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Four Seasons of Yosemite Valley: Getting the Most Out of Your Visit Any Time of Year

Updated on January 24, 2016
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Yosemite Valley is Beautiful in Any Season

Have you ever been to Yosemite Valley? If not, you are missing out big time!

I've had the pleasure of visiting Yosemite Valley many times. Each time I visit I am struck by it's magnificence. The high granite walls, the cascading waterfalls, the reflections of Mirror Lake, the blossoming Dogwood trees. It is enough to take your breath away.

There are so many ways to experience Yosemite Valley. You can rough it in a tent cabin, rent a motel room, or hob nob with the upper crust at the Ahwahnee Hotel. You can take tours of the valley from a bus, take short walks around the meadow, or you can take a serious hike up a granite wall. There is something for everyone in Yosemite!

I'm going to give you taste of Yosemite Valley in all four seasons. Then you decide...no matter which season you visit there will always be something amazing to experience.

That's me, back in the 1960s
That's me, back in the 1960s

We Aren't Going Where There are Bears!

I went camping with my family almost every year throughout my childhood. We camped at Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lake Tahoe, Mt. Shasta, and up and down the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. But, we never went to Yosemite.

You want to know why? My Mom was terrified of bears. Now, you might guess that many of the place we visited were known to have black bear sightings. My Mom never heard those stories. But, she heard all about the bears in Yosemite.

So, it wasn't until my mid 20s that I had visited Yosemite National Park for the first time. And, no, my Mom did not go on that trip! I've visited many beautiful landscapes in California, but I don't think anything compares to Yosemite.

Where is it located?

A markerYosemite National Park -
Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Village, CA 95389, USA
get directions

Getting More Out Of Your Visit To The Valley

It doesn't hurt to have a plan when you visit a place as big as Yosemite. There's so much to see and so much to do.

Are you going hiking? Then, you'll need to see what trails are available at what time of year--and, don't forget the difficulty levels! This may be a tourist attraction but it's right in the heart of the Sierra Nevadas and some of the terrain is harsh.

If you want to take a gentle walk or ride a bike, there are plenty of opportunities right in the valley. You just need to know where to find them.

Do you want to see the tourist attraction or go off the beaten track (stick to the trails!)? This guide will help you plan your visit and get the most out of your time.

The Range of Light

The entrance to Yosemite Valley copyrighted by Melody Lassalle
The entrance to Yosemite Valley copyrighted by Melody Lassalle | Source

Ten Things To Do In Yosemite Valley

  1. Take the short walk up to Bridal Veil Falls
  2. Walk or bike the path round the valley
  3. Sit by the river and watch the climbers on El Capitan
  4. Have a picnic on the banks of the Merced River
  5. Take a hike to Mirror Lake
  6. Go in search of wildflowers
  7. Keep an eye out for the animals who make Yosemite their home
  8. Hike up to Nevada and Vernal Falls
  9. Take the guided bus tour that goes throughout the valley
  10. Take a tour of the Ahwahnee Hotel

I visited Yosemite for the first time when I was in my 20's. I don't think anything fully prepared me for it's beauty. The drive to the valley isn't so different from the rest of the Sierra Nevada region. Lush pine and redwood trees set against the mountains. You stop at each look out and wonder what the big deal is. And then...you see it.

It is your first view of what's to come as you approach the valley. You see El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, with a tiny outline of Half Dome in the distance. It takes your breath away. It is so beautiful!

I am going to admit that my first visit to Yosemite National Park I wasn't that impressive. Though there were spectacular views from outside the valley and at Glacier Point, the valley itself was lined with traffic and packed with people. It was as if we had brought the whole city with us.

But that didn't stop me from returning. I've made several trips back to Yosemite visiting the high country, the valley, Hetch Hetchy, and Wawona. Each time I visited I saw something I had never seen before. Sometimes it was the exact same mountain but it was set in different light. Or, it was a previously drained waterfall overflowing with water and mist.

Yosemite soon became my favorite place on Earth. I had photos from my trip and two posters of Yosemite plastered to my cubicle wall at work. There was something about Yosemite. It's hard to explain. You are almost overwhelmed by it's magnificence.

I've now visited in every season. I've felt the 90 degree temps of Summer and froze my butt off standing in snow in the Winter. I've camped in a tent cabin in the valley, pitched a tent near Hetch Hetchy reservoir, stayed in a motel room in the valley, and rented a cabin in Wawona. I've hiked in the high country, stood at Glacier Point and looked down on the valley, and watched the deer play near the Wawona Hotel.

There is beauty everywhere when it come to Yosemite National Park. But, nothing compares to the Yosemite Valley. John Muir nicknamed this region the Range of Light. When you visit, you will understand what the nickname means.

Bring Yosemite Valley Home

Years ago I worked for the public library system. I had my own cubicle and I had a poster of one of Ansel Adams' photographs of Yosemite Falls on the wall.

If you aren't familiar with his photography, his black and white photos are synonymous with Yosemite National Park. He was able to capture the light and magic of the landscape without color. You don't need color photography to show the richness of the beauty of this place.

Ansel Adams was a master of black and white photography. This is a collection of his finest work.

Spring in Yosemite Valley

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Yosemite Falls is probably at it's best during the Spring when the snow has begun to melt.The Merced River is at it's peak this time of year.Bridal Veil Falls can be a ribbon or so powerful you get soaked walking up the trail to the base.The meadow gives spectacular views of Yosemite Falls.Half Dome shows it's beauty amonst the green foliage.
Yosemite Falls is probably at it's best during the Spring when the snow has begun to melt.
Yosemite Falls is probably at it's best during the Spring when the snow has begun to melt. | Source
The Merced River is at it's peak this time of year.
The Merced River is at it's peak this time of year. | Source
Bridal Veil Falls can be a ribbon or so powerful you get soaked walking up the trail to the base.
Bridal Veil Falls can be a ribbon or so powerful you get soaked walking up the trail to the base. | Source
The meadow gives spectacular views of Yosemite Falls.
The meadow gives spectacular views of Yosemite Falls. | Source
Half Dome shows it's beauty amonst the green foliage.
Half Dome shows it's beauty amonst the green foliage. | Source

What to Expect in Spring

Days are a warm, but nights are chilly. You should dress in layers to accommodate the different temperatures.

Everything is in bloom and valley floor is lush and green. You might run into some wildlife on the trails. The waterfalls should still be gorgeous. You may see a little snow at the higher elevations.

In early spring the crowds are non-existent, but later in the spring the valley is packed with people. Any weekend after Memorial Day will be jam packed.

Summer in Yosemite Valley

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In early Summer, Bridal Veil Falls offers beautiful rainbows along it's base.The Merced River flows right up the Yosemite Falls.The water has already started to recede from Mirror LakeEl Capitan towers over a dwindling river.All along the valley, the Merced River is less than it was as the Summer wears on.
In early Summer, Bridal Veil Falls offers beautiful rainbows along it's base.
In early Summer, Bridal Veil Falls offers beautiful rainbows along it's base. | Source
The Merced River flows right up the Yosemite Falls.
The Merced River flows right up the Yosemite Falls. | Source
The water has already started to recede from Mirror Lake
The water has already started to recede from Mirror Lake | Source
El Capitan towers over a dwindling river.
El Capitan towers over a dwindling river. | Source
All along the valley, the Merced River is less than it was as the Summer wears on.
All along the valley, the Merced River is less than it was as the Summer wears on. | Source

What to Expect in Summer

Early in the summer when the snow has melted, the waterfalls are incredible. You can hear them crashing to the ground even when you're not near them. The rivers and lakes still have enough water to be pleasant.

Later in the summer the water falls are down to a trickle. The weather is warm and so are the evenings. It's great weather for camping out.

The summer brings throngs of people to Yosemite. If it's your first visit, I would not recommend coming in the summer. The traffic will be enough to sour you on the place.

Autumn in Yosemite Valley

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Though the waterfalls has lost their luster, this time of year brings out some of the most amazing views of the granite walls that surround the valley.This photo isn't upside down.  El Capitan is perfectly mirrored in what is left of the Merced River.Mirror Lake is nothing but a dry lakebed this time of year.The plants and trees are many shades from green to yellow to brown.Bridal Veil Falls is barely a trickle.  It's hard to believe that in a couple of months the water will be bursting over the top.
Though the waterfalls has lost their luster, this time of year brings out some of the most amazing views of the granite walls that surround the valley.
Though the waterfalls has lost their luster, this time of year brings out some of the most amazing views of the granite walls that surround the valley. | Source
This photo isn't upside down.  El Capitan is perfectly mirrored in what is left of the Merced River.
This photo isn't upside down. El Capitan is perfectly mirrored in what is left of the Merced River. | Source
Mirror Lake is nothing but a dry lakebed this time of year.
Mirror Lake is nothing but a dry lakebed this time of year. | Source
The plants and trees are many shades from green to yellow to brown.
The plants and trees are many shades from green to yellow to brown. | Source
Bridal Veil Falls is barely a trickle.  It's hard to believe that in a couple of months the water will be bursting over the top.
Bridal Veil Falls is barely a trickle. It's hard to believe that in a couple of months the water will be bursting over the top. | Source

What to Expect in Autumn

Yosemite in the autumn is a bit different than the other season. The valley is resplendent with fall color. You'll miss the waterfalls, but the sky against the granite walls is simply amazing.

The days are cooler and the nights are chilly. You might encounter a rainstorm or even a little snow at the higher elevations.

The views are spectacular this time of years. The sunlight is so different then the other season and you'll get some beautiful photographs of the granite mountains against the cloudy skies.

Winter in Yosemite Valley

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Upper Yosemite Falls pours into a little shelf filled with snow.  How powerful the fall is depends on how much snow has melted.You can see snow outlining Half Dome.There is snow everywhere in the valley.Our coyote friend seems to agree that a warm spring day would be nice!Here I am toughing out the cold weather.
Upper Yosemite Falls pours into a little shelf filled with snow.  How powerful the fall is depends on how much snow has melted.
Upper Yosemite Falls pours into a little shelf filled with snow. How powerful the fall is depends on how much snow has melted. | Source
You can see snow outlining Half Dome.
You can see snow outlining Half Dome. | Source
There is snow everywhere in the valley.
There is snow everywhere in the valley. | Source
Our coyote friend seems to agree that a warm spring day would be nice!
Our coyote friend seems to agree that a warm spring day would be nice! | Source
Here I am toughing out the cold weather.
Here I am toughing out the cold weather. | Source

What to Expect in Winter

Snow covers the valley floor and the banks of the Merced River. The waterfalls aren't very powerful unless the snow melt has begun. If you like ice skating, check out the open air ice rink.

The big advantage to going in the winter there are hardly any people. Except for a lone tour bus or two bringing school children, you may have the valley to yourself. It is quiet and peaceful. You will be able to stand at the base of the falls as long as we wanted. No one will be jostling you to move on.

Be sure to check the weather conditions and for road closures if you plan to go in the winter. Conditions in Yosemite can change rapidly.

It is very cold this time of year. You'll need a jacket and extra warm clothing.

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Have you ever encountered a bear?

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Yeah, I've got a bear story

One Summer we rented tent cabins in the valley. If you've never seen tent cabins, let me describe them to you. A tent canvas is draped over a wooden structure. There are cots inside to sleep on. That's it. No bathroom, no kitchen. Calling it a cabin is stretching things a bit.

One night my brother-in-law decided that he wanted to sleep out under the stars and watch the campfire die down. The rest of called it a night and went to our cots. Around 2 in the morning, my brother-in-law burst into the tent cabin. He had heard noises and saw a bear roaming around the tent cabins. The bear was eventually scared off...by others, not my brother-in-law.

After awhile, he decided to go back to his lounge chair and sleeping bag. In the morning, my brother and I got up to take an early hike to Mirror Lake. There was my brother in law...a hatchet on his sleeping bag and surrounded ten speed bikes and lounge chairs. He had built a barricade!

Later that day, my brother-in-law exchanged some words with the people in the next tent. They had left their ice chest out which is a big no no in Yosemite Valley. The metal clasp that held it closed had been broken off and their steaks had been stolen.

They were convinced that no bear would be smart enough to figure out this clever device despite the signs plastered everywhere! They heard us whispering and laughing at my brother's bear story and decided that we were plotting to steal their steaks.

We still laugh about it. Here the bear was rifling through their ice chest and they were convince that the four human next door were the thieves!

Haven't decided if you want to visit Yosemite Valley yet?

Take this one minute trip through the valley. Experience the grandeur...then, get yourself over there!

A Guide to Yosemite National Park

It's bigger than you think. Each area has its own unique landscape. There's something for every level of adventurer, too. This guide will help you plan your trip and make the most of it. Decide if you're going to stay in a tent cabin, the Ahwahnee hotel, or a motel. Find some areas to explore. Learn what makes Yosemite so unique.

Everything you need to know about Yosemite for your next or first visit! The guide covers trails, lodging, the history of the park, and more!

Have you ever been to Yosemite? Plan to visit some day? What natural wonder would you like to visit? Tell me about your travels in the comments section below.

© 2011 Melody Lassalle

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    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      Ladyguitarpicker, Thanks for your comments! I've been all over California which has some really different and beautiful landscape, but Yosemite took my breath away the first time I visited. If you enjoy hiking and love waterfalls, you will fall in love with this national park, too.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Great photos with beautiful color. This looks like my kind of park. I want to go there in the springtime. I love the waterfalls. I hiked to the waterfalls in the Smokey Mountains and there are many bears, but beautiful.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      If you ever have the opportunity, you must see Yosemite Valley, especially if you enjoy nature. I had been camping to many places in California--and I thought many were beautiful. But, there is something about Yosemite that grabs you. If you go the right time of year (early to mid Spring) when the waterfalls are bursting, it's magnificent. Thanks for you comment!

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow, after reading this hub and seeing the beautiful pictures, I sure want to visit Yosemite Valley. I enjoy nature and the beauty if offers...it's amazing the beauty that surrounds us. I enjoyed the bear story too lol :) Hope I can visit someday...so much to see, not much time!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      Looks like a great place to visit but not sure if I will ever be in he states to make it

    • profile image

      glutenallergy 5 years ago

      My husband and I camped at Yosemite right before we moved away from California. It was an absolutely beautiful place! Definitely worth visiting.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Yes, I've been to Yosemite and I plan to visit again. It's a beautiful place.

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      The Yosemite looks like a fantastic place to visit! Hopefully, one day I'll make it!

    • auntjennie profile image

      Jen 5 years ago from Canada

      Haven't been to Yosemite Valley but the falls alone make it worthwhile. You have some amazing shots of the valley and falls.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 5 years ago

      Beautiful pictures and nice stories. thanks for that. I've never been there.

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 5 years ago

      I've been to many National Parks...but all in the midwest or east coast. Yosemite and Yellowstone are on the list. Great photos and info on Yosemite, I enjoyed my visit.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      @Heather426: Aren't the waterfalls amazing? Sometimes in late Spring they seem to spout out everywhere. I have never stayed in the Ahwahnee. I did once stay in a motel in the valley (not sure if it is still there). It felt a little strange to have walls around us and Half Dome in the distance.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 5 years ago from Northern California

      Would have to say that Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons in Yosemite. We are lucky enough to live close enough to do a day trip.

      I had a bear break into our parked car on one trip > 10 years ago. Made the mistake of picking up French Fries (in the days before I was teaching nutrition) and I guess he/she was attracted to the smell of the fries. Having to repair a broken window ended up being a big incentive to stop eating French Fries + I started teaching nutrition.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      @HealthfulMD: How wonderful to do day trips to Yosemite! It was great to go in the off season when the crowds are gone. I bet you have a better sense of that living close by.

      Bears are incredible crafty. I had a friend have the whole back seat of her car ripped out when they went on a multiple day back country hiking trip. Someone threw an empty backpack on the backseat before setting off and a bear spotted it.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 5 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I have been to Yosemite many times and agree it is incredible, and not to be missed by any serious Nature lover. I have taken others there too, and some of them like it better than the Grand Canyon! I like all the seasons there, but Spring with the waterfalls flowing is my fave time to go. I always stay at the Ahwahnee. Camping days are over.

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      moonlitta 5 years ago

      Wow. Summer seems the best time for me ...from what I see here:)

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      @mbgphoto: Thank you for the blessing! During late Spring when the snow melt has begun, the water falls are huge. Several smaller falls can also be seen tumbling down the granite walls. They dry up pretty quickly though.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      @jmsp206: There are so many natural wonders in this one national park. It truly is unique.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
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      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      @MaggiePowell: Maggie, well worth visiting more than once!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 5 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Those waterfalls look fabulous. Blessed by a Squidangel

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 5 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Yosemite looks like a wonderful place

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 5 years ago

      I've visited Yosemite a few times... and I'm due for another visit. Thank you for making this lens and reminding me how much I love it there.

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