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Amid the Sierra Nevada mountains in sunny California, Yosemite National Park invigorates the senses with gushing waterfalls, wildflower-dotted meadows, towering granite monoliths, giant Sequoia trees and verdant valleys. One of the best national parks, immortalized by Amsel Adam’s photography, Yosemite is a popular place to explore. But when is the best time of year to visit?
Yosemite National Park is open year-round, but the park is the busiest in July and August. Reservations are required to enter before 4pm. You could see a lot of Yosemite Valley in one day, but it’s better to spend two to three days exploring the vast 1,200 square miles of wilderness that is Yosemite National Park. You can even book a tour and leave the driving to someone else!
Visitation numbers are low November through April, as it can be cold and snowy in the High Sierra. Scenic Tioga Road is typically open late May/ early June through late October/ early November, depending on snowfall.
“The best time to visit Yosemite is May when waterfalls are flowing and before big summer crowds,” says Californian Mimi Slawoff.
If you’re looking for wildflowers, you’ll find them in spring and summer. Most roads, hiking trails, services, tours and programs, including those led by park rangers, are available in summer.
Backpacking is best summer through September. Many visitors say May and September are the best months because the weather is agreeable, yet the crowds have subsided.
Here’s more about the best time to visit Yosemite National Park.
Read More: Best Hotels Near Yosemite for Families
When is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park?
Late spring is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley blooms with wildflowers and waterfalls are flowing in full splendor from fresh snowmelt.
As it warms up in late May, scenic byways like Tioga Road start opening, providing access to Tuolumne Meadows. If you can visit before or right after the kids get out of school, May or early June would be ideal. Just note that Memorial Day weekend can be extremely busy.
If you’re planning to camp, reservations at Yosemite National Park’s 13 popular campgrounds fill up fast for visits from April through September. Book on the National Park Service website as soon as possible. And check back regularly — cancellations do happen.
The range in elevations across the park have a big impact on the weather. So while Yosemite Valley might be in full bloom in spring because it is in lower elevation, higher elevations can be still covered in snow and limited for access until June or even July.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Make sure to bring a warm coat and layers. Spring temperatures can dip into the 30s.
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Who Should Visit During Spring?
- Those hoping to avoid crowds
- Wildflower and waterfall enthusiasts
Why is Spring the Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park?
- Fewer crowds
- Less traffic
- Lower hotel room rates
- Snowmelt makes for gushing waterfalls
- Wildflowers will be in bloom
Read More: Yosemite with Dogs
Should I Visit Yosemite National Park in the Summer?
Summer is the high season at Yosemite National Park, which brings millions of visitors. The entire park is open, kids are off school and weather is warm and sunny. Try to visit mid-week or early morning to lessen wait times and traffic buildups.
The summer months are the ideal time to hike the High Sierra and camp. Make camping reservations far in advance, as the camping spots quickly sell out in peak season. Crane Flat Campground is the closest to Yosemite Valley.
Everything is open in the summer, including the gorgeous Tioga Pass. Weather can be warm to hot, especially at lower elevations. Afternoon thunderstorms are likely and smoky conditions are possible in August and September, due to fires in the park or surrounding areas.
Yosemite Valley can get hot in summer months and waterfalls like Yosemite Falls can dry up. Head to Tuolumne Meadows for cooler temperatures, fewer crowds and access to hiking trails surrounded by majestic peaks and granite domes.
In June and July, you can cool off by rafting, tubing or swimming in the Merced River.
Who Should Visit During Summer?
- Families with breaks from school and work
- Campers who make reservations far in advance
- Those who want to avoid rain and snow
Why Visit Yosemite National Park in Summer?
- Ideal temperatures for camping
- Wildflowers are abloom in higher elevations
- Swimming, rafting and tubing on the Merced River
SheBuysTravel Tip: Campsites can book the moment they become available, so book far in advance if you plan to camp. If you can’t find a spot to stay inside the park, writer Mimi Slawoff recommends Bass Lake. “A short drive to Yosemite and a worthy destination in itself,” she says.
Should I Visit Yosemite National Park in Fall?
September is a spectacular time to visit Yosemite National Park. The crowds calm down after Labor Day and the temperatures cool. If you’re into hiking or rock climbing, fall is a fabulous season for these activities.
While waterfalls might not be flowing, fall foliage is a feast for the eyes. Late October through early November is peak season for fall colors.
Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible by car year-round, but expect road closures to start in late autumn. At higher elevations, snow could start falling as early as September. Tioga Road usually closes for the season in November, or even earlier, depending on conditions.
According to the National Park Service website, Yosemite receives 75% of its precipitation between November and March.
Who Should Visit During Fall?
- Leaf peepers who appreciate fall colors
- Hikers and rock climbers
- Visitors hoping for fewer crowds
Why is Fall the Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park?
- Less crowded
- Cooler temperatures ideal for hiking
- Fall colors
Should I Visit Yosemite National Park in the Winter?
Other than the holiday time period, the winter months are the quietest season at Yosemite National Park. Under a blanket of snow, the natural splendor of Yosemite can be magnificent.
Savor fresh powder at Badger Pass Ski Area, the oldest ski resort in California. Snowshoe, snowboard, downhill or cross-country ski from mid-December through mid-March.
Ice skating is available at The Curry Village Ice Rink. Glide around the rink with views of Half Dome in the background. A crackling firepit will warm you after your skate.
If you want to see the natural spectacle known as Firefall, where Horsetail Fall illuminates at sunset, visit in February. For a fancy holiday meal your family won’t soon forget, feast on the seven-course Bracebridge Dinner at The Ahwahnee Hotel.
Traveling Mom Tip: Tire chains, which provide traction and reduce chances of auto accidents, are required in Yosemite during snowy or icy road conditions. Most gas stations and auto parts stores surrounding Yosemite National Park offer tire chains for purchase.
Who Should Visit During Winter?
- Those hoping to enjoy a quiet park
- Deal seekers, as winter is the best time to snag discounts on accommodations
- Snow sport enthusiasts
- Spectators hoping to glimpse firefall, Horsetail Falls naturally aglow in oranges and red at sunset
Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park?
- Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snow tubing at Badger Pass Ski Area
- Holiday celebrations, such as the Christmas Bracebridge Dinner
- Quiet, snowy landscapes
- Ice skating
- Horsetail Falls illuminates like it’s on fire during sunsets, a natural phenomenon known as firefall
What are the Best Things to Do at Yosemite National Park?
- Behold Tunnel View Outlook in Yosemite Valley, where you can gaze upon Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall
- Savor panoramic views across Yosemite National Park at Glacier Point
- View iconic Half Dome, or hike there if you’re up for a full-day trek
- Walk among giant Sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove
- Take a scenic drive on Tioga Road
- Hike an easy half-mile trail to majestic Bridalveil Fall
- Soak in the scenery at Tuolumne Meadows
- Partake in a Junior Ranger Program
- Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and feel the cool splash of the waterfall as you traverse up the granite staircase
- Stay at National Historic Landmark, Ahwahnee Hotel
- Savor the vast wilderness of Hetch Hetchy Valley
- Ski, snowboard or tube at Badger Pass Ski Area
- Sneak in some learning at the Yosemite History Center in Wawona
- Chug along in a Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad tour
- Road trip to or from San Francisco, a four-hour drive away
- Visit the gateway town of Merced for golfing, biking and dining
- Swim, boat and fish at nearby Bass Lake
SheBuysTravel Tip: Glacier Point Road is being repaired in 2022. Expect closures or delays. Visit the National Park Service website for updates.