The best time of the year to visit Yosemite National Park really depends on what you’re looking for. The park is open 365 days a year, but the experience can vary significantly from season to season. Knowing what you want, and what you don’t want, can help you choose when to go.
Spring is arguably the very best time of year to go to Yosemite. This is when the park really comes to life, with the dogwoods in bloom, animal babies making their debut and waterfalls flowing at their peak. Plus, the big crowds of summer have yet to arrive, which means you’ll have fewer other tourists to battle, and to compete against for accommodations. This is also the season when you can catch a glimpse of lunar rainbows around the base of Lower Yosemite Falls on a clear, full moon night.
The downside to spring is that roads like Glacier Point and Tioga are likely to be closed due to snow, which means you may not be able to reach more remote areas like Tuolumne Meadows or Glacier Point. They generally open up by late May, but during years with heavy snow, they may even be closed through June.
Summer is kind of the best and worst time to visit Yosemite. This is the park’s most popular season, bringing the majority of the four million visitors that arrive each year. Summer weekends are especially chaotic, a time when you’re likely to encounter traffic jams and even long lines out on the trails. By mid-summer, daytime temperatures are sizzling, and many of the waterfalls are dry.
If a summer visit is a must, the big crowds that July and August bring can be avoided by going to Tuolumne Meadows instead of Yosemite Valley. Temperatures will be cooler in that high elevation area and there are miles and miles of scenic trails that offer a more tranquil hiking experience.
By the time autumn rolls around, those summer crowds are gone, and soon, the brilliant foliage will arrive. While many of the park’s trees are evergreen, Yosemite also boasts beautiful black oaks, big-leaf maples, and a wealth of deciduous trees that are transformed into intense hues of yellow and red around the middle of October, framing the already breathtaking sights like Yosemite Falls.
If you don’t mind the chill, winter is an ideal time to visit Yosemite. You won’t have to worry about bumping elbows with countless others. Instead, you can look forward to a picture-perfect winter wonderland, with snowy peaks and icy waterfalls, as well as the chance for a variety of winter activities like ice skating at the Curry Village Ice Rink where you can skate around under the shadow of snow-dusted Half Dome in between warming up around the fire pit. Snow-covered trails are open for snowshoeing, and the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Ski Area hosts slopes for tubing, skiing and boarding.