What is the Best Season to Visit Yosemite?
There’s pros and cons to visiting this popular park in every season.
There’s no denying it, Yosemite is gorgeous year round. With elevations ranging from 2,000 feet to 13,000 feet, you can find a variety of climates in the park no matter what month you visit, but there are pros and cons to planning a trip in every season. To escape the crowds, we love to visit in spring when the waterfalls are rushing or winter when snow blankets the landscape. Summer is the best choice for seeing the whole park, while fall offers mild weather.
Here’s the pros and cons to seeing Half Dome, El Capitan and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in spring, summer, fall and winter.
Spring (mid-March through May)
Spring is one of our favorite seasons to visit Yosemite. The park’s quintessential waterfalls are gushing, thanks to snowmelt, and Yosemite Valley comes alive with green grass, wildflowers and baby animals. Average highs in Yosemite Valley are usually in the high 50s in March, warming up to the low 70s in May. You may encounter snow in the early spring and distant peaks will still be snow-capped through early summer.
With mild temperatures and fewer crowds than in the summer, it’s a great time to do Yosemite Valley hikes like Mist Trail and Four Mile Trail. Hetch Hetchy is another great low-elevation part of the park to visit in spring, with gorgeous Wapama Falls thundering. Each year it only sees 1% of Yosemite’s total visitors so in the spring you might get trails all to yourself. Because Mariposa Grove is at a higher elevation than Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy, weather will be colder and you might encounter snow in the spring, though it’s still worth a visit if you bundle up.
Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road remain closed through late May or early June, so high elevation parts of the park like Tuolumne Meadows are not accessible in the spring. Half Dome is another hike that is not doable until the summer months.
Summer (June through August)
Though summer is Yosemite’s busiest season, it’s the best time of year to visit if you want to experience all of the park. Because elevation is so varied, temperatures and weather can fluctuate wildly as you drive through the park. Yosemite Valley, which has an elevation of 4,000 feet, sees summer highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s. Tuolumne Meadows, which sits at 8,600 feet along Tioga Road, is much cooler with highs in the high 60s and low 70s and lows in the 30s. Summer is the best season to hike, backpack and camp throughout the park, although some high elevation trails will still be covered in snow through mid-summer depending on the year. Download GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com) to get real-time data on snow coverage to plan your hikes.
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in Yosemite during the summer. Lightning can pose a real risk for hikers, especially on exposed granite. Plan to be back at your car by mid-day and if you see dark and building clouds, turn around immediately. Wildfires in the west have increased in recent years. Smoke from fires often settles in Yosemite Valley in the summer, reducing air quality and making views hazy. If you’re sensitive to smoke, it’s a good idea to check the air quality forecast before visiting. (www.iqair.com/us/usa/california/yosemite-valley)
Crowds are one of the biggest deterrents to visiting the park in summer. In 2021 and 2022, Yosemite piloted a reservation system to try to alleviate crowding, but suspended the pilot in 2023. With no restrictions on entry, expect Yosemite Valley parking lots to fill up quickly. For your best chance of getting a spot, arrive early and then plan to keep your car parked in the same place all day. You can take the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle System to access trailheads, restaurants, the visitor center and more. Another option is to ride the YARTS bus in from Mammoth Lakes, Sonora, Oakhurt, Merced or Mariposa and then transfer to the Yosemite Valley Shuttle System.
Fall (September through November)
Autumn isn’t our favorite season to visit the park, but there’s still pros to planning a fall trip. The weather begins to cool off again, remaining pleasant at low elevations through early November. Expect highs in Yosemite Valley in the low 80s in September, cooling down approximately 10 degrees per month through November. Tioga Road usually remains open through mid-to-late November, but temperatures quickly drop at high elevations as autumn wears on with September highs in the 60s and November highs in the 40s. Snow usually begins to fall in October.
Visitation is still high in September, but historically dies down by October and November. Mid-to-late fall is a great time to hit Yosemite Valley trails without crowds. Days are normally clear and blue, unless late-season fires make skies smoky. Do note that many park waterfalls have dried up by this time of year.
Winter (December through mid-March)
If you like snow and cold, a visit to Yosemite in the winter can’t be beat. The crowds disappear and the park is transformed into a winter wonderland. You won’t be able to drive over Tioga Road or up to Glacier Point, but Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove offer stunning winter beauty.
Winter is the wettest time of the year for the park, with 70% of precipitation falling between November and March. Yosemite Valley averages highs in the 40s or 50s throughout the winter, with average lows in the 20s to 30s, but snow often blankets the ground. One epic storm dropped 15 feet of snow here in late February 2023, burying the valley and closing park roads. Normally, access to the valley is open, offering a gorgeous, snow-dusted landscape.
In Yosemite, winter activities abound. Head to Badger Pass Ski Area, one of the only ski lifts in a national park, which offers downhill skiing and snowboarding. In Curry Village, you can ice skate under Half Dome. Cross-country skiers can hit groomed trails and snowshoers will want to head to Mariposa Grove for a truly magical outing. Remember that winter conditions can change quickly. Always check the forecast before heading out and pack warm and waterproof layers.
One of the most sought after winter experiences in the park is the annual February Firefall. For a few weeks each winter, the sunset is poised just perfectly to set Horsetail Fall aglow, making it look like the waterfall has caught on fire. Timed-entry permits were required for this popular event in 2023.