Renowned landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams introduced the world to Yosemite’s grandiose beauty starting in the 1930s, and the magic he saw is now captured by upwards of 4 million visitors, who flock here each season.
From the moment you arrive, Yosemite dazzles with its natural good looks. One of America’s most iconic national parks and its third oldest, it captivates with myriad waterfalls, sky-grazing sequoias, gemstone-hued lakes, subalpine wilderness areas and granite cliffs and buttresses, like El Capitan and Half Dome.
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High in the Sierra Mountains, Yosemite experiences four seasons, each offering something special for visitors. Summer is your best bet if you want to be practically guaranteed blue skies, with May and June being the best months for peak flow at the waterfalls. But winter, when snow often blankets the park, is less crowded and has its own magic too. Here’s our guide to the best times to visit Yosemite National Park.
May through September is the most popular time in Yosemite
Yosemite National Park attracts about 75% of its annual visitors between May and September. These months correspond with the best weather and are also when all the roads, trails, lodging, shuttles and attractions in the park are open. That includes its most famous drive, Tioga Rd, a 64-mile-long scenic byway that closes when the snow begins to fall.
On the downside, you’ll see the most crowds during the summer months, particularly in July and August. Still, if you’ve never visited Yosemite, going in late spring, summer or early fall really is best, as you’ll experience blue skies, impressive waterfalls and the most lodging choices.
Tip: Book early as peak-season lodging fills quickly, including the campgrounds.
In February, Horsetail Falls appears to be flowing lava © Gregory B Cuvelier / Shutterstock
February is the time to see the Yosemite firefall
To witness the stunning natural phenomenon known as the Yosemite firefall, you’ll want to visit in February. The firefall happens at sunset at Horsetail Falls, which tumbles over El Capitan’s eastern edge in winter. During the magic hour, the falls appear to be flowing lava, glowing yellow, orange and even red. It makes for a sweet video or photograph.
Visit Yosemite in spring for the most impressive waterfalls © randy andy / Shutterstock
In May and June, Yosemite’s waterfalls are at peak flow, and lodging is (slightly) less crowded
If you’ve come to Yosemite to experience its countless waterfalls, you’ll want to visit in May or early June, when most of the winter snow melts away to create the most impressive waterfalls. By August many of them, including Yosemite Falls, will be reduced to a trickle or completely dry.
May and June are also great months to score swing-season lodging deals. Besides campsites, Yosemite has half a dozen in-park lodging options, from full-service hotels to traditional cabins and canvas-sided tents. Accommodation inside the park is usually fully booked at least a year in advance. However, when that isn’t the case, May is the month you’re most likely to find an available room nearer the time.
May, June and September are ideal for sunny, blue-sky days, perfect temps and camping
For the most comfortable temperatures and best chances of blue skies, visit in June or September, when daytime highs average between 70°F and 80°F and nighttime temps drop below 60°F.
Yosemite receives 95% of its rainfall between October and May, making June and September two of its driest months. May is also relatively safe, as most spring storms have passed by that point. As such, you can expect sunny blue days that are perfect for photographing top attractions, like El Capitan and the ancient sequoia trees, in excellent light.
These months are also ideal for camping, as it’s warm enough to be comfortable in the tent at night but not sizzling hot. It’s easier to get reservations for campsites from May through mid-June and in September, before the crowds descend in force. (Note: reservations are still required.)
The crowds swarm to Yosemite in July and August © Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images
Avoid Yellowstone in July and August if crowds and heat are not your game
Yosemite National Park sees its absolute peak crowds during July and August. You will need to book lodging – including campgrounds – and any guides, activities or tours well in advance.
These are also the hottest months to visit the park. Temperatures can reach above 90°F during the day, and nights cool down to 50°F to 60°F.
Winter is a peaceful time of year to visit Yosemite © Paigefalk / Getty Images
Visit between November and April for winter activities, smaller crowds and the best deals on lodging
Yosemite is the least crowded from November to April. If you want to have the attractions more to yourself, visit during this time. Just know that aside from lodging closures, roads also close seasonally due to weather and fewer tour options. Winter sees Yosemite blanketed by snow, however, so it’s a very peaceful time of year to visit, particularly if you enjoy cold-weather activities.
Only two in-park lodgings are open year-round. The Ahwahnee is Yosemite’s only luxury hotel. Built in the grand “Parkitecture” style, it has a central Yosemite Valley locale, and its rates are up to 25% lower in winter. It’s much easier to get a reservation then too – the summer months often sell out more than a year in advance. Note it’s closed for refurbishments until March 2, 2023.
Yosemite Valley Lodge is the park’s other year-round option: a traditional lodge at the base of Yosemite Falls, boasting gorgeous glass-and-wood architecture that lets in lots of light during winter.
There’s also one lodging option, Glacier Point Ski Hut, that’s only open in winter. It is accessible via a 10.5-mile cross-country ski trail and has stunning views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.