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Hiking

When should you hike a trail? Some hikes lead to fascinating forests, some have tremendous views and others are rich in variety. Share your favorite trails with other hikers and nature lovers.

Yosemite National Park! Mesmerizing and spectacular views! Read on for our complete season guide updated in 2019 or scroll down even further for tips about the most breathtaking places. You can use our quick navigation to find your desired subject:

  1. Special November & December Visit & Winter Tips
  2. Spring Months | Season Guide
  3. Summer Months | Season Guide
  4. Autumn Months | Season Guide
  5. Winter Months | Season Guide
  6. Avoiding Crowds - Busy Times
  7. 3 Must-Know Lodging Alternatives
  8. Glacier Point-Lower-Yosemite Falls-Half Dome
  9. 9 Yosemite Top Tips


Special Tip: If you have limited time and like it hassle-free, take a look at these tours: Yosemite National Park Tours (Service by the excellent provider GetYourGuide). Outstanding guides, stunning experience, and you get picked up and dropped off again at your hotel in case you're staying in San Francisco (depending on the tour)! Quote from a recent visitor: 'Brilliant guides very knowledgeable, had a brilliant day, an amazing place to see, absolutely outstanding!' The tours are also great in winter, as it takes away the headache of driving with tire chains. You might love these (the third one is not available in winter):

 
 
November & December Visit

Besides our ‘Autumn Guide,’ we collected some special tips for your November and December visit. November is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park with the crowds gone and mostly pleasant temperatures. In December it gets a little colder but it's still worth visiting. You'll love it! Don't forget read our quick tips for your winter visit below the November/December section.


Yosemite Pine (in November) by Rennett Stowe CC BY, cropped

  • Crowds? It’s not busy at all, as the visitor count drops to 30% in the month of November compared to the very busy summer months. It's even less busy in December and January. 
  • Road Accessibility: It’s very likely that Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road will be open until mid-November. However, both roads usually close by the end of November. Check the historic closures here: NPS - Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road Opening & Closing Dates. Tire Chains? When driving in lower elevations (like El Portal Road, Highway 140) tire chains are usually not required. But still, visiting in late November, December or any other winter month means, that you should carry them in your car.
  • Weather? While often still pleasant with temps around 45-50°F, it can also rain and even snow, especially at higher elevations. However, the first snowfall in October/November is usually light and the snow melts very quickly. In late November the ground is generally cold enough for the snow to accumulate, but mostly at higher elevations above Yosemite Valley. In December there can be snow on the ground in Yosemite Valley, but usually for a few days only. Often it's simply cold and chilly with a clear ground in the valley. 

 

Special Quick Tips for Winter | November - December - January - February

  • Road Conditions: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are both closed throughout the winter from late November until late May (sometimes until early June). All other Yosemite Park roads including Wawona Road (Highway 41) and El Portal Road (Highway 140), remain open year-round. However, you are required to carry tire chains in your car in case you need to use them. Find more information about road closures here: NPS Yosemite - Winter Road Closures And detailed information about tire chains: NPS Yosemite - Tire Chain Requirements. Always check current road conditions before you drive: NPS Yosemite - Road Conditions Don’t want to use tire chains? Check our winter accommodation tip just below.
  • Accommodation: Since El Portal Road and Wawona Road are open in winter, you may drive to Yosemite Valley and stay there. However, there are two drawbacks: 1) You’re required to tie carry tire chains and mount them during certain weather conditions. 2) The lodging options in Yosemite Valley are very(!) pricey, actually the most expensive ones there. Solution: You stay in El Portal and decide if you use the YARTS service, which gets you directly into Yosemite Valley or you drive by yourself, depending on the weather conditions. The great thing about YARTS: It operates year-round, regardless of the weather, and picks you up in El Portal right at the ‘Yosemite View Lodge’ (via booking.com). Check out our ‘Lodging Tips for El Portal’ below.
  • Walks/Hikes: The great thing about a winter visit, is the missing crowds. Places which are crowded from summer to fall can be visited now almost in solitude. Even if you don’t want to hike, you should do the super easy walks: Bridalveil Fall Trail, Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, and Cook’s Meadow Loop. Each only requires a 0.5 miles - 1 mile (loop) walk and is open in winter as well. A little more strenuous is the equally stunning Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails. Find great trail information and tips about all the trails on the official NPS website: NPS Yosemite - Hikes

The Best Time

The best sweet spot months with mostly pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds are mid-May until early-June and late September until mid-October. July and August are ridiculously busy. However, if you can only visit in summer, we have great tips to avoid crowds (see below). Waterfalls are at their best in late May, and skiing the Badger Pass lasts through the end of March. Backpackers thrive into early October, while those who prefer to drive do best when all roads are likely to be open July through September. Take a look at our seasonal breakdown. We went to Yosemite ourselves many times, also analyzed thousands of reviews to help you determine the advantages of each season:

Season Guide | Monthly Weather & Highlights
 


Please note: These are temperatures for lower elevations. It gets a lot cooler at higher elevations!

 
SPRING (April - May)

April's showers (and melting snowcaps) bring May's spectacular waterfalls.

Weather: Though it varies, temperatures are getting warmer. Average daytime highs hover around 70, though it is always possible to encounter a late winter snowstorm.

Accessible Areas: Lower elevation and good roads make Yosemite Valley and Wawona accessible all year long. It is difficult to predict the likelihood to enter Tioga and Glacier Point Roads due to residual snow. Crews begin clearing snow April 15, but work can last well into May. Weekends can be especially busy, be sure to arrive early to avoid unnecessary delays.

Highlights: Water is abundant in spring. Well-known rivers and waterfalls reach peak runoff in late May, and this is by far the most popular time to see them. Check out the booming rush of water at Ribbon Falls, which only flows through June. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in all of North America. Don't expect to be wowed by the wildflowers; it's still too early for the blooms, though you might catch a few poppies or redwood along the way.

Crowds: Light in April. It gets busier in May. Especially weekends are crowded in late spring, visit midweek, and get to the main hot spots first thing in the morning. Try to avoid the extremely congested Memorial Day weekend.

 
SUMMER (June, July, August, early September)

Sweet summer weather brings peak level crowds.

Weather: Ample sunshine. Average temps soar to nearly 90, but cool down significantly under the night sky.

Accessible Areas: Most of the park is accessible now, but it is still possible to discover your own private paradise. Venture outside of Yosemite Valley, and away from the crowds. Take in the stunning views in High Sierra where you will be met by little more than a cool mountain breeze.

Highlights: Waterfall flow is typically still at its peak in early June and often remains high by mid-June. It begins to slow in July due to warmer weather. Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil Falls run all year; however, their flow can be very low by late summer. Yosemite Falls may dry out completely by August. Check Yosemite Falls Webcam to see the current flow. Your draw in summer is the spectacular colors of the wildflowers. In the valley, the blooms burst in June. Follow the winding river in Tuolumne Meadows, and enjoy the sub-alpine flowers like gentium or shooting stars. Explore one of the many trails that begin in these meadows, including the route to the summit of Mount Lyell, the highest in the park.

Crowds: June is already busy, while July and August are extremely jammed. Popular spots will be crowded all season, and expect long lines at entrance points. Take a chance and hike a lesser-known trail instead.

 
AUTUMN (early September, October,  November)

Crisp breeze and colorful trees, along with dwindling crowds make fall one of the best times to visit the park.

Weather: Varies. Average daytime temps are in the 50's, but it is not unusual to see drastic ranges. Snow and rain are also possible, especially at higher elevations. Yosemite Valley is your best bet for comfortable daytime weather; though expect it to turn chilly when the sun goes down.

Accessible Areas: Most areas in the park remain open through October, though this is fully dependent on the weather. Services begin to shut down in mid-September, and the park does not allow overnight parking after mid-October. However, most hotels and lodges in Yosemite Valley, El Portal or other nearby accommodations are open year-round. Check our 'Lodging Tips' below. While it's not very likely at lower elevations, you may require tire chains in November.

Highlights: As the snow begins to fall, so does the water. Yosemite Falls has been dry all late summer and early autumn but resumes its flow quickly usually by November (after a little snowfall). From Wawona, your best bet is Chilnualna Falls. You will have to hike to it, but the way it twists and turns through the rocks makes it completely worth the effort. Fall colors peak around mid-October, though don't expect to see radiant hues throughout. Most trees are evergreen, but shades of yellows, orange, and even some purples can be found sprinkled among the trees.

Crowds: Warning! Early September (Labor Day Weekend) sees the highest crowds. After Labor Day it's less crowded but still busy. Even if you visit mid-September avoid weekends and try to get up early. Crowds start to thin out by late September. In October everything is much quieter. As long as the roads remain open, you are likely to have the place to yourself in late autumn, particularly in November

 
WINTER (December, January, February, March)

If solitude is what you seek, winter will be a treat. Check out the official NPS tips: NPS Yosemite Winter Tips

Weather: Cold but not freezingly cold. Snow and wind are a constant presence, though you might find a few sunny days in between storms. Temperatures in Yosemite Valley are more moderate, averages remain in the low 50's, though evening lows can dip below zero.

Accessible Areas: There are few trails visible enough to hike during winter, and once Tioga Road is closed vehicles are prohibited for your safety. However, Yosemite Valley is accessible by car via Highway 140 (El Portal Road). Although you're required to carry tire chains in your car. Alternatively book a hotel in El Portal and use YARTS (read our winter tips at the top and lodging tips below the seasons guide for details about YARTS and El Portal) Ski areas remain open, as the Badger Pass is plowed often. Both downhill and cross-country activities are popular here, and there are some great runs for snowboarders as well.

Highlights: Water is flowing again, thanks to the snow and rain, and it is possible to get some great winter shots of the falls. If you get to Yosemite Falls early enough, it is possible to see it frozen solid. If possible, consider visiting the Horsetail Fall Firefall. Only occurring in winter when the sun is at just the right angle, this natural beauty looks just like a cascading flow of fire. It is truly unforgettable. The peak time for the Firefall is usually from February 17-19. However, it can vary. The sweeping snowy vistas are magical in the winter, and the lack of crowds makes it even better. Yosemite Valley is your best bet to find a route to hike, keep in mind the trails range in difficulty and distance, so plan accordingly.

Crowds: None. You are likely to encounter some crowds at the ski areas, but if your intent is just to visit the park, you may be lucky enough to never see another person.

US United States

Hiking in the Cradle Mountain National Park is very popular throughout the year. However, in the winter you have to deal with snow, and despite more pleasant temperatures in the summer, the weather is even more unpredictable. During the summer Cradle is pretty busy with the highest accommodation rates.

Weather by Seasons

Winter (May-September)

Cradle Mountain covered in snow during winter

Snow in winter usually from July to September with an average daily temp of 6°C / 43°F. It can get even colder and freezing during the night (below 0°C / 32°F). The coldest months are July and August. Hiking can be difficult depending on the amount of snow. May and September are a little warmer.

Spring (October-November)

Cradle Mountain hiking trail to Marions Lookout in spring

Wildflowers are abundant during spring and early summer. Day temps range between 10°C-15°C / 50°F-59°F on average. But we already experienced snow in November and 0°C / 32°F while hiking.

Summer (December-February)

Cradle Mountain on a clear day during summer

More stable weather from December to April with warmer daily temps on average around 15°C-18°C / 59°F-64°F. The "warmest" months are January and February.  Less precipitation from January to March. However, the weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for 4 seasons in one day even during summer. If you like camping be prepared for one digit night temps throughout the year. 

Autumn (March-April)

Cradle Mountain on a clear day in Autmn

In autumn from late April to May autumn colors are ranging from gold to deep red. Daily temps are around 10°C-15°C / 50°F-59°F on average. Nights are already freezing cold between 3°C-5°C / 37°F-41°F.

Avoiding Crowds

It's one of the most popular National Parks in Tassie. You almost don't experience any crowds in the low season during winter. During summer it's busy with visitors from around the world, especially at Dove Lake. Longer and more strenuous hikes are less frequented. Enjoy a more peaceful hike and start in the early morning. It gets less busy again in the late afternoon. Peak season lasts from October/November until April.

Hiking Trail on a boardwalk in the Cradle Mountain National Park

Top Tip for the Peak Season: Start your hike before dawn with headlights and enjoy a breathtaking sunrise from Marians Lookout. 
Shuttle Bus Service and Parking

There is one car park at Dove Lake and one at Ronny Creek. Arriving early is recommended. Otherwise, shuttle buses have to be taken from the Visitor Center or the Interpretation Center. For National Park Pass holders; the shuttle bus is for free. The last bus leaves Dove Lake in the afternoon. Due to the increasing numbers of visitors, new bus service also for people with disabilities was introduced in 2018. When these medium-sized buses operate from 8 am to 6 pm cars can't get to the parking. If you want to hike independently, you have to be at Dove Lake parking before 8 am.

AU Australia

The best month for the magnificent view of the rice fields is definitely September: The rice fields are still green with patches of golden color. A truly magical view and one of the best times for photographers.

Our Monthly Guide

March - April - May (Spring)

A good time to visit Sa Pa: Dry season, pleasant weather, warm. Excellent for trekking. It’s still low season without masses of domestic tourists. In April/May you can experience blooming flowers but not the amazing lush green (and later in fall yellow tinted) rice fields. The rice fields start to show their real beauty later in June. However, this is a great time to explore the area and to get in touch with the locals / different ethnic minorities.

June - July - August (Summer)

Not recommended. Rainy season with the heaviest rainfall occurring in July and August. It’s hot and humid. However, the rice fields appear in an amazing green color. It’s also very busy as it’s peak tourist season for domestic visitors.

September - October - November (Fall)

Perfect time! September can still be rainy but often short and not as much as in summer. Otherwise the temperatures are pleasant and great for hiking: Sept./Oct average temp.: 17°C / 63°F. During these months the weather is perfect for sightseeing: Clear blue skies with the sun shining through the huge mountains resulting in outstanding views of the vibrant landscape. In September harvesting of the rice fields begins. Early October the most rice is usually already harvested, taking away the impressive September rice terrace view. In November it gets colder and the rice is significantly ‘reduced’ but it’s still a great month for outdoor activities.

December - January - February (Winter)

Cold, freezing and foggy especially in December and January. It can get bitterly cold (5°C / 40°F) and the views are often limited to 20 - 30 metres due to fog. However, if you don’t mind the coldness there are magic moments in the winter: When the fog clears it can become quite surreal and magical at the same time. Some of the best photos are taken during this season.

VN Vietnam

Best time for hiking the Kalalau trail is the drier season between May and October however showers occur frequently. After Hanakāpīʻai Beach it is almost impossible to hike this trail in very wet conditions. It is very slippery and muddy on the narrow footpath. The only option is a pair of mini-crampons. 

Mini-Crampons to hike the Kalalau Trail

Update August 2019: There was a trail closure for 14 months due to immense flooding mid-April 2018. The highway and bridges to the Haena State Park got also flooded and destroyed.  The Haena State Park and Kalalau trail got reopenend mid-June 2019. However, a permit is neccessary also for day visitors now. Apply online for a permit to hike until the Hanakāpīʻai Beach and Falls, same for the entire Kalalau Trail. Permits are limited. Overnight parking is not any longer allowed. A shuttle bus reservation is needed for the Kalalau Trail. Do you look for alternatives to explore the Napali Coast? Scroll down for more details.

Weather

Kauai is wetter than the other Hawaiian Islands, therefore, called "The Garden Island". The rainy season starts in November and lasts until April. The north and east coast gets more rain than south and west which is the leeward side. Mostly showers are short, often in the night, and the sun returns quickly. 

Crowds along the Kalalau Trail, Kauai Hawaii

Crowds

The first part of the trail until the Hanakāpīʻai Beach is not any longer accessible without a permit. It'll be less busy in the future. The Kalalau Trail is almost always fully booked. You have to get your permit far in advance. Tuesdays are often not full due to Haena Park closure. Shoulder season in spring between mid-April to mid-June and in fall from September to October. Crowded during summer with hikers and kayaks, during Christmas, New Year's Eve, Independence Day and June 9th is a bank holiday. 

Parking at the Kalalau Trail - Haena State Park

Limited parking at Haena State Park of around 100 parking lots, 30 are for local people. A reservation is essential. Don't leave any luggage in the car. It is not safe, and the car might be broken-up!!

Where to Stay

You can stay at Haena State Park and campground, but it is closed every Monday from 10 a.m. to Tuesday 12 p.m. for maintenance. The reason that the Kalalau trail is often not fully booked on Tuesdays. Be aware of leaving your valuables and bags in the car is not recommended. We, a part of the team, saw a couple of rental cars on Kauai which had a broken side window and glass on the ground respectively. 

Close by is the town of Princeville; ideally located in the north to buy your groceries and to enjoy the Queen's Bath. Also not far away is the gorgeous Hanalei Beach Park. Have a closer look at the different private apartment rentals and hotels. Princeville Accommodations

US United States

The glacier is open year-round. The best time to visit Franz Josef depends on what you’re looking for. Mild temperatures? Ice highlights? Fewer Crowds? Read on for our detailed ‘WHEN TO GO’ tips below. Tip: Make sure to check our complete season guide below and don't miss (quick navigation):


Special Tip: Planning to visit Milford Sound as well?  Check out our detailed guide with many tips: 7 Tips for Milford Sound| A Complete Guide | Link to our article.  If you'd like tips about combining Queenstown - Milford Sound and Franz Josef Glacier, read this TripAdvisor Post: How to combine Queenstown - Milford - Franz Josef — TripAdvisor

 
Seasons | Weather - Busy Times 

In general, the weather is highly unpredictable in this region, regardless of the season. Within one day it can change radically. Always bring rain gear, despite a sunny weather forecast. The Franz Josef town experiences more than 5 liters of rain each year and 10-15 meters of snow at the top of the glacier. However, in the winter it’s more stable.

June - July - August | Winter:
Temperatures are low: 5 – 15°C (41-57°F), but the weather is more stable than during other seasons. Winter has the clearest days; everything is clean and pristine. Highlight: The ice moves less in winter, resulting in amazing ice features like crevasses and ice caves which stay much longer. There are significantly fewer tourists, and it’s a lot quieter than in summer months.

September - October - November | Spring:
Temperatures are rising: 9 – 17°C (48-63°F). September is still quiet but also still a cool month with 6-13°C. October gets a little more busy and warmer. November is already peak season which means it gets crowded during the day.

 

December - January - February | Summer:
Mild daytime temperatures between 12 and 25°C (53-77°F). Great for exploring. However, the weather is very unpredictable and can quickly change from sun to heavy rainfall which can last for hours or a whole day. It’s also the very busy peak season: Starting in November (spring) and lasting until March with up to 2700 tourists each day. Be prepared for crowded tracks and photo spots.

March - April - May | Fall:
Temperatures continue to be pleasant: 9 – 17°C (48-63°F). However, be prepared for rain like in the summer. In March it’s still busy. The heavy crowds start to dissipate during April and thin out even more in May.

 
Avoiding Tourist Crowds

It’s usually very busy and crowded in high season between November and March with one million visitors each year. Especially if you want to take the popular 45 minutes walk to the glacier (90 minutes round trip). Although there is plenty of parking space, it fills up pretty quick by mid-morning. In peak season it can become quite difficult to find a parking spot after 10 AM. The main track itself gets crowded as well, although it thins out a little as you near the glacier. When parts of the track are closed during or after heavy rainfall, it feels even more crowded. Moreover, the helicopter sightseeing and hiking flights start at 8 AM making a lot of noise. Expect one helicopter each minute during the peak season. To dodge the crowds and avoid the disturbing helicopter noise be there early around 7 AM. You’ll experience a much more peaceful walk to the glacier and enjoy the fascinating sights in solitude. You might also try to go after 6 PM in the summer or after 4 PM in the winter when the crowds dissipated again and heli flights are terminated soon for the day. However, the views sometimes can get worse since when clouds descend later in the day. But still, a late hike, still daylight etc., is a great way to dodge the crowds.

NZ New Zealand

Summer offers the best and driest weather in July and August. However, bad weather can still occur. Always check the forecast, bring rain gear and dress in layers to be prepared for every kind of weather. If you want to avoid the most snow, don’t go before June. In May even places like Paradise are still covered with snow. In most years the area is usually snow-free from about mid-July through late September.

Avoiding the Crowds

July and August are also the peak tourist months. Paradise and Sunrise will be quite crowded. If you can, visit in June or September: After the first Labor Day weekend (early September) tourist crowds dissipate. However, there are 3 simple ways dodge the crowds and get a parking lot even during peak season in the summer:

  • Be there early in the morning. Preferably before 9 AM. The earlier, the better. Stay at a nearby hotel or lodge (see our tips below).
  • Alternatively, you could arrive late, between 5 PM and 6 PM. Most visitors have left the park at 6 PM. You'd avoid most crowds and enjoy one of the fascinating Shorter Hikes
  • Try to avoid weekends and visit mid-week if possible.

Sweet Spot Months

Sweet spot months with fewer crowds and a high chance of good weather are June and September (immediately after Labor Day crowds disappear). In September it’s even snow free, and the visitor centers and all its facilities are usually open until the end of September. But still, try to avoid weekends in September if possible or start early in the morning.

US United States