Since Yosemite is open all year, there’s always something to do. To help you plan your itinerary, we’ve broken down some of the park’s highlights by season. Make sure to check conditions before you go — road closures due to snow or wildfires can put a serious damper on your trip!
Early summer is a fantastic time to take in Yosemite’s waterfalls. The bright California sun melts snow at higher elevations, causing a deluge that swells Yosemite, Bridalveil, Vernal and Nevada falls during May and June. Yosemite Valley and Wawona-area wildflowers tend to reach peak bloom during this time as well, making day hikes along Glacier Point Road particularly picturesque.
Subalpine grasslands tend to bloom later in the season. For another late-summer treat, catch the Perseid meteor shower during second and third weeks of August, when a clear night at Tuolumne Meadows can turn into quite a spectacle. Summer is also high season for backpacking — just make sure to bring insect repellent to ward off mosquitos.
Warm temperatures also bring more visitors to the park, so while all of Yosemite’s roads are usually open by Memorial Day weekend, traffic can impede progress between destinations. Expect lots of company during day hikes within Yosemite Valley. Likewise, summer is a popular time of year for those wishing to access Yosemite’s backcountry; while the park requires permits for overnight hikes regardless of what time of year it is, advanced reservations are highly recommended during summer months.
Crowds thin out after Labor Day, leaving Yosemite to those in search of solitude, warm temperatures and dry weather, particularly in the park’s high country. Backcountry ranger stations begin closing in October, leaving a month-long window for intrepid trekkers to take advantage of hospitable conditions. There are downsides — trails can show wear from the summer, smoke from controlled burns can make for hazy views, and rain becomes more frequent as the season progresses — but these are more than made up for by the seasonal tide of fall colors that peak by the first week in November.
Plus, sparser crowds and warm temperatures are ideal for bicycling on Yosemite Valley’s 12 miles of paved trails, or climbing its legendary rock faces. Mariposa Grove’s evergreen sequoias, unhindered by summer traffic, are an incredibly inviting option at this time of year.
If you’re visiting Yosemite in the winter, come prepared. Roads that are open will likely require cars to affix chains due to snowy or icy conditions. A snow-dusted walk in the valley can be very romantic, but don’t expect sufficient enough coverage there for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Winter sports enthusiasts instead might consider a trip to Yosemite’s Badger Pass ski area, with 10 trails geared toward beginner and intermediate skiers, plus cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The recreation area is open from mid-December until April.
Since snow can fall in the High Sierra even as late as May, access to trails around Yosemite can be limited during spring, particularly at higher elevations. But lower-altitude thaws bring a brilliant displays of California poppies, dogwoods and redbuds.