Yosemite

Visiting Yosemite In October

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Fall is my favorite time of year. The crispness of the air, the smell of a wood burning fire and the trees!

Oh the trees!

Trees turning every shade of every color of the rainbow! It really is a gift to humanity from the divine! But, fall in Yosemite is not of this world. For me, it’s something of what heaven might look like when I get there. Perfectly placed mountains that part, highlighting the rushing waterfalls after a soaking autumn rain.

But, I digress.

If you can’t tell, I’m a real fanatic when it comes to traveling in the fall and Yosemite is the pinnacle of autumn excursions in my book!

Will it be cold in Yosemite in fall?

Yes and no. It’s important to remember that Yosemite has an elevation range from 4,000 to 10,000 feet. This means you can have 80 degree weather in the valley while the regions up in Tioga Pass can be much cooler and even get snow in October.

But, generally the weather will be pleasant and you will be able to get away with wearing one layer of clothing with a jacket wrapped around your waist for when the sun starts to set.

If you are going at the end of October, you should be prepared for the weather to turn cold in the higher elevations. Make sure you bring your parka on the off chance that you get a snowstorm while visiting. The number one rule of traveling is being prepared!

Visiting Yosemite In October
Fall in Yosemite Valley

Will there be less people in October?

Yes! This is one of the best aspects of visiting in October. The kids have gone back to school and most people have taken their vacations for the year. With October getting on average of less than 350,000 visitors, it’s a great time to come and enjoy the park. You’ll find better parking and lighter traffic on trails. In Yosemite Valley, parking is almost a nightmare during the summer. In October, you should be able to pull up to any vista view and snag a close parking spot so that you can get out and enjoy the vista before you.

Where are the best places to see fall color in Yosemite?

For you leaf peepers that want to drive by and get a glimpse of fleeting color as you motor along, your best bet will be to look for quaking aspens along roadside stands in Tuolumne Grove, Tioga Road and Yosemite Creek Picnic area. This way you won’t have to get out of the car to enjoy fall.

But if you want some fall color destinations within the park to get out and explore, visit these spots in mid October to mid November and you won’t be disappointed.

Yosemite Valley

The valley is littered with Big Leaf Maple along the wetlands and riparian areas and a in full yellow hues in October. Walk along Sentinel Creek or the Merced River to catch this show.

The dogwoods like to show off their pink and red pigment during this time. Seeing them always remind me of home in the southeast where we have an abundance of dogwood trees.

The cottonwoods in the valley steal the show with their golden explosion of color that always dance in the sunlight. Their black bark contrasts with their fire yellow making the color pop.

The low-lying bushes always add a rainbow of colors in the form of reds, yellows and oranges that are gorgeous against the browning grasses of the meadow.

Glacier Point

Quaking aspens can be spied in some locations here showing off bright orange and yellows. The low lying shrubs dance cohesively and complement them with darker yellows and browns.

Wawona

Here, you will find black oaks boasting dark yellows and oranges, dogwoods showing their reds, pinks and yellows and the cottonwoods exploding again with the bright golden yellow that has made them so famous. The low-growing herbaceous plants add to the scene with reds, oranges and yellows.

Tuolomne

It’s all about the grouseberry and whortleberry in this area, which are low growing vaccinium that sprinkle the area. Look for a few aspens groves as well to add to the view.

Visiting Yosemite In October
Deer in early morning in Yosemite National Park

What might I be missing out on by visiting in October?

October is a gorgeous time of year to visit, but there could be a few challenges or issues with visiting this time of year.

Waterfalls

I know one of the reasons I was so excited about visiting Yosemite the first time, was that I couldn’t wait to see the waterfalls. The grand waterfalls of Yosemite is what draws millions to the park. The rushing water that you see in late spring and early summer is astonishing to witness. Standing in the spray of one of the famous waterfalls in the park is on many bucket lists.

But, by late summer, many of the waterfalls dry to a trickle or they are not running at all. By October, they can be a distant memory until the snow begins to melt the next year.

This may certainly put a damper on your trip if you were looking forward to hiking to a waterfall, only to see there is a dry, shear granite face in its stead.

So, if this is something that is at the top of your list, you may want to schedule your trip for the times mentioned above. The most popular waterfalls will not be rushing and can be dry, but if you are lucky and get a good rain which is possible in October, they will show off by an explosion of water for a day or so.

However, if you are not picky about which waterfalls you see, there are a couple that will have water all year long. You can see Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls all year round. Although the water will diminish a bit in fall, you will always be able to see water flow at these spots.

Road Closures

October is nearing the time of year where precipitation will start to fall in the frozen variety. It isn’t unheard of for the higher elevations to get snow in October. Most of the time it melts in a few days. But, on occasion there could be such a storm, that it closes major roads, putting a damper on your trip.

Tioga Pass gets A LOT of snow in winter. In fact it gets on average five to six feet of snow every year. Winter can start in October on the pass at nearly 10,000 feet. But, historically, Tioga Pass has only closed four times in the past twenty years before October 31st.

So, chances are, you will be safe in being able to drive Tioga Road in October, which will enable you to see such sights as Tuolumne Meadows and Tanaya Lake.

Glacier Point Road is also a road that is subject to road closures in fall. Usually, late fall is when you will see road closures start to effect visitor’s ability to see that part of the park. Be in tuned with weather conditions during your stay and you can stay on top of any developing weather systems.

Visiting Yosemite in October will be an amazing experience for the traveler that loves a change of seasons. Come to Yosemite in October to see the gorgeous fall foliage and enjoy the park in peace and serenity.

Wendy Edwards
Wendy is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. But for the past seven years she has traveled by RV to many National Parks, monuments and everywhere in between. She and her family of five, a furry canine friend and a bearded dragon have crossed the United States thirty one times. She never tires of hiking, biking, camping and photographing this beautiful country.