Yosemite Between Seasons

Before the heavy Sierra snows come, pack your sweaters, your camera, your fishing gear and your corkscrew for a late fall visit to this California treasure.

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    Bonnie Graves

Nearly 600,000 people visit Yosemite each August, typically the peak month for nature lovers who must also apparently love traffic. While it’s great to get the kids there for summer vacation, the park’s numbers dwindle to a scant 160,000 or so in November, one of my favorite times to appreciate Yosemite. While some of the more spectacular seasonal waterfalls will have long since dried up, the crowds have also evaporated by late fall—and that’s a blessing.

Trout fishing in the Merced River peaks from Sep-tember to December, and experienced anglers can also try their luck in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Because most Yosemite visitors only see the tourist sites in the Valley, the fly-fishing in more remote parts of the park remains unparalleled.

Autumn is the best time to experience fishing the higher-elevation streams throughout Yosemite. You’ll need to pack up and hike up (7,000 to 11,000 feet for optimal fall fishing), but the reward is solitude, iconic scenery and wild trout the likes of which you may never catch again.

Permits are required throughout the park. You might also consider hiring a local pro to help you find the best, hidden streams in the backcountry and to perhaps help you tie some of those flies too.

November is a wonderful time to photograph Yosemite, particularly if your goal is to capture its outdoor splendor as opposed to yet another group of tourists in front of Half Dome. A curious 14-year-old boy named Ansel Adams first visited Yosemite with his Kodak “Brownie” camera in 1916; thus began one of the most passionate love affairs between place and camera ever documented.

Ansel Adams’ legacy endures today, and the National Park Service offers free photography walks to key sites throughout the year. The Ansel Adams Gallery is located in Yosemite Valley, right next to the Visitors’ Center, and offers a great collection of contemporary art alongside the iconic images that helped to build the park’s reputation.

The Yosemite Conservancy, the non-profit organization devoted to protecting the park for future generations, also offers extensive art and theatre programming throughout the fall season. Don’t miss actor Lee Stetson’s incredible performance as John Muir, another legendary Yosemite supporter, in Spirit of John Muir running through mid-November.

When harvest wraps, many of California’s finest head to Yosemite for the annual Vintners’ Holidays held at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

As fall winds down, a whole other subset of Yosemite supporters get to come out and play: winemakers! When harvest wraps, many of California’s finest head to Yosemite for the annual Vintners’ Holidays held at the Ahwahnee Hotel. 2012 marks the 31st year of this food-and-wine extravaganza, and marquee names like Silver Oak, Rombauer and Viader headline the series this November.

Packages include lodging, comprehensive library tastings of wines and the five-course Gala Dinner held in the Ahwahnee’s Dickensian dining room. Book early, as the series sells out each year.

Lodging options abound in November—from the posh Ahwahnee to the more family-friendly Wawona Hotel or Yosemite Lodge, prices come down dramatically in the fall season. All accommodations in the park offer dining options as well. (Many of the smaller seasonal restaurants close, so plan your eating ahead of time.)

Be sure to check road conditions and weather advisories before driving to Yosemite. While the main highways are typically open, early snows can immediately close mountain passes like Tioga, and chains may be required on vehicles. Safe travels!

Yosemite in Autumn Highlights


Holiday 2012
November 4–December 6


The Ansel Adams Gallery
9031 Village Drive


The Ahwahnee
Reservations: 801-559-4884