Planning to visit Yosemite National Park in the fall and not sure when to go? As a California local, I’ve been to Yosemite National Park in fall many times!
Predicting when exactly the autumn leaves will change in the mountains can be a bit tricky. BUT, if you time your trip right, you can visit Yosemite at the peak of fall colors – a memorable California bucket list experience of a lifetime!
In this guide, I share insider tips on how to time your Yosemite fall trip, what to do on your visit, and where to stay. I also cover all the best photography spots for capturing Yosemite fall colors.
Let’s dive in so you can plan an epic trip to Yosemite National Park in the fall!
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Table Of Contents:
Best Time To See Fall Colors In Yosemite
From the trips that I’ve taken in the past, the best time to see fall colors in Yosemite is from the middle of October to early November.
If you come too early, you might not see any fall colors yet. If you come too late, you might arrive to see that all of the trees have lost their leaves and the scenery looks pretty bare.
Weather conditions like heat, rain, and wind can affect the timing of the peak season every year. For this reason, I always recommend using a Fall Foliage Prediction Map. Once I started using this prediction map, it’s been so helpful in timing my fall trips!
This visual map has an interactive tool that you can move around to see how the fall colors will change in each region of the United States from week to week. This can also help you figure out when to book hotels, car rentals, and flights.
Ready to book a hotel for your fall trip to Yosemite? You’ll find all the top-rated Yosemite accommodation options here on Booking.com!
Visiting Yosemite In September
The weather in Yosemite in September is one of the best! If you’re thinking of traveling to Yosemite in September, you’ll be hitting the weather jackpot, however, you won’t see any fall colors yet (too early for that).
In September the crowds are starting to thin out, but it’s still quite busy at the park. September is a great time for snatching up camping and backpacking reservations that are usually booked up during the busy summer months.
Visiting Yosemite In October
October is one of the best times for catching fall colors (if that is your ultimate goal). Yosemite fall colors in this region typically peak mid to end of October so this is when I usually plan my trips.
During this time you’ll also see lots of photographers rushing around the park taking photos of the unbelievable setting. October in Yosemite offers the perfect blend of pleasant weather, stunning scenery, and a bit of solitude.
As the crowds thin out, you also have a pretty good chance of seeing wildlife such as deer and black bears before they start hibernating for the winter.
Visiting Yosemite In November
Aside from the first week of the month when you might still catch glimpses of fall colors, November is one of my least favorite times for traveling to Yosemite.
By the second week of November, most of the fall leaves are usually already gone. The waterfalls are dry and the temperatures are starting to get very, very cold. The snow hasn’t arrived yet so it’s that ‘in between’ time after fall foliage and before snow-covered landscape.
By November, many of the park facilities, restaurants, and restrooms also start shutting down for the winter season. This is a very peaceful and quiet time at the park, but not my personal favorite.
Pros Of Visiting Yosemite In Fall
Fall is one of my favorite times for visiting Yosemite and there are many reasons why!
Yosemite is a busy National Park that receives over 3.5 million visitors per year. This means that you’ll be dealing with big crowds in the peak summer season.
In the fall kids go back to school and people start prepping for the holidays. As the summer season ends, fewer people venture out into the park which means empty trails, peaceful moments in nature, and lots of available parking spots.
No Entrance Reservations
To battle overcrowding, a few years back Yosemite National Park started implementing entrance reservations in the peak summer months. To enter the park in the summer you have to plan trips ahead of time and book entrance reservations well in advance.
The good news – entrance reservations are usually lifted at the end of the summer so you don’t have to worry about making them in the fall! This means less planning, less stress, and more flexibility.
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!
Cooler Hiking Weather
In the fall the days in the mountains are pleasantly warm, but not too hot, which is great for hiking. If you plan to do longer day hikes, go prepared with layers as the weather starts rapidly cooling down around sunset.
Beautiful Scenery For Photography
The main reason why I love visiting Yosemite in the fall is the beautiful setting. Nowhere else in California, you can experience seeing stunning fall colors surrounded by towering granite mountains and waterfalls!
There are many wonderful spots where you can capture fall colors in Yosemite. A few of my favorites are:
- Yosemite Valley View
- Sentinel Bridge
- Yosemite Chapel
- Cook’s Meadow Loop
- Lower Yosemite Falls
- Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
I use the Sony a7c camera for my travel photos. This is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera available on the market – perfect for traveling, hiking, and outdoor trips!
Cons Of Visiting Yosemite In Fall
There are a few downsides to visiting Yosemite in October and November. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Road And Trail Closures
As the park starts prepping for the winter season, roads like Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road start closing due to snow, road repairs, and dangerous conditions.
The same goes for hiking trails. While shorter day hikes within Yosemite Valley stay accessible, backpacking routes and longer day hikes start closing as well.
Dry Waterfalls And Lakes
Yosemite is home to some of the tallest waterfalls in North America. But if you arrive in Yosemite in fall expecting to see fully flowing waterfalls, you might feel a bit disappointed.
Most of Yosemite’s waterfalls are seasonal and are down to a small trickle by late summer (or completely dry). Sometimes we do get lucky with unexpected fall rain in California which can revive them.
Similarly, the popular Mirror Lake dries out by fall. This lake earns its name for the mirror-like reflection that is best experienced in the spring and early summer months. By the end of summer, Mirror Lake is completely dry and you can even walk along the dry river bed.
Cold Evenings And Nights
Fall weather in the mountains brings cooler evenings and chilly nights. As soon as the sun starts going down, you’ll feel an immediate drop in the temperatures.
If you plan to camp at a tent site in the fall, be sure to bring warm clothing and a good sleeping bag. By October the night temperatures in Yosemite drop to 40s F and by November it’s 30s F!
How To Get To Yosemite National Park In Fall
Yosemite National Park is located in remote mountains so you will need a car to get there. The roads leading into Yosemite have lots of winding turns, steep drop-offs and can take longer than expected, especially during the weekends. Be sure to fill up on gas, get water, and stock up on road trip snacks.
Before heading out there, I highly recommend downloading an offline Google Map of Yosemite and trail routes on the AllTrails hiking app. While Yosemite Valley has ‘some’ spotty reception, most of Yosemite National Park does not.
Keep In Mind: If you’re thinking of visiting Mammoth Lakes on the same trip, the Tioga Road that connects Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes might be closed by fall. Be sure to check the Yosemite Park website for the latest road condition updates.
Here’s how to get to Yosemite National Park in the fall depending on your starting location:
Arriving From Southern California
We live in Ventura County so we usually arrive at Yosemite National Park from the South Entrance at Mariposa via Highway 41. There is an entrance booth just before Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza where you can buy a park entrance pass.
Arriving From Central California
If you live in Central California (San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton), you can arrive via Highway 120 or Highway 140.
Planning to visit Yosemite from San Francisco but don’t want to do the driving yourself? Then book this Small Group Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco that includes transportation, park fees and an experienced tour guide!
Arriving From Northern California
If you’re coming from Sacramento or Northern California, the closest entrance will be via Highway 120.
Flying To Yosemite National Park
The closest large airport to Yosemite National Park is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). It’s located about a 1.5-hour drive south of Yosemite so you’ll need to rent a car for when you land.
If Fresno Airport does not have many flight options for you, you can also check the flights at Sacramento International Airport. But this airport is located 3 hours from Yosemite so it will be quite a long drive from the airport.
Looking to rent a car in California to visit Yosemite? We recommend and personally use Discover Cars on our trips because they offer the best pricing and free cancellation up to 48 hours before your pickup.
Things To Do In Yosemite National Park In Fall
Yosemite National Park is one of the best places for hiking, chasing waterfalls, and enjoying fall foliage in California.
While you’re in Yosemite, don’t miss out on these top attractions:
Tunnel View is the first stop that you can see as you drive into Yosemite National Park. This iconic viewpoint offers a front seat to all the best that you will experience on your visit to Yosemite.
From Tunnel View, you can get a clear view of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome in the distance. The entire scenery feels like something out of a dream!
Bridalveil Falls is the next stop that you can see as you enter Yosemite National Park. This is a 620-foot-tall waterfall that flows down a steep, granite cliff.
Keep in mind that Bridalveil Falls is a seasonal waterfall and it might be completely dry by the end of the summer.
While in Yosemite, you can’t miss a sunset from Sentinel Bridge! This is an especially popular spot for photography as it offers a direct view of Half Dome framed by the meandering Merced River and surrounding trees.
Bring a travel tripod and set the shutter settings to 1/30 seconds or longer to create a more vibrant photo during the ‘golden hour’ just before sunset.
Yosemite Valley View
In the fall season, Yosemite Valley undergoes a dramatic makeover that can best be seen from Yosemite Valley View. This is also one of my favorite viewpoints for photography because of the clear view of the surrounding mountain peaks.
Photography Tip: I recommend using a wide lens like this one to capture the entire scenery in one frame.
Yosemite Valley Chapel
This charming church is surrounded by granite cliffs, waterfalls, and golden-leafed trees that look especially stunning in fall. It is also one of the oldest buildings in Yosemite Valley.
In the evenings you can often spot deer munching on grass in the meadows next to Yosemite Valley Chapel (just keep a safe distance for yours and their safety).
Cook’s Meadow Loop
Cook’s Meadow Loop is an easy hike in Yosemite that stays open year-round. I’ve hiked this trail in spring, summer, fall, and winter – and it never gets old!
The Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail is only 2 miles long and fairly flat, so it’s a great hiking trail for families with little kids. Along the way, be sure to stop by the wooden boardwalk – one of my favorite photography spots in Yosemite.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is a must-see landmark, no matter the season. With an impressive height of 2425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America!
Yosemite Falls is very easy to visit and can be reached within a quick walk from the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead. The paved pathway will lead you to Lower Yosemite Fall Vista Point where you can see the waterfall up close from its base.
Read Next: 20 Best Waterfalls In Central California
Mirror Lake is another easy 2-mile-long hike that stays open year-round. While in the fall the lake is completely dry, you can still enjoy views of surrounding granite mountains and see Half Dome up close.
I recommend going on a longer loop past Mirror Lake up to Tenaya Creek Bridge. Along this route, you can see beautiful fall colors and enjoy a bit of solitude.
Vernal Falls Footbridge
Vernal Falls is a gorgeous waterfall hike in Yosemite National Park. The hike to Vernal Falls Footbridge is only 1.6 miles round trip and gains around 400 feet in elevation. I’ve done this trail several times with my mom in the fall season since it’s very short and the scenery along the way is just stunning!
If you want to keep going past the footbridge, portions of this trail start closing down in the fall due to slippery, dangerous conditions and trail repair. Be sure to check the Yosemite National Park website for the latest Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls trail updates.
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area is one of the best locations in Yosemite for photography enthusiasts. Here you can capture a memorable photo of Merced River with the picturesque El Capitan rock formation in the background.
Whether you are a professional photographer or not, this is truly a postcard-like scenery worth capturing! I recommend coming here in the morning for sunrise to witness the morning glow illuminating El Capitan and the surrounding granite mountains.
Mariposa Grove is a unique area in the southern part of Yosemite National Park that is home to giant Sequoia trees. Here you can go on a hike through the grove’s trails and be in awe of these gentle giants, some that are over 2000 years old!
Be sure to stop by the famous Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree which has a carved-out center where you can walk through.
Where To Stay In Yosemite
Here are some of the best places to stay for visiting Yosemite National Park:
On my fall trips, I like to stay in Curry Village canvas tent cabins. These glamping cabins are located in Yosemite Valley close to all the top attractions and hiking trails. By staying here I can maximize my day adventures and not worry about spending hours driving into and out of the park to the nearest hotels.
The Curry Village tent cabins are pretty basic and come with beds, pillows, blankets, drinking cups, and a place to hang your hiking gear. You will also be provided with towels and access to hot showers within Curry Village.
In the fall I highly recommend booking a heated tent cabin to stay warm during the night. The temperatures can get cold in Yosemite at night starting in October.
If you choose to book a non-heated tent cabin, bring extra blankets to stay warm. The blankets that they provide are pretty thin and might not keep you warm enough later in the fall.
Yosemite Valley Lodge
Yosemite Valley Lodge is a wonderful hotel situated in Yosemite Valley near Lower Yosemite Falls. This is another great place to stay if you want to be close to everything at the center of Yosemite.
Yosemite Valley Lodge provides complimentary bikes that you can ride around Yosemite Valley Loop Trail and up to Mirror Lake. This lodge also has multiple dining choices on site so you don’t need to worry about where to get your next meal leaving more time for adventures!
Yosemite View Lodge
Located just outside of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite View Lodge is a great budget-friendly option that won’t break the bank. This lodge offers comfortable rooms and family suites in an excellent location near Yosemite’s west entrance.
Situated on the banks of the Merced River, Yosemite View Lodge is surrounded by pristine nature and towering granite mountains. After exploring the National Park, you can treat yourself to a relaxing time in the hotel’s outdoor pool and hot tub.
What To Pack For Yosemite In Fall
With warm days, but cooler mornings and evenings, bringing plenty of layers is the key. While the days in September and October are still warm and mild, temperatures at night can drop below 50°.
November is when the weather starts to turn really cold and you’ll need to bring lots of warm sweaters, jackets, and winter gear.
Here’s what I recommend packing for Yosemite in fall:
Short and long-sleeved shirts. You’ll want to bring plenty of layers as the days can still be very hot and sunny, but mornings and evenings are pretty cold.
Good hiking boots. Opt for sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good traction. You might encounter wet trails and slippery rocks, so having footwear with traction is crucial for safety and comfort.
Alpine hoody. A lightweight, packable jacket is perfect for added insulation when it starts getting cold. This Mountain Hardwear alpine hoody provides warmth without adding bulk. I always throw it in my backpack for ‘just in case’ situations.
Rainshell. Rainshells are very light and take up almost no room. They are also waterproof and provide protection from both strong winds and rain that can happen in the mountains unexpectedly.
Trekking Poles. Hiking poles can help you keep balance on uneven terrain, reduce strain on your knees, and provide extra support in steeper sections.
Daypack. For day hiking, I have a small pack that can fit all of the necessary essentials, a jacket and my camera gear. I love this REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack that is ultralight, has waist straps for added comfort, and breathable mesh shoulder straps.
Headlamp, small first aid kit, portable phone power bank, and water bottles. These essentials are a must when heading into the mountains. With fewer visitors and park staff, you will need to be a bit more self-reliant when heading out on day hikes.
Read More: The Ultimate California Packing List
Yosemite National Park In Fall Weather
Depending on which month you plan to visit Yosemite National Park, the weather can change drastically. Here’s what you can expect weather-wise each month.
Weather In September
September in California still feels very much like the summer season. You can expect hot days and pretty warm evenings and nights too (which is great for camping).
September is a dry month and often during this time of year, California experiences wildfires. If there are fires in Yosemite, I advise against traveling there as the air can be difficult to breathe and the viewpoints will be covered in a layer of smog from the fires.
Daytime temperatures: 70s to mid-80s F (21°C to 29°C)
Nighttime temperatures: 50s to low 60s F (10°C to 16°C)
Weather In October
October is my personal favorite month for visiting Yosemite in fall. In October, Yosemite starts to transition into fall temperatures so you can expect warm days but crisp mornings and colder nights.
Daytime temperatures: 60s to mid-70s F (16°C to 24°C)
Nighttime temperatures: 40s F (4°C to 9°C)
Weather In November
By November, Yosemite National Park starts prepping for the winter season. You might also experience the first snowfall of the year so keep an eye out for road closures and chain requirements on the park website.
The temperatures will continue to drop significantly so you’ll need to come prepared with lots of layers, warm clothing, and insulated hiking boots.
Daytime temperatures: 50s to low 60s F (10°C to 16°C)
Nighttime temperatures: 30s F (0°C to 4°C)
Looking for more things to do around California? Here a some of our most popular posts that you may like:
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- 12 Best Hotels Where To Stay In Yosemite In Winter
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- 8 Incredible Day Hikes In Sequoia National Forest
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