As temperatures in the evening start to drop and we tumble forward toward the Fall Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the time to visit your national parks is now. Yosemite National Park in Autumn is our favorite time of year in the park. Crowds have diminished from the summer rush. Wildlife seems to be more active as they prepare for the winter ahead. The colors in the valley become an artist’s palate of rich fall colors, and the meadows of the high country are covered in cold morning dew as they fade from summer green to the dry golden grasslands of the high Sierra.
What is to Love in Yosemite Valley during the Fall Season
The Fall colors in Yosemite Valley take precedent over the roaring waterfalls of spring. Trails that seem too hard in the summer heat become much more manageable in the cool fall air. Because there are fewer crowds, riding a bike through the valley is a great way to spend a half day exploring corners of the park you may miss in the summer season.
Because the crowds have thinned, photography becomes easier sometimes in some of the parks’ preferred locations. The indigenous tree colors mixed with Yosemite’s meadows and granite walls are still just as stunning. And more wildlife can often be seen as the noise level drops just a decibel or two in the cool fall air.
Fall Foliage in Yosemite
Yosemite is mostly covered with conifer forests, which don’t change colors when they fall. However, it also has plenty of oak trees – sugar maples, acorns, and quaking acorns.
Making reservations are much easier, and after September 3oth, day-pass reservations are no longer needed to enjoy the park.
Visit Mirror Pond
Although water levels in the fall are lower, Mirror Pond is a stunning location in the fall season. Capture an afternoon picnic below the walls of Half Dome, view the sights of Mt. Watkins to the East, and enjoy the colors of the park.
Take in the Views at Sentinel Bridge
Shuttle bus stop 6 will take you to the Cook’s Meadow Loop and Sentinel Bridge with fantastic views of the Half Dome. Or you can walk to Sentinel Bridge from the car park and get an incredible shot of Half Dome dressed with fall colors on the river.
Bring the Camera and Visit Yosemite Chapel
In October, the color-turning deciduous trees in Yosemite Valley are photo-worthy, especially the dogwood trees and the maple trees near the Yosemite Chapel. The Yosemite Chapel, located in Yosemite Valley, became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 based on its “simple architecture” that was representative of “an excellent example of the early chapels constructed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”
Take time out to visit the Giant Sequoias
Yosemite is home to three fantastic groves of Giant Sequoias. Located near the South Entrance of Yosemite, the Mariposa Grove is the largest grove in the park and is home to over 500 mature giant sequoias. Located on the Tioga Road just east of Crane Flat, the Tuolumne Grove has about two dozen mature giant sequoias. Sequoias are only visible after a one-mile hike with 500 feet of elevation loss. Located on the Big Oak Flat Road east of Big Oak Flat Entrance and approximately 6 miles west of Crane Flat, the Merced Grove has about two dozen mature giant sequoias. Sequoias are only visible after a 1.5-mile hike with 500 feet of elevation loss.
September through December is the peak season for trout fishing, especially for brown trout that thrive in the lower Merced River. After the crowds leave in the fall, the fish become less wary and easier to catch. Accessible places for beginning fishermen include the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir or Tenaya Lake, accessible from Tioga Road (CA Highway 120). If water levels permit, stream fishermen can also try the Merced headwaters near the Arch Rock entrance on CA Highway 140. Source: Trip Savvy
Hiking and Backpacking in Autumn
There may be no more significant difference in the experience in Yosemite than on the trails in the backcountry during fall. With shorter days and fewer travelers in the park, hitting the trails in the high country becomes so peaceful. Wildlife is more abundant, and temperatures make it easier to pack on the miles. Day hikers can easily reach Mono and Parker Pass to the East or climb from Tuolumne meadows to the Top of Vogelsang pass and back in a day. Fishermen might succeed in a long day hike to Nelson Lake or Young Lakes.
Backpackers will enjoy the clear, cool air at night as the stars seem to pop just a little more brightly in the fall air. Cooler temps call for a few more layers, but with lower river water, fewer creek crossings that get you soaked to allow for more exploring overpasses and into the nooks and valleys of Yosemite high country. Seeking complete isolation, seek out one of the hundreds of lakes that will offer up the solitude you seek.
Last Chance Trips over Tioga Pass
Those traveling from the East get their last few weeks of open access through Tioga Pass. Tioga Pass is typically closed sometime in Late October or Early November for the season. Tioga Pass is the direct access point for those visiting June Lake, Mammoth area in the fall. Famous for their fall color visitation, we recommend visitors take a half day and drive up Tioga in Yosemite national park for a shortfall hike in Tuolumne Meadows or a cool late-season dip in Tenaya Lake. One day hike near the east gate that is fantastic in the fall is the hike up and over to Granite Lake. A stunning Lake set on the high tundra-like surface of Yosemite High Country gives you a great view of the mountain fading away into the Cathedral range below.
What to pack?
Pack For Winter, Hope For Fall
Pack layers and prepare for various kinds of weather. Early autumn daytime temperatures may be a little warm like summer but in November it is advisable to use sweaters and sleeveless clothing, particularly at night or at higher elevations. Even September night is brisk. If sleeping in a tent or plan for an outdoor evening with an outdoor fire, keep layers in any season. Bring some things for a fun day! Bring gear for trekking, climbing, and fishing. Generally speaking, a lightweight jacket with layers is suited for light exercise. You might need a hat or gloves to help protect you from the chills.
If you are planning an early hike, a night hike, an astro photography shoot, or even just watching the sunrise and sunset somewhere in Yosemite Valley, you are going to need to pack accordingly.
Here are some of the packing tips we would suggest for October in Yosemite National Park:
- Wear breathable base layers for hiking until it warms up.
- We wouldn’t go as far as ski jackets and pants, but certainly fleece layers, down jackets and waterproofs.
- Robust hiking shoes or boots, waterproof and windproof would be ideal.
- Gloves, hats, scarves and buffs are perfect for keeping extremities warm, particularly if you will be camping.
- You might want to reconsider camping or staying in anything other than a hotel room.
- If you are planning a longer trip, read our tips on how to pack for a road trip.
Yosemite Weather in Fall
Yosemite weather varies from season to season and although fall is usually mild, the possibility of a snowstorm may start to creep in. If you look at the yearly average weather for Yosemite, you will see how the weather varies month by month. These average temperatures are in Yosemite Valley but make sure you take a walk or hike in more populated locations—such as Tuolumne Meadow—the temperature drops dramatically. Tioga Pass may become open to snow from mid-October. Significant snowfall before the month of November may be uncommon.
Month High / Low Rain September 84° / 50° 2 days October 72° / 41° 3 days November 57° / 32° 5 days
Staying Near Yosemite
Here are some of the top hotels we see travelers book located to the West, South, and East of Yosemite (with guest ratings as per Booking.com):
- Mariposa: Best Western Plus – Rated 8.2 / 10
- Mariposa: Miners Inn – Rated 8.0 / 10
- Mariposa: Mariposa Lodge – Rated 7.9 / 10
- Mariposa: The Monarch Inn – Rated 8.0 / 10
- Oakhurst: Yosemite Southgate Hotel – Rated 8.8 / 10
- Oakhurst: Best Western Gateway – Rated 8.8 / 10
- Oakhurst: Comfort Inn Yosemite – Rated 7.8 /10
- Buck Meadows: Rush Creek Lodge – Rated 9.2 / 10
- June Lake: Whispering Pines – 7.5 / 10
- Mammoth Lakes : The Village Lodge 8.6 /10
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Featured Image : North loop Yosemite Scenic route by lazy fox photography