Sitting high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is America’s third-oldest and one of the most iconic national parks. It is known for its dazzling natural beauty that can bewitch everyone.
With its gemstone-hued lakes, towering sequoias, imposing granite cliffs, and dizzying waterfalls, Yesomite is a slice of heaven.
There is practically no good or bad time to visit Yosemite. All four seasons bring something beautiful to experience. Summer crowds can enjoy the entire park with clear blue skies, while the winter months create a magical landscape with a shimmering snow blanket.
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite, this month-by-month breakup of the best time to visit Yosemite will serve as a guide.
Yosemite National Park is a near-complete wilderness spread over 1,189 square miles or 747,956 acres. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 1984, 95 percent of Yosemite is designated wilderness.
The park is known for its giant sequoia groves, glaciers, mountains, meadows, lakes, clear streams, biological diversity, waterfall, granite cliffs, and buttresses such as Half Dome & El Capitan.
The Yosemite National Park was created in 1890, and the last of the remaining Southern Sierra Miwok were evicted from Yosemite Valley in the 1960s. Yosemite Valley represents only one percent of the total park area.
A prominent granite cliff called El Capitan looms over Yosemite Valley, while granite domes like Half Dome and Sentinel Dome jut out of the valley floor.
Yosemite High Country is known for Clark Range, Dana Meadows, Kuna Crest, Cathedral Range, and Tuolumne Meadows.
If you want to enjoy Yosemite Fire Fall, mid to late February is the best (and only) time to visit Yosemite.
For rock climbing in cooler temperatures, spring (April and May) and fall months (October and November) are the best times to be there.
For guaranteed blue skies and access to the entire park, visit during the summer months (June to September).
To enjoy cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowshoe hikes, plan a winter (December to March) trip.
Yosemite National Park experiences four seasons:
Spring (April and May): Average daytime temperatures range between 18°C and 22°C while average low ranges between 3°C and 7°C in Yosemite Valley.
Summer (June to September): Average daytime temperatures range between 27°C and 32°C while average low ranges between 11°C and 14°C in Yosemite Valley.
Fall (October and November): Average daytime temperatures range between 13°C and 22°C while average low ranges between 1°C and 6°C in Yosemite Valley.
Winter (December to March): Average daytime temperatures range between 8°C and 14°C while average low ranges between -2°C and 1°C in Yosemite Valley.
From the tourism aspect, Yosemite’s climate is divided into:
Peak or High Season (June to mid-September): This is when Yosemite sees the biggest crowds and high accommodation prices.
Shoulder Season (April to mid-May and late September to November): Yosemite has fewer crowds, and prices are reasonably low. Booking is possible on short notice.
Low Season (December to March): Yosemite has the fewest visitors, and prices hit rock bottom.
Yosemite is one of those national parks in the US that you can visit year-round, but the time you select will depend on your weather preferences and the things you want to do.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Yosemite National Park:
It is cold, peaceful, and quiet in January. Winter sports enthusiasts flock to the Badger Pass Ski Area to enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing.
The majority of the park remains closed to cars except for the Badger Pass Ski Area, Yosemite Valley, and Wawona areas. Unfortunately, Mariposa Grove Road, Glacier Point Road, and Tioga Road will be closed. Highway 140, which runs through the entire Yosemite Valley, remains open year-round.
It is a great time for winter photography and spotting elusive wildlife like mountain lions, minks, fishers, and bobcats. Sunrise or sunset views from Tunnel View are spectacular in January. Also, enjoy stargazing at night.
Hiking and backpacking will be restricted, but short hiking and walking trails in Mariposa Grove, Wawona, Hetch Hetchy, and Valley will be accessible.
If the weather doesn’t permit, visit Ansel Adams Gallery and Yosemite Museum near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
Conditions in February are almost identical to those in January. Fewer crowds, spectacular photo ops of an ethereal winter landscape, winter sports, and the possibility of spotting elusive wildlife are some winter attractions.
The main attraction is the Yosemite Fire Fall. It is the phenomenon in which the setting sun illuminates the Horsetail Fall dropping from El Capitan. Lit by a brilliant orange color, the water seems to be on fire.
Image Credit: National Park Service Digital Image Archives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It is still winter, and Mariposa Grove Road, Glacier Point Road, and Tioga Road are all closed. If you don’t like driving with tire chains, consider guided tours, but if you want to drive to Yosemite Valley with tire chains, take Highway 140, aka El Portal Road.
The Badger Pass Ski Area is ready for winter fun. At Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, you can snowshoe, snowboard, downhill ski, and cross-country ski. At Curry Village, there is an outdoor ice skating rink.
April marks the beginning of spring, but some winter snow will linger around in early spring. Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road may still remain closed, restricting access to Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows.
Expect occasional snow in early spring, and carry appropriate gear. Many trails will still have snow blankets and remain closed.
Snow starts melting at higher elevations because of warmer weather, making April the perfect time to chase waterfalls like Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls. By late April, many trails at lower elevations of Yosemite Valley will be free of snow. Mirror Lake Trail and Lower Yosemite Fall Loop are popular options for hiking.
Viewpoints like Valley View, Tunnel View, and Sentinel Bridge are great attractions. Horseback riding is also popular now.
Waterfalls gush in May because of melting snow. By mid-May, lower-elevation meadows are full of wildflower blooms. It is the perfect time for wildlife viewing because they are out searching for food.
Most park roads will start opening. By late May, Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road will open. More hiking trails will be accessible by late spring. May is the perfect time for hiking and rock climbing with cooler daytime temperatures.
Since roads in Yosemite Valley are free of snow, biking is a great option, too. The Valley has 12 miles of paved bike paths.
June marks the beginning of the summer season. Summer crowds will start pouring in. This is when waterfalls are at their mighty best, and wildflower blooms blanket Yosemite Valley.
Early summer is best for hiking and backpacking while avoiding heat and crowded trails. Half Dome and Glacier Point hiking are available in June.
The Mist trail hike is popular now and it will take you past Vernal and Nevada Falls. The hike to Vernal Falls at the footbridge is easy, but beyond that, the Mist trail is constantly sprayed with water. So, be careful.
Water sports like rafting, river floats, and swimming are open, but Merced River water can be biting cold in early summer.
June is a great time for wildlife viewing, especially mules, black bears, snakes, minks, otters, and a wide variety of birds.
It is mid-summer and peak season in Yosemite. You will experience the biggest crowds now. So, expect long queues to get parking and wilderness permits. It is hot and dry, and the park is teeming with flora and fauna.
Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass are open. Tioga Pass will take you to Tuolumne Meadows, where you can escape the crowd and access hiking trails in Yosemite’s High Sierra.
Hiking and backpacking conditions are perfect, but dress for summer heat and carry ample water. This is the best time for whitewater rafting and other water sports.
Hiking to the Glacier Point viewpoint is one Yosemite adventure you don’t want to miss. You can enjoy sweeping views of the Valley’s eastern end and Half Dome.
August is also mid-summer in Yosemite with dry and warm weather. The skies are clear and blue. Hundreds of miles of trails, even at higher elevations, are now accessible.
It is a great time for hiking to Glacier Point. August is perfect for multi-night backpacking trips.
Watersports, horseback riding, biking, fishing, bus tours, and wildlife viewing are all popular adventure activities.
Early to mid-September is late summer in Yosemite, and some visitors start leaving. It is still peak season, and you will need advance booking. Expect very high prices.
All usual adventure activities of warmer months are available. You can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, water sports, wildlife spotting, and nature photography.
While most visitors hike to Glacier Point looking east, consider hiking to Taft Point looking north to enjoy iconic photo ops.
It is early fall by late September. Yosemite has fewer visitors and colorful trees. Services will gradually start shutting down.
By early October, fall is in full swing. You can witness vibrant fall colors everywhere. By mid-October, overnight parking will be gone. Most likely, Tioga Road will stay open, but the road to Glacier Point will be closed.
Hiking and rock climbing are still popular activities because of cooler temperatures. Do expect unpredictable weather. Yosemite Falls and other major waterfalls will dry up, but you can enjoy Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Wildlife like snakes and bears will retreat for hibernation by late October. Some migratory birds may still linger around depending on the weather. You can spot bighorn sheep and other animals like otters, minks, and mule deer near Merced.
November is the last leg of fall in Yosemite. You will experience full days and chilly evenings. The summer crowd is long gone and quiet prevails.
Weather can be very unpredictable. Many trails may stay open, but they may close because of early winter. You may also enjoy vibrant fall colors depending on weather conditions.
Bears, snakes, and other reptiles are already in hibernation now. Those that don’t hibernate will have low activity. Migratory birds will leave by November.
Magical winter is in full swing. It is the beginning of the low season, and Yosemite will have the fewest visitors. Low lighting and snow blankets attract winter photographers. Hiking and backpacking are severely limited now, but you can enjoy day hikes to Mirror Lake and Bridalveil Fall.
Some wildlife including black bears will be hibernating, but you can spot bobcats, snowshoe hares, red foxes, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.
You can enjoy winter activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc. For sledding, snowmen building, and other family fun, head to Yosemite Hospitality and Crane Flat.
Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley offers wine tastings, Chef’s Holidays, and Christmas Bracebridge Dinner.
April and May are the best months to witness waterfalls in their full glory because of melting snow.
April through September are the best months for hiking. However, you will get access to all hiking trails from June to September. For rock climbing, spring (April & mid-May) and fall months (late September to October) are the perfect time since rock faces aren’t too hot as in summer. Also, avoid winter for climbing rocks as it can be too dangerous.
For budget-conscious digital nomads and long-term travelers, the shoulder months (April to mid-May and late September to November) are perfect because of fewer visitors and lower prices. However, for those who don’t mind the snow, the winter months (December to March) are the cheapest months with the least visitors.
Many people consider the summer months (or the peak season) to be the best time to visit Yosemite. However, I think the shoulder season (April through mid-May and late September through November) is the ideal time to visit the national park.
These months are neither too hot nor cold and neither too dry. Many hiking trails are open during the shoulder season, and there are fewer visitors. Prices are low and booking accommodation is easy.
Arch Rock Entrance is considered the safest way to enter Yosemite when the roads are snowy.
Summer, especially from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, is the peak season in Yosemite. This is when prices are at their peak, and you must book accommodations and campgrounds well in advance.
Yosemite has rolling fields, wildflower blooms, flowing waterfalls, and new life when spring comes around, while fall brings the colors of autumn and cool nights. Each season has something beautiful and different to offer. Which one is better will depend on your personal preferences.
The perfect time to visit Yosemite National Park depends on your personal preferences. Peak or high season (summer from June to September) is great if you want access to the entire Yosemite park and don’t mind the crowds. However, this is when everything is expensive and you must book everything well in advance.
If you can brave the winter chill and don’t mind the snow, Yosemite National Park winter (December to March) is the cheapest time to visit Yosemite National Park.
Shoulder season (April to mid-May and late September to November) is another cheap time to visit Yosemite, but some parts of the park will remain closed.
No matter what’s on your mind, Yosemite National Park is a beautiful place to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Yosemite National Park has helped with your travel plans.