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Best time to visit Yosemite National Park

Breathtaking views and giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

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Half dome in Yosemite with foreground trees

Yosemite National Park spans about 1,200 miles along the border between California and Nevada, and welcomes more than 4 million visitors each year. It’s home to El Capitan, a vertical wall famous for being the ultimate rock-climbing conquest, and has over 800 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore.

Is Yosemite National Park open?

Yes — Yosemite is doing a phased reopening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with restrictions. Through October 2020, it plans to limit the number of vehicles entering the park to 3,600 daily, which is a 50% reduction compared to last year. Most campgrounds are closed, though two are still open.

To enter the park, you must either have a day-use reservation, which you can purchase in advance, or another acceptable reservation or permit. Be sure to check the park’s website in advance, to understand exactly how your visit will be affected.

Best time of year to visit Yosemite National Park

The best time to visit Yosemite depends on your personal preference. Here, we break it down by weather and affordability:

Spring and summer

Yosemite is busiest from March to October, when the mountain passes are open and the weather is temperate. Accommodations are the priciest during this time, though you can save money by visiting in April, May, September or October, when summertime tourists are at bay.

Expect temperatures ranging from 70°F to 90°F.

Fall and winter

    From November to February, the average temperature in Yosemite is between 30°F to 50°F. The park is still open, as are four campgrounds. You should be able to go hiking, but it depends on the weather conditions prior to your arrival.

    If you don’t mind bundling up — and dealing with possible snowfall — Yosemite can be an amazing experience during this time. There’ll be fewer people and accommodations will likely be cheaper, thanks to off-season pricing.

    • Tioga road is impassable between October and May.

    Yosemite park hours

    Yosemite National Park and campgrounds are open 24/7, though its restaurants, lodges and other facilities all have specific hours. Use the national park website to plan your visit accordingly.

    What is there to do in Yosemite?

    Yosemite offers all the classic outdoorsy activities you’d expect from a National Park — camping, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, kayaking, birdwatching and more. During your visit, you won’t want to miss:

    Yosemite Valley

    At one mile wide and eight miles long, Yosemite Valley is the most popular destination in the park, carved by an ancient glacier and framed by majestic cliffs with Bridal Veil Falls flowing and scenic views of Half Dome in the east, and El Capitan in the west. There are nine hikes out of Yosemite Valley, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

    • Two movies have been made about El Capitan in the last decade: Free Solo and The Dawn Wall.

    Mariposa Grove

    Mariposa Grove is a forest in Yosemite with over 500 sequoias. It’s worth seeing because sequoias are the world’s largest trees, with enormously wide trunks and very little taper toward the top. Gaze up at two of the largest trees in the world — the Washington tree and the Grizzly Giant.

    • Fun fact: The Grizzly Giant is estimated to be between 1,900 to 2,400 years old

    There are four hikes in Mariposa Grove worth noting:

    • Big Trees Loop — less than a mile
    • Grizzly Giant Loop Trail — 2 miles
    • Guardians Loop Train — 6.5 miles
    • Mariposa Grove Trail — 7 miles

    How much does it cost?

    Here’s how much it costs to visit Yosemite National Park:

    Cheap Midrange Luxury
    Entry On foot:
    • $20
    By car:
    • $35
    By car:
    • $35
    Accomodations Campsite:
    • $26 nightly
    Hotel room:
    • $150 nightly
    Vacation rental:
    • $175+ nightly
    Activities Hiking:
    • Free
    Fishing permit:
    • $52 for CA residents
    • $140 for nonresidents

    Raft rental:

    • $30 per person
    Guided day tour:
    • $160 per person

    Yosemite discounts

    Save some cash by taking advantage of these Yosemite discounts:

    • US citizens or permanent residents affected by permanent disabilities get in free.
    • Seniors can buy an annual pass for $20, or a lifetime pass for $80.
    • Active US military members and dependents get an annual pass for free.
    • 4th-graders and their families get in free by signing up for the Every Kid Outdoors program.

    Yosemite free days

    Entrance to Yosemite is free on select days. In 2020, visiting Yosemite is free on:

    • January 20: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • April 18: First day of National Park Week.
    • August 25: National Park Service Birthday.
    • September 26: National Public Lands Day.
    • November 11: Veterans Day.

    How to get to Yosemite

    Yosemite is located directly east of San Francisco in California, along the Nevada border. There are five entrances:

    1. Hetchy Hetch — northernmost western entrance, tends to be quieter.
    2. Big Oak Flat — Direct route from the Bay Area.
    3. Arch Rock — Also a fairly direct route from San Francisco.
    4. South Entrance — Southwest entrance, best if you’re starting in LA or San Diego.
    5. Tioga Pass — Eastern entrance, for travelers coming from Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas.

    Flights to Yosemite

    The closest commercial airports to Yosemite are:

    • Merced Airport (MCE)
    • Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT)
    • Mammoth Yosemite Airport (NMH)
    • Stockton Metropolitan (SCK)
    • Oakland International (OAK)
    • Sacramento International (SMF)
    • San Jose International (SJC)
    • San francisco International (SFO)
    • Reno/Tahoe International (RNO)

    There’s public transit available from most airports to Yosemite via Amtrack or Greyhound. MCE and FAT offer a bus route called YARTS, with year round service to the park.

    Driving to Yosemite

    It takes about three hours to drive to Yosemite from San Francisco, four hours from LA and nearly seven from Las Vegas. However, driving to Yosemite is gorgeous. And if you start in Las Vegas, you could take a detour through Death Valley National Park, which is well worth the time — think colorful rock formations and Mars-like topography.

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    RV rentals

    Renting an RV can be an exciting way to visit Yosemite, because every campground has space for RVs up to 35 feet — except for White Wolf, which has a 27-foot limit. However, none of these sites offer pull-through parking, so the smaller your RV rental, the better.

    Also, various roads in Yosemite have vehicle size restrictions, due to tunnels or other natural barriers. You’ll want to research this in advance.

    While most Yosemite campgrounds require reservations, there are three first-come, first-serve RV camping sites:

    • Bridal Veil Creek
    • White Wolf
    • Tuolumne Meadows

    There’s also RV camping in nearby Mariposa Country.

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    Where to stay in Yosemite

    Other than camping in a tent or sleeping overnight in an RV, here’s where you can stay when visiting Yosemite:

    • Lodging or hotel. Yosemite Hospitality manages a handful of hotels and lodges within the park, ranging from luxury rooms at The Ahwahnee to the rustic Glacier Point Ski Hut.
    • Cabins and camps. Yosemite has traditional log cabins and canvas-sided tents available for rent, if you’d prefer more of a glamping experience.
    • Vacation rentals. Stay in a private vacation home within park boarders or nearby. Browse Airbnb or Vrbo to rent a tiny house or cabin right from the owner.
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    Our top pics for Airbnbs in Yosemite

    We love these Airbnb rentals in Yosemite for offering an authentic Sierra Nevada experience:

    New Yosemite Tiny Cabin

    New Yosemite Tiny Cabin

    • 4 guests and 2 bedrooms
    • $175+ nightly
    • 20 miles to Yosemite

    Check availability

    Upper Cascade Family Home

    Upper Cascade Family Home

    • 10 guests and 3 bedrooms
    • $539+ nightly
    • Located inside the park

    Check availability

    Bottom line

    Compared to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, Yosemite offers more months of warm weather, endless mountaintop views, and relatively close proximity to the Pacific Coast. It can serve as your ultimate destination or stopover on a more extensive adventure throughout the US.

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