When Is the Best Time
Yosemite National Park! Mesmerizing and spectacular views! Read on for our complete season guide updated in 2021 or scroll down to the end for tips about the most breathtaking places. You can use our quick navigation to find your desired subject:
- Spring Months | Season Guide
- Summer Months | Season Guide
- Fall Months | Season Guide
- Winter Months | Season Guide
- Winter Special | 3 Winter Tips
- Avoiding Crowds – Busy Times
- 3 Must-Know Lodging Tips
- Glacier Point | Lower-Yosemite Falls | Half Dome
- 9 Yosemite Top Tips
Reservations – Day Pass | 2021 Update
In 2021 – probably until late fall – reservations are required to drive into Yosemite. You always need a day pass for Yosemite unless you use YARTS, obtain a wilderness permit, use an authorized tour, or have an in-park camping or lodging reservation.
The reservation is valid for one day. You only need one reservation per vehicle, regardless of the number of persons. Read more here: Yosemite Official NPS – Entrance Reservations. You do not need a reservation if you use the regional transportation system YARTS or book an authorized tour (see below).
Our Tip | No Day Pass Required: Book accommodation in El Portal (which is very close, El Portal Lodges and Hotels via booking.com) and use YARTS to get into Yosemite Valley. That is very convenient and you don’t need to go through the reservation process. Alternatively, you can book directly inside Yosemite Valley. Read our Accommodation Tips below for more details.
Special Tip (No Day Pass/Reservation Required): If you have limited time and like it hassle-free, take a look at these tours: Yosemite National Park Tours (Service by the excellent provider GetYourGuide). Outstanding guides, stunning experience, and you get picked up and dropped off again at your hotel in case you’re staying in San Francisco (depending on the tour)!
Quote from a recent visitor: ‘Brilliant guides very knowledgeable, had a brilliant day, an amazing place to see, absolutely outstanding!’ The tours are also great in winter, as it takes away the headache of driving with tire chains. You might love these (the third one is not available in winter):
The Best Time
The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is from mid-May until early June and from late September until mid-October. During both shoulder periods, the weather is mostly pleasant and the crowds are lower. July and August are always ridiculously busy.
However, despite the crowds, summer brings the most pleasant weather of course. If you plan a summer visit, read our tips to avoid crowds (see below). Waterfalls are at their best in late May, and skiing the Badger Pass lasts through the end of March. Backpackers thrive into early October, while those who prefer to drive do best when all roads are likely to be open July through September. Take a look at our seasonal breakdown. We went to Yosemite ourselves many times, also analyzed thousands of reviews to help you determine the advantages of each season:
Season Guide | Monthly Weather & Highlights
Please note: These are temperatures for lower elevations. It gets a lot cooler at higher elevations!
SPRING (April – May)
April’s showers (and melting snowcaps) bring May’s spectacular waterfalls.
Weather: Though it varies, temperatures are getting warmer. Average daytime highs hover around 70, though it is always possible to encounter a late winter snowstorm.
Accessible Areas: Lower elevation and good roads make Yosemite Valley and Wawona accessible all year long. It is difficult to predict the likelihood to enter Tioga and Glacier Point Roads due to residual snow. Crews begin clearing snow on April 15, but work can last well into May. Weekends can be especially busy, be sure to arrive early to avoid unnecessary delays.
Highlights: Water is abundant in spring. Well-known rivers and waterfalls reach peak runoff in late May, and this is by far the most popular time to see them. Check out the booming rush of water at Ribbon Falls, which only flows through June. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in all of North America. Don’t expect to be wowed by the wildflowers; it’s still too early for the blooms, though you might catch a few poppies or redwood along the way.
Crowds: Light in April. It gets busier in May. Especially weekends are crowded in late spring, visit midweek, and get to the main hot spots first thing in the morning. Try to avoid the extremely congested Memorial Day weekend.
SUMMER (June, July, August, early September)
Sweet summer weather brings peak-level crowds.
Weather: Ample sunshine. Average temps soar to nearly 90, but cool down significantly under the night sky.
Accessible Areas: Most of the park is accessible now, but it is still possible to discover your own private paradise. Venture outside of Yosemite Valley, and away from the crowds. Take in the stunning views in High Sierra where you will be met by little more than a cool mountain breeze.
Highlights: Waterfall flow is typically still at its peak in early June and often remains high by mid-June. It begins to slow in July due to warmer weather. Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil Falls run all year; however, their flow can be very low by late summer. Yosemite Falls may dry out completely by August. Check Yosemite Falls Webcam to see the current flow. Your draw in summer is the spectacular colors of the wildflowers. In the valley, the blooms burst in June. Follow the winding river in Tuolumne Meadows, and enjoy the sub-alpine flowers like gentium or shooting stars. Explore one of the many trails that begin in these meadows, including the route to the summit of Mount Lyell, the highest in the park.
Crowds: June is already busy, while July and August are extremely jammed. Popular spots will be crowded all season, and expect long lines at entrance points. Take a chance and hike a lesser-known trail instead.
AUTUMN (early September, October, November)
Crisp breeze and colorful trees, along with dwindling crowds make fall one of the best times to visit the park.
Weather: Varies. Average daytime temps are in the 50’s, but it is not unusual to see drastic ranges. Snow and rain are also possible, especially at higher elevations. Yosemite Valley is your best bet for comfortable daytime weather; though expect it to turn chilly when the sun goes down.
Accessible Areas: Most areas in the park remain open through October, though this is fully dependent on the weather. Services begin to shut down in mid-September, and the park does not allow overnight parking after mid-October. However, most hotels and lodges in Yosemite Valley, El Portal, or other nearby accommodations are open year-round. Check our ‘Lodging Tips‘ below. While it’s not very likely at lower elevations, you may require tire chains in November.
Highlights: As the snow begins to fall, so does the water. Yosemite Falls has been dry all late summer and early autumn but resumes its flow quickly usually by November (after a little snowfall). From Wawona, your best bet is Chilnualna Falls. You will have to hike to it, but the way it twists and turns through the rocks makes it completely worth the effort. Fall colors peak around mid-October, though don’t expect to see radiant hues throughout. Most trees are evergreen, but shades of yellows, orange, and even some purples can be found sprinkled among the trees.
Crowds: Warning! Early September (Labor Day Weekend) sees the highest crowds. After Labor Day it’s less crowded but still busy. Even if you visit in mid-September avoid weekends and try to get up early. Crowds start to thin out by late September. In October everything is much quieter. As long as the roads remain open, you are likely to have the place to yourself in late autumn, particularly in November
WINTER (December, January, February, March)
If solitude is what you seek, winter will be a treat. Check out the official NPS tips: NPS Yosemite Winter Tips
Weather: Cold but not freezingly cold. Snow and wind are a constant presence, though you might find a few sunny days in between storms. Temperatures in Yosemite Valley are more moderate, averages remain in the low 50’s, though evening lows can dip below zero.
Accessible Areas: There are few trails visible enough to hike during winter, and once Tioga Road is closed vehicles are prohibited for your safety. However, Yosemite Valley is accessible by car via Highway 140 (El Portal Road). Although you’re required to carry tire chains in your car. Alternatively book a hotel in El Portal and use YARTS (read our winter tips at the top and lodging tips below the seasons guide for details about YARTS and El Portal) Ski areas remain open, as the Badger Pass is plowed often. Both downhill and cross-country activities are popular here, and there are some great runs for snowboarders as well.
Highlights: Water is flowing again, thanks to the snow and rain, and it is possible to get some great winter shots of the falls. If you get to Yosemite Falls early enough, it is possible to see it frozen solid. If possible, consider visiting the Horsetail Fall Firefall. Only occurring in winter when the sun is at just the right angle, this natural beauty looks just like a cascading flow of fire. It is truly unforgettable. The peak time for the Firefall is usually from February 17-19. However, it can vary. The sweeping snowy vistas are magical in the winter, and the lack of crowds makes it even better. Yosemite Valley is your best bet to find a route to hike, keep in mind the trails range in difficulty and distance, so plan accordingly.
Crowds: None. You are likely to encounter some crowds at the ski areas, but if your intent is just to visit the park, you may be lucky enough to never see another person.
Winter Special | November – December – January – February
Besides our ‘Autumn Guide,’ we collected some special tips for your November and December visit. November is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park with the crowds gone and mostly pleasant temperatures. In December it gets a little colder but it’s still worth visiting. You’ll love it! Don’t forget to read our quick tips for your winter visit below the November/December section.
- Crowds? It’s not busy at all, as the visitor count drops to 30% in the month of November compared to the very busy summer months. It’s even less busy in December and January.
- Road Accessibility: It’s very likely that Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road will be open until mid-November. However, both roads usually close by the end of November. Check the historic closures here: NPS – Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road Opening & Closing Dates. Tire Chains? When driving in lower elevations (like El Portal Road, Highway 140) tire chains are usually not required. But still, visiting in late November, December or any other winter month means, that you should carry them in your car.
- Weather? While often still pleasant with temps around 45-50°F, it can also rain and even snow, especially at higher elevations. However, the first snowfall in October/November is usually light and the snow melts very quickly. In late November the ground is generally cold enough for the snow to accumulate, but mostly at higher elevations above Yosemite Valley. In December there can be snow on the ground in Yosemite Valley, but usually for a few days only. Often it’s simply cold and chilly with a clear ground in the valley.
3 Tips for Winter
- Road Conditions: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are both closed throughout the winter from late November until late May (sometimes until early June). All other Yosemite Park roads including Wawona Road (Highway 41) and El Portal Road (Highway 140), remain open year-round. However, you are required to carry tire chains in your car in case you need to use them. Find more information about road closures here: NPS Yosemite – Winter Road Closures And detailed information about tire chains: NPS Yosemite – Tire Chain Requirements. Always check current road conditions before you drive: NPS Yosemite – Road Conditions Don’t want to use tire chains? Check our winter accommodation tip just below.
- Accommodation: Since El Portal Road and Wawona Road are open in winter, you may drive to Yosemite Valley and stay there. However, there are two drawbacks: 1) You’re required to tie carry tire chains and mount them during certain weather conditions. 2) The lodging options in Yosemite Valley are very(!) pricey, actually the most expensive ones there. Solution: You stay in El Portal and decide if you use the YARTS service, which gets you directly into Yosemite Valley or you drive by yourself, depending on the weather conditions. The great thing about YARTS: It operates year-round, regardless of the weather, and picks you up in El Portal right at the ‘Yosemite View Lodge’ (via booking.com). Check out our ‘Lodging Tips for El Portal’ below.
- Walks/Hikes: The great thing about a winter visit, is the missing crowds. Places which are crowded from summer to fall can be visited now almost in solitude. Even if you don’t want to hike, you should do the super easy walks: Bridalveil Fall Trail, Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, and Cook’s Meadow Loop. Each only requires a 0.5 miles – 1 mile (loop) walk and is open in winter as well. A little more strenuous is the equally stunning Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails. Find great trail information and tips about all the trails on the official NPS website: NPS Yosemite – Hikes
How to Avoid the Crowds | Busy Times
Your best bet to avoid the crowds is to visit in spring, late autumn, or winter. However, even in summer, you can dodge the tourist crowds. Follow our tips below to get the most out of your visit.
Get up early:
There is nothing more spectacular than a Yosemite sunrise, and if you can make yourself get up early, you will essentially have the place (almost) to yourself. Take advantage of the morning’s first light, and your reward will be some phenomenal photos. Park rangers suggest starting before 9 a.m. Although not packed, very popular places can already get busier between 9 and 10 a.m. in the peak months. The earlier you arrive, the better.
Stay up late:
If you are not an early riser, you might prefer the big sky at night. Under the light of the moon and millions of stars, you can’t help but feel amazed at what nature has to offer. The park hosts free astronomy lessons, but to truly avoid the crowds, try to find a more remote spot instead. These night sky views are unforgettable. Crowds start to dissipate after 5 p.m.
Venture away from the main tourist sites:
Sure, they are likely the reason you chose Yosemite, but the same is true for everyone else. Consider a visit to the High Sierra, where there are no crowds and expansive views. This makes a great location for a multi-day hike or a home base for camping.
Step out of your comfort zone:
Or your vehicle. Most tourists visit the park in their cars which can create traffic jams and on top of that, you only get a glimpse into what Yosemite has to offer. Park your car and take a hike instead. A little mountain fresh air is good for the soul, and the best part is, the views only get better as you go. Trails range in difficulty and distance, so be sure to consider your physical ability and time frame as you plan. Avoid the Mist Trail unless you arrive first thing in the morning, as it is one of the most popular, and does see a lot of crowd action as the day wears on.
Pack a cooler:
Pull off somewhere special to enjoy a private picnic. You will thank yourself when you see the lines at the restaurants. Not only do you have the freedom to choose when and where you stop, but you also have full control of your food choices. Park dining options are great in a pinch but tend to offer mediocre food, for pretty steep prices.
Yosemite Firefall (Winter / See Tips Above)
3 Must-Know Lodging Tips (+ Weekly Hotel Deals)
You might be wondering: What’s the best hotel or lodge to stay at in terms of location, price, cleanliness, comfort, etc.? In general, it’s a good idea to stay as close as possible to the park when visiting Yosemite National Park (YNP). The following accommodations can usually be booked throughout the year:
1. Staying in Yosemite Valley
- 0 Minutes Drive
- No Extra Day Pass (Reservations) Required
You have many advantages when staying right in the park: You make the most out of your visit as you don’t have to drive in the morning. Also, benefits like the possibility of changing wet clothes in the hotel during the day come in handy. And the main reason of course: You are right there where the magic happens, especially in the evening when all the day visitors left.
Our preferred choice in 2019/2020 is the Yosemite Valley Lodge (via TripAdvisor link as they offer links to the cheapest available rates) in the heart of the valley! It gets better: This lodge has the most stunning location of all accommodations in Yosemite. You can view Yosemite Falls from the back door and even from many rooms. Additionally the meadows, and the striking granite walls of Yosemite Valley. This is just breathtaking! You can even watch colors change on El Capitan and Half Moon at sunrise or sunset!
Alternative: Not in the valley but still in the park’s boundaries lies Yosemite West. You won’t find ‘real lodges’ there but great vacation homes. If that’s what you’re looking for, the choices via booking.com are excellent: Yosemite West Vacation Homes. The drive to the valley takes as long as from El Portal but you don’t have to drive through a park entrance.
2. Staying Very Close in El Portal
- 35 Minutes Drive
- Use YARTS = No Day Pass (Reservations) Required
This is the closest place to stay at if you don’t want to book the extremely expensive hotels or lodges right in the valley. You are right outside the park’s boundaries and the 35 minutes drive to the Valley/Visitor Center is quite convenient. There are also restaurants, a grocery store (El Portal Market), and a gas station (open 24 hours when paying with a credit card) in El Portal. You enter YNP by driving through the fascinating Arch Rock Entrance. The El Portal Road leads you to the Valley.
You don’t have that many great options in El Portal but can definitely recommend the following two Accommodations in El Portal. Our tip: The Yosemite View Lodge is great! Very clean, great view, and easy to find! Book well in advance as it’s usually in very high demand. It gets better: You can take use YARTS service year-round from El Portal (it even stops right at Yosemite View Lodge), which takes you directly to Yosemite Valley. Hassle-free!
3. Staying Outside the Park
- 50 – 70 Minutes Drive
The best lodgings options outside the park take only slightly longer when driving to Yosemite Valley. Coming from the west via Hwy 120 (from San Francisco or other cities) the best accommodation is the Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite (just amazing, bookmark the link!!). It’s right at Big Oak Flat Entrance and less than 50 minutes drive to the valley: Google Maps Drive Rush Creek Lodge – Yosemite Valley. Fantastic! It’s not only the location which is quite close to the valley and right at the park, but also the excellent rooms, the delicious food in the restaurant, and the extremely friendly staff. You arrive there and immediately feel like you should stay a whole week!
In fact, you definitely can and should stay at least 2-3 days here. Why? The lodge itself has a team of guides who can take you on great tours from right there. Highly recommended! Quote from a visitor: ‘I wish we stayed an extra 3 nights!’ Another option via Hwy 120 is The Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite.
Slightly farther north, you drive 60 minutes until you get to the valley. It’s also a little less expensive than the Creek Lodge but equally stunning. Visitors say: ‘Loved it! Stunning location! Incredible view! A little piece of heaven on earth!’ Coming from the south via SR 41, the best three lodging options close to YNP are the following (from closest to farthest): Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite – Google Maps Drive 1 h 6 minutes | Sierra Sky Ranch (our favorite!) – Google Maps Drive 1 h 19 minutes | Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn (in Oakhurst) – Google Maps Drive 1 h 22 minutes
When lodging outside the park, remember to get up even earlier and start your drive between 7 and 8 a.m. at least. In peak season it’s a must since you’d want to avoid a congested road, busy entrances, as well as full parking lots.
More Options & Hotel Deals: In case the exact location is not that important for you, check the weekly deals below (make sure to bookmark the results page if you’re not booking right now):
Cities: Not really close but one highly recommended city in California you should visit is San Diego. It’s a 7:30 hour drive from Yosemite Valley. Our complete guide about the best time to visit San Diego is a must-read if you plan to visit different places in California.
National Parks: One fairly close National Park to visit is Death Valley. You drive about 5:40 hours until you reach the visitor center of Death Valley. Check out the best time to visit Death Valley and how to avoid the crowds there (the link takes you to our complete article).
Must-Visit Places in Yosemite
Yosemite National Park offers outdoor enthusiasts 1200 square miles of natural beauty to explore. Yosemite is full of adventure and intrigue as you explore its granite peaks and majestic waterfalls. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, get lost in the wonder that awaits you here.
Most people do not have months to spend trekking around Yosemite’s nearly 1200 square miles. With a park this size, it becomes important to determine your route, so you can be sure to see the best it has to offer in the time you have allotted. With so many spectacular places to visit, you will have to be a bit selective. Take a look at our top four, can’t miss places, which can easily be accessed in one single trip.
Hands down one of the best views in the entire park, this popular hot spot will likely be crowded, no matter when you arrive. But with long range views on every side, (including Half Dome in the distance) it’s completely worth it. The parking area is easily accessible by car, followed by a short walk to reach the overlook. Try to time your arrival to catch the sunrise/sunset. Tip: Arriving at sunset stay there until midnight and might see the magnificent Milky Way over Half Dome. Otherwise, try to visit very early in the morning to dodge the crowds.
When to Go: Late May through October or November (depending on weather conditions).
How to Get There: The road ends at Glacier Point, so early arrivals should have no trouble reaching the parking lot. On busy days, take the free shuttle from Badger Pass. The shuttle makes several stops along the way, and can often have long wait times, so it is recommended to arrive early.
What to Do: Hike the 4-mile trail. Take the Hiker’s bus from Yosemite Valley and enjoy the fresh air and the views on the way back down. This moderate hike has a 3200 feet elevation change. As an added bonus, catch a view of Yosemite Falls along the way.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This 2425 foot waterfall is the tallest in North America. The lower section (which you can see up close) is nearly 320 feet. Views are dramatic from every angle and begin the moment you hit the trailhead. Crowds will be at their highest midday, as this popular spot is a favorite of the tour companies. As it’s one of the most popular spots, it’s usually incredibly crowded. For your best bet at some quiet reflection, plan on arriving as early as possible. Tip: Visit in spring when the flow is powerful and be there at 5 a.m. in the morning. We know it’s early, but you can have the place all to yourself for some time then.
When to Go: Spring-Falls are powerful thanks to winter snow melt. In late summer and early autumn, the falls are often completely dry.
How to Get There: Park at Yosemite Village and walk ½ mile west to the trailhead, or take stop 6 from the Yosemite Valley shuttle.
What to Do: Take a walk. This easy loop is entirely paved and can be completed in less than an hour. Take it up a notch and come at night. You can try your luck at spotting a moonbow, if the light is just right, these moonlit rainbows shine across the water.
Nestled between granite peaks and stunning domes, this is one of the most beautiful lakes in the park (if not the world). Enjoy the white sand beach on the east side, or picture perfect views from the west. Water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding are popular when the weather is nice, and ice skating is killer in the winter.
When to Go: Whenever Tioga Road is open. (Usually June-November)
How to Get There: From the Valley, take Hwy 120 to Tioga Road. Parking is available on either side of the lake, plus good overflow on the shoulders.
What to Do: Hike, swim, or paddle. This alpine lake is gorgeous and the trail around is only 1.6km. This easy walk can be enjoyed with little elevation gain, but be careful in the spring as you may have to ford the western edges when the water levels are high.
Known as the ultimate day hike, this is likely what you have come to Yosemite to experience. With a full day duration (10-12 hours) this strenuous hike will test your courage, strength, and wits, as you ascend to the panoramic views that await you at the summit. The final portion of the hike is purely vertical, and you must rely on your physical ability to pull yourself up using the cables on the granite face. It will take some serious endurance to climb 4800 feet above the valley. You will pass several notable waterfalls along the way, as you wind back and forth through the mountain switchbacks. Permits are required for the cable climb, and the 225 daily passes are awarded through a lottery that takes place in March each year.
When to Go: Spring, in order to see the waterfalls at their highest flow.
How to Get There: Limited parking is available at the trailhead, but most begin the hike from Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop 16) which is still ½ mile from the trailhead.
What to Do: Hike. Be sure to start early, and set a (non-negotiable) turnaround time. Be sure to check sunrise and sunset times and plan accordingly. This all-day hike can be extreme in some sections, so come prepared with plenty of water and supplies. A flashlight or headlamp is always recommended.
Photo Ops: Take a break along the trail and grab some photos of some spectacular sights. Waterfalls, wildlife, and panoramic views are your reward, and you will see some of the best. Check out Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, High Sierra, Yosemite Valley, and many others.
9 Top Tips
With millions of annual visitors to the park, it is imperative to do your part to stay safe and preserve the natural setting for all to enjoy. Be mindful of yourself and others, and follow these expert tips to make the most of your visit:
- Plan as much as possible: Peak season in the park can be very busy, so it is imperative to plan your route in advance if you can. At the very least, try to snag a reservation a few months in advance, especially if you intend to camp or stay in Yosemite Valley.
- Consider a mid-week visit: Weekends and holidays face the heaviest traffic. This popular park will be busy, but a Monday-Friday trip will see a slight dip in attendance levels.
- Arrive Early: Plan on starting and arrive prior to 9 a.m., even better before 8 a.m., you will see the lowest crowds, and snag the best parking opportunities which will give you more time to explore.
- Arrive Late: Plan on starting after peak hours (after 5 pm) to avoid heavy crowds and traffic.
- Consider Park Transportation: The YART bus system is comprehensive and will provide round-trip service to many locations throughout the park and the valley.
- Take to the Trails: The best way to really see the beauty here is by hiking. Popular trails will be busy, but there are many lesser known trails to explore. Be sure to take the proper safety precautions as the weather can be unpredictable.
- Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints: Help keep this park beautiful for those who will come after you. Don’t leave trash or other items behind, and don’t take anything (including flowers) with you.
- Respect wildlife: Be mindful when you come into contact with any wildlife. This is their natural habitat, keep a safe distance.
- Preparation is Important: In a park this size you need to be sure that you are prepared for the elements. Proper footwear, plenty of water, food, and a good map are a great way to start. In addition, make sure someone knows your route in case there is trouble along the way.
- NPS Yosemite – Basic Information
- NPS Yosemite – Current Conditions and Alerts
- NPS Yosemite – Trip Planning Videos
- SFGATE – Tips and Tricks from 50 years of loving Yosemite
The most popular reservable campgrounds are those right in Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines, Lower Pines and North Pines. Those are usually fully booked within seconds, because they are so close to the iconic landmarks. Other campgrounds like Bridalveil Creek, Hodgdon Meadow or Crane Flat are located outside the valley and much quieter. It’s also a lot easier to reserve or find a spot there. The best resource with incredibly helpful tips for camping, including reservations, is this one: How To Make Yosemite Camping Reservations. The official NPS website is also very useful: NPS Yosemite Camping
What to Do
GetYourGuide Tours (9 – 15 hours) Yosemite – Experience the awe-inspiring scenery of Yosemite National Park on various day tours with extremely knowledgeable guides. However, if you prefer the full California experience, the 9-day Natural Highlights of California NatGeo Quest from G-Adventures is something worth looking at.