Home to towering granite peaks, iconic views, giant sequoias, and some of the tallest waterfalls in the United States, Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in California.
While there is no such thing as a “bad season” to explore Yosemite, October & November is my favorite time, especially after a rainfall when the Yosemite waterfalls are flowing full with water. Visiting Yosemite in October also offers the opportunity to see stunning fall colors that is a rare opportunity for California residents.
If you’re considering traveling to Yosemite in the fall, our guide shares how to time your trip and all the best things to do in this incredible park!
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Guide To Visiting Yosemite In October:
- Timing Yosemite Fall Colors
- How Many Days Do You Need
- Yosemite Weather In October
- Yosemite Entrance Fees
- Where To Stay
- What To Pack
- Things To Do In Yosemite In Fall
Timing Yosemite Fall Colors
If you’re planning to visit Yosemite in October or November, it’s a good chance that you’ll see some incredible fall foliage. But planning fall road trips can be a bit tricky especially if you want to arrive for peak fall colors.
I’ve been to Yosemite in the fall a couple of times, and sometimes it can be a hit or miss. The best way to catch peak colors is by using a Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
This has been my go-to road trip planning tool for years and so far it has been pretty accurate. Before heading out to Yosemite I’ll also browse through recent photos on the AllTrails hiking app and Instagram (psst! Easiest way is to look up #Yosemite or search by location).
This year Yosemite’s fall peak colors occurred on the last week of October and the first week of November. Each year this might slightly change, depending on weather factors like fires, heat, and rain.
We also got lucky with unexpected rainfall and the waterfalls were flowing in October and November which is quite rare. I’ve been to Yosemite in the fall on other trips when the waterfalls were completely dry or down to a slow trickle.
As an added bonus, after the summer ends Yosemite’s crowds also start clearing out, and often you might find yourself hiking and exploring Yosemite in complete solitude. In the fall Yosemite also lifts its entrance limitations so you might not need to book entrance tickets ahead of time.
Visitor tip: Always check Entrance Reservation limits before heading out to Yosemite as these requirements have been changing year to year!
How Many Days Do You Need
I could spend endless time in Yosemite and never get tired of it! That’s one of the reasons why I keep returning to this park year after year and always find something new to explore.
If you’re planning a quick vacation, 2-3 days is a good amount of time to explore some of Yosemite’s main highlights and hike a few quick trails. If you can put aside more time, many long-distance hikes lead to jaw-dropping destinations but do take all day to complete.
Yosemite Weather In October
One of the best parts about traveling in California is our incredible weather that stays warm even far into the fall months. Yosemite weather in October typically stays in the ’70s during the day and low 40’s at night.
Here are a few things to keep in mind about visiting Yosemite in October:
- As soon as the sun goes down in the mountains, the temperatures drop significantly.
- Be prepared for anything in the fall months. Even on short day hikes I bring along an alpine jacket, a pair of gloves, and a beanie in case the hikes take longer than expected.
- I always carry several water bottles. For longer hikes I also like to pack a Sawyer water filter in case I run out of water (although many of the water sources dry up in the fall months).
- In the fall and winter months, Yosemite operates with limited staff. This could mean longer rescue times if something goes wrong. Always download an offline hiking app and tell someone where you’re heading before setting out on trails.
Yosemite Entrance Fees
The entrance cost to visit Yosemite National Park stays the same year-round, even as some trails and facilities close during the off-season.
The current fee to visit Yosemite National Park is $35 per car and $30 for a motorcycle for a 7-day pass.
As an alternative, you can also purchase America The Beautiful Annual Pass for $80. This is the pass that I have and it grants you unlimited entry into any US National Park for a year. In the past year, I have been traveling to US National Parks quite a bit and this pass has paid itself off many times over.
Where To Stay
Yosemite offers many incredible accommodation choices that stay open through the fall season including campsites, cabins, motel-style rooms, and hotels.
On my most recent fall trip in Yosemite, we stayed in these cozy Canvas Tent Cabins in Curry Village. We booked the heated tent cabin which came with a heater – perfect for the cooler months.
In October the heated tent cabin cost us only $120 a night so it’s cheaper than getting a hotel, but a step above camping in a tent. These canvas tent cabins sleep up to 4 people so it’s perfect for families or friends that want to split the cost.
Other popular Yosemite accommodations include:
- Campgrounds – you can reserve Yosemite campgrounds through the Recreation.gov website, although they do fill up quickly. If you plan to camp in Yosemite in October, be prepared for cold nights and bring proper camping gear that will keep you warm.
- Yosemite Valley Lodge – this lodge is centrally located inside Yosemite Valley near Lower Yosemite Falls and offers 245 comfortable rooms along with a season pool, restaurant and a bar.
- The Ahwahnee – this is a majestic hotel within Yosemite National Park and is a great option if you’re looking for a luxury stay.
- Wawona Hotel – the Wawona Hotel is a Victorian-style lodge from 1856 that is situated near Yosemite’s south entrance.
- Tenaya Lodge – located just 2 miles from Yosemite National Park, the Tenaya Lodge is surrounded by rustic nature yet features modern amenities such as a spa and gourmet on-site restaurant. This hotel is also pet-friendly!
You can also rent a private vacation home near Yosemite if you’re looking for more comfort and space. Many of the vacation homes include great amenities like fully stocked kitchens, BBQs, hot tubs, and fireplaces.
What To Pack
Here are a few things that we recommend bringing along to make your Yosemite trip safer and more enjoyable:
- Wear sturdy hiking boots to prevent slips and falls. Falling is one of the main reasons for injuries and fatalities in Yosemite.
- Hiking Poles – if you’re planning to do any of the steeper day hikes, hiking poles can provide support and stability to finish the trails safely.
- Insect repellant– even in the colder months the bugs in Yosemite can be pretty relentless and follow you around for hours.
- Headlamp – A headlamp is a must if you plan to explore Yosemite before sunrise or after sunset.
- Adventure medical kit – emergencies always happen when least expected. REI sells compact ultralight emergency kits that are easy to bring in a day pack.
- Portable phone charger – in case your phone runs out of battery while out exploring the park.
- Day pack – I have a small day pack from REI that fits all of my necessities and is very light so it’s easy to bring along.
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Things To Do In Yosemite In Fall
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Yosemite in October & November. I’ve been to Yosemite during the fall season a couple of times and it’s such a magical experience!
While some of the higher elevation roads like Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road close for the winter, there is still plenty to see and do within the Yosemite Valley. Here are some of my favorite viewpoints, attractions, and hikes in Yosemite National Park in the fall!
Lower Yosemite Falls
Sitting at 2425 feet in height, Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the United States AND the world. This waterfall is fed by melting snow so typically the water volume is the highest in spring and starts diminishing towards the fall months. Luckily, we got to visit Yosemite Falls in October after recent rain when the waterfall was flowing with full force again.
To get up close to Lower Yosemite Falls you can follow a flat and paved 1-mile-long loop that leads to the waterfall base where you can marvel at this soaring beauty. Lower Yosemite Falls is a highly visited attraction in Yosemite and is accessible all year long.
Half Dome is Yosemite’s most recognizable granite formation that is located on the eastern side of Yosemite Valley. There are many great places to enjoy the views of Half Dome throughout the park.
For the best sunset views head over to the Sentinel Bridge that has a picture-perfect vantage point of Half Dome reflected in the Merced River.
El Capitan is a massive granite block that stretches high above the trees and is very popular for rock climbing. Visitors can also seek out trails and picnic areas to enjoy views of El Capitan from its base.
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area offers incredible views of El Capitan from its shores or you can take the Valley Loop Trail for different perspectives of this towering monolith.
Tunnel View is one of the most iconic viewpoints in all of Yosemite. This is the first viewpoint coming into Yosemite and the last stop on your way out.
Tunnel View offers direct and unobstructed views of some of the park’s major highlights including El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Falls that will leave you in awe.
After stopping by Tunnel View, Bridalveil Falls is the first waterfall that you’ll see when driving into Yosemite National Park. Currently, Bridalveil Falls is undergoing a restoration project so the trails that lead to the waterfall are closed, but you can pull over and see its majestic beauty from the road.
Bridalveil Falls drops 620 feet from the top of the canyon rim. This waterfall is typically best seen in Spring and Summer when it’s full of flowing water, but it is one of the few year-round waterfalls in Yosemite while other waterfalls typically dry up in the fall & winter seasons.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail explores some of the best parts of Yosemite National Park and offers up-close views of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Sentinel Rocks, and many other highlights. This trail travels through the Yosemite Valley floor and you have the option to do the full loop or a half loop which is only 6 miles in total.
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is located in lower elevation so it’s accessible all year round. This makes it a great trail option during the colder months when many other hikes in Yosemite are closed for the season.
We hiked the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail in late October and the scenery was just unreal. Many of the lower elevation trees like Bigleaf Maple and Black Oak change colors to bright yellows and oranges while the higher elevation alpine trees stay evergreen.
If you want to enjoy the classic Yosemite views without the painful elevation gains that most Yosemite trails entail, the Yosemite Valley Loop is for you!
Yosemite Valley View
Yosemite Valley View is one of my favorite viewpoints that you can see on your way out of the park. This viewpoint is framed by the valley floor and Merced River and looks stunning no matter what time of the year you visit it. The Merced River here is full of scenic rocks and boulders that have been carried down by the river from cliff walls.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Yosemite Valley View as you exit Yosemite National Park because the road here travels one way and it’s easy to miss it!
The short yet steep Mist Trail is a popular day hike in Yosemite and for a good reason! Follow the Mist Trai and spend your day hiking around waterfalls and trails that display incredible fall colors.
If you’re short on time opt to do the 3 miles long trail to Vernal Falls. If your legs feel rested and are looking for a challenge, add on Nevada Falls for a 6-mile long loop.
Note: Depending on when you visit Yosemite National Park, portions of this trail can be closed due to dangerous conditions. I recommend checking out the Yosemite National Park website or AllTrails hiking app for the latest updates.
Cook’s Meadow Loop
Cook’s Meadow Loop ventures through the eastern part of Yosemite Valley where you can enjoy views of scenic meadows, towering granite cliffs, and the famous Yosemite waterfalls.
Cook’s Meadow Loop is a great hike for first-time Yosemite visitors that want to get an overall sense of Yosemite National Park.
Cook’s Meadow Loop is 1-2 miles long and mostly flat which makes it a wonderful trail for families with kids. Often you can spot deer leisurely munching on grass, leaves, and plants that grow in Cook’s Meadow.
Mirror Lake is a quick hike that offers some of the best views of Half Dome from its base. The trail to Mirror Lake is only 2-miles round trip and you have the option to take a dirt trail or a paved path. This is a wonderful hike to do in October as the trees surrounding Mirror Lake turn to stunning hues of yellows and oranges.
In spring and early summer Mirror Lake is full of water offering mirror-like reflections of the surrounding scenery. I’ve also been to Mirror Lake in the fall season when the pond is completely dry and you’re able to walk around the sandy riverbed.
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
If you’re looking for a challenging day hike, consider hiking the Columbia Rock & Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. We’ve done this trek as part of our Eagle Peak backpacking trip and the views were just phenomenal!
The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail starts at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley and climbs 2700 feet over 3.6 miles to the top of Upper Falls. This trail is accessible year-round although portions towards the summit can become icy when the temperatures start dropping.
The Ahwahnee is an upscale hotel located within Yosemite Valley. Even if you have accommodations elsewhere, The Ahwahnee is a wonderful place to visit in the afternoon to explore its gardens, stop by the gift shop, or enjoy lunch on its outdoor patio.
The Ahwahnee Hotel was built in 1927 and cost over 1.5 million in construction to create a luxury hotel with the hope to attract wealthy park patrons and donors. Over the years this stunning hotel has welcomed many park guests including presidents, movie stars, royalty, and celebrities.
Yosemite Valley Chapel
The Yosemite Valley Chapel is one of the oldest structures in Yosemite National Park and is still an operational church to this date. Yosemite Valley Chapel was built in 1879 and is the only original building left from the Old Yosemite Village.
This location offers wonderful opportunities for photography with the chapel and granite mountains as its backdrop. You can also walk around the church for different dramatic perspectives of Yosemite Valley.
Explore some of the best fall colors in Yosemite by spending an afternoon relaxing in a picnic area. Swinging Bridge Picnic Area is our favorite where you can roam around Merced River, go on serene trails, and walk across the Swinging Bridge.
Pssst! Spoiler alert – this bridge doesn’t actually swing but it does connect both sides of the Yosemite Valley for a safe crossing of the Merced River. As you walk across the bridge you will be greeted with picture-perfect views of Yosemite Falls from afar.
Mariposa Grove is an area near the south Yosemite entrance that is home to some of the largest Sequoia trees in California. This section is a bit different than the rest of the park which mostly consists of granite peaks and waterfalls.
The main road that leads to the Mariposa Grove trails is often closed in the off-season requiring visitors to hike extra 2 miles each way from the welcome center to the trail starting point. You should plan to set aside a few hours to half a day if you plan to visit Mariposa Grove in the fall.
Visiting Yosemite National Park in October is one of my favorite times to enjoy fall colors and incredible scenery. Empty trails, colorful fall foliage, and peaceful bliss will refresh your soul and get you ready for the colder winter months!
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