Think of Yosemite National Park and you have visions of green trees against granite backdrops.
That isn’t the case, however, if you venture there during November.
uIn Yosemite Valley big leaf maples burst out in yellow along the southern wall of the valley between Bridalveil Creek to beyond Happy Isles. Oaks add golden yellow, orange and brown to the Yosemite Valley pastel of colors while dogwoods burst forth in pinks, reds, and yellows.
uAt Glacier Point there is a blaze of yellow from low-growing shrubs and a sprinkling of oranges from aspen.
uTuolumne Meadows offers splashes of reds, yellows, and oranges from grouseberries and such as well as a few aspens turning yellow.
The fall colors usually arrive by late October. They stick around typically until the first heavy winter snow coats the park or hard frosts return. That doesn’t usually happen until early December
Last weekend’s snow temporarily closed Tioga Road (Highway 120) through Tuolumne Meadows. For up-to-date status on road conditions or chain restrictions call 209.372.0200.
A drive along Tioga Road this time of year even if colors aren’t in full force is a pleasant experience. There’s a definite chill in the air plus the crowds have thinned making many attractions along the road such as Tenaya Lake all the more pleasant to enjoy.
Tioga Road will eventually close for the winter when major storms start dumping snow.
You will still be able to take Tioga Road a short ways east of Big Oak Flat Road to reach the trailhead for the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. With Mariposa Grove and its seemingly endless collection of Giant Sequoias closed until 2017 for trail and facility renovations Tuolumne Grove with its two dozen mature Giant Sequoias is the place to go in Yosemite for those seeking to gaze at some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. The one-mile hike from the parking lot to reach the grove is much more peaceful in the fall as crowds have thinned out. (Be warned it is a 500-foot drop in elevation to get there which means it’s all uphill back to the parking lot.) For optimum serenity, wait until snow blankets the ground.
Speaking of snow, the lower elevations in the valley — and even the surrounding granite overlooking the valley— doesn’t start to pile up normally until January much to the chagrin of snowshoe enthusiasts. It means Yosemite this month as well as in December is more serene due to the sparse crowds yet not impossible to enjoy short wandering hikes through meadows or strolling along the tranquil Merced River. That said, snow can be a problem on Big Oak Flat Road (Highway (120) as the road’s high point is 1,600 feet higher than the valley floor. You can have chain requirements on Big Oak Fat Road and not in the valley itself.
The only drawbacks to Yosemite Valley this time of year is the dearth of the park’s signature waterfalls as most creeks feeding them have run dry as well as the shorter time of daylight.
That said there is always Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall on the Merced River along the park’s most popular hiking trail — the Mist Trail. Even with less water, the 594-foot drop that is Nevada Fall is fairly impressive. While the hordes of people are much smaller, it is still a fairly good hike to Nevada Fall prompting many to stop at Vernal Fall to enjoy the rushing power of the Merced River and then double back to the valley.
The fall position of the sun also provides a different hue to the large chunks of granite — El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and others that stand guard over the valley. Even poplar destinations such as Mirror Lake have a different look.
As an added bonus Yosemite National Park is “on sale” from Nov. 1 through March 31. The $30 entrance fee good for seven days drops down to $25.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org