Yosemite National Park is the third most visited in the National Park System- if you haven’t already been, I’m guessing it’s on your bucket list. It’s known for its epic granite formations, majestic views, roaring waterfalls, and top-notch hiking. Unfortunately, it’s also known for its crowds, and difficulty getting campsites, hotel rooms, and hiking permits. Summer is undeniably the busiest season in Yosemite, thanks to school breaks and family vacations. Not everyone has the option to visit Yosemite in the fall, but here are six reasons why you should make every effort… and three downsides.
It’s less crowded.


With almost 4 million people a year visiting Yosemite, and many of those crammed into June, July, and August, the park gets CROWDED. Yosemite Valley is only 7 miles long, with one main road looping around. Even though rangers will stop letting cars in once the Valley is full, you can still sit in traffic for hours to get anywhere, not to mention doing battle to find a parking spot, or elbowing people out of your way to get iconic photos at the most popular sights.

It’s easier to get reservations.


Campsites, cabins, and hotel rooms go online and are instantly snatched up for the high season. It’s like Taylor Swift concert tickets being released- if you’re not in front of your computer the minute it happens (5 months ahead, at 7am Pacific time), your only hope is checking daily for cancellations or taking a gamble on a walk-up spot. Staying outside the park is an option, but then you’re at least 30 minutes from the Valley and rooms still fill up fast.
On Saturday, I went to recreation.gov, picked my dates, and found an opening at the Upper Pines campsite starting Tuesday. I put in my credit card info and voila, I had a campsite for two nights. Now, there weren’t TONS of openings – a night here, a night there, and no weekends – but if you only need one site, and especially if you can go mid-week, you’ll probably find something. In the screenshot below, the purple “A” means available- look at all the open spots for next week! What are you waiting for?
You’re more likely to get hiking permits.

If you intend to hike out on a trail in Yosemite and sleep somewhere in the woods, you must have a Wilderness Permit. I didn’t go into the backcountry this trip, but I’ve had to deal with the Yosemite permit system twice before: in 2015, I organized a backpacking trip for a group of 8, and this past year, I had the pleasure of navigating the JMT permit system. Both times it felt like I was trying to learn a foreign language while also relying on the luck of the draw.

Backcountry permits are given out by trailhead, with quotas for each one, to limit overuse on the most popular trails. Anything leaving out of the Valley, Glacier Point, or Tuolumne Meadows is probably booked months in advance. Half Dome permits are like gold. And if you’re trying to start the John Muir Trail from Happy Isles, good luck – your odds of winning a permit in the lottery are rumored to be as low as 2-4%. When I organized the trip in 2015, I dramatically underestimated demand, and had to completely change our plan when the permits we wanted weren’t available. This trip was in early September, when I didn’t expect there would be much demand, but I learned my lesson.

You can check permit availability on the Full Trailheads report on YNP’s website – if you have some flexibility, you can just browse the list and see what’s available, but you’re going to have a ton more options later in the season. According to this report I could have had my pick of just about any hike on any trail that I wanted this week.
The foliage is stunning.

Foliage timing will vary year to year with weather, rainfall, and sunlight, but YNP’s website says peak color is usually late October and may linger through December. Although Yosemite contains mostly evergreen trees and isn’t known for “spectacular” fall color, I still found it breathtakingly beautiful. There were tons of yellows and some oranges, and the contrast of the yellow aspens with the white granite and the blue sky was mesmerizing. I’ll just leave these here…

The weather is perfect.

Again, every year will vary, but generally you can expect warm days and cool to cold nights in October. I had pretty much perfect weather for my visit: warm to hot during the day, when I was comfortable in shorts and a long-sleeve shirt. I even got a little color on my face. In the evenings and the mornings it was perfectly fall-crisp – leggings and a fleece kept me cozy. At night I was happy to have my big down quilt, and I could see my breath before bed and when I woke up before sunrise.

Weather is especially important when you’re camping – if you’ve ever tried to sleep in a tent when it’s hot and humid out, you know how miserable it can be. Give me a chilly night, a warm fire, and a cozy sleeping bag and I get the best night’s sleep.
Sunrise is later.

In June, around the longest days of the year, sunrise in Yosemite is about 5:30. Right now, it’s about 7:15, which means almost an extra 2 hours to sleep if you want to be awake, waiting somewhere with your camera to catch the first rays of the dawn bouncing off a granite face. For me, that’s a pretty big plus. I love the magic of sunrises, but I’m not always a morning person. The photo below of the sun rising on Half Dome is from 7:54am.
I’m officially converted to a fall Yosemite visitor, but there are three important downsides to consider. In my opinion, none is enough to outweigh the good, but keep them in mind when planning your visit and decide what’s most important to you.
The waterfalls aren’t at full volume.

Yosemite’s epic, world-famous waterfalls are fed mostly by snowmelt, which leaves them roaring in the spring, impressive in the summer, and trickling in the autumn. Normally when you drive into the Valley, you have a “holy crap hit the brakes” moment when you spot one tumbling down the cliffs in the distance. On my trip this week, I could barely make out Illilouette Falls even from a viewpoint designed to see it. Yosemite Falls (below) is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America at 2,425 feet, and I didn’t even notice it on my first day. Bridalveil was flowing, thanks partly to the epic winter we had, but certainly not at its usual volume. They’re still beautiful and worth a visit, but nothing like the jaw-droppers that they can be in the spring.
Fewer daylight hours.

Along with the later sunrise I mentioned above, sunset is obviously earlier, too. A day is almost 15 hours in June; in late October, you have fewer than 11 daylight hours to see everything. Hikers and backpackers especially can be disadvantaged by this, as they may feel more pressure to make their miles while it’s still light. Even in the campgrounds in the Valley, this may mean setting up a tent or cooking a meal in the dark, which isn’t ideal. This photo of sunset on Half Dome is from 6:05 pm; I had to switch on my headlamp shortly after.

Seasonal and snow closures.

The high country in Yosemite – Glacier Point, Tioga Pass, Tuolumne Meadows – generally close for the season once snow starts to accumulate, usually November to May (you can check historical dates here). While everything was still open when I was there this week, there’s never a weather guarantee once you hit mid to late October. Again, having some flexibility and checking the weather report a week before can be really helpful, but if you need to plan months in advance, you run the risk of disappointment with late-season reservations. Regardless of the weather, high country campgrounds, concessions, and other services will close in mid-October every year. Luckily the Valley is always open!
And if you need a Yosemite guidebook, try this one!

So what do you think, did I miss any pros or cons?

Have I convinced you to get to Yosemite in the fall?

Let me know in the comments!