The distinctly different four seasons of Yosemite
Unlike most of California, we are actually a four season region here in the Foothills. And Yosemite is a very different place depending on the seasons. Almost a different park. So much so many visitors try to make sure they visit in each of the seasons. For my first 20 years of visiting Yosemite, I only came in Spring, Fall or Winter. Finally last year I had guests come in Summer so I was stuck dealing with the crowds. Luckily I now know enough ways to avoid the worst of them.
To quote the Mariposa County website itself: Mariposa County, Home of Yosemite, is known for its amazing scenery, outdoor attractions, and historic towns. John Muir who was such a force for preserving Yosemite as one of the original national parks through his magnificent photography, was the first to document these four seasons. All his works can still be purchased in the gallery named after him in the valley floor.
At Frontier Hill, Spring is when everything is in full bloom and usually you can still hear the river, see good water in the pond and enjoy great sunshine in between the last of the seasonal rains. Up at Badger Pass, you can usually still ski in March but don’t forget the sun block.
For many this is the best time to visit Yosemite, as all the rivers and waterfalls are in full flood and the snow-capped mountains make for great scenery as they contrast with the valley floor where it is all luscious greenery and wild flowers.
And, of course, you beat the big Summer tourist rush. So what if your feet get a little muddy – you will have experiences and photos to last a lifetime.
Realize that in Summer everyone wants to go to Yosemite at the same time, and the valley floor in particular can only handle so many people and vehicles. So here are two very important pieces of advice: (a) if possible avoid weekends when the crowds are at their max and (b) get there early. If you don’t clear the entrance gate by 10am you will be held up for a long time, and might not even get in at all. You can always take a nap under a tree or on a trail later.
Another good hint here is to plan your day in advance. There is so much to do and see. We recommend you alternate strenuous hiking and climbing days with gentler days of exploring nature and looking at details or visiting some less crowded spots. Then end the day with a cocktail on the lawn at the spectacular Ahwanhee Hotel (us locals still call it by its old name). You might not be able to afford their $600 per night room rate, but one expensive drink will be worth the memory. And a dinner or Sunday brunch in their grand dining room should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Bring your binoculars and big lenses so you can see the climbers on the face of Half Dome. It is a multi day challenge for all the world’s top climbers.
When schools return and most children are not around, it is so much more peaceful here at the cottage, in the mountains and in Yosemite Park. Yes it is cooler, but that is relative in California. You will seldom see a night below 40degrees. A great time to explore the Wineries, museums and shops in and around Mariposa.
Or renew your vows or have a small wedding in the chapel at our adjacent Butterfly Creek winery or the one in Yosemite on the valley floor. Then take your camera and hike the easy trail out to Mirror Lake. You will never tire of the amazing reflections as you point your camera down to get scenic shots.
At this time of the year you will see more wildlife as they come down from the hills in search of more food. But you will see less people in the park and will be more easily able to snag a dinner reservation at one of their top class restaurants.
For those of you who think of California as all sun and beaches, think again. The magnificent Sierra mountain range separates California from Nevada, and guess which side gets all the snow and rain. Many of the valley floor trails are open year round, even to bicycles. The steeper climbs may be too icy, but up at Badger Pass there is a full ski season.
No super big runs or mountains for downhill skiers, but the absolutely perfect spot for family beginners of all ages. And for the cross country skier or snow shoers, it is everything from beginner to world class. I will never forget the day we first cross country skied through the forest to the edge of this giant glacier made natural wonder and looked down on the valley. Absolute stunning and we were all alone and could appreciate how the park has been preserved – and why.