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Yosemite Fall Backpacking & Hiking; The Season Not to Be Missed

Yosemite National Park has many factors lining up to make this late summer and early fall backpacking season one of the best ever.  This past winter in Yosemite was challenging. Snowpack records were broken, roads were closed and/or destroyed, and frigid cold kept wilderness visitation way down. Spring wasn’t easy, either. Extended road closures and repairs, lingering snowfields, and raging rivers have made travel into the backcountry an expeditionary endeavor; just ask our brave early-season youth trips! However, as the season progresses and we move deeper into the summer, our staff is anxiously awaiting what we expect will be one of the best fall backpacking seasons on record.

Backpackers walk through fall foliage in Yosemite.
Backpackers finishing their hike through fall foliage.

Yosemite is experiencing unparalleled visitation right now, and for a good reason, the waterfalls have been the most impressive in years, and everyone wants to witness them personally. When schools start back up and family vacations die down, the park will finally start to empty out. Additionally, when Tioga Rd/Hwy 120 opens through northern Yosemite, more areas of the park will become accessible, thinning out the crowds even more. Backcountry trails will also be less crowded when compared to normal because the entire High Sierra Camp network will not be opening at all this season. One bonus of all that snow is that even after the crowds have all dissipated, the waterfalls and rivers will still be flowing. Especially stunning will be the falls in Yosemite’s backcountry, like those visible on Lasting Adventures’ 5-day Amazing Sunsets or Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne backpacking trips. 

Backpackers in front of Tuolumne Falls.
Happy hikers in front of Tuolumne Falls in the backcountry of Yosemite.

Fall is known among Yosemite locals and visitors as the best time to hike any more strenuous trails like Half Dome or Clouds Rest. The cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make these hikes way more comfortable and fun in the fall compared to the heat and crowds of midsummer. Ambitious Yosemite hikers plan their more challenging day hikes and backpacking trips in late August, September, or early October. Consider this the best time for the 5-day Cathedral Lakes, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome or 4-day Glacier Point to Half Dome trips. If you have your sights set on Half Dome this season, fall will be an excellent time for Half Dome in a Day or another popular day hike with an even grander view, Clouds Rest

Family in front of Tenaya Lake.
A family stops for a scenic lunch at Tenaya Lake on their way to Clouds Rest.

On a typical year, visitors flock to the meadows of higher elevations to see incredible displays of wildflowers in June and July. However, with the delayed Tioga Road opening, and much of the Tuolumne area still buried under snow, the wildflower bloom will have to wait. Another reason to visit Yosemite this fall is the extended flower season. A more delayed runoff will lead to peak flower blooms in August and September this year. Photographers, families, and anyone wanting to see the magic of a wildflower-studded scenery will enjoy our customizable Tuolumne Meadows Day Tour or six days of magical meadows on our guide’s favorite Hidden Yosemite Backpacking Trip

Fields of wildflowers will bloom into fall.

In a conversation with our Executive Director Scott Gehrman about the conditions this fall, he reminisced that in almost 30 years of backpacking in Yosemite, autumn has always been his favorite season for hiking, especially after a winter with a lot of snow. Scott recalls “hiking up to Vogelsang Pass, and the trail was mostly clear of snow, but there were still some snow slopes on the hill for glissading. We camped by the mostly ice-covered lakes and had so much fun sliding on the snow. That was in 2011 after a similarly heavy winter, and I remember that fall, we had some great conditions and very memorable trips. We were able to witness and experience conditions that are becoming more rare these days.” 

Big leaf maple leaf turning colors.

Here at Lasting Adventures, we are really looking forward to some great fun in the mountains this fall. Everything is aligning to unite the best combination of waterfalls, wildflowers, and weather without the crowds (or bugs) seen earlier in the season. We hope you get out to join in the opportunities available this fall in the higher elevations. Happy trails!

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