Though not as brilliant as New England’s fall display of changing leaves, Yosemite National Park offers plenty of autumn beauty thanks to big leaf maple, dogwood and black oak trees. Fall itself can be changeable as a season, since turning leaves are affected by factors like rainfall and temperature, but year after year you’ll find certain places in Yosemite provide a seasonal autumn glow.
Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road
In late September, fall color makes the first appearance in Yosemite with aspen trees turning brilliant yellow and western blueberry bushes lining the shores of Siesta Lake along the Tioga Pass Road turning red and orange. You’ll also find aspen trees along the Mono Meadow Trail off the Glacier Point Road.
In October, oak trees on the grounds of the Wawona Hotel turn yellow and dogwood trees range in color from orange to pink to red. You’ll find fall color in a variety of ways at Wawona. From the hops vines that trail over the verandas of the hotel to the dogwood trees that line the west end of the Wawona golf course to the black oaks along the Meadow Loop Trail, fall is found in a range of shades. Fall also offers the chance to view Wawona’s wildlife along the Meadow Lopp Trail circling the golf course: mule deer with proud antler racks and squirrels caching acorns for the winter. You may even be lucky enough to spot the great gray owl that calls Wawona home.
Fall color appears in Yosemite Valley beginning in mid-October, lasting into November. Just across the road from the Yosemite Valley Chapel you’ll find Yosemite’s earliest and most famous harbinger of fall, a giant sugar maple tree planted many years ago by early settlers. Sugar maple turns flaming red in early October and the size of this tree is impressive – positioned just at the intersection for Yosemite Village. Behind the chapel’s paved parking lot you’ll find a connector path to the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail and if you follow the path east toward Curry Village, you’ll stroll through a lovely display of big leaf maple trees amongst granite boulders that turn golden yellow in fall. A section of Southside Drive on the Yosemite Valley Loop Road (underneath Middle Cathedral Rock and directly across the valley from El Capitan) is surrounded with big leaf maple trees and this becomes a picturesque drive in the fall. Southside Drive’s best stop is at tiny Fern Spring – often referred to as Yosemite’s smallest waterfall – where yellow fallen maple leaves contrast sharply with wet granite for a great fall photo op. The elm tree in Cook’s Meadow is famous for having been photographed many times by Ansel Adams, but is also justly famous for putting on a fall show. This tree’s location in the meadow with Half Dome in the background guarantees an iconic Yosemite fall photo. Nearby in Superintendent’s Meadow, black oaks display yellow leaves against black bark for fall. Cottonwoods along the Merced River also turn yellow throughout Yosemite Valley.
Fall isn’t just about color – there are also food & wine events that take place in Yosemite at The Ahwahnee during the fall and start of winter. Vintners’ Holidays celebrates the grape harvest with wine tastings and a gala dinner at The Ahwahnee in November. Thanksgiving can be celebrated with dinner at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Wawona Hotel and The Ahwahnee. Just as fall gives way to winter, the Bracebridge Dinner holiday tradition – also at The Ahwahnee – continues the holidays with song and feast at Yosemite Valley’s National Historic Landmark hotel. Learn more about how to experience fall in Yosemite with lodging specials at www.yosemitepark.com.