Visit Yosemite in Fall: Two Days in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite and San Francisco sign at Rush Creek Lodge

This wasn't my first trip to Yosemite National Park, but I had never visited Yosemite in the fall. With a weekend to spare, I went to spend two days and nights in Yosemite. Summer is Yosemite's peak travel season, but with the peak season often comes chaotic crowds. My hope was that Yosemite in October would be much quieter, more serene, and hopefully offer some beautiful fall nature scenes.

Living in San Francisco, I've been pretty mopey over our lack of fall scenes. Can I please get one yellow or orange tree? I know that in California in general, we don't really get the crazy, colorful fall foliage like many of the states back east. So to get my fall fix, I felt like my best option was to head to one of my favorite places in California—Yosemite National Park. 

If you've never been to Yosemite, it should immediately be added to your bucket list. While there are different seasonal pros and cons to visiting Yosemite, I highly recommend you go if the opportunity ever arises, no matter what time of year it is. Yosemite National Park is a true natural wonder whose beauty is unmatched. I'm constantly in awe, no matter how many times I visit.

Travel Guide to Fall in Yosemite National Park

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Two-bedroom hillside villa at Rush Creek Lodge outside of Yosemite National Park

During my fall trip to Yosemite, I stayed at Rush Creek Lodge . The property is located just a half a mile outside of the Highway 120 West entrance, making it incredibly convenient and easy to access the park. Having opened its doors in 2016, Rush Creek Lodge is the first new resort option to open in or around the park in the last couple decades.

As I mentioned, Rush Creek Lodge is brand new, and it is stunning. While staying on the property, I could see that they are still doing a lot of work, adding final touches and details, but it is incredibly beautiful as it is now. While the lodging is top-notch, I love that the design of the property incorporates a well-thought-out design that made me feel as if I were in a cozy cabin in the forest, all while having the best service and amenities at my fingertips.

Since trees had to be removed during the building process, the wood was saved and used in creative ways around the property. It was so cool to know that things like the art pieces on the property, or the finishes on a wall, were created by using trees that once stood on the ground I was standing on. I was truly so impressed by this. Not only is it thoughtful, but it resulted in a gorgeous, earthy design. As a design nerd, these are the types of places that totally inspire me creatively.

In addition to the warm, woodsy design that I'm clearly obsessed with, I also love that Rush Creek Lodge is like a vacation within a vacation. What I mean by this, is you will actually want to hang out at this place. The entire purpose of my trip was to spend my time inside Yosemite National Park, but I found myself also just wanting to hang out at Rush Creek Lodge. It's cozy, comfortable and inviting. With a restaurant, tavern and general store on site, I had just about everything I could need. The game room, multiple campfires, pool, and two hot tubs were a few of my favorite extra amenities.

The room options consist of lodge rooms and suites, as well as one- or two-bedroom hillside villas. I'll just say, there's no wrong choice here. Every single room option comes with a private balcony, which is amazing and admittedly one of the things I was most excited for. The lodge rooms and suites are located in a standard hotel setting, while the villas are a bit more private and separated. My group of four stayed in one of the villas, but I was able to get a peek inside one of the lodge suites and it was just as dreamy. The villas are an excellent option for a group of friends or family. I loved how the villa gave us a little more privacy, but we could still quickly reach the common areas.

Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite // 34001 CA-120, Groveland, CA 95321

When to Visit Yosemite National Park

Over the years, I have visited Yosemite in the winter, spring, summer and now the fall. After experiencing a trip to Yosemite during each of the four seasons, I can honestly say that fall is my favorite season to visit Yosemite. Like I said, I would never discourage a trip to Yosemite during any season, but here are a few reasons why fall turned out to be my favorite time to visit:

  • Yosemite is less-crowded in the fall. This reason is a huge one. I have been to Yosemite a number of times where traffic heading into Yosemite Valley is completely jammed and clogged on the road, and it really, really sucks. You can be stuck in the car for hours within the park because you and the other thousands of visitors are all trying to get to the same destination. Summer is definitely the worst crowd-wise, with holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day falling into that category as well. During this fall trip, we drove in and out of the park two days in a row with zero traffic issues.
  • The weather is pretty good. While summer likely has the upper hand on weather, the weather in the fall is still not bad. The snow season hasn't hit yet, but it gets chilly at night. During the day, a light jacket was plenty. I'll take the fall weather over the summer crowds any day. The winter season can be beautiful when there's snow, but keep in mind that certain roads are likely to close due to poor weather conditions. 
  • Because fall vibes are the best. Ok, so Yosemite isn't covered in fall colors like some people might imagine it to be because most of the trees are evergreen. The park does have some deciduous trees and shrubs that change color around mid- to late-October. I noticed some vibrant scenes of red, orange and yellow, particularly between the entrance and Yosemite Valley. It was enough to make me happy and give me a good dose of fall. 
Beautiful view of Yosemite National Park in the fall

Favorite Fall Photo Spots in Yosemite National Park

Am I the only one who thinks about where I want to take pictures as I'm preparing and planning for a trip? There's zero shame in my game. Photography is a passion of mine and I love being strategic about where I'm going to shoot and how I'm going to tell the story of a destination through my photos. That said, I thought I'd share my favorite fall photo spots from my recent trip to Yosemite. 

Yosemite Valley Chapel

The Yosemite Valley Chapel is just so dreamy and charming. I've seen photos of it for years but had yet to make my way to it, at least not since I was, like, 11 years old. It was time to go back, so the chapel was one of my first photos stops once we got into Yosemite Valley. This cute little thing was built in 1879, so it's got a lengthy history in addition to its charm. The public can come here to worship and you can even have your wedding here—magical! The chapel can seat around 250 people.

9000 Southside Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Cook's Meadow Loop

Head out from the chapel and cross over the Merced River for a short walk to Cook's Meadow Loop. The entire trail is an easy, flat one-mile walk if you're interested in walking it, but I'm using this as a reference point for another awesome photo spot. The meadow that this loop winds through is a wide-open area that offers incredible, unobstructed views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point. My favorite part about taking photos in the meadow is that there is a new view every direction you turn. From a photography perspective, you are not limited to shooting one view in the meadow because you are surrounded by 360 degrees of unique natural beauty.

Glacier Point

It's hard for Glacier Point not to consistently top the list as one of the best photo spots in all of Yosemite National Park. The views from Glacier Point are like nothing I've ever experienced anywhere else in my life. Sitting 3,200 feet directly above Half Dome Village, this spot cannot be beaten during sunset. The sky turns pink and orange above Half Dome and the entire scene is painted in pastels; it's really an incredible experience that I don't think words can do justice. The cool thing about Glacier Point is it's easy to reach and you have a few options. You can hike the four mile trail to the top, drive yourself, or catch a bus from Yosemite Valley. 

Fall Weather in Yosemite National Park

The fall weather in Yosemite National Park can be many different things. Right after summer ends, Yosemite might still see some really warm days, that actually feel like it's still summer. In early October, the average high temperatures each day are in the high 70s, but the average does stop into the high 40s at night. By the end of October, the average high daily temperatures have dropped down into the mid to high 60s, with averages then starting to hit the high 30s at night.

During my two-day trip to Yosemite in late October, I found that the best strategy was to dress in layers that are easy to take off and on. The best decision I made was to wear wool socks and my lightweight wool base layer under my jeans. Besides that, I only had on a light sweater with a jacket that I didn't even wear most of the time. 

My Yosemite packing List

Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? Which season is your favorite?

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Travels and Treats was welcomed as a guest of Rush Creek Lodge. As always, all opinions are my own.

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