3 Yosemite National Park October Activities

3 Yosemite National Park Activities in October

Planning an autumn vacation to Yosemite National Park? Set your sights on visiting Yosemite in October — just as seasonal crowds thin out and fall colors explode.

In fact, October is a sweet spot for visiting Yosemite; it’s early enough that many of the park’s facilities and roads are still open, but it’s after the summer season’s tourist rush and heat. Enjoy the brisk fall air and lighter crowds while experiencing these three must-do Yosemite activities in October.

Getting to Yosemite National Park

Go Trout Fishing

With mountain lakes and nearly 800 miles of permanent streams, Yosemite is an angler’s haven year-round, and October is prime trout fishing time. Drive to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to cast your rods. Thanks to its low elevation, Hetch Hetchy has one of the park’s longest hiking seasons and is an excellent spot to stop and fish. Reel in brown trout, or catch and release rainbow trout. A California fishing license is required for anglers 16 and older and is available at the Mountain Shop at Half Dome Village. Children younger than 16 may fish without a license if accompanied by a license-carrying adult.

Yosemite Trout Fishing Take a break during a day of fishing at Yosemite National Park to admire Wapama Falls, which plummets into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir year-round.

Getting to Hetch Hetchy: To reach this northwestern section of Yosemite, drive north on Highway 120 from the park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance, then turn east and follow Evergreen and Hetch Hetchy roads for about 10 miles.

Hike Yosemite’s Popular Trails with Way Smaller Crowds

From May through September, Yosemite’s popular trails can be packed, but come October even the most in-demand paths like the Mist Trail are less crowded. The moderate Mist Trail goes to both the Vernal and Nevada falls and begins at the Happy Isles Trailhead. Though many of Yosemite’s waterfalls are dry by fall, Vernal Fall is special: In October, water still cascades down, making it an especially big draw for autumn hikers. Between the scenery and the strenuous climb up steep cliffside stairs along the route, there’s plenty to take your breath away.

Yosemite Silver Apron Starting at 4,035 feet of elevation from the Happy Isles Trailhead, the Mist Trail leads to scenic sights including the above Silver Apron cascade, plus the 317-foot Vernal Fall and 594-foot Nevada Fall — both of which are fed by the Merced River.

Getting to the trailhead: Catch the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle to Happy Isles (stop 16). Running 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, the shuttle makes about 20 stops across the park. Use the National Park Service map of parking lots and shuttle stops to park your rental car and navigate to the nearest shuttle pickup.

Drive and Bike Around Yosemite’s Fall Colors

Yosemite National Park’s higher grounds are primarily occupied by evergreens, but drive to the park’s lower elevation points and you’ll be served a slew of fall colors. For frame-worthy fall shots, drive along Tioga Road to stop and capture foliage along the Fern Spring and Merced River. Lucky for October visitors, Tioga Road remains open through early November and serves as the route to additional dramatic autumn scenes — including Yosemite’s granite-rimmed high Sierra lakes like Elizabeth Lake, which is shaped a little like a jigsaw puzzle piece. Another must-see for leaf peepers: Yosemite Valley. Rent a bike from Yosemite Valley Lodge and cruise under the dogwood, maple and oak leaves transitioning into autumn pinks, oranges and yellows.

Yosemite Merced River Spend a crisp October day biking through Yosemite Valley along the calm autumn waters of the Merced River, once home to Native Americans including the Plains Miwok, Sierra Miwok, Paiute and Ahwahneechee.

Park ranger walks are also held daily, but those visiting Yosemite in October should keep a lookout for autumn-themed ranger walks announced on the park’s website.

Getting to Tioga Road: Tioga Road is also the eastern portion of Highway 120. Visitors can access this scenic thoroughfare near the Tuolumne Grove Trailhead, west of the Yosemite Valley.

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About the Author

Lisa Zimmermann is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and has previously written for Boston magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Jersey Journal, New England Travel and Atlas Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @lisazimm or Instagram @lzloveslife.