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Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall

09.25.17

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Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall

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  • An elevated view of Yosemite Valley from Columbia Rock.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Tunnel View is one of Yosemite Valley's iconic vistas.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • A cyclist enjoys the towering view of El Cap on a Yosemite Valley bike lap.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Sentinel Rock reflects on a still Merced River.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Fall colors below Yosemite Falls.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Westward views from the Four Mile Trail.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • The Taylor Stitch crew soak up the views along the Four Mile Trail. Photo by Taylor Stitch.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Four Mile Trail.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • After a steep hike, the Glacier Point vista at the top of the Four Mile Trail doesn't disappoint.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Exploring Leidig Meadow.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • An American elm (Ulmus americana) lights up under a fall afternoon in Cook Meadow.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • A low-angled sun shines through Illilouette Canyon.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Yosemite lichen. Photo by Taylor Stitch.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Nevada Falls marks the upper step of the Giant Staircase.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Hiking below Nevada Falls.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • A partially-lit Half Dome, seen from Lower Yosemite Falls.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Mirror Lake Loop Trail.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • A blacktail doe forages near Mirror Lake.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Gearing up at a belay ledge on After Six.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • The third pitch of After Six, Manure Pile Buttress.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • One of the best examples of the National Park Service's rustic architecture style is found in the Ahwahnee Hotel.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Ahwahnee's Main Hall.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • The sheer granite walls of El Capitan (7,569') rise 3,000 feet from valley floor to the top of its face.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
  • Another finish to a fine fall Yosemite day. Photo by Taylor Stitch.- Exploring Yosemite Valley in Fall
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Team

With fall in full swing, we are once again approaching the time of year when the roads leading to Yosemite’s high country close for winter bringing the focus of the park back to Yosemite Valley. Compared to summer, fall in Yosemite can feel like an entirely different place. By late October the crowds have thinned, the sun-angle lowered, foliage has turned, and the smell of perpetually stoked campfires fills the cooler air. There is a softer energy about the place. The swing in temperature between sun and shade means you better have both a pair of shorts and puffy on hand. It feels like the mountains are supposed to feel: an uncrowded, serene, glacial-carved playground. 

I was recently reminded of how pleasant Yosemite Valley can be in the fall. I was there with friends from Taylor Stitch. We were in the valley to give thier beloved chamois Yosemite shirts, released each fall, a proper field test.

For the outing, we opted to hike the Four Mile Trail. The route climbs 3,200 feet over 4.5 miles, ascending the south rim from the valley floor near Sentinel Rock, culminating at Glacier Point with a full view of the valley below. It was the perfect day to soak in Yosemite's splendors. Not only was the weather exceptional, common for this time of year, but we encountered almost no one on the trail. Having lunch all to ourselves at Glacier Point's Geology Hut, with its postcard backdrop of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, and the Clark Range, is something you just couldn't dream of during the summer.

Fall in Yosemite, particularly beyond mid October (excepting the Thanksgiving holiday), offers a quieter, peaceful experience. You can actually find solitude and enjoy your own private Yosemite in places. It's something that typically doesn't happen in the spring and summer, and the fairly arduous Four Mile Trail isn’t the only place where this applies. Other trails like the Giant Staircase Loop that climbs above Vernal and then Nevada Falls, the Mirror Lake Loop that passes under Half Dome's towering north face, and the Columbia Rock hike that leads up to the south rim near Yosemite Falls, are all spectacular fall hike options. 

Fall is also the perfect time for exploring the Yosemite Valley floor by bike. Tour the valley's iconic landmarks on your own time and without the stress of summer car traffic. If you are a climber, then you already know that fall is one of the best times to climb in the valley. Daytime temperatures are generally mild, and you won't encounter lines, as can sometimes happen in summer, to climb the valley classics.

By mid fall, even the odds of getting a campsite within Yosemite Valley without planning months in advance are in your favor. Upper Pines Campground, which remains open year round, typically has spots available upon arrival this time of year. Walk-in Camp 4 is less crowded, too. We'd still recommend stopping by the campground reservations office on the earlier side of the day to ensure you get a spot, but cold valley nights typically mean fewer Yosemite campers. Just make sure to bring plenty of firewood to keep warm.

We'd love to see photos of your fall adventures in Yosemite National Park, feel free to add them in the comments below.

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