Central California / USA / USA National Parks / Yosemite

Experiencing Yosemite in Spring

Experiencing Yosemite in spring is a chance to witness the National Park reawaken after its winter slumber. While some sleepy snow still clings to the mountains, the valley below has rushing rivers, cool temperatures, and beautiful wildflowers. Spring in Yosemite is ideal for visitors looking to catch the park in off season to avoid summer crowds. There are so many unique Yosemite experiences and activities to find in the park in spring.

Look for Waterfalls Everywhere

Yosemite Falls

Waterfalls are one of the main reasons for experiencing Yosemite in spring. They appear everywhere. As the snow up in the mountains begins to melt, it streams down into the valley in every way it can. Iconic Yosemite Falls can be seen booming in the spring. The roar of the water can be heard as the water cascades and crashes onto the rocks below. Take the Lower Yosemite Falls hike if you want to catch a good waterfall spray and some rainbows.

Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls
Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls

Vernal and Bridalveil Falls

All the iconic waterfalls in Yosemite reach their peak during spring. One of my favorites is Vernal Falls, which can be reached via the Vernal Falls Hike, a.k.a. The Mist Trail. There is also the graceful Bridalveil Falls, the waterfall that not only makes an appearance at the infamous Tunnel View when entering the park, but that can be seen via the Bridalveil Fall Trail in the valley. When taking these hikes in spring, be sure to proceed with caution, as most likely everything will be wet. Bring good shoes and some rain ponchos because there are going to be slippery rocks and a constant mist.

Finding Rogue Waterfalls

One thing I love about experiencing Yosemite in spring is the unnamed waterfalls. It seems everywhere you look, water is trying to make its way down into the valley. Head to Mirror Lake, for example, to get a closer look at Half Dome. You will see countless streams cascading down the granite at the base of Half Dome and shining in the sun. When walking through Yosemite valley, take a look around you and see how many new waterfalls you can spot. Personally, I like making up my own names for them, and then seeing if they’re still around the next time I visit.

Half Dome from Mirror Lake
Half Dome from Mirror Lake. Can you spot the tiny waterfalls?

Rafting in Yosemite

Bring Your Own Raft or Rent One

Take advantage of all the lush water and hit the Merced River. I wouldn’t recommend any swimming, however, as that water is going to be freezing. Visitors can plan to bring their own inflatable raft with oars, or rafts can be rented inside the park. The unique thing about rafting in spring is that the water is going to be high and moving really fast. So be prepared to possibly get wet and do some quick navigating around big rocks and boulders in the river.

Rafting down the Merced River in Yosemite
Rafting down the Merced River

Prepare for Flooding

Experiencing Yosemite in spring also means preparing for some flooding. Usually at some point during spring, the ice from the high elevations begins to melt so rapidly that the water overwhelms the river and begins to flood the valley. At these times of high water levels, there is no rafting allowed. The water has to be low enough for rafters to safely pass under the bridges. Most days, however, you will be able to put your raft in, but if the water levels are high enough, a safety vest may be required. Safety vests can be rented inside the park as well. For other necessities, be sure to save my Yosemite Packing List for your next visit.

Look Out for the Mighty Merced River

I’ve personally visited Yosemite in the spring many times, and I find that the flooding is most likely to occur at the end of April or beginning of May. So while this is ideal for viewing big luscious waterfalls, it is not ideal for rafting. My favorite place to stay in Yosemite is Housekeeping Camp because it is located right on the Merced River with great views of Yosemite Falls. When the flooding gets high enough, however, Housekeeping camp closes because it’s filled with water.

I’ve had multiple stays at Housekeeping in early May where the flooding wasn’t high enough to close the camp, but it was high enough to raise some alarms. One night we went to sleep with all our belongings secured on the top bunk just in case the water came in over night. While it’s now a funny story to tell, it wasn’t a very peaceful sleep that night. Lesson learned: prepare for flooding in spring.

Housekeeping Camp River Unit with view of Merced and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley National Park
Housekeeping Camp by the River

Experiencing Yosemite Wildflowers in Spring

Wildflower lovers rejoice. The colors and blooms in Yosemite during spring are absolutely gorgeous. Due to the varying elevations, there are so many different types of wildflowers that bloom in the spring months. Experiencing Yosemite in spring is perfect for nature and wildflower photography. Wildflower viewing usually begins in early March. Expect to see things like red snow plants, purple Larkspur, bright yellow Goldenrod, and plenty of flowering dogwood trees. Head to Cooks Meadow via the Cooks Meadow Loop trail to see some beautiful blooms with a view of Yosemite Falls in the background.

Flowering Dogwood in Yosemite
Flowering Dogwood Trees in the Valley

Spotting Wildlife During Spring in Yosemite

Best Times to Spot Wildlife

The sunny but cool spring days bring out the wildlife. When experiencing Yosemite in Spring, you will definitely spot some deer roaming around and grazing. I’ve always had great luck spotting families of deer in the early morning or at dusk. Spring is also a time where you’re more likely to see a bear. While you obviously never want to approach or disturb a bear, spotting them from a distance can be really amazing. They are just starting to come out of their winter hibernation, and can be found roaming meadows or investigating fallen logs in the forest.

Black bear with tag in meadow
Black Bear in Yosemite

Other Types of Spring Wildlife in Yosemite

Other wildlife to spot during spring can include foxes, coyotes, or mountain lions, although they are more likely to stay out of view from humans. If you see any of those animals, again, enjoy them from a distance. Common birds in Yosemite include blue jays, robins, and my favorite, the giant and curious ravens. Also in spring you may see some seasonal birds like the red-winged blackbird, identified by the bright red and yellow spots on their shoulders.

Red Winged Blackbird
Red Winged Blackbird. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten

Don’t Feed the Wildlife

Other familiar faces that come out in spring are the raccoons and the notoriously pesky squirrels. Try eating lunch outside in Yosemite in the spring and these adorable squirrels will find you. They often sit close by, just watching and waiting for you to drop some food. While squirrels obviously associate humans with dropping food, it’s best not to intentionally feed these squirrels. And to keep raccoons out of your campground at night, be sure to put away all food items and make sure your trash is in one of the animal proof bins.

Squirrel Begging for Food
Squirrel Begging for Food

Summary: Experiencing Yosemite in Spring

Spring is such a beautiful time to visit Yosemite National Park. Witness Yosemite Falls in all its glory, raft the rushing Merced, and see lush meadows come to life with wildflowers. Plan your hikes or other Yosemite activities in the early morning to catch the cool breeze along with the early birds, deer, and perhaps the occasional black bear. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance to secure accommodation in the park, because waking up to Yosemite Valley is an experience like no other.

Planning a Visit to Yosemite?

Pin it for Later: Yosemite in Spring

Yosemite in Spring
Experiencing Yosemite in Spring