Explore America's Campgrounds
Plan Your Visit to Yosemite's Spectacular Treasures
The only true answer to the question of the best time to visit Yosemite National Park is ... "it depends." The seasonal climate of California's high Sierra region makes a winter visit a very different experience than a summer one. With the changing seasons come considerable shifts in logistics, opportunities for outdoor recreation, accommodation options, crowd size and scenery.
The best time for your family to visit Yosemite depends largely on your personal preferences, so consider: Do crowds bother you? Do you want to see the waterfalls at their finest? Will you hike? Are you booking a hotel or a campsite? Do you have to visit during school vacations? All of these considerations, combined with the following information about Yosemite, will help you pick the best time for your visit.
With an elevation range from 2,000 to 13,000 feet and an area of almost 1,200 square miles, the temperature in Yosemite National Park varies depending on your location. Temperatures on the Yosemite Valley floor peak in July and August with highs of 89 degrees F and lows in the mid-50s. From November to March, lows are in the high 20s to low 30s, and highs from the mid-40s to mid-50s. Spring temperatures are mild with colder nights, and in fall the days remain quite warm but dip at night. In Tuolumne Meadows, at 8,600 feet, temperatures are considerably cooler than the Valley floor year-round, with highs peaking in the low 70s in late summer and lows dipping to around 10 degrees F in winter.
Snow covers most of Yosemite from November through May, often starting earlier and ending later at higher elevations. Almost all of the park's rainfall occurs between October and May, with precipitation peaking from November to March.
Pleasant weather and peak waterfalls, along with school vacation times, bring big crowds to Yosemite National Park in spring and summer. Over 5 million people visit the park every year, with approximately 75 percent arriving from May through October. Peak visitation is in July and August, with each month averaging over half-a-million visitors.
The cons: With high visitation numbers come traffic delays, limited parking, delays of up to an hour or more at entrance stations, less availability of hotel rooms and campsites (requiring earlier booking) and busier trails. During very busy days, you might be turned away from driving to popular areas of the valley. You also will find it tricky to get photos of the landmarks without lots of strangers in them.
The pros: The crowds are there during spring and summer for good reason. The weather is delightful, all the trails and other facilities are open and the scenery is spectacular. If you're camping with kids, another upside is that there will be lots of others at the campsite for them to play with.
Closures and Restrictions
Winter weather causes closures to some roads into Yosemite National Park and cuts off vehicle access to some sections of the park. Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible by car all year. The Tioga Road entrance generally opens for the year from early May to late June, and closes some time between early November and early December. The Glacier Point road is plowed to allow vehicle access to the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area from mid-December to early April, but is otherwise closed when under heavy snow. This could be range from as early as November to as late as May. If there is snow or a chance of snow on the ground, you will need car chains.
Campgrounds open and close according to the year's weather conditions. They usually start opening in May at the earliest and closing in October at the latest.
Some of the more popular hiking trails close due to weather, too. The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall routinely closes from late November or December until March or April. The Half Dome Cables are put up usually between early May and late June, and stay in place until October.
Waterfalls and Wildflowers
Yosemite's many famous waterfalls are at their peak in spring when the snow starts to melt, reaching their highest volumes in May or June and reducing to a trickle, then drying up completely by August. Autumn storms bring some falls back to life. Another exception is Horsetail Fall, which flows only from December through April, while Bridalveil Fall, Nevada Fall and others flow all year.
Wildflowers start to bloom in spring at lower elevations, but summer is prime wildflower season. See peak blooms in Yosemite Valley and Wawona in June, and in Tuolumne Meadows starting in July.
If your family enjoys hiking, know that in spring, only some trails are open but most in Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Hetch Hetchy are snow-free by April or May. All trails are open in summer, and in the autumn, until the snow starts to fall. Most trails are inaccessible in winter, with the exception of some in Yosemite Valley.
Other seasonal activities include rafting down the Merced River, which is generally limited to mid- to late-summer. The Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, open from mid-December to early April, offers opportunities for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and snowshoeing.
- Yosemite National Park: Permits & Reservations
- Yosemite National Park: Operating Hours & Seasons
- Yosemite National Park: Historical Seasonal Opening and Closing Dates
- Yosemite National Park: Weather
- Yosemite National Park: Visiting in Summer
- Yosemite National Park:: Visiting in Winter
- Yosemite National Park: Visiting in Spring
- Yosemite National Park: Visiting in Fall
- Yosemite National Park: Visitation Statistics
- Yosemite National Park: Waterfalls
- Yosemite National Park: Traffic in Yosemite
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.