Yosemite In October: 10 Things You Need To Know

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Yosemite In October Travel Tips Things To Know Perfect Month To Visit Golden Yellow Meadows At Sunset

Planning a visit to Yosemite in October is easier than you might imagine. Yes, there are a small number of negative aspects to contend with but all things considered, October is one of the very best months to explore the spectacularly beautiful Yosemite National Park in California.

We know from first hand experience exactly what it is like to spend 4 days in Yosemite National Park in October. Weather, roads, crowds, lodging, hikes and more factors will be covered in this detailed guide so you can prepare for your visit the right way.

Is October a good time to visit Yosemite National Park?

Yes! Visiting Yosemite in October allows you to experience the park when it is much quieter, cheaper and full of vibrant Autumnal color. If you prefer to avoid the crowds when you travel, plan your trip to Yosemite National Park in fall.

In this guide we will show you:

  • 10 key things to know about visiting Yosemite in October
  • In depth information about temperatures, prices and tourism
  • What you need to know about hiking, waterfalls and photography
  • Where to see fall colors around Yosemite National Park in October

Let’s get right into the 10 most important things you should know about planning a trip to Yosemite National Park in October!

Our Yosemite Experience In October

Woman jumping on man's shoulders with views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome in the background
Mark and Kristen in Yosemite National Park in October

We spent 4 amazing days exploring far and wide in Yosemite National Park in the middle of October in 2019.

Yosemite was part of our first long term US road trip out west and it was easily one of our favorite stops.

We had just left the fiery desert of Death Valley, so we entered Yosemite via east entrance and spent our first day on Tioga Pass Road.

Our second and third days were spent hiking and photographing Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, before finishing with giant sequoia groves on our final day in the park.

We both agreed that the lack of crowds were a real draw for visiting Yosemite in fall, but for us, our favorite aspect was the magnificent colors on display throughout the famous landscape.

1. Yosemite Is Far Less Crowded In October

Hiking Mist Trail in Yosemite national park crossing bridge with no other people around lack of crowds makes october the perfect month to visit
Kristen walking across a bridge to hike Mist Trail in October

Yosemite is one of the most famous and beloved landscapes in the entire US national park system. And that means it is also one of the top bucket list places to visit in the USA.

In 2019, Yosemite welcomed 4.4 million hikers, photographers and sightseers. That’s 400 thousand more visitors than Yellowstone National Park in 2019 for some perspective.

Almost 1.5 million of those 4.4 million visited Yosemite in the peak summer months of July and August. That is an enormous amount of people vying for campgrounds, hotels, hiking trails, photography locations, space on the roads and the limited parking spots available.

However, the month of October sees drastically reduced numbers of tourists exploring Yosemite National Park. That alone is reason enough to consider planning a trip to Yosemite in the fall.

According to Statista, Yosemite saw just 2.27 million visitors in 2020, before climbing to 3.29 million in 2021 and again to 3.67 million in 2022.

Visiting National Parks In Summer

Our advice is to avoid the US national parks in peak summer months when possible, especially the most popular parks like Yosemite. Shoulder seasons are always a more relaxing way to experience the best USA national parks.

We haven’t visited Yosemite in July or August ourselves and won’t unless we really must! But we did spend the entire summer of 2021 living in Washington State and we can tell you that visiting national parks in summer is hard work.

Getting parked at trailheads is almost impossible after 8am and even when you do get lucky, the trails are extremely busy. Lines at Olympic and Mt Rainier have been 100+ cars deep at times and that’s just not fun.

The problem with the Washington parks is that the window of opportunity is very small. July to September is all you get for many hikes.

However, Yosemite has a much wider window and October is a wonderful time to visit the park with access to almost all hikes and attractions as the park remains almost completely open.

Make the most of the lighter crowds and longer open seasons, you won’t regret it!

How Will Visiting Yosemite In The Fall Benefit You?

Shoulder seasons including the month of October are the best times of year to visit Yosemite if your top priority is avoiding vast crowds but still benefiting from comfortable weather conditions and having access to most of the park.

Here are just some of the reasons you will enjoy the freedom of a visit to Yosemite National Park in October:

  • You will avoid vehicles bottlenecking in Yosemite Valley and jamming up for hours.
  • Getting parked at trailheads is far less frustrating.
  • You stand a better chance of booking into a hotel, cabin or campground inside or near the park.
  • Hiking trails are quieter, which means getting caught in fewer hiker traffic jams.
  • Popular photography locations are far easier to access.
  • You get the added bonus of radiant golden colors lighting up Yosemite Valley.

If you need any more convincing that fall is a better time to visit Yosemite than summer, take a look at this Visitor Access Management Plan directly from the NPS.

You will see Yosemite Valley roads gridlocked in summer and requests for suggestions on how the park can sustainably manage summer crowds.

2. The Weather Is Changeable In Yosemite During October

Weather is great in Yosemite in October for hiking and photography golden meadows in Yosemite Valley
Golden meadows in Yosemite Valley on a sunny day in October

We were pleasantly surprised by the weather in Yosemite in October. During the day we couldn’t have set a better temperature for hiking and exploring the park. However, it does come in cold at night and in the morning.

Yosemite only receives 4 days of rain on average in October, which is almost as few as summer months.

Over 75% of rainfall in Yosemite occurs between November and March so you can plan for mostly dry days in October, especially earlier in the month.

But what about snow?

Well, average snowfall is very low in Yosemite National Park for the month of October with just 0.2 inches. Snowfall doesn’t typically begin to increase in Yosemite until November.

Our Yosemite itinerary was 4 days long in October and we had consistently bright, sunny and warm days from mid morning through late afternoon.

Important Note About Weather In Yosemite In The Fall

At least in our experience, the temperatures around Yosemite Valley would plummet at night and remain low through the morning.

We spent one night in a yurt right outside the park entrance and one night in North Pines campground inside Yosemite Valley. Both nights we were freezing cold.

Average high temperatures in October are around 74 f (23 C), down from a significantly warmer 84 f (29 C) in September. That results in more comfortable hiking conditions throughout the day than summer, which is a big plus for visiting Yosemite in fall.

However, average lows hover around a chilly 38 f (3.5 C) in October. So, if you plan to be out exploring early or late, you need to take plenty of warmer gear.

3. All Entrance Roads Into Yosemite Are Open In October

Tioga Road Entrance Lembert Dome Summit Blue Sky California
View over Yosemite from the summit of Lembert Dome

Despite the winter season approaching, all roads into, around and out of Yosemite remain open throughout October.

The only road that has a small chance of closing before the end of October is the Tioga Pass Road, which serves as Yosemite’s East entrance.

Tioga Pass Road leads to Death Valley, Lake Tahoe and some of the best northern California hot springs near Mammoth Lakes.

However, this road historically closes anytime from the beginning to the end of November so you should be fine in October.

Having access to all of Yosemite’s entrances and roads means you won’t miss out on any attractions, hikes or photography locations. This is not something to take for granted. It means you can plan the best USA road trip possible around the Sierra’s with minimal crowds and disruption.

Tioga Pass Road is an incredibly picturesque stretch of Yosemite and it also provides access to Tuolumne Grove, one of three giant sequoia regions in the park.

When we visited Yellowstone in October, the park was almost completely shut down due to a huge snowfall. No cars in or out. But that is extremely unlikely in Yosemite, even in late fall.

Important: Glacier Point Road is back open in 2023 after being closed for the 2022 season.

Logistics Tips

4. Accommodation Is Easier To Book Around Yosemite In October

Tent in North Pines campground on a cold october morning in yosemite national park california surrounded by trees
Our tent in Yosemite’s North Pines Campground in October

Lodging is notoriously difficult to find and book in the more popular national parks like Yosemite. If you have been having trouble finding an affordable place to stay in a good location close to the park entrances, you are not alone!

Our extremely popular guide on the best places to stay in Yosemite explains everything about lodging in and around the park.

The good news is that October is one of the best months of the year for picking up a room at one of the official Yosemite national park lodges or nearby hotels.

Last Minute Bookings

Even last minute bookings can be made if you visit this late in the year because the three major park hotels are still open until the end of November; The Ahwahnee, Wawona Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge.

You can search for lodging inside the park through Yosemite Hospitality.

If you left things late in summer you would have no chance getting a room inside the park. Plus, even if you do manage to get a room inside the park, it will be heavily inflated in cost. Prices at Yosemite hotels in October are a little lighter on the wallet.

Similarly, you would do well to grab a room in any of the small towns and villages near the park entrances if you visited in summer. But in October, you can snag a hotel room in a nearby town such as Mariposa for a reasonable price.

Booking in advance is still recommended to guarantee a place to sleep near a park entrance, even if you visit Yosemite in the fall. There’s nothing worse than having to drive an hour in and out of the park each day.

Best Places To Stay Near Yosemite

If national park hotels are too expensive or fully booked during the dates you plan to visit Yosemite in autumn, you will either have to camp or stay at a hotel in a town nearby.

Staying either to the west or south provides easier access to the main park entrances. However, hotel availability is surprisingly sparse, so we do suggest getting booked up as soon as you have dates.

Groveland, Mariposa and Oakhurst provide the three best options for staying outside the park. Anything closer to the park such as El Portal is a bonus and should be strongly considered.

Here are some of the top hotels we see travelers book the most:

Fish Camp

El Portal

Mariposa

Oakhurst

Buck Meadows

If you are booking last minute, try all of the hotels listed above because they are within striking distance of Yosemite.

You can also read our helpful guide on how to find cheap hotels to save on your booking in Yosemite.

Camping In Yosemite

If you thought getting a hotel room was tough near Yosemite, you should try booking a campsite.

Thanks to small-mid sized travel companies block booking out campsites as soon as they open, visitors like you and us are left with very little chance of getting a spot.

We did manage to get one night out of the three we spent in Yosemite at North Pines campground. It was a cancellation, so if you are struggling for a place to stay near the park, be aware that you can grab a spot at the last minute if you’re lucky.

Research camping on the NPS website and try to be as organized with your dates as possible. Remember, if you end up sleeping in your car, you will need to exit the national park boundary.

Camping Exclusive

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Take advantage of our exclusive 30 day free trial of The Dyrt PRO to get reservations at sold out campgrounds in Yosemite National Park by using a fantastic new feature called Dyrt Alerts.

You can create alerts to notify you of any cancelations at campgrounds in Yosemite, which is huge. Try The Dyrt PRO for free, no strings attached!

5. You Do Not Need To Make Reservations To Enter Yosemite In October

Tunnel View Photography El Cap Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls Valley of Trees
The spectacular view over Yosemite from Tunnel View at dusk

In 2020, a handful of the busiest US national parks began trialing a new reservation system to limit the amount of vehicles and people from visiting a single attraction or park at once.

We know first hand how frustrating the reservation system can be because we were in Acadia National Park in the fall of 2020 and they first introduced reservations for Cadillac Mountain.

We never made it up Cadillac Mountain for sunrise as a direct result of this because tickets sold out instantly, despite both of us clicking the buy now button at exactly the time of release. (Yes, we may still be a little bitter!!).

However, we can completely understand why the like of Acadia, Zion and Yosemite are trialing these new methods to control and regulate traffic. These parks do get out of control at times during busier months.

Visiting Yosemite in October means you do not have to reserve an entrance slot for the park. The reservation system begins in May and ends on September 30.

In Yosemite, the reservation is not just for one single attraction, it is for the entire park. You can not get through an entrance without a reservation between May and September.

Although Yosemite did not implement this reservation system in 2023, there are ongoing discussions about how best to approach overcrowding in the future so keep an eye on this space. Whatever the result, we don’t think it will be a problem this late in the year.

Just another reason to visit Yosemite National Park in October!

Need help planning your trip to Yosemite?

Our popular Yosemite travel guidebook helps you with planning every aspect of your visit, including what to see, the best hikes, where to eat and stay, itinerary ideas and map!

View Yosemite Guidebook
Where Are Those Morgans Yosemite travel guidebook

6. Yosemite Valley Is Stunning In Fall

Fall colors in trees reflecting in merced river
Gorgeous fall colors lining the banks of the Merced River in October

Autumn is our favorite time of the year for travel, hiking and photography period. Cooler temperatures, fewer crowds and better value are the obvious benefits.

But it is the fresh smells and intense colors of the fall season that really bring places to life.

Now, Yosemite’s colors are not even close to what you will see on a New England fall road trip, but the leaves do change and the park becomes even more picturesque (if that is possible!).

Where To See Fall Colors

Dogwood, cottonwood and black oak tree leaves turn darker shades of red, orange and yellow among a sea of evergreens, all hugging the Merced River and reflecting perfectly in the glassy shallow waters.

But our favorite fall colors in Yosemite are found in Yosemite Valley among the meadows, where long grass turns a golden yellow hue. Yosemite Valley looks especially stunning when the sun illuminates its vast meadows with soft light at dawn and dusk.

You will also find fall colors on hikes and in giant sequoia groves around Yosemite. The further afield you explore, the more unique spots you will find filled with autumnal leaves.

7. October Is The Perfect Month For Hiking In Yosemite

Yosemite In October Where Are Those Morgans Hiking Mist Trail In Shadow Early Morning
Kristen hiking in Yosemite in October

Yosemite is overflowing with truly awesome hiking trails. But they are renowned for being overcrowded in summer months. Enter, October and traffic free trails.

You might be thinking it’s a bit late in the year, so the Half Dome cables are probably down for the season. We did too, but they’re not. The cables and permits for Half Dome are open until Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.

Therefore, you do still stand a small chance of getting a permit for one of the most iconic hiking trails in the US and even the world.

See more information about how to get a Half Dome permit.

All hope is not lost if you are unable to get a Half Dome permit. There are still plenty of amazing hikes you can do, including the most heavily trafficked trail in Yosemite called Mist Trail.

Colder October mornings will require early rising hikers to consider layering appropriately, but usually by mid morning you will be fine in lighter layers.

Personally, we would rather hike in 65 to 70 degrees than 80 or 90 degrees in summer months. We hit a ton of Yosemite trails and enjoyed the comfortable temperatures.

8. Waterfalls Are Almost Dry Around Yosemite In October

Bridalveil Falls Running Completely Dry Yosemite In October Water Volume Low In Autumn
Low flowing water over Bridalveil Falls

It is safe to say waterfalls are not at their impressive best throughout the fall season anywhere around the US. Yosemite National Park is famed for its mighty waterfalls, but in October you will see little more than a trickle cascading from the most popular falls.

Bridalveil Falls, which looks spectacular from Tunnel View Overlook during spring and early summer, is reduced to the wispy waterfall you can see in the photo above.

Yosemite Falls was completely dry when we visited Yosemite National Park in October. Not a single drop of water to be seen. The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is a favorite among visitors, but it is a lost cause in autumn when water levels are non-existent.

Perhaps the most disappointing is Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail hike because you can get close to the waterfall from below and almost touch the water from the top. It is awesome when roaring in spring but it really isn’t much fun in fall.

This is one of only a very small number of negative aspects we can think of to visiting Yosemite in October. Well, waterfalls and cold nights.

9. Pack For Winter But Hope For Fall

Half Dome From Glacier Point Looks Majestic
Striking view over Half Dome from Glacier Point

We always say plan for the worst but hope for the best. When visiting Yosemite in October, you should pack for all eventualities but hope for warm days and milder nights.

If you are planning an early hike, a night hike, an astro photography shoot, or even just watching the sunrise and sunset somewhere in Yosemite Valley, you are going to need to pack accordingly.

Here are some of the packing tips we would suggest for October in Yosemite National Park:

  • Wear breathable base layers for hiking until it warms up.
  • We wouldn’t go as far as ski jackets and pants, but certainly fleece layers, down jackets and waterproofs.
  • Robust hiking shoes or boots, waterproof and windproof would be ideal.
  • Gloves, hats, scarves and buffs are perfect for keeping extremities warm, particularly if you will be camping.
  • You might want to reconsider camping or staying in anything other than a hotel room.
  • If you are planning a longer trip, read our tips on how to pack for a road trip.

Don’t forget plenty of food, water, coffee and even a stove to cook hot food on cold days if you are camping. But there are also a couple of places to eat around the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley if you don’t have food in the car.

You will need sunglasses but you will not need to worry about bug spray in October. Sunscreen is a must on sunny days because you are at 4,000 ft in Yosemite Valley and UV exposure is much stronger at altitude.

10. Yosemite Is Incredibly Photogenic In October

Yosemite In October Photography Is Amazing Valley View Over El Cap
One of our favorite Yosemite photos we took from Valley View at sunrise in October

Let’s close out this list of important things to know about visiting Yosemite in October with photography.

Yosemite is one of the most photogenic national parks any time of year, but October with its fall foliage colors gives the landscape a uniqueness only found at this exact time of year.

You might not get the famous Firefall of a February visit to Yosemite, but you do get these perks:

  • Sunrise is later in the morning and sunset is earlier in the evening than the summer months. That means you can wake up later and be back for dinner at a reasonable hour.
  • The Milky Way bursts perfectly out of the horizon not long after sunset in autumn, so if you’re into astrophotography, there is no need to be walking around the park at 2.00am hoping for a clear night!
  • In October, the most famous of all photography locations in Yosemite will be relatively crowd free.
  • Expect to share the likes of Valley View and Tunnel View with just a small number of other photographers. Whereas in summer, we imagine these areas would be a battleground for prime tripod real estate.

Read our guide to the best photography locations in Yosemite National Park so you know exactly where to go for the classic and iconic photos of this stunning park in California.

Photography Equipment

When we fist visited Yosemite we only had our beginner photography equipment. When we revisit, we will be going with an entirely updated arsenal of photography gear.

Here’s what you should consider taking to Yosemite:

  • Camera – Entry level or professional, it doesn’t matter, Yosemite is a perfect arena for learning or perfecting skills.
  • Lenses – Ideally, you will have a wide angle lens (16-35mm for example) and a walk around lens (24-70mm or 24-105mm for example). There’s not much need for a super telephoto because wildlife is rare and Yosemite is a landscape paradise.
  • ND Filter – In October, waterfalls are either dry or wispy at best, so again, don’t sweat it too much if you don’t have an ND Filter. However, you can still smooth out the water of the Merced River if you do use an ND Filter.
  • Tripod – It goes without saying but you should always carry a tripod or something that you can improvise as a tripod. Sunrises, sunsets and astro are low light and require a tripod for stability.

We will also carry our Zhiyun Weebil S gimbal during our next visit to Yosemite as we intend on making a video for the park. It allows us to capture video with our Sony A7R IV and 16-35mm GM lens seamlessly.

Yosemite National Park Guidebook and Itinerary Ebook
More From California

We hope this guide on visiting Yosemite National Park in October helps with planning your visit to the Sierra Nevada’s!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting Yosemite in the fall.

Happy travels,

Mark and Kristen

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