Favorite thing May and June are the best months to visit Yosemite. The weather is consistently pleasant and the waterfalls are full and photogenic due to spring meltage. However, keep in mind that Yosemite is always open and depending on your interests, another season may be a better option. The website below is great because it gives you a summary of what you can expect in every month of the year.
Timing a visit to Yosemite
Favorite thing Yosemite is a beautiful, breathtaking park any time of the year, but each season has it's pros and cons. When you decide when you want to go, you must decide what is more important to you: waterfalls, fewer crowds, alpine meadows, Glacier Point views of the valley, weather. To get a more indepth idea of what each season is like, I have posted four General Tips devoted to each of the four seasons of the year. But each season at a glance:
-Least crowded (except around Christmas holiday)
-Outdoor ice skating rink and Badger pass ski area are open.
-Fresh snowfall makes the valley even more gorgeous.
-Lodging prices almost slashed in half from the high season.
-Many hiking trails closed
-Snowstorms can close roads
-Tioga Road and Glacier Point closed.
-Waterfalls not running at full strength.
-Waterfalls at full strength
-Some trails open
-Crowds begin to pick up
-Tioga Road and Glacier Point still closed
-Lodging rates increase
-All trails open
-Cables up on Half Dome
-All tours operating
-Tioga Road and Glacier Point open
-Lodging rates are highest
-Waterfalls diminish to almost nothing by August
-Occasional afternoon thunderstorms
-Warm days, cool nights
-Crowds diminish significantly
-Trails still open until November
-Tioga Road and Glacier Point usually still open til November.
-Watefalls almost non-exsistant
-Days get cooler and wetter into November and December
Tioga Road and Glacier Point eventually close
As I said, for more indepth information on each season visit my other four general tips on those seasons.
Favorite thing Summers in Yosemite are usually warm and dry.
Spring/ Fall is mild and pleasant (there will be flooding)
Higher elevations receive a great deal of snow in Winter, however the Valley gets far less.
Dress in layers and plan for weather changes throughout the day.
Favorite thing Winter in Yosemite brings rain at the lower elevations and snow at the higher ones. And while this snow tends to clear out the crowds, it provides some of the most dazzling photographs! Nothing beats a picture of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View under a fresh blanket of snow. Wake up early and walk the valley as the sun is rising. Listen to ice chunks break off from along Yosemite Falls. The rumbling echos across the entire valley. Sit on a bench and just watch as ice chunks over 100 feet tall break off the cliff wall and fall to the base of the waterfall. Watch coyotes prancing and playing in snow-covered meadows. Ice skate in an outdoor ice rink under the shadow of Half Dome. Downhill ski at Badger Pass, California's oldest ski area.
Remember to always carry chains when you drive into Yosemite in the winter. It's required by law to have them even if you don't need to use them. Sudden snowstorms are not rare and as soon as the snow starts to stick to the roads, chains or snowtires are required. Even if it's raining in the valley, the Wawona highway (highway 49) rises to 6,000 feet and it could easily be snowing there. For road and chain information, check at Yosemite Lodge and the Valley Visitor Center. Both locations post chain requirments for every road in the park.
Favorite thing In winter, it could be raining in the valley. And that can be disappointing.
But what we did was that we kept driving up and up to higher elevations.
Wow... eventually sure enough the rain turned into fluffy snow.
So a wet day turned into a Christmas wonderland.
Favorite thing Snowmelt provides the fuel for the waterfalls. This is the time of year that they begin to churn full force. If waterfalls are your thing, this is your time to visit! The Mist Trail shows off why it's name is appropriate. Snowstorms are still possible, especially at higher elevations through May although most of the snow is usually gone from the Valley by late April. Some trails are still closed due to ice or snow, even rockfall danger, but many are open. Mariposa Grove usually opens in late March or early April barring no late season snowstorms. Crowds also begin to pick up during this season, exploding around the last weekend in May.
Favorite thing Summer in Yosemite brings hoardes of people. Many reports and books tend to exaggerate the traffic problem saying things like "bumper to bumper traffic jams." Yes, it does get slow going at times, but you can usually keep moving. The waterfalls either slow to just a trickle or disappear altogether by late summer. Bridalviel, Vernal, and Nevada Falls are the only yea-round waterfalls in the valley. Room rates are at their peak. And daytime temperatures in Yosemite Valley can often make it into the 90s (Farenheit). The only reason I could think of that you should visit Yosemite in the summer is if it's the only time you can go because of kids being in school. Otherwise go in spring if you want waterfalls or late September into October if you want pleasant weather and still have access to the high country.
Favorite thing Autumn is a beautiful time in Yosemite. The crowds of summer are gone, the weather is still pleasant and warm, the winter rains and snows haven't arrived, and lodging rates are low. The only bad thing about Autumn is, until the first rains of the season come, the waterfalls are minimal if there at all. Autumn storms leave behind low hanging clouds hugging the cliff walls of the valley making for unforgettable picture oppritunities. October is a beautiful time as the weather is still warm and the high country and Glacier Point are still open.
My trip to Yosemite wasn't as sunny as the first picture makes you think. I was out of luck with the weather when I arrived in Yosemite National Park. It was raining and very clouded as you can see in this picture. This magnificent rock is called 'El Captain'
Favorite thing Visiting Yosemite my second time was in the
Spring of 2002. What a difference a season makes! The Vernal Trail, which had been hot and following a trickle of a Vernal Falls was now cool and rumbling with the roar of the winter snow-melt.
Favorite thing Temperatures in April can range between 32 (freezing) and 66 (relatively pleasant), but the weather can go from gorgeous to dangerous in a matter of an hour - very unpredictable, still, in April.
That being said, I don't want to discourage you from going because it's a beautiful time of the year, waterfalls are flowing strongly as the snow is well into melting (although High Country areas such as Glacier Point and Tuolumne will likely not open until the end of May), and it's a more quiet time than later in the summer when the majority of tourists are in the valley ("a little more civilized by then").
Just come prepared for the vagaries of early Spring in the High Sierras!
All of the hotels and lodges in the valley, as well as Wawona, are open - for high-end luxury you've got the Ahwahnee & the Wawona Hotel; for mid-price there's Yosemite Lodge at the Falls; and for less expensive take a look at Curry Village. You can get unheated tents at Curry Village for around $60, or heated tents for around $120 - both include breakfast. See: http://www.yosemitepark.com/default.aspx for more information.
Hope this helps - I love Yosemite at any time of the year, as long as I've brought along the right clothes! :-)
Fondest memory Camping in November with our two boys (13 & 8 at the time), sitting by the campfire of an evening, listening to the haunting strains of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" played by our older son on his flute; then hearing the other campers spontaneously applaud as the last note floated away.
Fondest memory The elevations/altitudes within the park can get pretty high. While the weather may be nice at the lower elevations, you may encounter changing conditions while driving up to the higher elevations. Fog and snow can appear suddenly out of nowhere. Also, be aware of the decreased oxygen at higher elevations, which some people may find sensitive to. The temperature will drop significantly as you climb higher, so definitely have jackets or coats in your car.