When to Travel to Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders you can find in the United States. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite offers a wide range of outdoor activities, iconic monuments, a plethora of wildlife and unmatched natural beauty that sees millions of visitors flock to it every year.

Whether it is the famed giant sequoia trees, sheer granite cliffs, towering waterfalls or just the quiet and stillness of untouched nature, Yosemite will never disappoint. The park encompasses 747,956 acres, so if your thing is camping, hiking, exploring, skiing or climbing, Yosemite can be the backdrop for the most memorable vacation you’ve ever had.

If you are looking for the best time to travel to Yosemite National Park, that really depends on what types of activities you want to enjoy while you are here. Every season offers an array of astonishing views, scenery, and experiences, so you can design your trip based on what you want.

Summer in Yosemite National Park

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

If you want to visit Yosemite National Park in the summer, you'll be in good company. Summer is the busiest time of year at the park, so if your goal is for a quiet experience with few crowds, then this may not be the ideal time for you. The crowds tend to swell on weekends, so if you love the heat of summer in the park but not the crowds, weekdays may be a better choice. In the summer, there may be thunderstorms at higher elevations, but for the most part is a dry season. The spring runoff typically ends in June and by the time August rolls around several of the park's waterfalls may be totally dry. However, you can rent rafts or bring a kayak, canoe or other non-motorized vessels to float down the Merced River if water is part of your Yosemite wish list.

If you want to see wildflowers while in Yosemite, the season moves to higher elevations into the summer, so take that into consideration when booking your trip. All of the tours at Yosemite National Park are in full swing during the summer, including moonlight tours during full moons and open-air tram tours. If you plan on camping or staying at one of the canvas tent lodges in the park, it’s best to book your stay far in advance, as these are always popular summer activities. During particularly dry summers, there is always the possibility of forest fires throwing a wrench into your plans, so take the time to check on the status of the park before you make the trip. Even fires from other places can affect the air quality in the mountains, so it’s always best to check first.

Yosemite National Park in the Winter

Half Dome winter wonderland

Half Dome winter wonderland

If you want smaller crowds and more space to move around, or love winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing, then winter may be the best time to travel to Yosemite National Park. The park is open all year long, yet some of the lodges and campgrounds have specific seasons and close during the winter. You can go downhill skiing or snowboarding at the Badger Pass Ski Area, now called the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, or cross-country skiing in many different areas of the park. Tours are available for cross-country enthusiasts that love to be out in the cooler winter air and love a good workout. Ice skating and snow tubing are also available.

The temperatures drop quite a bit in winter in Yosemite to lows around 28F, and you'll see a lot of snow, especially at the higher elevations. The water levels are typically lower during winter, but after snow and rain have fallen, they begin to pick up again. Sometimes, you may notice hazy or smoky conditions during winter as planned fires are set to promote forest health and lower the risk of serious fires in drier conditions. It's important to keep in mind that some roads are closed during the winter, and in some cases, you'll need tire chains to help get where you are going. Make sure to check beforehand that the area you want to go to is accessible and you have everything you'll need for a fun trip.  

Fall in Yosemite National Park

Beautiful autumn colors amongst Yosemite Falls.

Beautiful autumn colors amongst Yosemite Falls.

Fall is a great time to travel to Yosemite National Park because the temperatures start to cool from the summer heat and most amenities are still open. With kids back to school, the crowds are also smaller, which means more room to move around for those of you seeking some solitude in nature. Most of the trees in Yosemite are evergreen, so you won't get those magnificent fall colors like in other forests, but that doesn't mean there isn't color to be found. Deciduous trees like Pacific dogwoods, black oaks, and big-leaf maples still supply an ample amount of fall color.

The water levels during fall are quite low, with many waterfalls producing little to no water. A few run all year long, but even they will slow down to a trickle during the fall months. In the fall, you can still do all the same activities you did in summer like backpacking and hiking, and you can also start in on some winter activities if snowfall permits at higher elevations. Fire and smoke can be an issue in certain areas in the fall, so it’s always best to check ahead.

Yosemite National Park in the Spring

Spring view of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Spring view of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

If you love water, and more specifically waterfalls, then spring is when to travel to Yosemite National Park. As the winter snow melts, the streams and rivers fill up, and the park's waterfalls erupt at full force. Whether it is the sound, the sights or both that draws you to waterfalls, you need to visit in the spring to get the full effect.

The wildflowers in Yosemite also come to life in the spring and move down to bloom throughout the park. You can see a wide array of colors and countless species of wildflowers that really make you feel like you're experiencing nature at its fullest. Just like anywhere else, spring is a time of awakening and rebirth in Yosemite National Park. It is a haven for hikers, backpackers, campers, photographers and anyone who wants to be one with nature in the grandest setting of them all.

The love of the outdoors and nature and the history surrounding the area are what bring most people to Yosemite National Park. Luckily, the diverse seasons allow you to customize your trip to suit your likes and dislikes, and make the most memorable visit possible.

Yosemite National Park Activities & Hotels

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Edited/Contributed by: Victoria Derrick
Published/Updated on: 12-11-2018

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