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Best Time to Visit Yosemite | When to Go & Travel Tips

Best Time to Visit Yosemite | When to Go & Travel Tips

Yosemite National Park is home to iconic views and vistas, giant sequoias, towering granite cliffs and domes, and deeply carved valleys that make it one of the most beautiful national parks to visit.

Find out the best time to visit Yosemite in our quick travel guide, no matter what your goals for the trip are! 

If you want to go when the weather is perfect and park activities and tours are in full swing, check out the overall best time to visit Yosemite below. Budget-conscious travelers will want to know the cheapest time of year to go.

And those who want to avoid the biggest crowds of peak season will appreciate knowing the least busy time of year to visit! It’s all here in our guide, along with helpful travel tips to make the most of your trip. 

First, an introduction to what makes Yosemite National Park special and why you need to visit. 

Why You Should Visit Yosemite National Park

Hiker at Glacier Point during Summer, the best time to visit Yosemite

Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock

If you’re thinking about planning a visit to Yosemite National Park in California, there’s every reason in the world to go.

This national park in the Sierra Nevada mountains is home to groves of giant sequoias, innumerable wildlife species, stunning granite domes and cliffs (like El Capitan and Half Dome), some of the tallest waterfalls in the world, and incredible vistas and panoramic views.

Did you know that Yosemite is one of the nation’s oldest national parks? Yosemite was the very first patch of protected land in the U.S. under the Yosemite Land Grant signed by Lincoln in 1864.

It became a national park in 1890 (the 3rd in our nation’s history). Since then, the park sees more than 3 million visitors each year.

Towering giant sequoias – the biggest living things on planet Earth, literally – draw tons of visitors who want to bask in the presence of these ancient, arborous giants.

Some of the trees in the park’s famous sequoia groves are over 3,000 years old! The 209-foot tall Grizzly Giant, one of Yosemite’s oldest and biggest sequoias, has a 96.5′ trunk diameter that will blow your mind.

There’s something so calming and awe-inspiring about seeing these giants in person. It’s one of the reasons Yosemite is a must-see destination.

You’ll have the chance to spot more than 400 wildlife species within the park, including black bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, red foxes, and hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, and fish.

Make sure to bring your binoculars to spy far-away wildlife in the wide, open spaces of Yosemite! Another reason to journey to Yosemite are the huge granite formations in the park.

From smooth, rounded domes that boggle the mind to incredible, dark cliffs that jut toward the sky, granite is the primary rock that forms the unique landscape and forms in Yosemite. 

Gorgeous view of Yosemite Falls pictured during the best time to visit Yosemite

Stephen Moehle/Shutterstock

You’ll be amazed at how the sun illuminates and highlights the huge granite structures in Yosemite. The setting sun casts a fiery orange-red glow onto the steep El Capitan and Half Dome granite monoliths, making them look like they’re on fire.

Your eyes won’t believe the intense, burning appearance these formations take on at sunset – make sure you’re around at sunset to see this incredible sight! Some of the world’s tallest waterfalls are also within the park.

You’ll have the chance to check out the famous Yosemite Falls (2,425 feet), Snowcreek Falls (2,140 feet), Sentinel Fall (1,920 feet), Staircase Falls (1,700 feet), and Ribbon Fall (1,612 feet).

As soon as you enter the park, you’ll see Bridalveil Fall – one of the most iconic, though not one of the biggest, waterfalls in Yosemite. While you’re there, you’ll find plenty of lodging options, restaurants, museums, galleries, and shops to keep you busy and comfortable during your visit.

From the The Ahwahnee hotel (a National Historic Landmark) to the rustic White Wolf Lodge, there are 7+ in-park lodges to accommodate families and groups of all sizes and budgets.

Stay in canvas tents in Curry Village, choose upscale lodging in Wawona Hotel, or enjoy Yosemite in winter at the Glacier Point Ski Hut lodge. 

The Yosemite Museum is one of park’s popular attractions and shares the storied history, art, and artifacts from this area of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Be sure to stop by (and check out the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center next door) on your way in to learn about the park’s best vista points and trails.

The nearby Ansel Adams Gallery showcases the famous photographer’s iconic shots of the park, along with art and photos from other artists. Gift shops, general stores, and gas stations are also located inside the park to make your stay convenient.

You’ll find dining options from fast casual to upscale within the park’s bounds – perfect for a good meal after a long day hiking and sightseeing!

Pizza parlors, coffee shops, bars, grills, and fine dining restaurants in the park give you plenty of options to eat well during your stay.

Trails winding among groves of giant trees, record-breaking waterfalls, towering granite domes and cliffs, and river-carved valleys with a comfortable Mediterranean climate await you at Yosemite. There’s clearly a lot to do and see here!

But you’ll have a better experience when you choose to go at the right time of year. See the best time to visit Yosemite below, no matter what your goals for the trip are (weather, budget, crowds, and more).  

Overall Best Time to Visit Yosemite

A Valley pictured in Summer, the best time to visit Yosemite National Park

Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

  • May-September is the best time to visit Yosemite
  • Very little rainfall, lots of sunshine, and warm temps
  • Peak season; bigger crowds, fully open park, and more activities

The overall best time to visit Yosemite is May through September, with May, June, and September being the ideal times to visit.

Planning your visit during this time allows you to avoid 95% of the year’s rain in Yosemite. You’ll enjoy warm, dry weather with all the conveniences of the park’s services, roads, and lodging being open during this time. 

This is the peak season for Yosemite – about 75% of the annual park visitors arrive from May to September/October. You’ll definitely see bigger crowds at this time of year, but all the benefits of spring, summer, and early fall make it worth it. 

Every shuttle, road, trail, and area of the park is open during this time. The cascading falls are powerfully flowing after the rain and snow melt from the winter and early spring.

Attractions are running at full speed with lots of tours, guided hikes, and daily activities occurring in the warm months. You’ll have the most lodging options during this time – just book early to avoid running into “no vacancy” roadblocks as the peak season approaches.

Camping is perfect during these warm and sunny months, when the temperatures range from a comfortable high of 70F-80F in May, June, and September to sizzling highs around 90 in July and August. 

Cheapest Time to Visit Yosemite

Guy and his son hiking in front of Half Dome during the least busy time to visit Yosemite

Maridav/Shutterstock

  • October-February is the cheapest time to visit the park
  • Discounted off-season rates on lodging and attractions
  • Easier booking + more availability at in-park lodges

Low season rates begin to take effect in October and last through the winter, making October through February the best time to visit Yosemite on a budget.

It can be pretty wet and rainy during the low season, but there are plenty of indoor activities and attractions to keep you busy when the rainfall prevents outdoor exploration. 

The chillier fall and winter seasons see fewer visitors in the park, seasonal road and area closures in the park take effect (as well as discounted rates on lodging and activities), and the park’s Badger Pass ski area provides tons of activities and entertainment for winter visitors.

October to February is the cheapest time to visit because more of the park is closed down during the fall and winter than during the peak season.

You’ll find that it’s a lot easier to find vacant rooms to book in all of the in-park lodges during this time of year. And the rates at most lodges are deeply discounted beginning in October, with even bigger discounts available in the winter months. 

You’ll pay almost $60 less per night at most of the in-park lodges from October to February. Camping in the park instead will save you a lot of money if you can handle the chill.

Nearby hotels, motels, and Airbnbs outside of the park can present other cheap options for your stay. You can’t really get around the required $35 entry fee (good for 7 days) except on fee-free days like Veteran’s Day (November 11) and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (mid-January). 

As far as activities go, you’ll have plenty of options with skiing, snowboarding, showshoeing, ice skating, ranger-led hikes, snow tubing, and winter camping available in the park during the colder months.

The Badger Pass ski area offers discounts on weekdays and reduced rates for kids and seniors. Children under 6 are free! Take advantage of the free shuttle that will bring you from Yosemite Valley up to the resort. 

Least Busy Time to Visit Yosemite

Young backpacker looking at the Vernal Falls for a piece on the cheapest time to visit Yosemite

Maridav/Shutterstock

  • December-February see the fewest visitors in Yosemite
  • Chilly temps, park road/trail closures, and rain/snow reduce tourist numbers
  • Clear, less-crowded trails and vantage points with better lodging rates

If you want to avoid the big crowds of spring, summer, and early fall, the best time to visit Yosemite is December through February, except for the end of December (when holiday travelers arrive).

January is the least busy month of all. This period is when Yosemite receives most of its precipitation in the form of rain and snow.

The temperatures dive down to highs around 50F and lows around -2F in the valley with cooler temps at higher elevations. As a result, some areas of the park and roads within the park are closed for the season during this time.

But for a traveler seeking the smallest crowds, these factors won’t be a problem – they’re the reason so few venture to Yosemite at this time of year! 

The falls are a-flowin’ after being energized with all the rain and snowfall from the fall and winter months. It’s cold in the park, so it can make camping a little more challenging, but the in-park lodging options provide a warm and cozy haven to get away from the chill.

Still, 4 campgrounds remain open during winter for those who love a challenge and lodging areas near the entrances are open year-round. The Badger Pass ski area is open from mid-December to March for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing.

Ice skate at the Curry Village rink, hike to Mirror Lake, or take time to check out the Yosemite Museum and visitor center to get out of the cold without dealing with big crowds.  

Worst Time to Visit Yosemite

Snowman pictured during the worst time to visit Yosemite Park

Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

  • July and August are the worst months to visit
  • Crowds and temperatures are at their peak
  • Limited lodging availability + higher prices

We’ve looked at the best time to visit Yosemite, so it’s only right to pay attention to the worst time to go – July and August, as it turns out.

These are the hottest months of the year in Yosemite National Park and the busiest in terms of visitors. You’ll battle the biggest crowds, struggle to achieve clear views at the vantage points, and deal with stifling heat on the trails during this time. 

Since July and August are the height of the peak season, this is when most travelers descend on Yosemite. The in-park lodging gets booked up quickly, leaving very few (or no) vacancies for last-minute travelers.

As a result, the rates on rooms, campsites, and canvas tents go up. So you’ll end up paying more for this hot, crowded experience in Yosemite.

On the bright side, everything in the park is open and in full swing with no road, trail, or park service closures during this time. You’ll be able to freely access everything within the park, but you’ll have to decide if braving the crowds and heat is worth it! 

More Things to Consider

During the best time to visit Yosemite, the Stoneman Bridge pictured in morning light

Sarah Fields Photography/Shutterstock

What else should you know to plan the best Yosemite trip possible? Take these tips into consideration to make the most of your Yosemite adventure! 

  • Consider camping in the park. Camping is cheaper than staying at any of the in-park lodging and is a great way to experience the park a little more up-close. Yosemite has 13 campgrounds within the park, and 4 of them stay open year-round (just pack plenty of blankets and cold weather gear in winter). Your family will enjoy camping at this beautiful park and you’ll save a lot of money on lodging! 
  • Stay informed about seasonal closures. Yosemite closes certain roads, trails, and services down in the late fall and winter as snow begins to fall and temperatures drop. Tioga Road (the only road that connects the entire park) is closed from November to May each year. Some of the lodging options and campgrounds shut down around October and reopen around April. Free busses and shuttles in the park may be closed during the winter, so be sure to check ahead to see what’s open before you plan your trip. 
  • Know about the tire chain requirements. If you plan to visit during the colder months – usually November through March – tire chains are required in Yosemite. The snow and ice conditions within the park can occur suddenly, so don’t travel here in winter without tire chains to ensure safety and better control on the roads. Stick to the warmer months and use the lower-elevation entry points (like the El Portal Road) during late fall or early spring to get around the tire chain requirements. 
  • Reservations are required in peak season. With so much traffic entering the park during the peak season, Yosemite requires reservations for those who aren’t staying in the park’s lodging or campgrounds. You need the 3-day reservation ($2 fee) in advance before you enter the park from May 20 through September 30, but only if you enter between 6AM and 4PM. Try to make reservations at least 7 days before your trip here. You’ll still have to pay the separate entry fee when you arrive. 
  • Expect to pay an entry fee. Yosemite charges most visitors an entry fee of $35 year-round that’s good for 7 days. Motorcyclists pay $30 to enter, and individuals arriving on foot or bike pay $20 (free if you’re under 15). Exceptions include veterans with a free annual pass, anyone with an annual or lifetime pass, 4th graders arriving as part of the Every Kid Outdoors program, and fee-free entry days (4-5 each year). Learn more here.
  • Do as many activities as you can. Yosemite offers tons of activities and attractions for all ages and abilities. Hiking, rafting, fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, bird and wildlife watching, stargazing, backpacking, camping, photography, guided hikes and tours, museum and visitor center exploration, in-park dining and picnics, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating are all available to you when you visit. Do as many activities as you can to pack your Yosemite trip with memories!  

Best Time to Visit Yosemite: Final Thoughts

Image of the Yosemite National Park during the Summer

Maks Ershov/Shutterstock

Overall, the best time to visit Yosemite is between May and September, with the bookend months (May, June, and September) being the absolute ideal time to go.

The weather is warm and dry, the park is 100% open and alive with activity, and the stunning falls within the park are flowing powerfully. It’s truly the best time of year to see Yosemite in all its wonder! 

The Cheapest Time to Go

If you’re looking for the cheapest time to visit, that’s October to February, when temperatures cool down and visitor numbers tumble.

This leaves many of the lodging and campgrounds open with discounted rates that make your stay cheaper. Take advantage of winter discounts for the Badger Pass ski area and fewer crowds for a peaceful trip!

The Least Busy Time to Go

For the least busy trip where you may not pass another hiker or visitor while you’re there, the best time to visit Yosemite is early to mid-December through February (with January being the least busy of all).

The end of December gets busy with holiday break arrivals, so aim to go before or after the holidays for the least crowded (and cheapest) visit.

The Worst Time to Go

Whatever you do, think twice before visiting in the peak months of July and August. It’s hottest at this time of year, the crowds are at an all-year high, and prices go up while availability plummets during this time.

You’re better off going during late spring/early summer (May-June) or late summer/early fall (September-October) to beat the heat and avoid the biggest crowds.

With iconic views of mega granite domes and cliffs, groves of giant ancient sequoias, lush valleys filled with plants and unique wildlife, and cascading waterfalls among the tallest in the world, Yosemite is definitely, positively, absolutely worth seeing.

But Yosemite isn’t the only national park that belongs on your travel bucket list! Check out 21 Best National Parks in the USA in 2022 next to learn about the other natural gems in the U.S.