Ask Me: Where Can I Hike in Yosemite in Late Fall?
First, let me say that I enjoy your trip reports, gear reviews and especially the photographs. I also love kids and your adventures with them are a joy to read. Your website inspires me to want to get out West and experience the wilderness. With that in mind, I have the opportunity to attend a wedding just outside the South Entrance to Yosemite National Park the weekend of Veterans Day. I have never been to Yosemite and I would hate to miss an opportunity to see the sights. I would like to stay a few days after the wedding to hike and possibly backpack. Do you have any suggestions for dayhikes and perhaps someplace to camp?
I have started reading Jeffrey Schaffer’s book and he says, “After October 15 I don’t backpack more than a few miles from a trailhead, since if a snowstorm does hit and drop a foot or two of snow, I can still plod back to my car.” That sounds like excellent advice and putting safety first. I will probably be by myself unless I can get one of my sons to stay, so I may or may not want to venture into the wilderness alone on an overnight trip. Being alone in bear country doesn’t sound fun. I am 67 years old, live in Illinois (low altitude and no bears), in good health and am not looking for hikes with 4,000+ foot elevation gains or lots of snow if possible. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
I also emailed the park and shown below is their reply:
“If the Tioga Road is still open and we haven’t had snow, some trails off the Glacier Point and Tioga Roads, which are all described in that book, could be good options (it may be chilly up there). If we have had snow (but the road is still open), it’s probably not a great idea to use those trails because even a little snow can completely obscure the trails. Otherwise, trails on the floor of Yosemite Valley should be nice if the weather has been dry. You can also hike just partway up the Yosemite Falls Trail (to Columbia Rock), Four Mile Trail, and Mist or John Muir Trails.”
The advice you got from the park ranger is good. If you’ve never been to Yosemite before, you should definitely hike in Yosemite Valley, especially because you’ll be there at a time when there are fewer tourists, which will make it a much more pleasant, wilder experience. My story about dayhiking to Yosemite’s waterfalls will give you some ideas; even though the waterfalls are not as impressive in November, and Yosemite Falls may be dry (it dries up every fall), these are still very scenic hikes. I’d also recommend the trail at the eastern end of the Valley to Mirror Lake and out below the massive face of Half Dome. Besides the Glacier Point Road, the Wawona Road out to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias may also be open.
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If the road to Hetch Hetchy is open, that corner of the park is at relatively low elevation, and the trail above the north shore of the reservoir is spectacular.
If Tioga Pass Road is open, that opens up some nice options. Tuolumne Meadows is my favorite area of the park from which to base multi-day hikes, but it’s a great destination for dayhikes, too. The trail around Tenaya Lake is one of the prettiest, easy hikes in the park. The John Muir Trail south from Tuolumne Meadows to the Cathedral Lakes, below the distinctive spire of Cathedral Peak, ascends just a bit over 1,000 feet gradually over about three miles (you’d return the same way).
On my most recent trip to Yosemite, I backpacked an 86-mile loop north of Tuolumne Meadows, including the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River (lead photo, above, and photo at right), which is like a wilderness version of Yosemite Valley that’s twice as long, without the roads, cars, and thousands of people. Its bottom end, in the Pate Valley, lies at a lower elevation than much of the park, so a backpacking trip in there will have milder nights than other places along Tioga Pass Road. It’s about 30 miles of hiking from the White Wolf Trailhead east to Tuolumne Meadows, and you would need a shuttle. (The free Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus operates from June through around mid-September, although for some reason it did not operate in 2018.) If you don’t have time to make that full traverse, you could hike in and out either from White Wolf or Tuolumne; coming from Tuolumne gets you to the great views faster.
When you’re ready for a backpacking trip in Yosemite, check out my downloadable e-guides to three trips of varying lengths and difficulty in the park.
See all of my stories about Yosemite National Park, including these:
The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite
Ask Me: Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite
Ask Me: Hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome
Best of Yosemite, Part 1: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows
Best of Yosemite, Part 2: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite
I hope that’s helpful. Have fun, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed wherever you hike in Yosemite.
Thank you so much for your list of great suggestions for visiting Yosemite in November. I am really looking forward to my trip. I can see that one trip to Yosemite will only give me a brief picture of the opportunities that exist there. I will send you a trip report after I return home.
It is amazing that you take the time to help individuals like me as well as all those who read your website. I hope to be able to thank you in person some day. Please tell your wife and children that the time you spend sharing your knowledge and experiences with others provides us with help and enjoyment.
You’re very welcome. Yes, by visiting Yosemite you will commit yourself to a lifetime of wanting to keep returning. I’ve been several times and I’m still working on my list of things to do there. Have fun and I’d love to hear how your trip goes.
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