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Best Time to Visit Yosemite

Published 2018-09-05
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When is the best time to visit Yosemite?
What a loaded question!  Due to Yosemite’s altitude and mountainous climate, the area experiences dramatically different weather than what is found elsewhere in California.  Although Fall and Spring seem to get shorter every year and the entire state is seeing dramatic changes due to climate change, Yosemite’s four seasons are fairly reliable. Each season is unique and beautiful in a way of it’s own.  From quaking aspen groves in the fall to the countries largest waterfalls in the summer, there is something special to be found in Yosemite throughout the entire year.

Temperature
Something as simple as temperature can be very difficult to predict in Yosemite.  The best website to use for forecasting is NOAA.  Click here for the direct link.  In the bottom right of the website, you will notice a small map that you can click on.  We call this a point forecast.  What you will notice is that you can move the point just slightly on the map and see dramatically different forecast.  This is primarily due to elevation and the thinning of the atmosphere as you rise.  When planning a trip to Yosemite, be sure to check the elevation of the area you plan to visit.  For those of you taking our Pohono Itinerary, you will reach elevations of 8,000 feet!  That is 4,000 feet higher (12 degrees F colder) than Yosemite Valley.

For each 1,000 feet that you climb, you can expect the temperatures to drop about 3 degrees Farenheit.  With less oxygen and atmosphere at high altitudes, there is less insulation and the heat escapes into space.  This is why you see snowy mountain peaks in the middle of summer.  It should be noted that this is a general rule, but certain weather anomalies can affect the environment differently, such as inversion layers and humidity.  We don’t get into that here, though!  Onto what you came here for. . .

Spring (March, April, and May)
March: 34F-58F
April: 38F – 64F
May: 45F – 72F

Pros: Spring is one of my favorite times of year in Yosemite.  The meadows in the lower elevations are blooming with wildflowers and the meadows at higher elevations are beginning to thaw.  As the temperatures become warmer, you can hike to the higher elevations to prolong spring or stay low to find summer.  The bears will begin to come out of hibernation and things seem to come alive.  Most importantly for some visitors, the waterfalls will be approaching max flow towards the end of spring.  Yosemite Falls will be rocketing over the ledge and Vernal and Nevada Falls are fed by raging rivers.  This all creates a spectacular show.

Cons: As with every season, there are tradeoffs.  Spring can be crowded once schools let out for summer vacation and with that comes heavy traffic.  We do our best to keep you away from heavy traffic with our itineraries but searching for parking and being stuck in lines of cars will be inevitable for the foreseeable future.  Keep your fingers crossed for self-driving buses and services in the coming decade to help alleviate this problem.  Glacier Point Rd and Highway 120 to Tuolumne Meadows will be closed due to melting snow at high elevations.  Plan accordingly.
Summer (June, July, and August)
June: 51F-81F
July: 57F-89F
August: 56F-89F

Pros: Yosemite’s most popular season, and for good reason!  The waterfalls will be in full flow, chances of rain are minimal, and the comparatively cool temperatures are a relief for those living at lower elevations nearby.  Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point Rd will be open for travel and provide access to some of our favorite backcountry areas.

Cons: Traffic!  It’s as simple as that.  Read our pro tips below for ways to avoid the crowds and enjoy the rarer parts of Yosemite.

Summer Pro Tips: To escape the crowds, take a hike up Lembert Dome or relax on the sandy beaches by Tenaya Lake.  Avoid driving between Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village between the hours of 9AM and 6PM, as this is the most common area for vehicle congestion.  Even outside of this area, you should expect heavy traffic between those times.  Plan for this now and set the correct expectations.  The last thing you want to do in Yosemite is be angry sitting behind the steering wheel.  Be courteous to others, keep an eye out for wildlife, take photos out your window when stopped, and most importantly bring snacks.  Just pretend you’re in Jurassic World and be on the lookout for a pterodactyl.  Free t-shirts for anyone that uses photoshop to fill Yosemite with dinosaurs and tags #CampCrate #YosemiteDinosaurs
Fall (September, October, November)
September: 51F-82F
October: 42F – 71F
November: 33F-56F

We still allow CampCrate trips until mid-October in Yosemite, but after that Glacier Point Rd closes and the threat of early season snow storms are on the rise.  That being said, in some years the backcountry will remain accessible until January.  It’s very hard to predict.  If you’re looking to take a trip in late October/early November, just message us first.  We will help you monitor the weather and let you know if is safe to proceed.

Pros:  Cooler temperatures and beautiful weather.  This is the driest time of year and popular with rock climbers.  The park crowds will begin to thin out and camper vans replace the RV’s.

Cons:  The waterfalls will be dry and the high country gets very cold at night!  Sometimes below freezing, especially in November.  In recent years there has also been a high risk of wildfires which can fill Yosemite with smoke.  In the event this happens, we will do our best to re-route you to a nearby alternate itinerary.
Winter (December, January, February)
December: 28F-47F
January: 29F-48F
February: 30F-52F

The winter can be a magical time in Yosemite!  The crowds are gone in December and January, but do return in February if Horsetail Falls is running.  This phenomenon is really pretty, but not worth going too far out of your way to see.  Social media took a liking to the photos which over-popularized the event. It’s really pretty, but a little hyped up in our humble opinion!

Pros: Small crowds and unique scenery.  If you’re lucky enough to be in Yosemite during one of it’s snowstorms, the photos will be phenomenal.  This is a great time of year for astrophotography, as well.  We do not recommend camping though unless it is unseasonally dry and warm.  

Cons: Rain is more frequent, Tuolumne and Glacier Pt are inaccessible, and heavy snow can close the roads.  If you’re up for an adventure though, this is beautiful time of year where you can have Yosemite all to yourself.  It’s not uncommon to have the meadow to yourself as coyotes or bobcats pass by in December.