Spring in Yosemite is the best time to visit, especially if you can go during the week. Thawing snow fills the streams and brings waterfalls to their prettiest flow, dogwood trees bloom, plants sprout in delicate greens. The crowds that plague the park in summer haven't arrived yet, and photography opportunities abound.
Yosemite weather is usually mild in spring, with occasional rain or late-season snow. There's more information about highs, lows and rainfall on the Yosemite weather page. River water levels, wildflower status and road closures are on the check the National Park Service website.
Spring is also a good time to visit Yosemite, you're on a tight budget. Entry fees are waived Yosemite National Park and in more than 100 other parks nationwide during the annual National Parks Week (held in April). You'll find the current year's list here.
On the downside, Glacier Point and Tioga Pass close because of winter snow and remain closed until May or later in most years.
Scenes from Yosemite in Spring
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Yosemite in Spring Photo Tour
Yosemite in Spring: Water
The waterfalls are some of the most beautiful parts of Yosemite in spring. As the snow begins to melt at higher elevations, the streams fill and the waterfalls run at full throttle, cascading down the mountainsides and in years of maximum water flow, making thundering sounds that can be hear throughout the valley.
Yosemite in spring is also full of unusual water-related phenomena. If there's a full moon, head for the bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall and you may get to see a rare lunar rainbow, sometimes called a moonbow. Unfortunately, human eyes can't see its colors at night, but you may see a silvery glow in the mist. However, a camera can capture the scene in color and you're likely to find hundreds of photographers there to capture the scene. If you'd like to see what it looks like, check this photo of a Yosemite moonbow.
If the weather is cold enough, another rare phenomenon called "frazil ice" sometimes forms at the base of the waterfalls. When the air temperature suddenly drops below freezing, tiny ice crystals form and get pressed together, making the water into a stream of slush, which can sometimes be as much as 20 feet deep along Yosemite Creek at Lower Yosemite Fall.
While Mirror Lake is really more of a meadow for most of the year, in spring it's water-filled and views of Half Dome reflected in it can be spectacular. It's a two-mile, fairly flat hike on a well-marked trail that takes about an hour. Take the Valley Shuttle bus to the Mirror Lake Trail stop.
Yosemite in Spring: Wildflowers
Spring wildflower bloom in Yosemite varies every year, depending on the temperature and the amount of rain and snowfall. If you don't find flowers at your elevation, try going lower or higher. A few of the most notable:
- Snow Plant, a fungus plant with striking, red stalk that looks like a flower, found only in the Yellow Pine and Red Fir forests of California and southern Oregon is the first sign of spring, often peeking through the snow.
- California poppies, goldfields, meadowfoam, baby blue-eyes and redbud flower in the foothills, along CA Hwy 140 through the Merced River Canyon in March and April.
- Lupine blooms in April and May near the Wawona Hotel.
- Pacific Dogwood blooms in the Valley from late April into May.
One of the best places for spring wildflowers is outside the park, off CA Hwy 140 on the Hite Cove Trail.
Yosemite in Spring: What's Open
Most winter activities such as Badger Pass skiing close for the season by March 31. Tioga Pass, Mariposa Grove and Glacier Point Roads will stay closed until late May or early June. Late snowstorms can close other roads, making tire chains mandatory. You should carry them with you and be prepared to use them, even if you have four-wheel drive.
Photographing Yosemite in Spring
John Muir wrote about Yosemite in spring, saying: "Now is the birth-time of leaves; the pines are retassled, and the oaks are sprayed with young purple." Read his whole description at the Sierra Club website. Photographs of Yosemite in spring feature gushing waterfalls with rainbows in the spray and gleaming, white dogwood blossoms highlighted against dark tree trunks.
If you want to capture Yosemite in spring with your camera, try a photography workshop. The National Park Service offers morning Camera Walks starting in mid-April. These free, two-hour tours with a professional photographer can help you learn how to make better photographs of Yosemite in spring. You'll find more info at the Yosemite Park website.