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Yosemite Mariposa County’s Late Summer & Early fall Season

Yosemite Mariposa County and California locals know the stretch between Labor Day and Thanksgiving offers a “fifth season.” It’s a warm soothing, herbaceous blend of late summer & early autumn. Toasty, summer-like days, cooler nights, all with the crisp and clear air of a changing season afoot. The season smells different too, with morning dew on the summer dried grass, or campfire smoke and freshly brewed coffee hanging in the morning air.

No wonder many laud the weeks around the autumnal equinox for offering the finest weather of the year. This was a time of industry and celebration for the Southern Sierra Miwuk, Yosemite’s indigenous people, as they prepared for the shorter days ahead. Follow their lead, at least in the celebration aspect, to enjoy spectacular seasonal activities.

It’s not just the people of Yosemite Mariposa County that love the extended summer, but the animals do too. With winter on its way in, the bears, deer, and coyotes are busy stocking up on their caloric intake to prep for the cold winter ahead.

Hiking and Biking

Sunset at Cathedral Lakes

Take the time to catch sunset at Cathedral Lake in Tuolumne – a classic high-country Yosemite hike. (Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp for the walk back if you want to stay late.)

Yosemite Mariposa County’s endless summer is ideal for outdoor lovers. Early autumn is one of the best seasons for hiking Yosemite. With Labor Day checked off and kids back in school, Park visitation lowers dramatically and Yosemite seems to grow even bigger. Hiking trails are less traveled, and a whole new level of quietude swoops into the park. High country hikes are absolutely in play, with numerous day hike options spurring off Tioga Road and in Tuolumne Meadows. Coveted wilderness permits and Half Dome Hiking permits can be easier to snag for overnight backpacking excursions, too.

After summer’s rush, suddenly you have the trail all to yourselves with nothing to distract you but the cry of a red-tail hawk circling high overhead. Prepare for multiple hiking epiphanies. Two not to miss: the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail offers 13 modular miles where you can jump on and off at multiple points for a grand tour with vistas of Yosemite’s monumental geology. The primary trailhead is near the start of the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, where bathrooms and parking are available, but you can access the trail at multiple Valley nodes.

Mirror Lake unofficially becomes Mirror Meadow as summer turns to fall, revealing sand bars where you can drop a backpack, spread out a towel, and soak up some Sierra rays. Fall picnics taste even better as Half Dome hovers above, supersized and smooth, and the eccentrically colored leaves along the Mirror Lake Loop seem to glow between the pines when the light is just right.

Mirror Lake in the Fall

After the first rains, Mirror Meadow fills and becomes the scenic reflective Mirror Lake once again.

The Mirror Lake Trail is a satisfying five-mile circuit with gentle undulation as you weave along the forested, granite-lined path. Notably, Mirror Lake is one of the most accessible destinations in Yosemite Valley with a paved bike/wheelchair route and very little elevation gain.

Both the Valley Loop and Mirror Lake trails are bike-friendly, making them perfect crossover options if fat tires are how you roll. Biking is made for Yosemite’s “endless summer,” with tree-lined trails and the natural air conditioning that biking affords. B.Y.O. bikes or rent your wheels in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Conservancy’s seasonal Bike Share Program (free) is another great way to wheel up.

The network of Sierra National Forest fire trails near Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite provides a cluster of cruises. Take an easy spin down Jackson Road or gear up for longer rides through the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias or up to a historic fire tower at Signal Peak.

Mountain biker relaxing with a view of Lake McClure

As the days cool off, you’ll enjoy a fun mountain bike ride on the trails at Exchequer Mountain Bike Park, as well as the views of Lake McClure below. Photo: Grant Parker

Located in Northwest Mariposa County at an elevation of 867 feet, Exchequer Mountain Bike Park has 700 acres of crunchy, chain-stretching joy overlooking Lake McClure. Here, mercury-tipping summers give way to warm autumn days. Fifth season! Discover full-service family resorts featuring protected swim areas, day-use picnic tables, and the floating obstacle course of Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park.

Feast for the Senses

Butterfly Creek Winery

Savor the bounty of the fall season at Butterfly Creek Winery where the rolling vineyards provide scenic backdrops for award-winning wines.

Endless summer is a harbinger of the coming harvest when your every sense can be engaged with a seasonal cornucopia of things to taste and savor. Yosemite Mariposa County is an agricultural powerhouse with its Sierra foothill terrain. In particular, wine grapes and apples absolutely thrive here.

Touring and tasting this time of year can feel like you’re cheating, with summer’s lingering heat and autumn’s ag bounty both at your beck and “fall.” Mariposa’s largest local vintner, Butterfly Creek Winery is set in the picturesque Snow Creek area north of Bootjack.

Mariposa County’s sultry summers and crisp autumn nights are the perfect stage for cider apples to produce premium juice. Book a spot on the orchard tour to get to the core of their apple alchemy. The engaging tours conclude with a delicious tasting and the opportunity to score bottles of “campfire champagne” to take home.

Both Butterfly Creek and Sierra Cidery are included on the self-guided Mariposa Triangle Tasting Tour, a self-guided 30-mile loop from old town Mariposa that connects with scenic Triangle Road.

The annual harvest brings edible bounty as well. Fresh and local produce, meats, honey, artisan, and baked goods fill the tables of the popular Mariposa Certified Farmers’ Market, held every Wednesday evening from May through October.

The spa at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort

Soak in the expansiveness of the season at the spa at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. Choose from a peroxide and UV hot tub, sauna, a relaxing massage and more.

The sense of touch is another endless summer all-star. With ample opportunity for outdoor recreation, taking a break for a spa reset is exactly what the vacation doctor ordered. The Yosemite Health Spa at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort in Midpines offers full-body serenity, from massage and yoga retreats to locally-sourced herbal-steeped baths, hot rocks sauna and jumbo stainless steel hot tub. The Ascent Spa at Tenaya Lodge is one of the Sierra’s top spas, offering a rejuvenating range of treatments including massage, body wraps, facials, sauna, and steam rooms.

See our Field Guide to Feeling Good for a full menu of restorative treatments and classes, all set in a grand Sierra landscape where rejuvenation amplifies your Yosemite Mariposa County experience.

Endless Summer Stay and Play

The Ahwahnee glowing in the evening light

This is the season to treat yourself to the lodging of your dreams, like a stay at The Ahwahnee, Yosemite’s grand lodge located in the heart of Yosemite Valley.

Summer-like weather with affordable rates – who’s in? Lodging options that may have been booked solid over the spring and summer rush are suddenly wide-open, often at significantly lower nightly rates. This includes Yosemite Mariposa’s notable collection of hotels and motels, as well as vacation rentals and cabins. Mid-autumn also affords the ability for more spontaneity in booking decisions. Weather looking awesome this weekend? Booking just a few days in advance of your getaway is in play.

With little seasonal rain, early autumn lends itself to Yosemite Mariposa County camping as kids are back in school and more sites become available. If roughing it isn’t your thing, consider glamping for outdoor immersion at high thread-count.

Go Time Pro Tips

Autumn color and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley

Capture the beauty of Yosemite Mariposa County during this bountiful season.

  • During the “fifth season,” daily high and low temperatures can range dramatically. Suitcase strategy is required. With the fluid transition between summer and fall, you’ll need to pack a little more to make sure you’re ready for sunny, hot days, cool nights, and the off-chance of an early storm.
  • Summer may be in the rear view mirror, but fifth season weather still demands careful attention to hydration and skin care. Extra water and sunscreen required!
  • This is the peak of wildfire season in California – be fire safe.
  • With holidays on the horizon, it’s go time for early gift shopping. Mariposa’s local merchants – including antique and consignment stores, boutiques, and bottle shops – lean in with an artisanal, one-of-a-kind vibe.
  • Yosemite National Park’s temporary vehicle reservations system ends on September 30. Starting October 1, reservations will no longer be required for park entry. Go!

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.

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