to sample the fruit of hard-working Mariposans’ labor than by embarking on a tasting tour. The Mariposa Triangle Tasting Tour (MT3) is a Sierra Foothill tour du flavour as it hits locally-renowned stops such as Sierra Cider, Butterfly Creek Winery and Mariposa Coffee Company.
Yosemite in Winter
“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.”
– Paul Theroux
Winter in Yosemite Mariposa County is a time for self-reflection set amid some of the most striking landscapes you’ll ever see. Ice-crusted massifs like El Capitan, storms that billow eastward up the Valley and the Yosemite firefall in February provide unique opportunities for winter photography.
Winter stargazing is at its crispest with the infinite backdrop of the Sierra night sky making the stars ever so twinkly. Cuddling up with a blanket and a hot beverage complement such a winter getaway, with off-season prices on cozy accommodations some of the lowest of the year.
Winter sports enthusiasts rejoice in Yosemite Mariposa County with the rare opportunity for resort skiing within the boundaries of a national park at Badger Pass Ski Area. For a more low-key option, check out Goat Meadow Snow Play Area — the king of the hill when it comes to cheap & cheerful winter fun. If snowshoeing is more your shuffle, such winter destinations as the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Dewey Point filter out the summer crowds for a whole new way to commune with Yosemite’s majestic beauty.
Don’t forget to dust off your cross-country skis as you embark on an epic journey from Badger Pass to Glacier Point on a 4-5 hour cross country ski excursion. Adventurers will enjoy the fact that downhill and cross country ski opportunities abound in Yosemite’s off-season.
Prefer curling up with a book while the snow collects on the pine boughs outside your window? Then the spa & wellness treatments of Yosemite Mariposa County are the perfect meditative path to your winter recovery. There’s something to be said for just taking it easy, and there’s even more to be said for winter allowing that to happen.
Go high or go low. Prefer to avoid the fluffy white stuff? Staying in the Town of Mariposa and Gold Country are well below the snowline and above the murky tule fog which gathers in the central valley during winter months. Enjoy the best of both worlds by visiting the snow play and ski areas by day and retreating to the warmer lower elevations, restaurants and shopping of town by night!
Of course, driving precautions are important during this time of year, so plan ahead, pack tire chains, and double check park roads to avoid closures. Tioga Road is open from sometime in May or June until November most years, and the Glacier Point Road is closed for 2022.
Just like true music fans go beyond a band’s hit song and explore its deeper cuts, true fans of Yosemite know that its transformative beauty extends beyond summer months into the other magical seasons. The “open” sign hangs year-round up here and the park’s most iconic destinations are easily accessible in all seasons, so come find a comfy place to stay, a tasty place to eat and embrace all the nuance that Yosemite Mariposa County has to offer.
To explore lodging options, things to do and places to eat, visit Yosemite.com, the #1 trip planning site for vacations to Yosemite National Park and historic Mariposa County. To stay up to date, follow @YosemiteNation on social media and subscribe to our newsletter, “The Wanderer”. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for great videos on the people and places of Yosemite Mariposa County.