The Best Time to See Waterfalls in Yosemite
While Yosemite is incredible year-round, if you want to see its beautiful waterfalls at their finest, spring is by far the best time of year to go. In May and June, the waterfalls are at their peak, the wildflowers are blooming, and the summer crowds have not yet arrived (although it does still get quite crowded). In spring, melting snow fills the streams, and in unusually wet years, Yosemite Falls alone can fill the entire valley with its roar! It’s a great opportunity to rent a campervan from our San Francisco or Los Angeles camper van rental sites and explore the park. Here’s a rundown on how to see some of the most popular falls at their prime.
Looking for a great deal on a spring road trip to Yosemite? Check out our Campervan Specials.
Daytime temperatures are comfortable, but be prepared for chilly temperatures at night. You’ll also want to book your campsites ASAP, as they often sell out months in advance. If you are not that organized, check out our guide to finding campsites in Yosemite without a reservation.
In early spring (March, April), Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are still closed due to lingering winter snow, restricting access to Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. Although both roads generally open by late May, they can stay closed through June following heavy snow years.
Waterfalls in Yosemite Outside of Peak Season
Some of the waterfalls flow all year, but the flow varies. Yosemite Falls, for example, often slows to a trickle or completely stops running by August and may stay dry until spring (although autumn storms can cause a temporary flow).
March qualifies as winter in the mountains, with storms, but Badger Pass ski area is still open and Yosemite Valley accessible. In April, skiing is done, but Glacier Point Road/Tioga Roads are still closed, and many hiking trails still covered in snow. Waterfalls are there but not huge. May brings big waterfalls and lots of water, and dogwood trees blooming right around Mother’s Day weekend. Glacier Point and Tioga Roads are still usually closed through Memorial Day weekend, but this is highly weather/winter-dependent. Hiking (without good trail finding experience) is still generally limited to the Valley and Hetch Hetchy, as higher elevation trails are still covered in snow.
Height: 2,425 ft
Flow: Approximately November through July, with peak flow in May
Yosemite Falls holds the undisputed title of the tallest waterfall in North America. It’s a challenging hike to the top, but the view from the base is impressive itself and is an easy and scenic 1-mile/1.6-km loop that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet). You can see Yosemite Falls from numerous places around Yosemite Valley, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly Yosemite Lodge).
Check out the Yosemite Falls webcam for a current view of the waterfall!
Height: 620 feet
Flow: All year, with peak flow in May
This is likely the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley. In spring, it thunders; during the rest of the year, look for its characteristic light, swaying flow. You can see Bridalveil Fall from near the tunnels on the Wawona Road (Highway 41) or Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120) and from a signed parking lot on your way into Yosemite Valley. You can also walk to the base via a short but steep (up to 24% slope) trail in just a few minutes.
Height: 317 feet
Flow: All year, though by mid to late summer, it narrows and separates into one, two, or three falls as water flows decrease; peaks in late May
You can see Vernal Fall (from a distance) at Glacier Point. The road to Glacier Point is open approximately late May through sometime in November. A wheelchair-accessible trail is available to the viewpoint when the road is open. You can also hike to Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail (see a list of Valley day hikes).
Height: 594 feet
Flow: All year, with peak flow in late May
A more demanding hike past Vernal Falls will lead you to Nevada Falls. You’ll ascend granite steps to the brink of two massive drops, where you can watch the entire Merced River plunge over the rocky ledge. Be sure to follow all safety signs and stay behind all ropes and signs. You can also see Nevada Fall from Glacier Point.
Height: 1,000 feet
Flow: December through April
If you can’t make it to Yosemite in May, February often offers a special treat: the Firefall, which looks like a stream of orange lava flowing down the side of El Capitan. It happens at Horsetail Fall, a waterfall east of Bridalveil and Ribbon falls, whose season typically lasts from winter through early spring.
The Firefall phenomenon, which tends to happen over the course of about three weeks, literally reflects the convergence of clear skies and the right amount of snowmelt. As sunset nears, the mist catches the sun rays and creates a fabulous optical illusion that lasts up to 10 minutes, making for some dazzling pictures (if you can fight off all the photographers and their tripods). To get the best views, park at the El Capitan picnic area (on Northside Drive west of Yosemite Valley Lodge, formerly Yosemite Lodge) or in turnouts just east of the picnic area. You can see the waterfall from the road.