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Best time of year to hike Yosemite
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Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Best time of year to hike Yosemite on 12/19/2011 02:35:44 MST Print View

Well, what'll it be? The wife and I are hoping to plan a trip to do halfdome and I'm trying to figure out what the best time of year to plan it would be. Since you have to buy permits 3 decades in advance, I can't wait to see how the weather is looking this month and just decide to go.

We're planning to do mist trail to little Yosemite valley, then if time permits up half dome and back to camp at little Yosemite valley. If I don't think we can swing it all in the first day, then we'll do half dome the second day, then hopefully head back to the valley via a different route, but haven't looked into it that far yet. So, it will probably just be an overnight, but if we have to take a day off work and do a 3 day, that's a possibility.

Anyways, We've never been to Yosemite Valley, and this will probably be our one and only trip there, so I don't want to spoil it by bad weather.

According to this site
I was thinking the weekend or two after memorial day?(first or second weekend of June)

What do you guys think? Any other suggestions/tips/must know secrets?

P.S. Born and raised in CA, but I've just never made my way into Yosemite. Guess it's hard to justify paying for the privilege of dealing with a gazillion tourists when there is very similar topography in the Sierra's surrounding the park. I also never get around to planning my trips until last minute, so I never am able to get permits etc.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
It depends on 12/19/2011 05:20:58 MST Print View

....on what you want to see. June may have the most water but you may not be able to get up Tioga Road if that's your desire. But it may be a crap shoot whether Half Dome will have the cables up. July may be the best compromise month, still good water most years but the snow should be gone. But, I believe Septmeber and even August are the best time to hike the Sierra. Bugs are reduced, cooler and less people (September). You will also want to check the target dates for the cables to be up.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Pick "off weeks" on 12/19/2011 09:27:19 MST Print View

Okay, late July to late August is the prime-time, but you'll want to navigate around holiday weekends, of course. If you're only going to the Valley (you can fill a week there), then access to the high country via Tioga Road won't be a factor and you might shoot for June to beat some of the masses.

Don't cross the cables at the falls, m'kay?

Sabine Funk
(SabineFunk) - F
Re: "Best time of year to hike Yosemite" on 12/19/2011 11:53:46 MST Print View

I agree with the rest. June or early september are the best times. June has longer days but September has less bugs.
Talking about your route: If you want to stay at LYV for a night anyway, then hike on the first day to LYV only and have a good time there and then do Half Dome next day very early in the morning - hardly anyone is up there and the morning is the time with the smallest chance of thunderstorms.

Mike In Socal
(rcmike) - MLife

Locale: California
June or September on 12/19/2011 12:19:25 MST Print View

I've been to Yosemite Valley in June, July and September. I agree that June and September are the best times to go and for different reasons. If you want to see the waterfalls in full force, then June is ideal. Both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are spectacular. The Mist Trail leading up to Vernal Falls will soak you so be prepared. I just took my first September trip up there and it is a different experience - no bugs, cooler temperatures (cool, not cold), and no crowds. I have also camped there and stayed at Curry Village. While Curry Village is "people central", you cannot beat the access and convenience when you have small kids in tow.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
It does depend on the snow pack on 12/19/2011 17:17:45 MST Print View

And you can do it without having to reserve a wilderness permit way in advance. What I did was one the first day hike from Glacier Point to Illilouette. The next day we hiked from Illilouette to LYV. This is the longest part of the trip. We took all of the third day to hike up to half dome and back to LYV. You could easily hike up to half dome early in the morning and stop back by LYV to pack up and head down the mist trail.

The wilderness permit is based on the trail you use on the first day. Glacier Point to Illilouette never seems to fill up. There is also Mono Meadows to Illilouette as a backup. This allowes you to wait longer to see what the snow pack is shaping up to be.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Best time of year to hike Yosemite on 12/19/2011 19:01:29 MST Print View

I'm a fifth-generation SFer (now in Alaska) who's been up Half Dome 15 or so times in all of the summer months. Grandparents on both side and all the aunts and uncles made many Yosemite trips since the 1920's.

I wasn't able to go up last year in early June because of all the snowpack you got in 2010-11. From what I've heard, so far, 2011-12 is well above average as well. That's going to help your eletric rates, but delay the start of your high-Sierra hiking season. SO I WOULD NOT PLAN ON JUNE this coming summer. Even late June could have snow at 7500' under the Jefferies and it is surprisingly easy to step off the trail and lose time in a hundred yard patch of snow.

A poster above said wilderness permits depend on the trailhead used. True enough. And NOT starting from Yosemite Valley isn't as impacted. But the separate permits for Half Dome are separate and have been changing every year. Make you sure you understand the HD permit procedure - they are all gone within a few hour of going on line. They MAY be a separate catagory for BPer who pass by (e.g. come up the JMT), but I'm pretty sure they limit the LYV overnighters to the same pool of HD permits as the dayhikers.

Personally, I prefer it as a dayhike than schlepping overnight gear to LYV, listening to people yell at bears all night, and then having to carry more stuff down the Mist Trail afterwards.

My REALLY BIG Half Dome advice is START EARLY! 7 am is okay. 7 am hiking away from the Trailhead! 6 am is better. If you can swing 5 am and bring a small light to hike with, better yet. You beat the heat of the day, you do the climbing in cooler, less sunny conditions, you beat the crowds, the cables aren't crowded, you have options if you're going slow, etc. Sometimes I start the Half Dome hike at 5 am and still have the time and energy on the return to bop over to Glacier Point and back, although that does make for a pretty high-mileage and many vertical feet in a day.

Here are my times from September 16, 2010. I was solo on that trip and started way before sunrise.

Happy Isles: 1:58 am
Top of Vernal: 2:34
Junction to top of Nevada: 3:11
Leave LYV: 3:38
Clouds Rest Junction: 4:15
Spring: 4:25 (get water here!!!)
Bottom of sub dome stairs: 5:01
Bottom of Cables: 5:23
Top of Cables: 5:37 am

Total up time: 3 hours, 39 minutes but it dark almost the whole way and I'd done Half Dome the day before with a large group, so I'd have been a little quicker if fresh and starting just before dawn. But I hike continuously at 3.5 mph, and if I need water or food or sunscreen or clothes, I do it as I hike.

Saw the sun rise while on top.

Down time: 2 hours, 53 minutes. Happy Isles at 9:12 am, drove back to lodge and had a rather large breakfast in the cafeteria.

Average hiker times would be 5 hours up and 4.5 hours down.

It's a totally kick-a$$ trip. I find it less trying than a Rim-River-Rim dayhike in GCNP even though the total miles and feet and altitude are a bit less in GCNP. But HD has a nice variety of trail conditions and slope so I don't get so sore doing the same pace all the way up and down and there's not the heat to contend with on HD IF YOU GET AN EARLY START.

You say you and your wife (without kids?) How about after Labor Day to dodge the families and college students? You still need the permits and the days are shorter, but afternoon thunder storms are less likely and the lodging ought to be easier to reserve.

I'm bringing the family (including the 11 year old up Half Dome) in mid August but that's because we're in CA for a family gathering then. But July 1 to September 20 is fine. Normally late June would be fine. Probably fine till September 30, but you never know when winter comes to the high country.

James Castleberry
Half Dome permits snapped up by scalpers on 12/19/2011 19:41:59 MST Print View

Scalpers now buy up all the permits for Half Dome as soon as they go on sale and then sell them back to the public at a hefty mark-up. Maybe NPS will come up with new plan for 2012 or you'll get lucky.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Half Dome permits snapped up by scalpers on 12/19/2011 19:44:11 MST Print View

If you do buy one permit from a scalper, make sure that you carry a photo ID for the scalper who made the purchase.


Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Another Option on 12/19/2011 19:51:19 MST Print View

I believe there are actually better trip in Yosemite than Half Dome if that doesn't work out. One of my favorites is the Grand Canyon of the Toulemne as soon as Tioga Road opens. There are some thunderous falls on that route. Red Peak Pass out of Glacier PT road is another, as is the whole area south of Toulemne Meadows. Just a thought.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
early July on 12/19/2011 20:47:52 MST Print View

I second early July: Snow is gone, but falls are still huge and the days are nice and loooong.

Also agreed that hiking up to LVV on the first day, acclimating to the elevation overnight, and then getting up early to beat the crowds to the top of HD, is the way to go. Hike all the way out on the second day. You can do it.

However, you will probably be shocked at how many people are in the Valley at that time. Last time I went there on an early July weekend, I sat in traffic a lot and stood in line a lot. You had to stand in line to GET IN to the Visitor Center. It is really that bad.

Do you have the option of going on two weekdays? Or at least a Friday-Saturday? If you can do Fri-Sat, leave your house at 5 a.m. Fri and you will get some traffic but will avoid the worst of the weekend traffic. Alternately, drive up Thurs night and camp for free by parking the car along a Forest Service road before you get to the Yosemite border, and walking in at least 100 to set up your tent. That gives you a bit of Fri morning to actually stop and see some of the waterfalls in the Valley before embarking on your hike. Do not underestimate the driving distances involved, the traffic involved, and the number of places you will want to get out and walk/gawk.

There are two routes from Yosemite Valley (Happy Isles) to the top of Vernal Falls on your way to LVV/Half Dome. See them both. I prefer to hike the Mist Trail on the way up, and the John Muir trail on the way back down. The Mist Trail is much much steeper than the JMT; easier to go up than down. When you are going back down you will want to save your knees.

- Elizabeth

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: early July on 12/19/2011 23:24:11 MST Print View

I concur with Elizabeth that if you going to do the JMT (locally called "the horse trail") AND the Mist Trail, do Mist up and Horse Trail down. Mist is easy to find either direction. When coming down to the granite face at the top of Vernal, ask around for the JMT route down. There is a sign, but one can walk past it. Look for the sign after you cross the Merced on a footbridge across the slot in the granite that contains it.

I like her suggestion about parking on a USFS road outside the park and camping the previous night (free, no reservations, acclimitize to some altitude) - I used to do that a lot. But at least coming in on Hwy 120, a lot of the USFS roads I used to use for that have been blocked by a bulldozed berm. Maybe ping her and get a mileage to a good spot.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: early July on 12/19/2011 23:45:46 MST Print View

"But at least coming in on Hwy 120, a lot of the USFS roads I used to use for that have been blocked by a bulldozed berm."

That sounds like two miles out on the Evergreen Road.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Re: early July on 12/20/2011 00:35:05 MST Print View

Bob: Small world. Exactly. I'd turn north on Evergreen Road 1/4 mile before the Yosemite Park entrance station on Hwy 120, drive past the paid USFS campground 1/2 mile down the hill on the creek, continue on for a mile or so, pull onto a dirt road, get out of sight of the road, and roll out my bag.

Any idea if anyone cares if you park outside the berm and roll out a sleeping bag on the other side of it? I did that once and the berm nicely blocks the road noise.

But in later years, if I had a larger group, I'd just use that paid campground.

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Best time of year to hike Yosemite on 12/21/2011 04:49:51 MST Print View

Oh geez, so much good input! Where to begin?!

@Greg: I want to see Yosemite at its most beautiful. Waterfalls! Like I said, this is likely going to be my only trip into the Valley, and HD so I want to see it at it's best. I'll deal with the bugs, but fewer bugs would be a bonus.

@Erik: What cables at what falls?! Why? Be more specific! I don't want to put me or my wife into any dangerous situations...

@Multiple TIME: Well it looks like June would be ideal, but if it's a heavy snow year, than I'll want to look at July. Maybe the weekend after the 4th? I like to go week before/after holiday, usually less people.

@Multiple ROUTE: Well, we are slow hikers ~1.5mph is our fastest average for a day of hiking. So, a dayhike may be a bit much for us. It sounds like day 1 mist trail to LYV, then day 2 to HD then back to car via JMT is our best bet. I like this as I don't like to cover the same ground twice if I don't have to. And, considering we'll get a late start on day 1(see below).

@Multiple TIMING: No we can't go during the week, that would require using precious vacation time. We will probably be driving up Friday night(late), camping, then getting our permit first thing Saturday morning. Which means a late start on Saturday. Or can I print out my permit if I reserve it ahead of time?

@Greg: I'm sure there are a lot of better areas. If you'd like to share, I wouldn't mind hearing your favorite suggestions for 2 to 3 day trips in Yosemite. However, I feel that I NEED to go to the Valley and Half Dome at least once in my life. We have done a Young lakes overnight, and all future trips will likely be other areas of the park, but we gotta do HD at least once...

I don't plan on buying from scalpers, I'm hoping to plan a date then buy my passes as soon as they go on sale. Also, I believe, last time I checked, that certain trailhead back country passes included a HD pass. If you do a day hike, that's when you have to buy a HD pass.

Maybe it'd just be easier to hook up with another person/couple that has done it before and is planning to go around the same time as us... Wish my hiking buddy hadn't moved to Oregon, Sigh. We need new hiking friends, lol.

Edited by stingray4540 on 12/21/2011 04:52:14 MST.