Although the Eastern Sierra puts on the best show, I learned that Yosemite Fall Colors are pretty spectacular in their own right! Here are some of my favorite photos from this Autumn season. These were taken in the last week of October.
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
"Leaf Peeping" on The Drive Into The Park
You don't even have to get out of the car for this dazzling display! Still, you might want to.
I hiked down the small canyon to find a small creek that was literally covered in brilliant reds, greens & yellows. Also came across a deer with a fawn! No good picture, sadly.
Merced River Scenes (Rapids Near The Junction)
The eye popping yellows of the Bigleaf Maple trees are on full display along the riverbank here.
I climbed some rocks and boulders to take close up pictures. I've been living in the tropics for the last few years, so this cool change of pace is much appreciated!
Autumn Waterfall (Long Exposure)
Over the course of 3 days in this area, there was hardly ever a breeze. This makes it great for still long exposure shots along the river. Anytime after 1pm is good, though lighting is even better after 3.
Calm Merced River Landscapes (Yosemite Valley)
This is a beautiful area to park the car and take a quick afternoon hike along the riverbank. As the sun gets lower and lower, the golden light filters through the yellow maple trees - casting serene reflections on the natural pools.
You'll need to pull over on the left side of the road soon after leaving El Capitan Meadow. If you reach iconic "Valley View", you've gone too far.
Pohono Bridge Area
Sometimes you'll find this iconic location empty, and you get it all to yourself. However, as soon as somebody sees you parked there, they will follow in your footsteps.
Better enjoy that solitude while you can!
Hiking Near Pohono Bridge
There is a scenic trail that takes you right along the river. Super easy hike, and plenty of great photo opportunities with many mossy rocks and leaves on the ground. Don't miss it!
El Capitan Meadow
The stately trees along the road have turned a dark reddish brown, and they tower over the grazing deer below. Here I tried to capture the scale of Yosemite Valley, it's truly breathtaking...
(Continued below, but I do hope you'll follow along with me)
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When (& Where) to Find The Best Yosemite Fall Colors
The 3rd or 4th week of October really is the best time to visit. Not only can you find stunning autumn scenes all around you, but there's also a healthy LACK of tourists (& mosquitoes)!
The only thing missing during this time of the year is the strong flow of valley waterfalls. Well, they say you can't have everything.
List of locations:
- Crane Creek - A few miles after Crane Flat on Highway 120 (coming INTO the park). The road passes right through some beautiful fall colors.
- Merced River @ Junction (Big Oak Flat Rd & El Portal Rd) - Again, you can see the bright yellows from the Bigleaf Maple Trees directly from the road. Some river rock hopping may be required to get some nice long exposure or waterfall shots. I have seen multiple bears in this area, so keep an eye out! (Don't worry if you see one, just consider yourself lucky)
- Pohono Bridge - This is quite the scenic spot for photos! The bridge is located right where El Portal Road splits to start the Yosemite Valley Loop. If you want to take long exposure photos, I recommend waiting until late afternoon for best lighting. At least 4pm.
- Swinging Bridge - Even though I didn't post any photos from here, you can take some nice reflection shots in the still water of the Merced river. You just need to "follow your eye" and hike along the river a bit to find the perfect location.
- El Capitan Meadow - You won't find the most striking colors here. However, the large trees, families of deer, and breathtaking valley backdrop make a visit well worth it. Late afternoon lighting is most dramatic, and chances of deer sightings are better then, too.
- Tioga Pass Aspens - I did not make it up to the Yosemite high country this autumn, but I hear there are some nice aspen trees along the drive. Note, due to the higher elevation, these yellow colors tend to peak weeks earlier than down in Yosemite Valley. I suspect you would want to visit Tioga Pass around the first week of October for best fall colors.
Yosemite Valley (& Nearby) Hotels
Weather was perfect when I was there, about 70 degrees (f) during the day, though down to 44 at night. You can try your luck with a walk in campsite, though they tend to fill up pretty quickly.
In closing, I hope you enjoyed my Yosemite Fall Colors series. Stay tuned for more Yosemite landscapes...hint...WINTER'S COMING!
(By the way, contact me if you'd like a framed print for the California / Yosemite lovers in your life...)
- Nathan Allen
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