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Why Visit Yosemite in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall

… This is a guest post by Andrew Lowen from the Yosemite Gateway Chalet …

Yosemite National Park was the first area of land in America that the government preserved for the sake of the public, and it was instrumental in the creation of the national parks system as it exists today.

The park is known for majestic landmarks such as the giant sequoia groves, towering waterfalls, and the largest granite monolith in the country, El Capitan.

Gorgeously blue glacial lakes and subalpine meadows coloured with wildflowers create exceptionally beautiful views in summer, but there’s plenty to see and do in every season.

Here’s my guide to making the most out of this stunning park at any time of year.

Yosemite National Park in Spring

As it starts to shrug off its winter coat in April, the park comes alive again. Although the Tioga and Glacier Point Roads are still blocked by snow, and the wildlife hasn’t really emerged, this is the best time of year to see the waterfalls in full flow. They reach their peak around June, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy another added bonus of the extra water: rafting. As the flow changes on the Merced River, so does the difficulty of the course; Yosemite Valley provides a smoother ride for beginners.

Empty road along snow covered forest, mountains looming in the distance.

Snow melt can increase success in gold panning as well, which you can try in various spots around the park. Some companies provide all the necessary equipment, and give you guidance on the best technique.

In spring, some of the hiking trails start to open, although you can still enjoy the snowy landscape. Flowers such as redbud and dogwood start to bloom in May, and the park gets more visitors; arrive early to get ahead of the crowds.

Pack for a range of temperatures, as winter storms aren’t entirely unexpected even when the weather has started to get sunny and warm. If you’re driving into and around the park, bring tire chains, just in case.

At this time of year, a great place to stay is Tenaya Lodge although you’ll need to book early to secure a room. It’s a perfect base for exploring the local hiking trails, Mariposa Grove and the town of Mariposa itself. There’s even a zipline adventure nearby. Aching muscles can be soothed afterwards at the Lodge’s Ascent Spa.

Summer times in Yosemite

Summer in the park is from June until September, and is the busiest season, meaning that popular areas can get crowded, and queues into the park increase. Temperatures rise, leading to occasional thundershowers in the afternoon, making a raincoat a sensible additional to your luggage. Waterfalls can still run dry, though, making the meadows the best places to go, particularly from July onwards when a rainbow of subalpine flowers start to bloom.

This is also the peak time of year for outdoor activities. The golf course is open from late spring until early fall, and rock climbing classes take place from mid-April until October. Favorable conditions on the trails make bike rentals and horseback riding an attractive proposition.

Yosemite Gateway Chalet, image Andrew Lowen

Continue to make the most of the outdoors by taking advantage of the many camping spots around the park. Half Dome Village is in a great location, and has a range of accommodation, from motels to cabins; park your RV up at Yosemite Mariposa KOA for pizza and a pool; or choose the Sunrise High Sierra Camp for vivid sunrises and convenient proximity to hiking trails. At night, you can discover the starry sky, unblemished by the lights of civilisation. Free at any time of year, summer sees many amateur astronomers gather to point their telescopes at the stars, and various astronomy walks are offered around the park.

If you don’t book early enough, you could miss out on the campsites, but there are other options outside of the park boundary that make the extra drive worth it. In June Lake, booking at the luxury Yosemite Gateway Chalet allows you to enjoy the area’s hiking, fishing and bird-watching opportunities. Famous spots like Devils Postpile National Monument and Bodie State Historical Park aren’t far away, either, and there are nearby hot springs, too.

When Autumn Leaves are Falling

October and November are actually two of the best months to visit the park. Most areas are fully accessible, although snow can cause short-term closures to roads, and the number of visitors declines greatly.

You’re likely to see more of the locals though, and by that, I mean the wildlife. Marmots, bears and golden eagles can be spotted at this time of year, giving you another reason to indulge in some photography. The other reason is the autumnal colours, which although sparse among the evergreens, make for a beautiful contrast.

The only drawback to this season is that you have to pack for all weathers – every combination of wet, dry, hot and cold. You should make sure your car has the right gear for Yosemite in winter, too.

Fall colours in Yosemite National Park, image Sonny Abesamis https://flic.kr/p/Uad5Tz

If you do have your car, use it to stay at Big Trees Lodge. It’s a charming Victorian inn ideal for enjoying the autumn leaves. On colder days, there’s a crackling fire to snuggle up near, and it’s great for families, too. The small grocery store on-site is particularly convenient. This does all mean it’s quite popular, though, so you’d need to book far in advance of your stay.

Embracing Yosemite in Winter

Winter in Yosemite is long, lasting from December through to March. It’s cold and snowy, so hiking is limited, but there are plenty of winter sports to try out instead. From the simple fun of building snowmen and snowshoeing, to ice-skating, sledding and skiing, there’s fun for all ages.

Some of the roads close, but tours inside the park still run. The Valley Floor Tour swaps its open-air tram for a heated coach with panoramic windows. There’s no better way to see the frozen landscape.

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Once the waterfalls begin running again, it’s a countdown to a spectacular event that only happens once a year. To view the firefalls, go in February as the setting sun lights up El Capitan, and you’ll witness the water seem to transform into lava before your eyes.

For the Christmas season, Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh Company offers sleigh rides in association with Tenaya Lodge. The rides come with full jingle bells and fireside treats – perfect for warming up on a chilly day.

Another way to get warm in Yosemite in winter is by visiting The Majestic Yosemite (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel), with its grand stone fireplaces. It might feel strange to visit a hotel, but there are tours of the impressive building, and you can get lunch afterwards. Special events are held here, too: the Bracebridge Dinner, A Taste of Yosemite and The Grand Grape Celebration.

The Bracebridge Dinner is a tradition dating back to 1927. Every December, the hotel holds this comedic take on 17th century English Christmas traditions, which feels like stepping into a re-enaction. Carols and candlelight envelope diners in the festive spirit as they enjoy a four-hour combined feast and performance.

Visiting Yosemite in winter has its advantages, image Andrew Lowen

A Taste of Yosemite is a more modern affair, with famous chefs from across America coming together to give demonstrations and cook traditional food with a twist. The event culminates in a five-course dinner, where exceptional cuisine is paired with the best wines. It takes place six times over the course of January, but books out fast.

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Similarly, the Grand Grape Celebration pairs the best in food and wine, but the emphasis is naturally on the latter. There are opportunities to try the latest vintages and aged favourites from across California, and a reception to give guests ample time to talk with their creators. Most of the dates are actually in November, but it’s a great way to celebrate the changing of the seasons into December.

Although there’s plenty to enjoy there, staying at The Majestic is rather expensive, so why not try Yosemite Valley Lodge? Its location makes it close enough to easily attend the events at the Majestic, and it’s perfectly for a short walk to see the firefalls at Yosemite Falls. In winter, it’s great value for money, and the Lodge is family friendly, too.

The activities on offer at Yosemite change with the landscape as it evolves throughout the year. Whenever you can make it, there’s plenty to discover. The only question is, which season to choose?

Andrew Lowen and his family have been a part of the June Lake community since 1968, where they now own a Yosemite Gateway Chalet. They love June Lake and are eager to share the experience with those who appreciate the grandeur that the Eastern Sierras have to offer.

This post contains some affiliate links, so if you click on a link and book something I will get a little something to help pay those blogging bills, but don’t worry, it’s no extra cost to you.

Valentine Lake Yosemite, image Andrew Lowen

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