Note: In the 2020 context, a lot is up the air: businesses are opening and closing, fires are wreaking havoc on our state, and everything is in flux. While I do my best to provide informative content reflecting what is presently open, please use your discretion and call or look on the website of any places you are intending to visit before embarking on a trip. Please mask up, distance, and stay safe!

30 Essential Things to Know Before Visiting Yosemite in Fall (Including Fall Hikes!)

Yosemite National Park is open all year long, and each season offers something unique.

Fall is an especially great time to visit the park as it will contain fewer crowds and ample opportunities for leaf-peeping (California has some great fall foliage!). Things begin to quiet down. The beauty is still, and always, mindblowing.

Here are a few tips for planning your Yosemite in fall trip!

Yosemite in Fall: FAQs

Is October a good time to go to Yosemite?

October is when fall foliage in Yosemite is at its peak, so yes, definitely! The temperatures will be cooler because of the altitude, so bundle up, but be prepared to see yellow aspens and glorious red leaves. However, any early snowfall may result in closed roads, so the entire park may not be open.

Is November a good time to visit Yosemite?

By November, most of the leaves will have already changed colors and fallen, though you might still see some foliage in early November. However, this is when snowfall may be more likely, and a few main roads — Tioga and Glacier Point — will be closed.

Does Yosemite have fall colors?

Absolutely! Expect the local quaking aspens and white alder to turn a brilliant yellow, while the sugar maples and dogwood will become a vibrant red. The oaks will turn orange, giving you a full spectrum of autumn color in Yosemite. Tioga Road and Wawona have the best fall colors, typically around the middle of October.

Where to Go in Yosemite in Fall + Road Closures

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase using one of these links.

It would do you well to plan to keep to Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy, or Wawona, and off Tioga Road, as it may be closed if there has been an early snowfall.

Tioga Road closes due to the snow that begins mid to late fall or early winter. Tioga Road gives access to Tuolumne Meadows, so if the road is open, you may want to head there. Just don’t plan on it — go with the flow!

Instead, plan for the opportunity to hike with fewer people around, see some waterfalls, and take a drive around the valley. Taking a drive is a great, relaxing way to view different parts of the valley and receive ample opportunities to view fall foliage.

Be Prepared

If hiking, don’t forget your day pack (our full gear list at the bottom of the article).

It is always good practice to take a day pack, even on short hikes. It is better to be overprepared than underprepared.

Dress in layers and be prepared to have some rain gear just in case the weather takes a turn. Have lots of water and some snacks and food as well.

Fall Foliage in Yosemite

Yosemite is mostly full of coniferous trees, which do not change color in the fall.

However, it also has lots of oaks, maples, and quaking aspen, which are all perfect for finding fall foliage in Yosemite.

Yosemite Waterfalls in Fall

Another thing to consider when visiting Yosemite in fall is the fact that many of Yosemite’s waterfalls run dry by the time fall arrives.

You can still enjoy the valley falls of Vernal Fall, Bridalveil Fall, and Nevada Fall; however, by fall, it may be only a small trickle you will see.

Your chances of seeing these falls and the others increase if you visit just after it rains, so if you can plan your fall in Yosemite with some spontaneity, that may do the trick.

Best Yosemite Valley Fall Hikes

Bridalveil Fall

Start off with a short hike to Bridalveil Fall, only 0.5 miles round trip.

It’s one of the best easy hikes in Yosemite. Hopefully, you will see more than just a trickle here, especially if you come after it rains.

Cook’s Meadow Loop

Then head over to Sentinel Meadow and Cook’s Meadow Loop, a 2.25-mile flat trail with amazing scenery. 

Plus, this trail takes you through the Swinging Bridge Recreation Area of the valley and Sentinel Bridge.

READ NEXT
7 Easy Yosemite Hikes for Beginner Hikers

Sentinel Bridge is a popular spot for viewing the sunset and seeing views of Half Dome reflected in the Merced River: one of the best Yosemite views!

Mirror Lake Trail

One fall Yosemite hike you may want to check out is the Mirror Lake Trail. It is easily accessible from Southside Drive and is not a difficult hike at all.

Take Southside Drive all the way to Happy Isles Loop Road where you can park at the trailhead. The Mirror Lake loop is a 5-mile trail.

The lake tends to begin to dry up by fall, but the views and foliage opportunities make this an excellent Yosemite in fall hike.

4 Mile Hike

If you are looking for a challenging hike, try 4 Mile Trail. Technically, it is 4.8 miles, but who’s counting with all those Yosemite fall views?

This trail leads from the valley to Glacier Point. It is a strenuous climb up of switchbacks, but it also contains some of the best views in the park. View El Capitan, Tenaya Canyon, and Half Dome along the trail.

It is recommended that you take the hiker’s bus up to Glacier Point and actually descend into the valley.

You will end at Swinging Bridge Recreation Area if you start at Glacier Point, so leave a vehicle there and head to the hiker’s bus for easy access and a little less of a strenuous hike.

Or simply experience this trail out and back style for over 10 miles of hearty hiking!

Fall Picnic Spots in Yosemite

I would recommend Sentinel Beach picnic area for more views and a nice place to enjoy a packed lunch.

Upon exiting the park to head towards Wawona, head to the “Gates of the Valley” for an excellent viewpoint on your way out of Yosemite Valley. Revel in this last opportunity to see some fall foliage!

Fall Hikes in Wawona

Wawona is a popular Yosemite area. It is about an hour from Yosemite Valley by car, and it is on the way to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Wawona is a great area for fall foliage and fall Yosemite hikes!

Wawona Meadow Loop Trail

Try hiking the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail, one of the best hikes in Yosemite in fall for foliage and leaf peeping.

The Meadow Loop Trail is 3.5 miles of easy hiking. Begin at Wawona Hotel to access this trail.

Swinging Bridge Loop

For another wonderful Yosemite fall foliage hike, try the Swinging Bridge Loop. This is a 4.8-mile loop trail that is also an easy hike.

Peep maple and oak leaves as they turn red, yellow, and orange.

Chilnualna Falls Trail

For a challenge in the Wawona section of Yosemite, try hiking Chilnualna Falls Trail.

The trailhead is 2 miles up Chilnualna Falls Road. It is 8.2 miles with 2,400 feet in elevation gain. Bring lots of water and snacks for this tough Yosemite hike.

Other Things of Note in Wawona

Wawona is also home to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, an excellent museum area with interactive exhibitions.

Ride on a horse-drawn covered wagon or watch a blacksmith work for in-depth lessons on the history of Pioneer settlers of Yosemite (Ahwahnee in the Native language of Yosemite’s Indigenous stewards).

Mariposa Grove in Fall

Mariposa Grove Road closes at the end of November so it is still accessible for most of autumn, unless an early snowfall has caused a road closure.

Mariposa Grove is worth a visit every time. The trees are massive and the history is rich. There are just a few hikes varying in lengths depending on your desires, plus they are all fairly easy.

However, note that giant sequoias are evergreen trees. The foliage is not the focal point here like it is in other fall Yosemite hikes.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Controversy

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir has a controversial history.

Many were and are still opposed to the building of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which opened in 1923. The reservoir provides drinking water for the residents of the San Francisco Bay area.

“Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life . . . while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music. . . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy!” – John Muir, “The Yosemite”.

Despite this controversy, Hetch Hetchy is a beautiful place to visit.

READ NEXT
40 Inspiring Yosemite Captions for Beautiful Instagram Photos

Head to Hetchy for views of the Hetch Hetchy Valley that seem to mimic the views of Yosemite Valley. View dome-like structures and Wapama Falls.

Hikes in Hetch Hetchy

There are also some great hikes leading from Hetch Hetchy: here are just a few!

Laurel Lake Trail

Laurel Lake is accessible from Hetch Hetchy.

Head north from the dam to Laurel Lake. It’s a 15.4 miles round trip, out and back style hike.

This hike will bring much seclusion as it is not a popular trail, though it is a beautiful one. Enjoy the great reward of relaxing or fishing at the lake!

Rancheria Falls and Tiltill Valley

Another great hiking experience would be to start at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and hike along the reservoir, past Wapama Falls and to Rancheria Falls.

It is 5.4 miles to the Falls. If you want to keep going, continue to Tiltill Valley for amazing views of a Yosemite Meadow, an additional 2.5 miles.

This hike can be muddy at many times of the year, which is why fall is a great time for this adventure. Much of the park is drying out at this time of year.

Wapama Falls

It is nice and easy to just simply hike to Wapama Falls and enjoy the reservoir, the dam, and the old rail tunnel on the way to the falls. It is a beautiful hike.

It is 5 miles out and back round trip and will provide great views of Hetchy Hetchy Valley with its Yosemite fall colors.

Snacks and Supplies near Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area is also home to the Evergreen Lodge. It is about 30 minutes from Hetchy.

They have a restaurant and bar, plus a great store for snacks, supplies, and coffee.

Tuolomne Meadows in Fall

In addition to the three park areas shared with fall Yosemite hikes suggested, there is great hiking in Tuolumne Meadows if the road is open.

Hike to the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne

A quick recommendation for fall hiking here would be to climb down to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

There is a beautiful waterfall at the base of this camp and amazing hiking.

Plus, once at Glen Aulin continue ascending down to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne where one will experience 4 more waterfalls. Keep hiking this trail for 30 miles of backpacking. End at White Wolf.

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is an incredible — but very long — hike!

Summary of Yosemite in Fall

Yosemite and its beauty is endless, especially in fall. It is a great time to enjoy the park without so many other humans around.

The weather is lovely and crisp. The fall foliage will sometimes create the impression of mountains on fire.

It is a unique and blessed time in the park, and it’s the chance for one last hurrah before the silence of the winter snow descends on the park.

Once one visits this amazing location, a piece of their heart is always connected. It is impossible not to be blown away by Yosemite.

Leave No Trace

With that being said, it is imperative that you care for the land. Never, ever leave trash anywhere.

Follow “Leave No Trace” principles and leave the park better than you found it.

Do not feed any animals as this disrupts the ecosystem. Love the land, keep it sacred. Do not hurt mother earth. She gives us so much.

READ NEXT
Exactly Where to Find the 12 Best Views in Yosemite

Be kind and be well.

What to Pack for Yosemite in Fall

Day pack: No need for a giant backpack for these day Yosemite hikes (with the exception of the final hike mentioned, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne)! Just bring a comfortable day pack. Look for something with a mesh back panel, so it’s less hot and sweaty against your back, and something with waist straps and a shoulder strap to help distribute weight. I love the Osprey day pack – it’s cheap but durable, so comfortable, and has all the features you need for a day hike.

Water Filter Bottle: There are a wide variety of water filtration systems and treatments, but for these Yosemite in fall day hikes, I recommend a water bottle with a filtration system set up inside of it. I recommend the GRAYL Geopress. It’s compact and easy to use, and you can refill from anywhere: streams, waterfalls, lakes, you name it, without getting sick. Otherwise, you can only refill at designated drinking water stations in the park.

Food: While you can pick up some snacks at the places mentioned in this post, I suggest bringing your own snacks. Granola bars or protein bars, trail mix, and pre-made sandwiches are all great trail food.

First aid kit: You’ll want to pack a small kit with the things you need — but in my opinion, it’s better to buy a pre-made first aid kit as it’ll likely cover things you might forget. I recommend this HART Weekend First Aid kit, which has extras in case you use something, so you won’t have to replace it as often.

Headlamp (and extra batteries): In case you’re planning any sunset hikes where you may come back after dark, you’ll want a headlamp to keep your hands free as you hike in the dark (trust me, you don’t want to have to rely on the flashlight funciton of your phone – I’ve learned this the hard way before!). This Petzl headlamp is highly-rated and affordable.

Map: You can get a map from the local ranger station or Visitor Center.

Compass: In an absolute worst case scenario, it’s essential to have, and it weighs next to nothing.

GPS: This offline GPS tracker with the ability to emit an SOS call is essential packing if you plan on hiking solo on any of the longer hikes.

Knife: A classic Swiss army knife is a must-have while hiking.

Extra socks: A spare pair is useful in case yours get wet while wading through streams/creeks or walking on muddy trails.

Weather appropriate gear: Pack in thin, breathable layers. For Yosemite fall hiking, it’s easier to modulate temperature if you have one thin thermal, one sweater, and one outer layer, rather than having one thick jacket. Remember, you are at elevation so temperatures will be cooler than you expect in the fall in Yosemite.

Rain gear: A rain jacket is great to have as a just-in-case: nothing ruins a lovely Yosemite fall hike quite like a sudden shower without a rain jacket. I recommend Marmot brand — this men’s jacket is great and stylish, and I have the women’s Marmot Precip (and have had it for years) and love it.

Hiking poles (optional): These lightweight trekking poles from Black Diamond will help you keep your footing on muddy or rocky stretches of trail.

Pin This Guide to Yosemite in Fall!

Leave a Comment