Yosemite National Park! Mesmerizing and spectacular views! Read on for our complete season guide updated in 2019 or scroll down for tips about the most breathtaking places. Looking for something specific besides our season tips? Here's a quick navigation:
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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:
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. Itbegins 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. In late fall, your best bet is Wawona and Yosemite Valley, but even there you may require tire chains.
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 usally 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.
WINTER (December, January, February, March)
If solitude is what you seek, winter will be a treat.
Weather: 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. 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 make 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.
How to Avoid the Crowds
Your best bet to avoid the crowds is to visit in spring, late autumn, or winter. However, even in summer you can dodge the tourist crowds. Follow our tips below to get the most out of your visit.
Get up early:
There is nothing more spectacular than a Yosemite sunrise, and if you can make yourself get up early, you will essentially have the place (almost) to yourself. Take advantage of the morning's first light, and your reward will be some phenomenal photos. Park rangers suggest starting before 9 a.m. Although not packed, very popular places can already get busier between 9 and 10 a.m. in the peak months. The earlier you arrive, the better.
Stay up late:
If you are not an early riser, you might prefer the big sky at night. Under the light of the moon and millions of stars, you can't help but feel amazed at what nature has to offer. The park hosts free astronomy lessons, but to truly avoid the crowds, try to find a more remote spot instead. These night sky views are unforgettable. Crowds start to dissipate after 5 p.m.
Venture away from the main tourist sites:
Sure, they are likely the reason you chose Yosemite, but the same is true for everyone else. Consider a visit to the High Sierra, where there are no crowds and expansive views. This makes a great location for a multi-day hike, or a home base for camping.
Step out of your comfort zone:
Or your vehicle. Most tourists visit the park in their cars which can create traffic jams and on top of that, you only get a glimpse into what Yosemite has to offer. Park your car and take a hike instead. A little mountain fresh air is good for the soul, and the best part is, the views only get better as you go. Trails range in difficulty and distance, so be sure to consider your physical ability and time frame as you plan. Avoid the Mist Trail unless you arrive first thing in the morning, as it is one of the most popular, and does see a lot of crowd action as the day wears on.
Pack a cooler:
Pull off somewhere special to enjoy a private picnic. You will thank yourself when you see the lines at the restaurants. Not only do you have the freedom to choose when and where you stop, you have full control of your food choices. Park dining options are great in a pinch, but tend to offer mediocre food, for pretty steep prices.
Yosemite Firefall (Winter / See Tips Above)
Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments. Over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife.
Sweet spot months in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) without the heavy summer crowds, open Trail Ridge Road and a good chance of nice weather are late May until early June or September after Labor Day (mid-week) until mid-October. However, snow is possible at both times. September is also great for wildlife because of the elk rutting season (peak mid-September to mid-October). In fall the air is clear and crisp and the skies are blue. Please make sure to read our full season guide below (including monthly weather), seasonal crowd tips, hotel suggestions as well as more useful tips at the end of this article (scroll down!)
Top Tip (Very Easy Hikes)
Tip: Venture off Trail Ridge Road to experience the real beauty of RMNP. If you can't do any strenuous hikes but still want to be awed, then take a look this guide on Amazon: Best Easy Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park. It covers amazing hikes for everyone, even suitable if you visit with small children (like 0.5 miles or 2 miles round-trips). But also hikes which are slightly more challenging. Like John Muir said 'Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.'
Highlight (Trail Ridge Road & Tours)
The stunning Trail Ridge Road is open from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) until mid-October. The official closing date is October 23, but they often close it a few days before that date. Even in June or September, it’s possible that it’s closed for hours or a day due to snow, often between 8 PM and 10 AM. Make sure to check more tips for the Trail Ridge Road in our section below the season guide (scroll down).
Special Tour Tip (from Denver or Boulder): If you're staying in Denver or Boulder and would like to experience the Trail Ridge Road as well as the most stunning viewpoints hassle-free, we suggest the Unique Rocky Mountain National Park Tour (from Denver and Boulder). It's an 8 hour day tour which includes driving the amazing Trail Ridge Road as well as other mesmerizing parts of RMNP. The views you'll get to see on this trip are just spectacular. Everything is taken care of, including pick-up service from Denver and Boulder (In case you need a hotel in Denver, check these deals: Denver Hotels)
Regardless of the season: The higher into the mountains you go, the colder it gets. In general, RMNP is known for its extreme weather patterns which can change very quickly, as well as wide variations between day and nighttime temperatures. Find detailed weather data here: Climate Estes Park - Colorado
Spring | April - May
Early Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park
The weather in spring is unpredictable: Up to 70°F (21°C) on one day and a temperature drop together with blizzards on the next day. It varies between warm and cold, wet and dry. Many trails are still snow-covered well into May, often even at the end of May. After a warm April, trails can be snow free in May, but are very muddy. This means you either have to deal with snow or with muddy trails. In general, snowfall is not uncommon in spring. Temperature ranges between 70°F (21°C) and 60°F (16°C).
Summer | June - July - August
Cub Lake in RMNP at Dawn
The most comfortable weather is in the summer months from July to August: The temperature climbs up to 75°F (24°C). However, afternoon thunderstorms can occur and wind is normal. Always prepare for temperature drops of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that the highest elevation trails are snow covered well into June. Wildflowers are in bloom from late June to early August. What to wear in the summer? Always bring layers of clothes, even if you don't plan to hike at higher elevations. A morning can be mild and in the afternoon temps can drop remarkably. Always bring a rain jacket, as well as a warmer long sleeve shirt in your pack. Usually you can start with a short sleeve shirt for hikes or walks.
Fall | September - October - Early November
Autumn is usually a great time for a visit. September and October bring clear, crisp air, blue skies, and generally dry weather. Especially in September it's generally still mild and warm. However, mornings and evenings can be a lot chillier. Always bring a jacket! Early snow is already possible in October. Looking for fall foliage? Leaves start changing colors in late August at higher elevations, peak is around mid-September and the beautiful fall foliage lasts until October in most years at lower elevations. Early October is often still a good time for leaf peeping at lower elevations. At higher elevations the vibrant fall colores will be already gone in October. Elk rutting season begins in September as well and continues through mid-October at least. Like in spring you need to be flexible, check the forecast and bring gear and clothes for various conditions.
Winter | November - March
Winter in RMNP means snow and arctic conditions. However, lower elevations on the east slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are usually free of deep snow. The west side of the park experiences more snow, less wind, and clear cold days during these months. Most high country overnight trips require gear suitable for freezing temperatures. Skiing and snowshoeing conditions are best in January, February, and March. There are lots of other exciting activities in Winter: Sledding at Hidden Valley, Winter Wildlife Viewing, Ice Climbing and more. Visit NPS Rocky Mountain Winter Activities and 20 Things To Do in the Winter. Trail Ridge Road: While it's closed in the winter, keep in mind that you're allowed to drive the first 8 miles until Many Parks Curve overlook. Depending on weather conditions of course.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
With over 4 million visitors each year, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited Parks in the U.S. Expect the most crowds in summer and fall. The busiest months are June until August, with heavy crowds in July/August. During the week it starts to thin out after Labor Day in September (first Monday in September), but not on weekends. Also, try to avoid National Public Lands Day at the end of September. Entrance to to all National Parks is free then and RMNP will be extremely busy on this day/weekend!! Visiting mid-week in September means less crowds as well as enjoying elk rutting and pleasant fall temperatures at the same time.
In general from July through September: Avoid weekends and/or go early in the morning to beat the crowds. In the peak months arrive between 7 and 8 AM to get a parking spot. Usually, it starts to get busier after 9 AM. Especially popular entrances like Estes Park or trailheads like Bear Lake Trail are extremely busy. In general, the west side (Grand Lake) is less crowded than the Eastern side (Estes Park Entrance). Regardless of the month, season or entrance: Go as early as possible, head out on a trail, hike a few of miles from the busy areas and you won’t see too many others.
Explore a desert wilderness of stunning canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River.
The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park depends on what you are looking for and if you are willing to avoid the noon and afternoon heat by getting up early. Read on for our detailed 'when to go' tips:
Best months regarding the weather are April/May and September/October. During these months daytime highs average 60 to 80 F and lows average 30 to 50 F. Summer months get boiling hot with temperatures > 100 F, especially The Needles district. Not recommended for strenuous day hikes. If you decide to hike in the summer: Get up very early and be back by lunch time. Thunderstorms can happen in late summer and early fall. Winters are cold: highs 30 to 50 F and lows 0 to 20 F. The Needles District stays slightly warmer during winter due to its lower elevation.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
With 450,000 visitors/year it’s less crowded than the major parks. Most visitors come here in April/May and September/October. During these peak months the popular spots might be busy. Despite the high temperatures, summer became also slightly more busy recently. While 'Island in the Sky' receives the highest visitation, 'The Maze' is the least busiest. If you visit in the popular months and want to beat possible crowds: Avoid weekends and start your tour very early. Besides, if you drive or hike far enough you won’t be sharing with your trail with others regardless of the season. If you want total solitude: November to February. However, some roads could be inaccessible.
Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers.
Where animal sightings happen, depends on habitat preferences, weather and seasonal cycles of movement. Still, it's often a matter of luck but you can increase your chances by following our monthly guide. Read our full guide below and find out which animal can be seen in which months and season (spring - summer - autumn - winter). And if you want to make the most out of your wildlife visit, consider this incredible private tour: Private Yellowstone Wildlife Tour (with extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and professional tour guides. You'll remember this special tour forever!)
April - Early June (Spring)
Most animals can be spotted in or near the valleys. It's the time for baby bison, baby moose, baby bear, baby elk and many more. Also a good time to spot wolves and grizzly bears. Grizzly sightings occur mostly at night, dawn and dusk. A great grizzly bear spot in spring is the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Gray wolves are often seen in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.
Mid-June - July - August (Summer)
Bears and other animals leave the valleys and head for higher areas in June/July. But still, visitors often report bear sightings throughout June. Later in July and August the chances to spot grizzlies or black bears in the valleys are very low. However, bison are still there, starting to rut in early August. Warm, great weather but also peak tourist months.
September - October (Autumn)
Animals return to the valleys. Elk rut throughout September. The fascinating rut can be witnessed up-close in Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance. Together with amazing fall colors it’s one of the best time to view or photograph almost every animal including elk, moose, bighorn as well as wolves and grizzly. Visitor wise it gets slightly less busy in September after Labor Day weekend. However especially weekends are still busy. In late September/early October the crowds start to dissipate.
November December- January - February - March (Winter)
Winter in Yellowstone! A magical time and least crowded. Most animals are in or near the valleys. Some can be spotted near the steaming geyser basins. Winter is the best time to view wolves. You can also observe bison, elk, bighorn and others. Also, a really great time for photographers, since animals are easier to spot against the snow. Grizzly bears can't be spotted, since they hibernate in winter until mid-March. Finde more tips for a winter visit on the official NPS website: Visiting Yellowstone in Winter. Especially useful are the lists with open facilities in the winter and the warming huts. One thing we'd always do again in winter, is a snowmbile tour. That's an amazing experience. We can recommend these guys (they are excellent!): Full Day Snowmobile Tour from Jackson Hole (Tip: bookmark the link). The best lodging in Jackson: Inn on The Creek (via booking.com with price guarantee)
Time of Day
The best time of day for wildlife viewing is either dawn or dusk: Animals usually feed during the early morning and in the evening. That's why they're often more visible at these times as they're up and moving around. In general dawn is even superior: Be at the valleys just before at sunrise and stay until 9 AM. It's also less crowded. However, dusk is also great, particularly for elk viewing in Sept. Sunrise - Sunset Yellowstone
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Yellowstone National Parks gets heavily crowded in the peak summer months. If you plan a summer visit, book your hotel well in advance.
The most crowded months are June, July and August: Congested roads, overflown parking lots and the popular places are packed: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs. The month of May is still moderate visitor wise. However, it gets very busy on Memorial Day. Later in September visitation starts to drop off after Labor Day weekend. However, it's still busy, even more so on weekends. In late September the crowds start to thin out. In October it's getting a lot quieter again.
How to avoid the crowds during peak months? Arrive early! The rush hour in YNP starts between 9 and 10 AM. Get up as early as possible! Another way is to dodge the crowds is by staying late: The main attractions are packed between 10 AM and 4 PM. Get there later, as it doesn't get dark before 9 PM anyway. Another big advantage when arriving early or staying late: You'll get to see more wildlife at dawn or dusk (see above). Extra tip: Check the official NPS Webcams a few days before you arrive during certain daytimes.
There is one word which is true for Yellowstone's weather: Unpredictable! Temperature drops and rain can happen almost any time in spring, summer and fall. Thunderstorms in summer are common in the afternoons. Bring layer of clothes and always rain gear.
If you'd like to avoid snow completely, then don't visit before May/June. It still can snow in June at some places but it will melt very quickly. By late May the valley floor is usually snow free. In higher elevations you may still see some snow in late May and June. That's important to know if you go hiking. After the summer you can expect the first real snow in October. As a local expert says: 'You can count on snow on the ground in Yellowstone by Halloween!'. However, never let the snow stop you from coming. October is an excellent month: Quiet and still so much wildlife to spot! In spring late April and May are our preferred months, regardless of the snow. Just keep in mind that until late April it still can feel like winter!
Yellowstone is the world's first national park, established in 1872. Witness volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers.
Long, cold winters. Mild, but short summers. The warmest months are from June to August and a great time for hiking. In spring the weather is unpredictable: Cold and even snow can linger into April and May. A warm jacket and rain gears are a must-have in spring. Fall months, especially SEPTEMBER and early OCTOBER may be the best months with mild weather, fewer crowds and lots of wildlife. In winter heavy snowfall occurs from December to March.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds:
July and August are also the peak tourist months. Crowds start to thin out after Labor Day in September. In October it even gets much quieter. A perfect month to enjoy many places without many others. Just keep in mind that a lot of facilities close sometime in October and November: NPS Yellowstone - Operating Hours.
Please note, that September became busier in the recent years. It's less busy than in summer but not a super quiet shoulder month anymore. Follow our September Tips:
- Go mid-September, as it gets quieter. A great sweet spot week is the last week in September.
Go as early as possible. If you get up early you'll avoid heavy traffic at the busy areas like Old Faithful or elk rutting spots along the road.
Another great month is the first week of June with warm weather and fewer crowds before the peak summer season starts. Again, keep in mind that June became much busier recently: Go early in the morning and try to avoid weekends.
Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.
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.