Best Time to Visit Yosemite

By Meg Jernigan

Yosemite calling: When to discover the national park's scenic beauty

Best Time to Visit Yosemite

You’ve loaded the picnic basket, gassed up the car and set the GPS for Yosemite National Park. As you near the park, traffic comes to a standstill because you’ve chosen a weekend in July for your visit. While winter might not be the best time for a picnic, it’s a terrific time to enjoy the park’s beauty without the hassles that crowds bring.

Ah, solitude. Or not.

The summer months at Yosemite are the busiest, so it's good that the 1,200-square-mile park has plenty of room for everybody. Most park roads open by late May, but by August the flow of some waterfalls, including the stunning Yosemite Falls, has come to a stop. Spring is actually when you'll see waterfalls in all their splendor. As the snow melts in the mountains, runoff increases. Because most of the trees in Yosemite are evergreen, there's no fall color display, which helps justify a winter visit. It's the least busy season, with fewer than 150,000 visitors in January. Some roads close due to snow, but the road to the ski area is plowed all winter.

What’s the weather like?

Yosemite’s immensity means that weather varies from peak to meadow. One thing you can count on is snow blanketing the park from November through May. Spring in the valley is moderate, with chilly nights. Summer highs reach into the upper 80s, but at higher elevations temperatures are about 10 degrees cooler. Most of the park’s precipitation falls between October and May; August sees barely a trace of rain. The National Park Service recommends strongly that hikers, climbers and backcountry visitors pay close attention to signs of imminent thunderstorms. Don’t get caught part way up Half Dome or hiking along a bare ridge.

How do I cope with the crowds?

If you’ve planned your visit for a weekend during the busy season, it’s best to arrive at the park before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. when there’s less traffic congestion. Delays can last as long as two hours, and the park requests that you leave your car in your parking spot and take the free shuttles. Weekdays are less congested in the summer, but still busy. Steer clear of Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, where crowds are largest in the summer.

If you’re driving in the park in winter when there are fewer visitors, you’ll need to have snow chains for your tires, and you’ll need to be able to install them.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.