When is the best time to visit Yosemite? With all its stunning attractions, including Glacier Point and Half Dome, Yosemite is awesome all year round. In this post, we’ll tell you the advantages of a Yosemite winter (imagine Yosemite in December covered in snow!), the best ways to enjoy Yosemite in summer (and how to prepare yourself for Yosemite in July), not to mention, of course, Yosemite in fall (Yosemite in October is stunning and avoids the crowds) and the springtime splendor of Yosemite in April. We’ll share some insiders’ tips.
Whether you’re traveling from San Francisco to Yosemite or just want to see El Capitan, Yosemite will not disappoint you, in any month, or any season. For those considering Yosemite tours, remember: the best time to visit is the time that you choose! Whether you’re planning to camp out for a week, take 2 days in Yosemite or take a day trip in Yosemite from San Francisco, the important thing is to know what awaits you in that season. The park is fantastic all year round and no matter what time you choose to go, there are magical moments to be experienced.
Smart visitors can even time their Yosemite National Park tours to suit their own personalities! Reflective types will bask in the serene and satisfying silence of El Capitan or the majesty of Glacier Point. More energetic visitors can have a blast simply running around like children, climbing over rocks and descending the bank of the Merced River to find that Instagram-perfect selfie spot, with Half Dome or Bridalveil Fall in the background.
Late spring and summer spectacular
In late spring and early summer, when melting snow from the Sierra Nevada Mountains thunders down into the valley, the waterfalls are especially spectacular. That’s not exactly a secret for the throngs of visitors who make the trek from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, so be advised: those picture-perfect spots will get crowded.
Even so, you’ll still feel like you’re at the center of the world as you take in the aura that surrounds this special place. The solemn granite walls create a feeling of safety… as if Mother Nature is protecting you against all the turbulence of the world.
That said, you should protect yourself, too! Yosemite in summer can get hot, and dry. So, use sunscreen. Wear a hat. Defend yourself against dehydration—especially at the high altitudes that you’ll find at Yosemite in July—by packing water, and drinking frequently, even before you’re thirsty.
Another tip for Yosemite in summer: You may want to get closer to the falls for the best view, since their water flow will be past its peak. (Don’t worry: With this year’s heavy rains and snow pack, you’ll still have plenty to see.) Try hiking past the Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail. Insider’s tip: The trail to the base of the falls is an easy hike, but it gets slippery in the spring and icy in the winter, so dress appropriately with sturdy shoes that have good-gripping soles. (By the way, we have an entire post about things to do in Yosemite during spring.)
During the beautiful Yosemite winter—there are other hidden gems to discover. On the northern side of the Yosemite Valley, cascading off the east side of El Capitan, the Horsetail Fall flows from December to April. In the evening, the extraordinary golden glow from the setting sun makes the waterfall look as if it’s on fire! You’ve got to see it to believe it.
Have you seen a rainbow? Sure, it’s spectacular, but wait until you see a moonbow, also known as a “lunar rainbow.” In Yosemite, you can witness this rare phenomenon that occurs when moonlight is reflected and refracted off water droplets produced by a waterfall—best seen during the bright light of a full moon.
This is a rarity. There are only a few locations on Earth where you can see lunar rainbows: Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky, Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Waimea in Hawaii, and of course, Yosemite National Park in California.
Want some more cool info about Yosemite National Park? Here ya go!
Facts and Figures About Yosemite
When was Yosemite National Park established?
Yosemite National Park, California, was established by the United States Congress on October 1, 1890.
Why is the park called “Yosemite”?
The names Yohhe’meti (Southern Miwok) and Yos.s.e’meti (Central Miwok) referred to the Indian tribes who lived in the valley. The original inhabitants called the area Ahwahnee (“Big Mouth”) because the valley’s walls resemble a bear’s mouth. Back in the day, pioneers tended to disregard native names of the places they discovered. But in 1851, L.H. Bunnell of the Mariposa Battalion of volunteers named the valley Yosemite in honor of the tribe that used to live there. He thought Yosemite meant “grizzly bear”; however, Yosemite actually means “those who kill”! (Don’t tell that to anyone sharing your bus ride from San Francisco to Yosemite!)
Who is Yosemite Sam?
Don’t try to find Yosemite Sam in a history book. He’s an animated character in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons created by Warner Bros. Yosemite Sam is commonly perceived as an overly aggressive, if humorous, character.
How big is Yosemite National Park?
The park covers an area of 747,956 acres (1,168.681 sq. mi, or 302,687 ha, or 3,026.87 km2).
Who manages Yosemite Park?
The park is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. Yosemite is open year-round.
How many entrances are there?
The park has has three entrances. The east entrance (Tioga Pass) is closed from October to May every year.
How much is the park entrance fee?
As of June, 2018 the fees are $35 per vehicle; $70 for an annual pass; and $20 per person aged 16 or older.
What is the latest speed-climbing record in Yosemite?
Glad you asked! The world’s speed-climbing record was just broken on June 6, 2018, by the “Yosemite’s most illustrious climbers” Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, who teamed up to scale the 3,000-foot prow of El Capitan in 1 hour, 58 minutes, and 7 seconds. Great job, guys!
If you want to try and beat their record (good luck!), remember that permits to hike to the top of Half Dome Yosemite are required seven days a week.
What is the highest waterfall in North America?
The 2,425 feet high Yosemite Falls are the highest North American waterfalls (and the 5th highest in the world!).
What is the peak season for the waterfalls?
May is the peak season because this is the time when snow peaks start melting fast. About 135,000 gallons of water drop over the top of the waterfalls every minute.
What is the best airport for traveling to Yosemite?
The San Francisco International Airport is located about 200 miles west of Yosemite National Park. You can take public transportation from San Francisco (Amtrak train) or rent a car. A much better way than driving and being stuck in traffic would be taking a bus tour to Yosemite from San Francisco. With Yosemite tours, you’ll get to sit and relax. You won’t waste any valuable time, because your tour guide will tell you about the history of the places you are passing by and show you the most interesting landmarks on your way to the park and back.
You could also choose Fresno Airport, which is closer to Yosemite, but San Francisco has a lot more to offer for its visitors. You can go on a San Francisco city tour before or after your trip to Yosemite, and enjoy urban beauty and historical landmarks of the city, walk on the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, say “Hi” to sea lions on Pier 39, visit Alcatraz, have delicious lunch at one of the local restaurants while enjoying the view of the bay… and so much more!
See you soon.
Gary Lillian is the President and CEO of Extranomical Tours which has led more than 10,000 guided tours in Northern California in the last 10 years. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, holds a master’s degree from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and is a recognized subject matter expert in marketing and customer experience engineering.