The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is in May or September when most of the park is open but not too crowded with summer tourists.
Most of the park’s roads are completely snow-free by May, though snow can linger on higher elevation trails well into June and sometimes July. Remember that summer is often the start of California’s fire season, so smoke and haze are common.
The crowds are usually smaller with cooler temperatures in the late summer to early fall. Daytime temperatures are in the 70s, and nighttime temperatures are in the mid-40s.
May is the best month to visit Yellowstone as there are fewer visitors and milder weather.
You’ll have the time and space to enjoy nature in a pleasant climate with daytime highs in the mid-60s, but nighttime lows remain in the mid-30s, so pack a jacket with you.
June to August
Yosemite receives the majority of its visitors throughout the summer. You should anticipate busy trails and campgrounds, heavy road traffic, and high hotel rates this season.
For accommodations during this period, reservations must be made at least six months in advance; campgrounds are known to fill up quickly.
By now, the entire park is accessible. In Yosemite Valley, the average summertime high temperatures are between 81º to 89ºF (27º to 32ºC), while Tuolumne Meadows normally gets daytime highs of just 65º to 72ºF (18º to 22ºC). While afternoon thunderstorms are fairly common during summer, the average monthly precipitation is just 0.5” (13cm).
Besides May, September is also the best time to visit Yellowstone with the declining summer crowds. The early fall weather is milder, with daytime highs in the mid-70s and nighttime lows in the mid-40s.
October to November
When the kids return to school in September, the crowds begin to thin out in October. This enables you to peacefully take in the park’s breathtaking landscape, though Yosemite will undoubtedly be busier.
Daytime highs vary greatly from month to month, with October seeing mid-60s, and November having low 50s. The average nighttime temperature decreases, starting in the mid-40s in September and ending in the low 30s in November.
Trail and road closures usually begin in October or November, depending on the weather, leaving the park increasingly deserted.
December to April
The snow covers will appeal to those who enjoy winter activities, notably the Badger Pass Ski Area, where visitors may engage in cross-country and downhill skiing.
All but the Yosemite Valley and Wawona parts of the park are off-limits to vehicles, except the Badger Pass Ski Area. During this period, tire chains may be required to access park roads.
Best time for camping
The best time for camping in Yosemite National Park is from mid-August to mid-September.
During this time, most campgrounds are open, including seasonal options like North Pines, Lower Pines, Tuolumne, Porcupine Flat, Summerdale, and Bridalveil Creek.
However, unlike mid-summer, it’s often easier to get campground reservations if you camp after Labor Day (the first Monday in September), as most school districts begin classes soon afterward.
Plus, the temperatures during the late summer and early fall are still comfortable, so it’s unlikely that it will be too cold at night.
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Best time for hiking
The best time for hiking in Yosemite is in August, as nearly every trail in the park will be snow-free.
Additionally, by August, almost every road in the park will be open, so you’ll be better able to access Yosemite’s various trailheads. However, these snow-free trails and great weather also bring in large crowds, so you’ll likely share your trail with quite a few other people.
Summer is also the only time that you can climb the Half Dome Cables Route as the cables are only up from about Memorial Day through mid-October.
Read More : Best Hiking Trails in Yosemite National Park
Best time to avoid crowds
The best time to avoid crowds in Yosemite is from December to February.
Only 9% of visitors come from December to February as compared to 45% in the summer from June to September.
In the winter, substantially fewer people visit the park so you can expect very short lines at any of the open entrance stations and relatively little competition for campsites.
That being said, winter in Yosemite, while beautiful and serene, comes with some caveats. Many of the park’s most popular campgrounds are closed, though there are some year-round options including Upper Pines, Camp 4, and Hodgdon Meadow.
Moreover, Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are closed during the winter months because of heavy snowfall. Conditions can be fickle in the park during the winter, so all visitors should come prepared with tire chains and know how to use them.
Best time for rock climbing
The best time for rock climbing in Yosemite is in May and September to October if you’re looking to climb in Yosemite Valley.
This is because there tend to be smaller crowds at this time and cooler temperatures.
For climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, June through August are popular options. Since Tuolumne is located at about 8,600’ (2,620m) in elevation, it is generally much cooler than the low-lying Yosemite Valley. While you’ll still see large crowds during this time, the weather is much more reasonable for climbing.
Best time to see the waterfalls
The best time to see the waterfalls in Yosemite is in May.
In Yosemite, the rivers and streams are almost exclusively fed by snowmelt, which is at its peak during the spring months. During the month of May, nearly all of the park’s major waterfalls are flowing at their highest capacity, including Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Nevada Falls.
By the end of July and into August, even the largest falls in the park slow to a trickle. Although they tend to pick up again after the first snowfall, there’s no beating May for waterfall chasing in Yosemite National Park.
Best time for biking
The best time for biking in Yosemite is in September and early October.
Since mountain biking is not allowed in the park, all biking in Yosemite is road cycling. The park maintains 12 miles of paved bike paths within Yosemite Valley, best enjoyed during the fall when temperatures are more comfortable.
Additionally, the fall is a much more enjoyable time for road cycling in Yosemite because the roads tend to be snow-free and the park generally sees fewer visitors during this time. That means fewer cars on the road and a more enjoyable ride through the park.
Best time for bird watching
The best time for bird watching in Yosemite is from late May to early June when there are fewer crowds, yet plenty of migratory birds.
In general, the best bird watching in the park happens in the early mornings in the park’s less developed regions. Since snow tends to linger outside of the Valley at higher elevations throughout May, early June backpacking trips are a good option for snow-free bird watching.
For the best conditions, try to head out before 9am, or even earlier in crowded locales, for added peace and quiet.
Best time for skiing
The best time for skiing in Yosemite is from December through February
Badger Pass is the park’s downhill ski resort, usually open from mid-December to March. For backcountry skiing, you’ll want to head into higher elevation areas in Crane Flats or near Badger Pass between January and February.
Best time for stargazing
The best time for stargazing in Yosemite is from June through August.
During the summer months, the Yosemite Park Rangers offer guided astronomy walks and talks in Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona, and Yosemite Valley. On Saturdays in the summer, some local amateur astronomers often set up their telescopes at Glacier Point for some stargazing.
However, if you’re willing to brave the chilly conditions, clear, cold winter nights in Yosemite often offer the best views of the stars. Since haze from wildfires tends to dissipate by the winter, the sky is generally clearer during this time.
Best time for water activities
The best time for water activities in Yosemite is from May to early June.
Like the rest of the High Sierra, Yosemite’s rivers and streams are mostly seasonal. They are fed almost exclusively by snowmelt as the region receives relatively little rain, even in the spring and fall.
By mid-July, many of the park’s rivers have slowed substantially and by August, even the mighty Yosemite Falls is reduced to a trickle. If you want to go for a swim in Mirror Lake near Lower Pines Campground or any of the park’s other swimming holes, the late spring and early summer months are your best bet.
Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.