Yosemite National Park | Spring Travel Guide

As one of 9 national parks located in California Yosemite National Park is especially worth visiting in spring. There are plenty of things to do in Yosemite Valley in April and May and you can easily spend 3 to 4 days – only exploring Yosemite Valley. If you are open to sacrificing that some popular hikes and roads in the higher Sierra Mountains are still closed, trust me: You will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience.

Yosemite Valley with its iconic granite walls like El Capitan and Half Dome, cascading waterfalls and lush meadows are open and accessible to explore in spring. Depending on what’s most important for you these advantages and disadvantages will help you find the best timing for your trip to Yosemite National Park:

Yosemite National Park in spring - view of El Capitan
El Capitan

Visit Yosemite in spring – Pro

  • Water-filled rivers, lakes and cascading waterfalls – Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake – only ‘exists’ in spring / waterfalls are mostly dried out in summer and fall
  • Lush meadows and blooming wildflowers
  • Wildlife viewing: As elk, black bears, and other mammals awake from hibernation, spring is a great time to view wildlife in Yosemite Valley
  • Crowds have not arrived yet
  • Wilderness permits are easier to get
  • Lodging & camping: Pay less and get much better options in or close to Yosemite National Park
  • Save money in spring: Yosemite National Park entry fees ($35 per vehicle / $30 per motorcycle/ $20 per person on foot, bike or horse), are waived during the annual National Parks Week (held in mid April).

National Park Week Dates:
2021: Saturday, April 17th – Sunday, April 25th
2022: Saturday, April 16th – Sunday, April 24th
2023: Saturday, April 15th – Sunday, April 23rd

Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls – only in spring North America’s tallest waterfall is filled with so much water
Mirror Lake Reflection, Yosemite National Park
North Dome reflection in Mirror Lake – only existing in spring
Coyote in Yosemite National Park
A coyote is welcoming us as we enter Yosemite National Park

Visit Yosemite in spring – Contra

  • Not all roads are plowed and open until end of May / June
  • Some trails not snow-free and accessible
  • Iconic Half Dome can only be hiked in summer as the Half Dome Cables are only up from end May through mid October
  • Backcountry camping is not accessible in all areas + you have to expect winter conditions, snow and freezing temperatures at least from December through April
  • Not all campgrounds might be open – check the NPS website for seasonal opening dates
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Half Dome view from Columbia Rock
Yosemite Valley hiking trails

Best Yosemite Valley hikes in spring

  • Lower Yosemite Falls – 1 mile (1.6 km) loop trail – easy, flat & short
  • Upper Yosemite Falls – 7,2 miles (11.6 km) / 2,700 ft (823 m) elevation gain – strenuous & steep
  • Mirror Lake – 2 miles (3.2 km) in & out to lake / 5 miles (8 km) loop around the lake (dry in summer and fall) – easy
  • Bridalveil Fall (closed for the 2021 season due to constructions around Fall Rehabilitation Project) – 0.5 miles (0.8 km) round trip – easy & short
  • Mist Trail to Vernal Falls – 2.4 miles (3.9 km) / 1,000 ft (366 m) elevation gain – moderate
  • Mist Trail to Nevada Falls – 5.4 miles (8.7 km) / 2,000 ft (610 m) elevation gain – strenuous & steep
  • Valley Floor Loop – 13 miles (20.9 km) full loop (can be shortened) – easy to moderate
  • Cook’s Meadow – 1 mile (1.6 km) – easy, flat & short
  • Artist Point – 2.3 miles (3.7 km) / 714 ft (218 m) elevation gain – moderate
  • Inspiration Point – 2.6 miles (4 km) /1,043 ft (318 m) – moderate
view of Yosemite Valley from Upper Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Valley view from Upper Yosemite Falls – click here to read my hiking guide to Upper Yosemite Falls
signs to Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park
Mirror Lake Yosemite National Park
Early morning reflections in Mirror Lake

Yosemite viewpoints & photo spots accessible in spring

  • Tunnel View – the most iconic view of Yosemite Valley
  • Valley View – best at sunrise, also pretty in the late afternoon/sunset
  • Cathedral Beach – best in the morning, you can have picnic/breakfast
  • Meadow in front of El Capitan
  • Sentinel Beach & Swinging Bridge
  • Sentinel Bridge – famous for spectacular views of Half Dome reflected in the Merced River
  • Mirror Lake – reflections of Half Dome and North Dome (only in spring)
Bridalveil Fall in sunset captured from Tunnel View
Sunset at Bridalveil Fall, captured from Tunnel View
El Capitan meadow
Admiring El Capitan at sunset
Yosemite Valley View at sunset
Sunset at Valley View
sunset in Yosemite National Park
Sunset from Wawona Road

Roads still closed in spring

  • Tioga Pass – Highway 120 running through the park + connecting Yosemite Valley with the Eastern Sierra Mountains
  • Glacier Point Road – open as of Friday, April 30 / will be closed to all traffic in 2022 to rehabilitate and improve the road
  • Mariposa Grove – open only to vehicles displaying disability placards. All others must cycle or hike to the grove from Mariposa Grove Welcome Center (near South Entrance)

These popular roads typically open between early May and late June, depending on weather and plowing progress. Check the National Park Service website for opening schedule and short-term closures

Tioga Pass Road and snow-capped Sierra Nevada
Spring in Yosemite National Park: snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada

Best months to visit Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the USA ranking between the Great Smoky and Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yellowstone National Park. Picking your time of visit wisely is decisive for how much you’ll enjoy your stay.

Yosemite is open 24 hours per day, year-round. Only Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station (open during daylight hours) and some roads are closed due to snow from November through May and June. No wonder that summer sees the majority of visitors as the weather in Yosemite National Park is warm and dry and kids are out of school.

Yosemite Valley
Sun in Yosemite Valley, snow remnants in Yosemite mountains

Yosemite winter season and most winter activities officially end by March 31. This is the time when the weather gets warmer, snow starts to melt and Yosemite Valley comes back to life. April, May, and June are the best months to visit Yosemite National Park. The weather in April and May is usually fair. Just keep in mind: Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada, 4 hours away from California’s beaches. This means rain and snow are still possible in April.

Tunnel View Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley with El Capitan, Hald Dome, and Bridalveil Fall

Rule of thumb: The later it gets in the summer, the more trails and roads are open and the more visitors will flock into the park. I went in April and can absolutely recommend it.

Pro-tip: Avoid spring break, national holidays, and weekends to visit Yosemite National Park.
If lonesome trails are more important for you than saving money: Avoid National Parks Week mid-April (see dates above). Especially the weekend can get full with day visitors as the entrance fee of $35 per vehicle is waived. If you own an America the Beautiful Pass, saving money on the entrance fee won’t bother you anyway.

Half Dome from Tunnel View
Tunnel View of Half Dome

Reservation system for Yosemite National Park 2021

Between March 1st and May, 20th visitors were able to enter Yosemite National Park without a reservation. From May 21st until September 30th, 2021 the reservation system will resume according to National Park Service. If you are planning to visit Yosemite National Park this summer you’ll need to plan.

Caution: Remember that you cannot drive through Yosemite without a reservation during this time period. If you have a wilderness permit, Half Dome permits, camping, or lodging reservation you don’t need an additional reservation. Visit the NPS website for more details.

Yosemite National Park entrance
Yosemite National Park entrance

What to pack for your Yosemite spring trip

Even though temperatures are most pleasant during the day starting in April and May, be prepared for chilly temperatures at night. Dress in layers, don’t forget your hiking boots, and bring a warm sleeping bag plus a rain jacket. You’ll need it not only if a rain shower gets you. It’s also helpful when standing in the spray of a rushing waterfall.

Remember that weather can change quickly in Yosemite Valley, especially when you are hiking in the mountains. Altitude change brings an additional drop in temperatures.

Sleeping at Half Dome Village, Yosemite National Park
Sleeping at Half Dome Village

Yosemite National Park in spring: worth it!

Personally, I think April is a great month to visit Yosemite National Park. With spring snowmelt many hikes in Yosemite Valley are snow-free, waterfalls are flowing, lakes and streams are filled with water – making great motifs for jaw-dropping reflections.

Especially for first-time visitors, Yosemite National Park’s vast and breathtaking scenery can become overwhelming. It can be beneficial to be ‘limited’ to explore Yosemite Valley and save other areas of the national park for another time. Weather can be unpredictable, but therefore, the crowds plaguing the park in summer haven’t arrived yet. For me the decisive reason to visit Yosemite National Park in spring.

view of Yosemite Valley from Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
View of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from Columbia Rock (Upper Yosemite Falls Trail)

More places in California to explore:

  • Hike Upper Yosemite Falls – 7,2 miles (11,6 km) / 2,700 ft (823 m)
  • Sequoia National Park – 130 miles (210km) / 2.5 hrs
  • King’s Canyon National Park – 130 miles (210km) / 2.5 hrs
  • Death Valley National Park – 350 miles (560km) / 6.5 hrs or 200 miles (320km) / 3hr via Tioga Pass)
  • Joshua Tree National Park – 400 miles (645km) / 6.5 hrs
  • Mammoth Lakes 40 miles (65km) / 45 min via Tioga Pass

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QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?

Have you ever traveled through the USA and explored Yosemite National Park on your California road trip? Do you like the article, have suggestions, feedback, or recommendations? Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!

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Yosemite National Park in spring

Yosemite National Park in spring

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16 comments
    1. Thanks Elena! Yes, I really loved Yosemite in spring. I can imagine the park is very pretty in fall as well when the foliage turns into yellow, orange and red. But then the waterfalls are nut thundering and it’s probably also more crowded.

  1. I definitely did not get enough time in Yosemite on my last trip, so I really need to go back. And I have to do some of these hikes, they look incredible. Despite how difficult it might be I just have to see that view from upper Yosemite falls. And mirror lake looks so pretty

    1. Hey Emma,
      yeah I think Yosemite is one of those parks you could definitely go back several times and will be amazed by corners you haven’t seen before. I also want to go back and drive Tioga Pass and be able to get up Glacier Point. Re Upper Yosemite Falls Trail: Just take your time and plan ahead then you will be rewarded with absolutely stunning views.

  2. Wow I must say that your photos are truly amazing! You captured the park so well and the mirror lake does look like a mirror! (when we were there it was windy, so no great reflections). Yosemite is one of my favourite parks due to its beauty and incredible waterfalls, I love visiting it off season to beat the crowds. Your post makes me want to return now! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Marcella!
      For sure you have to get lucky with weather and wind (especially for water reflections) to truly enjoy the park. The best part: Yosemite is one of those parks you could go back again and again, always discovering new places, trails and view points. I’m glad my article inspired you to go back. 🙂

  3. Yosemite is one of the parks I’m dying to visit! Spring seems like a great time – although it’s a bummer that you can’t hike Half Dome then.

    1. Haha, yes, you have to sacrifice something… 😉 Half Dome cables are typically up by end of May. I would still say this counts as spring. But probably more people flocking into the park then compared to April.

  4. I’ve not travelled to a lot of north America, but the national parks look out of this world. I’m currently compiling a bucket list for my 40th birthday (its just over a year away) and I’m planning on visiting 40 beautiful places during the year. I’ve just added Yosemite to my list.Thanks for sharing

    1. That sounds like a fun approach! I’m sure you will have no hard time finding 40 beautiful places when you come to North America. I’ve been living here for 2 years and fortunately have been able to travel to some really great places in the Pacific North- & Southwest. I am still feeling amazed by the diverse landscape every time I go on a new trip.

    1. Oh yeah, Yosemite is defintely one of these parks that’s worth coming back again and again, especially to discover its beauty in different seasons.

  5. I love this post! So many great tips and suggestions. I’ve visited Yosemite so many times, and every time it just blows me away!

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