While California has a reputation for always being warm and sunny, we do experience some seasonal changes here as well, especially at Yosemite National Park. As a travel photographer, for the past few years, I have been on a mission to find all the best places where to see fall colors in Yosemite!
Yosemite National Park has a short fall season that lasts from the end of October to the beginning of November. During this time you can witness the changing of trees from lush greens to golden hues all throughout the Yosemite Valley.
To help you plan your fall mountain adventure, here are all of the best spots to see Yosemite fall foliage that I have discovered over the years.
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20 Best Places Where To See Fall Colors In Yosemite:
1. Tunnel View
Tunnel View is an iconic viewpoint at Yosemite National Park that you can see as you enter the park. From this vantage point, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley from up top.
During the fall season, this is a great viewpoint for witnessing the tapestry of changing colors in Yosemite. From Tunnel View you can see a clear vista of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Cathedral Rocks, and Half Dome in the distance.
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2. Yosemite Valley View
Yosemite Valley View is one of my favorite locations for photographing the changing of the seasons in Yosemite Valley. This is a quick stop that you can see as you exit Yosemite National Park or while on a scenic drive through the valley.
This viewpoint is located along Northside Drive around a sharp turn. There is a small visitor lot where you can park your car. Just keep an eye out for the viewpoint as it’s easy to miss after the turn.
Yosemite Valley View offers a clear view of the Yosemite Valley floor framed by the meandering Merced River, dramatic mountains, boulders, and lush meadows. From here you can also see the El Capitan rock formation and the Bridalveil Falls.
3. Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is a longer day hike that travels through Yosemite Valley. The entire trail is around 20 miles long but you can also hike shorter portions of it.
Along this trail, you can see sweeping views of the valley and all of the most popular Yosemite attractions. I’ve hiked the east part of Valley Loop Trail in October and the fall colors along this trail are truly stunning!
If this seems like too much of a distance to do by foot, you can also rent bikes in Curry Village and take them for a spin by following the same route along Northside Drive and Southside Drive.
For visiting National Parks, I recommend getting the America The Beautiful Pass. This pass costs $80 and includes unlimited entries in any US National Park for a year!
4. Cook’s Meadow Loop
Cook’s Meadow Loop is one of the shortest and easiest day hikes at Yosemite National Park. This trail is only 2 miles long, mostly flat, and provides up-close views of some of the main Yosemite landmarks. If you plan to visit Yosemite with your furry friend, Cook’s Meadow Loop is one of the few hikes in Yosemite that also allows dogs on a leash.
Cook’s Meadow is one of the top places for viewing wildlife in Yosemite, especially deer that come to munch on grass and shrubs at around sunset.
Just be sure to give wildlife plenty of space and don’t approach them as it can be dangerous for both you and the wild animals. Deer are known to cause more injuries to visitors at Yosemite National Park than any other animal!
5. Wooden Boardwalk
Located along the Cook’s Meadow Loop, this wooden boardwalk is one of my favorite places for photography in Yosemite National Park.
The boardwalk was originally added to keep foot traffic off the surrounding meadows. As a bonus, it also provides the perfect setting for photography with Yosemite Falls in the background.
From this boardwalk, you can see a spectacular display of fall colors. The quaking aspens in the background turn to vibrant oranges while bigleaf maples shift to brilliant yellow hues.
Photography Tip: Come here for sunrise to capture the best lighting and to have the location all to yourself!
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6. Lower Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America and a major attraction in Yosemite National Park. This gorgeous waterfall is very easy to access via a short 1-mile-long loop that travels to the waterfall base.
Along this pathway, you can see fall colors peeking through the lush evergreen trees with the cascading waterfall tiers in the background. Once you reach the Lower Yosemite Fall Vista Point, you’ll be able to stand close to the lowest of the waterfall tiers and witness its powerful force as it rushes down the cliff.
Keep in mind that Yosemite Falls is a seasonal waterfall. There might not be much water flowing unless there has been a lot of recent rainfall.
Read Next: 20 Best Waterfalls In Central California
7. Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area is one of the best locations for photographing Yosemite fall colors. In the summer this is a very popular location for swimming and picnicking, but by fall this area rarely gets any visitors so you might be the only person out here.
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area is situated along the Merced River and provides stunning views of some of the park’s most famous granite cliffs. Here you can capture gorgeous photos of the El Capitan rock formation and the Cathedral Rocks.
Photography Tip: Use a polarizing filter to remove glare in the water and to enhance the colors of the photo.
8. Sentinel Bridge
Sentinel Bridge is another iconic location where to see fall colors in Yosemite Valley. This rustic bridge offers a classic view of Half Dome framed by colorful trees and the Merced River.
Sentinel Bridge is an especially popular spot for photography around sunset when Half Dome is perfectly reflected in the still waters of the Merced River.
Photography tip: For photographing Sentinel Bridge, I like to use the Manfrotto travel tripod. A tripod will help you capture a clear shot, especially when using a long exposure setting around sunset.
9. The Ahwahnee
The Ahwahnee is a luxurious 4-star hotel tucked away in a quiet part of the Yosemite Valley. This historic hotel was built in 1927 to attract wealthy patrons for raising funding for National Parks and now has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
The hotel features stunning architecture with tall glass windows, massive stones, and wood beams to compliment the natural surroundings. During my Yosemite trips, I like to come here to dine on the outdoor patio and enjoy a serene walk along the property pathways.
10. Mirror Lake Trail
Mirror Lake is one of the best places to visit in Yosemite in autumn. This entire area is lined with beautiful trees that turn into a sea of golden hues in the fall!
Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake so it typically dries out by the end of the summer. While you won’t see any of the famous mirror-like reflections in the river, you will get to enjoy plenty of beautiful fall foliage along the way.
The entire Mirror Lake Loop is around 5 miles long, but most people only hike a short portion of it up to Mirror Lake and back for a total of 2 miles. I’ve done the entire loop in the fall and the further you go, the fewer people you will encounter – which is great if you enjoy places all to yourself!
Hiking Tip: Before heading out on any day hikes, I like to download an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app. This way I always have access to the trail map, even if I lose reception or get lost.
11. Curry Village
Nestled in the heart of Yosemite Valley, Curry Village is the visitor hub of the park. Here you can enjoy a filling meal at the Curry Village Pizza Deck, grab a craft beer at the 1899 bar, dine at the indoor Pavilion, and browse for souvenirs at the onsite market.
Curry Village also boasts over 400 canvas tent cabins along with motel rooms and rustic cabins. On our fall trips, we like to stay at the canvas tent cabins for their affordability and ease of access to all the top Yosemite Valley attractions.
Tip: when booking a canvas tent for a fall trip, I highly recommend reserving one with a heater. The temperature in Yosemite in the fall can drop to 40°F-30°F overnight so you’ll want a heater to stay warm and cozy.
12. Bridalveil Falls
Located at the beginning of Yosemite National Park Bridalveil Falls is one of the first waterfalls that you can see as you enter the park. This Yosemite attraction is situated along Southside Drive with a short trail that leads to the waterfall base.
Bridalveil Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Yosemite that plunges 620 feet over a sheer cliff face. Although Bridalveil Falls is a year-round waterfall, by fall the waterfall flow is barely visible.
You can stop by here to go on an easy hike to the waterfall base and enjoy the colorful trees that can be seen throughout this area.
13. Yosemite Valley Chapel
As the fall months paint Yosemite Valley in golden and amber hues, there are so many amazing places to capture beautiful photos within Yosemite Valley! One of my personal favorites is the Yosemite Valley Chapel.
Surrounded by peaky granite mountains, maple trees, and lush meadows, this historical landmark stands as the perfect subject for photography. Its simple, wooden structure complements the natural setting adding to the scenery.
There is a small parking lot where you can pull over, park your car, and walk around to different vantage points of the chapel.
14. Vernal Fall Footbridge
Vernal Fall Foot Bridge Trail is another one of my favorite locations to experience Yosemite National Park’s fall colors. Along this short hike, you can witness the changing of the seasons surrounded by towering peaks, giant boulders, and meandering rivers.
This is a very popular trail, even in the fall months. I highly recommend coming here early in the morning to avoid crowds during the busiest parts of the day.
Once you reach the footbridge, you can enjoy the scenery and turn around to head back. For a longer day hike option, you can continue on to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, although this area often experiences closures in the fall season for trail repairs.
15. Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
Swinging Bridge is a scenic bridge that connects both sides of the Valley. Here you can enjoy access to Merced River, a sandy beach area, along with picnic tables and BBQ grills.
Although the bridge no longer swings after it was replaced with a fixed structure, it remains a picturesque spot for a fall picnic with a spectacular view of Yosemite Falls in the background.
16. Yosemite Valley Drive
Going for a scenic drive through the Yosemite Valley is one of the quintessential things to do in Yosemite in the fall. In October and November, the Southside Drive and Northside Drive explode with beautiful fall colors around every winding turn of the road.
It takes about 30-45 minutes to do the entire Yosemite Valley drive, but you can stop at many viewpoints along the way to take photos and enjoy the scenery. The mix of granite peaks, lush alpine forest, and yellow Maple trees is guaranteed to make you want to pull over many times!
Looking to rent a car to visit Yosemite? I recommend and personally use Discover Cars on my trips because they offer the best pricing and free cancellation up to 48 hours before your pickup.
17. Yosemite Falls Vantage Point
If you’re looking for a place to capture panoramic photos of Yosemite Falls, head over to Yosemite Falls Vantage Point off Sentinel Drive. This viewpoint offers a clear, unobstructed view of Cook’s Meadow and Yosemite Falls in the background.
Photography Tip: This viewpoint is located just a short walk from Sentinel Bridge so you can visit both locations around sunset for photography.
18. Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
Although not as dramatic as other stops at Yosemite National Park, Sentinel Beach Picnic Area is another wonderful day-use area that you can visit along Southside Drive.
This easily accessible picnic spot is a short stroll from the parking area, making it perfect for families, photographers, and nature lovers alike. Framed by the Merced River, Sentinel Beach provides a picturesque setting for an afternoon picnic or a quiet place to escape the crowds.
19. Mariposa Grove
Although not exactly known for having vibrant fall colors, I still love to visit and hike Mariposa Grove in the fall season. Home to over 500 giant sequoia trees, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is one of my favorite areas within Yosemite National Park.
Mariposa Grove is situated near Yosemite’s south entrance gate. The grove can be reached by taking a shuttle from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza that will drop you off at the trailhead starting point. This shuttle often stops operating in the fall season in which case you will need to hike an additional 2 miles each way.
Within Mariposa Grove, you can enjoy hiking trails with various distances and difficulty levels. A few of the most popular options are:
- Big Trees Loop – 0.3 miles long
- Grizzly Giant Loop – 2 miles long
- Guardians Loop – 6.5 miles long
- Mariposa Grove – 7 miles long (my personal favorite!)
20. Glacier Point
Glacier Point is a dramatic vantage point that provides grand views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and the park’s backcountry from 7200 feet in elevation. This viewpoint can be accessed up to October or November before Glacier Point Road shuts down in preparation for the winter season.
In the autumn, the light casts a warm glow over Yosemite Valley, creating a perfect natural filter for photographers, especially around sunset. As the crowds start to thin out in the fall, you may have this place all to yourself, a rare treat for such a busy National Park as Yosemite!
Map Of Where To See Fall Colors In Yosemite:
Map Tip: Click on each location to see more details!
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