Visiting Yosemite in October is a truly special experience. Most of the key attractions within Yosemite National Park are still open but traffic and tourists are at considerably lower numbers. Best of all, Yosemite National Park is full of deciduous trees that break into glorious blazes of colourful leaves in the autumn. October in Yosemite Park was a truly stunning experience and perfect if you like taking photos!
October is also a fantastic time to visit some of the other fantastic places near Yosemite Park. Sonora, Jamestown and Columbia are all atmospheric little towns on the way to Yosemite Park from San Francisco. This is California gold mining country so there are loads to do to re-live those glory days – indeed this area is a favourite of Hollywood location manager’s so you may well recognise much of what you see from movies and tv! All of this is located in an area called Tuolumne County.
October is a brilliant time of year to visit Tuolumne County for two reasons. Firstly, October brings some terrific seasonal activities like the Indigeny Festival and the All Hallows Faire. Secondly, these lovely historic towns also contain many deciduous trees which make for a wonderful experience.
So here is my guide to both Yosemite National Park and Tuolumne County in glorious October!
Yosemite National Park in October
1. Yosemite Valley
The beautiful Yosemite Valley is the heartland of Yosemite Park. It is essentially an 8-mile loop full of stunning deciduous trees, which are lit up in October, and home to some of the key sights of Yosemite Park including the Half Dome and El Capitan rocks. This is my Yosemite must-see one-day trip choice when you visit Yosemite.
The valley drive has some great viewpoints which are literally on the road – you can tell by the number of well-placed spots to pull over! Don’t miss the cute church that is on the way to Yosemite Village on the right and the colourful trees around it.
At the centre of the loop is Yosemite Village which I will cover in my next point. This is the best place to park. Once you have parked your car you can use the terrific complimentary shuttle bus system to get around the Yosemite Valley area. In October the park isn’t super busy so you can choose to drive around to the different spots or take the shuttle bus.
If you do want to take the shuttle bus it is then possible to do a mix of it and walking to get to some of the key highlights of the park. Shuttle bus stop 6 will take you to the Cook’s Meadow Loop and Sentinel Bridge with some amazing views of the Half Dome. Or you can walk to Sentinel Bridge from the car park for this shot.
However, my favourite views within the Yosemite Valley were towards the end of the Yosemite Valley loop. Just past the El Capitan bridge, there is a small picnic area on the Merced River. The views of El Capitan and Half Dome are stunning from here. I was there late morning and even then I had great light for my photos.
Also, this is a great place to capture Yosemite autumn. Firstly, I took some nice shots using these to frame the Yosemite Valley. Secondly, the leaves and trees themselves made for some nice photos.
2. Yosemite Village
Yosemite Village is at the centre of Yosemite Valley and has a visitors centre, restaurant, gallery and everything you might possibly need for a great day in Yosemite Park. I would recommend starting with the terrific Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre. There are loads of maps, guidebooks, souvenirs etc. I also sat down with one of the guides and a map of Yosemite Park and we went through what was open and closed, what was in bloom, which waterfalls are running etc. October is a time of change in the park so it is key to find out exactly what is open and running for the specific time that you are visiting.
Next door to the Yosemite Valley Visitor’s Centre is the lovely Ansel Adams Gallery. This is definitely the place to go if you are after some beautiful and unique souvenirs of your visit.
A great place to grab lunch and a drink is Degnan’s Kitchen. This is what I would call a posh cafeteria with pizzas, soups, sandwiches, chips and snacks and most things you may need to eat for the day. If it isn’t lunchtime I would grab something to take with you for lunch from Degnan’s Kitchen Yosemite Valley.
In October this is pretty much the only place you will be able to get food and supplies in the park. The Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Centre is closed in October.
3. Yosemite Park Waterfalls
Yosemite Park is famous for its stunning waterfalls. Which waterfalls you are able to see will vary depending on the time of year and how much time you have available. Again, October is a time of change. When I visited I was able to see Bridalveils Falls but there was not a lot of water. Lower Yosemite Falls was dry and the Upper Falls was apparently light. Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls also had water but again the flow was quite low.
The easiest of the Yosemite Park waterfalls to visit is Bridalveil Falls. The walk from the road is only 0.5 miles – and the top of the falls is visible from the road if you have very limited time. Bridalveil Falls is in the Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and it flows in three sections. If there is water flowing when you visit, or if you are keen to walk the trails, the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are also within the Yosemite Valley. The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is a one-mile loop and quite a flat trail that will take you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. The starting point is the shuttle bus stop #6. This should take about one hour. VIsiting the Upper falls is a full day activity.
The paths to visit Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls can be accessed from the Nature Centre at Happy Isles. These are also long walks which would take up most of a day.
4. Glacier Point
Glacier Point is famous for its amazing views over the Yosemite Valley -, particularly at sunset. The view is genuinely awesome and I think this is a must-do on any day trip to Yosemite Park. It takes around one hour to drive from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point on Glacier Point road. The great news is that the parking area for Glacier Point is only 300 metres from the views so it takes no time to get there. In October it generally isn’t as busy so you should be fine getting to the parking area not long before sunset.
Washburn Point is very nearby although you will need to drive there. Washburn Point is essentially the extension of the glacier point view heading east. I felt like I had already captured all I needed at Glacier Point, to be honest, so if you only have one day you can give this a miss.
5. Tunnel View
Tunnel View is at the start of the Yosemite Valley loop road and only a slight detour from the main road. The views are fantastic! Glacier Point does have better views as you are closer to the Yosemite Valley (in my opinion) but as it is so close to the main path there is no reason not to pop in and check out Tunnel View. Also, Tunnel View definitely offers the best view in the park at sunrise.
6. Mirror Lake
In October there will almost definitely be no lake in Mirror Lake! This is the situation for most of the summer and the fall. Mirror Lake tends to be fullest in spring and early summer. However, it is known as being a fantastic walk. There are two options for walking this Yosemite trail. The first is a 3.2km loop. The second is an 8km loop which has lots of deciduous trees so a good opportunity to capture some fall colors in Yosemite.
The Mirror Lake Trailhead can be accessed from shuttle bus stop #17.
7. Mariposa Grove and the Giant Sequoias
Mariposa Grove is home to 500 giant Sequoia trees and is rather stunning. There is an easy 0.3-mile trail through part of Mariposa Grove and a second longer 2-mile loop option. It takes about one hour to drive from the Yosemite Valley south to Mariposa Grove.
Park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza. From here, it is necessary to get a free shuttle bus to Mariposa Grove. This parking lot fills up fast in peak times so plan your trip for the morning or late afternoon. The shuttle buses run between every 10 and 15 minutes depending on the time of year. The shuttle bus takes about 10 minutes to get to Mariposa Grove.
NB: There is no shuttle service from December 1 to March 15.
8. Siesta Lake
I literally stumbled across the lovely Siesta Lake. I was heading to Olmsted Point on Tioga Road. Just before the turnoff to White Wolf Siesta Lake appeared on my right and I pulled over. It was absolutely stunning! The Yosemite fall colors light up the lake – particularly the amazing yellows – and it made for Instagram heaven!
Then stumbled across Siesta Lake – stunning! Headed to Olmsted Point – very different scenery up here. Much more rocky and alien vs the forest of the Yosemite valley. Just as stunning but in a different way.
9. Olmsted Point
The landscape of Yosemite Park changes quite a bit as you head North to Tuolumne Meadows. Driving along Tioga Road the landscape becomes rocky and slightly barren compared to the forest of the Yosemite Valley. To my mind, it is just as stunning but in a different way.
Olmsted Point has a lookout across this area of the park. It is an okay view but nothing extraordinary. However, is located on the road so it is very easy to quickly pull over and take a look. I was there early afternoon so the light wasn’t fantastic. It could be very different late afternoon.
10. Tenaya Lake
Wow wow! It is quite a drive to get to Tenaya Lake but it is well worth it! As you may have noticed, there isn’t loads of water in Yosemite National Park in October so it was a highlight to reach Tenaya Lake and its oh so blue waters. It is known as “the Jewel of the High Country” in Yosemite for good reason!
This Alpine lake is large! I recommend driving along the length of it as there were different types of photos at different stopping points. Tenaya Lake has its own little beach as well as lots of places to stop and eating. It is possible to swim in Tenaya Lake but I wouldn’t recommend it without a wetsuit in October!
Guided Yosemite Tours within the Park
Yosemite Park offers a number of guided tours within the park. The two hour Valley Floor tour runs all year round. The Glacier Point is a four-hour return trip which runs between May and November. There are other tours but they don’t run in October. All tours leave from Yosemite Valley.
Things to do near Yosemite in October
1. Visit Sonora
Lovely little Sonora is the ideal base for exploring Tuolumne County. The charming main street has a slightly ye olde western town feel but also all the modern conveniences you may need. It is very photogenic in October with leaves changing colour everywhere and several historic buildings.
A highlight for me was the stunning red Saint James Episcopal Church. This extremely photogenic church sits at the top of the main street at the fork in the road and is particularly photogenic in October as it is flanked by deciduous trees. Sonora Farmers Market runs the first two Saturday’s in October and is worth a visit.
My second favourite place in Sonora was the wonderful Legends. Legends is a soda shop, a book shop and an antique shop all in one. There is a beautiful mahogany and brass bar for sitting and sipping ice cream sodas. When I visited there was also live music. And there is an old gold mine in the basement!
Legends is located on the main street of Sonora and is generally open between 11am and 5pm.
2. Attend the Indigeny festival
Indigeny Reserve is a beautiful 160-acre reserve and apple orchard in the hills of Sonora. They make apple cider (hard and soft), brandy and vodka. And every October they hold their fall festival in this beautiful area. There are pumpkins, hay bales, truck rides and lots of cider tastings!
There are also lots of beautiful trees changing colour and an absolutely gorgeous covered bridge which begs to be photographed!
Jamestown is another very cute western town that has been used in loads of movies – there is even a walk of fame through town! But for me, the highlight of Jamestown was Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. I have never been to a historic park that is actually almost an old railway yard.
This 26-acre park is filled with old rail cars in great condition and again may look familiar due to how often it has been used by Hollywood. Railtown park holds regular events including seasonal train rides. The benefit of visiting in October is the glorious colours. Several of the key rail cars in the park have beautiful deciduous trees behind or around them which make for some terrific photos.
4. Go Back in time at Columbia State Historic Park
Head back to the gold rush days of the 1850s with a visit to Columbia State Historic Park. Whilst this is a historic park it is also a live working village eg it never closes. The centre of town is, of course, the pedestrianised main street. The main street is filled with stores and saloons which are all open and working. Thirty of the buildings in Columbia are from the 1850s.
Many movies and tv shows have been shot in Columbia State Historic Park, including High Noon. Whilst you are in the park it is possible to buy sweets, pan for gold, go on a stagecoach ride and generally soak up the gold rush atmosphere.
Columbia State Historic Park is just 3 miles north of Sonora.
5. Enjoy the local cuisine
There are several great places to eat and drink in gold country. Let’s start with the best bit – the wine bars of Jamestown! Jamestown has two terrific places to drink wine. Inner Sanctum is a wine bar which runs tastings. Gianelli Vineyards is an actual winery which holds tastings. Both are located on the main street in Jamestown.
Jamestown is also home to the Jamestown Hotel where it all happens! I had some massive oysters for dinner at the Jamestown Hotel as well as some tasty prime rib. The staff are particularly friendly and there is live music in the evenings.
In Sonora, I had a fantastic Mexican lunch at El Jardin and then my favourite meal of the trip at Emberz on the main street. Cute little Twain Harte is home to Eproson House where I also enjoyed some tasty prime rib and more very friendly staff.
⇒ California is home to some fantastic wine. Check out my posts on California’s hidden gem Livermore Wine Valley, the best things to do in Calistoga in the Napa Valley and staying at the lovely Solage Spa in Napa.
6. All Hallows Faire
Every October the Sonora fairgrounds come to life with the Celtic All Hallows Faire. There is live music, lots of drinks, food and crafts, dancing and stalls. It is Halloween but with a medieval bent – it was very much like fairs I’ve seen on American tv but not attended in person! Oh and everyone dresses up! Everyone! Well, I didn’t but everyone else was. There are frequent awards for best costume so you may want to be more engaged than I was!
Getting to Yosemite Park and Tuolumne County and Getting Around
A large part of Yosemite Park is in Tuolumne County which is located in Eastern California. Yosemite Park is a 4-hour drive from San Francisco and a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles. Sonora is a 2 hour and 20-minute drive from San Francisco. The closest airports to Yosemite Park are in Fresno and Merced but these are quite small. If you’re travelling from overseas San Francisco Airport will be your best bet.
The best and easiest way to travel from San Francisco to Tulomnue County and Yosemite Park is to hire a car. There are loads of hire car options at San Francisco International Airport. Indeed, there is a four-storey building at the airport full of car hire companies! It was quite easy to get from arrivals to the car hire desks (it is well signed) and the process of picking up the car is very smooth and easy.
San Francisco International Airport is south of San Francisco so it is possible to avoid driving in San Francisco and to hit the freeways straight from the airport. I highly recommend getting a sat nav to help you get to Tuolumne County and Yosemite and to get around the park once you are there. The Yosemite website contains directions. There are four entrances to Yosemite Park.
If you don’t want to hire a car the next option is to take a bus. However, the bus journey does take 11 hours each way so that is a lot of travelling for just one day in the park! The other shorter option – 7 hours – is to take a transfer from San Francisco but that is considerably more expensive than the bus.
⇒ If you’re in San Francisco don’t miss my post on the top 17 Unique Restaurants in San Francisco
Getting around Yosemite Park and Tuolumne County
As I mentioned above, I definitely recommend hiring a car to get around Tuolumne County and Yosemite. It would be very difficult to get around Tuolumne County without a car.
Even if you have a car there are several great transport options for getting to some of the key sights within Yosemite. YARTS or Yosemite Area Regional Transport System has been operating in the park since 2000. During the summer YARTS does hotel pick-ups so you can leave your car behind. YARTS offers the same in the winter so you won’t necessarily have to put snow chains on your tyres.
YARTS does meet up with some of the bus companies to ease the connections to the park but the bus trip still takes a really long time!
Where I found YARTS most helpful was in the busy Yosemite Valley. Even though all of the attractions at Yosemite are well signed it can still be a pain trying to figure out what is where and the signal isn’t overly consistent. The free YARTS buses allow visitors to drop their cars and then get around Yosemite Valley easily – a real bonus if you are trying to see Yosemite in a day.
What to bring and what to wear in Yosemite in October
⇒ bring decent walking shoes, sunglasses, a hat or a cap, sunscreen, water and a day pack. Layers are key as the weather changes quite a bit this time of year so you will want to be able to adjust for Yosemite in the fall temperatures particularly if you are doing some Yosemite hikes.
⇒ there are limited places to get supplies in Yosemite Park. For one day a visit to Yosemite Village is perfect – but remember to grab everything you will need for the day
Money in Yosemite Park
There are ATMs in Yosemite Valley, Curry Village, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. The shops and restaurants in Yosemite all take cards.
Yosemite Park Opening Hours
Yosemite is open all year round and only closes in extraordinary circumstances. It is also open 24 hours a day. There is an entrance fee to the park which is charged on a per-vehicle basis.
Yosemite Weather October
Weather can be a major factor in Yosemite National Park – particularly in October when it will be changing a lot. The average high Yosemite temperature in October is 22 degrees Celsius and a low of 5 degrees Celcius. Check out the daily weather in October on AccuWeather and use the information on road conditions on the Yosemite website to help you plan your journey to and from the park.
⇒ If you love the outdoors check out my posts on a day by day guide to the Everest Base Camp Trek, the best things to do in Verbier Switzerland, Climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland and climbing Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.
Yosemite Tours for Solo Travellers
There are lots of options for solo travellers to Yosemite – from full multi-day guided tours to day tours to join.
⇒ Tourradar offers tours of Yosemite between 3 and 8 days designed for solo travellers
⇒ Exodus offers several different Yosemite trips which suit single travellers
⇒ Gadventures also offers organised tours of Yosemite with deals for single travellers
⇒ If you’re already in Yosemite, Rush Creek Lodge offers a variety of different half-day and day group tours you could join.
Where to Stay the Night in Yosemite
If you’re looking got Yosemite lodging in the park then the Ahwahnee (formerly called The Majestic Yosemite Hotel) is the only AAA 4 star hotel in the park. It is located in the east end of the Yosemite Valley and thus has some fantastic views of the key sights in the Yosemite Valley.
The 5-star Chateau du Sureau is located in Oakhurst, just outside of the park. It has 10 country-chic rooms with wooden beams, an outdoor pool, and a spa.
Another great option is the lovely Evergreen Lodge. The Lodge is located in Groveland which is only 6 miles outside the park. Evergreen Lodge has 80 plus cabins and was renovated two years ago. They also have fixed tents with blow-up mattresses for some low-level glamping!
Evergreen is very much tucked away with loads of outdoor space so it does feel wonderfully rustic. However, they also have a great restaurant and bar with a large outdoor area and an excellent general store with a very nice selection of California wines! Evergreen Lodge is a great mix of creature comforts whilst still feeling like you’re in the great outdoors!
Where to stay the night in Tuolumne Valley
For a great location and lots of character, it is hard to go past the Sonora Inn. This historic Inn was built in 1896 and has hosted stars as diverse as Grace Kelly during the filming of High Noon to Drew Barrymore while she was filming Bad Girls.
My room at the Sonora Inn was extremely large! Well, it was really two rooms as there was a huge living room and then a bedroom. It’s not really my usual boutique hotel but it has a real sense of history and a wonderful offbeat charm. And they have a really entertaining cat!
For bed and breakfast boutique charm you can’t beat McCaffrey House. The location is not as good as the Sonora Inn in terms of access but it is in the super cute tiny town of Twain Harte and it isn’t very far from Sonora.
This lovely boutique B&B was originally the vacation home of the owners. Once they retired they decided to turn it into a cosy bed and breakfast.
Who Paid for What in this Post
My visit to Yosemite and the surrounding Tuolumne County was hosted by Visit Tuolumne County – thank you! I paid for my flights to California and my car hire and Visit Tuolumne covered all of my costs eg meals, accommodation, transport etc. But as always my views are my own.
This post also contains affiliate links. This means that if you click through on these links and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.
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