If you’re planning on visiting the world-famous Yosemite National Park in California and wondering when the best time to visit is, I can tell you that FALL is one of the best times to visit!! Being a California native, I’ve been to Yosemite many times, but somehow never visited in the Fall at just the right time to witness the absolute MAGIC of this Autumn nature wonderland!! With orange, yellow, red and bronze leaves everywhere, the classic unrivaled beauty of the park, and the waterfalls – the park is simply spectacular!! And best of all, there are almost NO CROWDS! In this post, I’ll share with you what I consider the best places to see Fall colors at Yosemite, the best photography spots, when the best time to visit is, and also some of the photos I took there in the Fall. You’ll see that Yosemite in the Fall just can’t be beat! 🍁
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When is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite for Fall Colors?
Mid-October to early November are typically the best times to visit Yosemite to see the park covered in golden Autumn tones. Fall colors can be found at Yosemite from early October to mid or late November, depending on rain, storms, wind, etc. Many of the park’s trees are evergreen, but, as the park website notes, big-leaf maples, black oaks, Pacific dogwoods, and other deciduous trees tend to be showy around mid-October. Yellow leaves from local quaking aspens and white alder, vibrant reds from the sugar maples and dogwood, and orange leaves from the oak trees, along with the evergreens, gives us a full spectrum of Autumn color in Yosemite, if only for a few weeks.
During this magical time, you’ll experience unrivaled scenery surrounded by golden and orange leaves, moderate temperatures and very few crowds! Even better if the waterfalls are gushing, which doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, you should try your hardest to make a trip! If you’re flexible with time, then visiting during the weekday would be even better for even fewer people and to feel like you have the whole park to yourself sometimes!
fyi – these photos were taken at the end of October 2021 after a rainstorm that sent the waterfalls flowing!
The Best Places to See Fall Colors at Yosemite
Yosemite Valley is the best place to see Fall colors in Yosemite! Everywhere you look there will be breathtaking views of Fall colors framing the iconic sights of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Every view is stunning beyond words! Even the drive into the park along Southside Drive will be gasp-worthy at every turn. At higher elevations, the trees are mostly evergreens, so you won’t see the same golden tones as you would in the Valley. Inside the Valley, the easy 1-mile Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow Loop and the 6.5-mile Valley Loop Trail (half-loop) will show you the best that Yosemite has to offer in the Fall.
Here are a few more suggestions, some of which are outside the Valley.
- Cook’s Meadow – a beautiful open meadow filled with Fall colors between Northside Drive and Sentinel Bridge. Located in the heart of Yosemite Valley, this meadow has stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. I love this area!
- Yosemite Valley View – for a classic and stunning view of the valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls and Cathedral Rocks on the right and the Merced River in the front – all with beautiful Fall colors. Located along Northside Drive. Note – Northside Drive is a one-way road leading out of the park, but you can turn back to Southside Drive and the Valley by making a left turn nearby. Tunnel View offers a higher up view of the entire valley, but it’s often covered in fog/mist during this time of year.
- Any of the picnic areas in Yosemite Valley – Swinging Bridge Picnic Area, Cathedral Picnic Area, Sentinel Beach Picnic Area – all have beautiful views and colors in the Fall!
- Scenic drives – the drive into the park on Southside Drive itself is stunning at every turn. Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are also famous for their yellow aspens.
- Wawona Village, where there are beautiful Fall colors from oaks and cottonwood. I haven’t been to this area in the Fall but would love to!
The Best Photo Spots for Fall Colors at Yosemite
Here’s my list of the best places to photograph Fall colors at Yosemite. I’ve included a partial map of Yosemite Valley with some of the locations below. A full park map and a valley map are available from the park website. It’s impossible to pick a favorite spot since they’re all so beautiful!
- Sentinel Bridge – for a classic view of Half Dome and the Merced River with the golden Fall colors along with the evergreens.
- Near Superintendent’s Bridge – for a view of Half Dome and Sentinel Bridge with reflections from Merced River. My feature photo above is from this area!
- Yosemite Valley View – for a classic and stunning portrait of the valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls and Cathedral Rocks on the right and the Merced River in the front – all with beautiful Fall colors. Located along Northside Drive. Note – Northside Drive is a one-way road leading out of the park, but you can turn back to Southside Drive and the Valley by making a left turn nearby.
- Cook’s Meadow – a beautiful open meadow filled with Fall colors between Northside Drive and Sentinel Bridge. Located in the heart of Yosemite Valley, with stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. The pictures I took here are some of my favorite photos ever!
- Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail in Yosemite Valley – there are multiple spots along this loop with stunning views of Fall colors framing Yosemite Falls and the granite mountains. There are so many photo opportunities here!
- Swinging Bridge Picnic Area – we loved this area for the tree-framed views of Yosemite Falls, the mountain reflections in the river, and the picturesque bridge.
- Yosemite Chapel – for colorful leaves surrounding this iconic building. The meadow next to it is also a great photo opportunity!
- Wawona Village – the village is known to have beautiful Fall colors from oaks and cottonwood.
- View of the “Three Brothers” from the Cathedral Picnic area, for a unique and striking photo of a Yosemite feature that’s a favorite of photographers.
- Bonus – Hiking trails right next to Yosemite Valley Lodge. We found some great Fall colors along the trails of a wooded area right next to Yosemite Valley Lodge. (see pic below)
Yosemite Travel Tips for the Fall
- The best time to visit for Fall colors is mid-October to early November, especially if there’s been recent rain to fill the waterfalls.
- Waterfalls may be dry or may be gushing, depending on whether there’s been recent rain. We were super lucky to visit after a big rainstorm that resulted in gushing waterfalls along with Fall colors.
- Always check the park website for current conditions and advisories, including road closures. Some roads may be closed – Tioga Pass Road and Glacier Point Road in particular may be closed depending on weather conditions.
- Weather – the temperatures in October are usually mild with sunny or partially overcast days and cooler evenings. However, always be prepared for wet weather and always check the weather forecast to be prepared. The park website has a map with links to current conditions in different areas of the park.
Per the park website “Yosemite receives 95% of its precipitation between October and May (and over 75% between November and March). Most of Yosemite is blanketed in snow from about November through May. (Yosemite Valley can be rainy or snowy in any given winter storm.)”
- Consider staying at the Yosemite Valley Lodge! It’s location right in the heart of the Valley can’t be beat, and there’s a very convenient cafeteria for all your meals. There are cheaper options outside the park, but in terms of convenience and ability to easily access photo sites early in the morning or later in the evening, or the ease of returning to your room for whatever reason in the middle of the day, this hotel can’t be beat!
- Download maps before you go! The park website has several maps of the park and the valley available for download.
- Cellular signal is sporadic in the Valley, but Wi-Fi is available to guests at The Ahwawhnee, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and Wawona Hotel.
My New YouTube Channel!
I recently started a new YouTube channel! If you love nature, flowers and gardens as much as I do, make sure to give me a follow there! 💛 I’ve included one of my videos below. 😊🌸🌿
Step Inside a Fairytale Rose Garden!
This secret rose garden is full of blooming roses, rose terraces, rose walls, rose pillars, and even a rose-covered gazebo straight out of a fairytale! 🌸
It’s my first video for YouTube – I hope you like it! 🙂
My camera & video gear
Photo tip: You can get a free trial or extend your current subscription of an Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan with the purchase of a Seagate external hard drive!
Most of the photos on this blog through 2022 were taken with a Nikon D750 (latest model D780 shown above).
My favorite lens ever. This Nikon 105mm lens is amazing for portrait & flower photography. An 85mm lens would be great also.
Thank you for stopping by my blog! I hope you found this post useful, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Hi, I’m Pansy!
Hello, thanks for stopping by! I’m Pansy, California-based travel blogger, photographer and lover of ALL the pretty flowers! You may notice that most of my travels, photography & DIY center around flowers and nature! 🌸🌼🌿
I recently started a YouTube channel where I feature walks through beautiful gardens, parks & flower fields! Make sure to follow me there if you love flowers & gardens! 😊