As of March 3rd, the average snowpack throughout the greater Sierra Nevada range is at 190% of normal. Closer to Yosemite, some areas are measuring at 230% of normal. Simply put, we are about to reach record snowpack levels and are not nearly through our Miracle March or our April Showers. Much more is yet to come, including the potential for spectacular waterfalls and massive flooding. This record-setting winter will set the stage for late seasonal openings this summer and the potential for some extreme conditions, such as snow and river crossings, especially in the backcountry. In this post, we will give our best predictions for the 2023 Yosemite summer season, focusing on the key areas of the park. We will consider the current snowpack levels, historical information such as Yosemite’s Historical Seasonal Opening & Closing Dates, and our personal experiences over the past 28 years.
Yosemite Valley – 4,000 feet in elevation
The iconic and scenic Yosemite Valley is open year-round unless forced to close by weather or other naturally occurring events. The Valley is the most popular and visited area of Yosemite. This season’s waterfalls will be insane, and visitation will be very high to witness them firsthand between April-June. There are many day hikes around the Valley, some that originate from the Valley floor and rise rapidly, such as the very popular Mist Trail/Nevada Fall Loop or the Yosemite Falls hike. The latter is usually available year-round due to its southern exposure. We expect the famous Half Dome in a Day hike to open with cables in place during/after the first or second week of June. Some backpacking trails also originate in the Valley, allowing you to reach some outstanding overnight locations between 6000-7500′ where snow should be present but lessened by later May and throughout June. One of our favorites includes Yosemite’s North Rim on our Yosemite Icons trip and the Southern Rim of the Valley via the Pohono Trail by Tunnel View. Note: The way this winter plays out, there will be many opportunities for Yosemite Valley to flood. Pending nothing significant, expect daily swelling around the rivers/streams regularly every afternoon/evening in late May-early July, especially on those hot days with increased snowmelt.
Glacier Point – 7214 feet in elevation
Glacier Point is one of the most visited tourist locations within Yosemite National Park due to its panoramic high sierra viewpoint that doesn’t require hiking. Glacier Point Road typically opens well before Tioga Rd around Memorial Day weekend. Such was the case in 2011 and 2017 when we had 178% snowpack, and Glacier Point opened on May 27th and May 11th, respectively. However, the one variable in 2023 other than the weather that may play a significant issue on the opening date would be the Glacier Point Road Project, the road rehabilitation project which closed the road entirely in 2022 and which is supposed to be ongoing with delays throughout 2023. If Glacier Point Road opens by Memorial Day weekend, that will open up access to more trails for day hikes and overnight backpacking. Our favorite day hikes from this area include Glacier Point down the Panorama and Mist Trail and Sentinel Dome and Taft Point from Glacier Point. Backpacking from trailheads along the Glacier Point Road allows you to access areas most accessible in late May/early June, in which snow can still be expected at 7500′ and above. One of our favorite backpacking trips is the Glacier Point to Half Dome trip, which is safer to consider after the first week(s) of June due to the unknown opening of the cables to Half Dome.
Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows – 8600-9943 feet in elevation
Tioga Road is the highest roadway across the Sierra Nevada that, on a typical snowpack season, opens by Memorial Day Weekend. The Tioga Road is also the gateway to the Eastern Sierra, and many local economies depend on its opening. Based on the historical data and the winter we are currently experiencing, it is safe to say that Tioga Rd. will not open until at least July 1st. This late opening means that many of the most sought-after backpacking trailheads in Yosemite will not be unavailable until then. Once Tioga Road opens and because of its popularity, expect most trails to be blazed within a couple of weeks. However, expect snow and frozen lakes above 9000′ for most of July and into early August. Snow should remain present in the higher north-facing elevations of approximately 10,000 and above throughout the summer. Once Tioga Road opens, partaking in a Tuolumne Meadows Day Hike is a great way to explore the general vicinity. Clouds Rest or Mt. Hoffman day hikes offer an excellent summit experience. Backpacking from Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows provides many great options, including Amazing Sunsets, ideal for families. Our 6-day Tuolumne Meadows to Half Dome trip is excellent for families with older kids or friends. Both trips should be outstanding in mid-July-September. Remember the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to see some less often viewed waterfalls returning to full life this season.
Hetch Hetchy – 3900 feet in elevation
Hetch Hetchy has one of the longest hiking seasons in Yosemite and is a great place for early-season hikes and viewing waterfalls and wildflowers in the spring. With other areas of the park inaccessible, Hetch Hetchy offers a great way to experience waterfalls without the Yosemite Valley crowds. Check out the Hetch Hetchy and Wapama Falls Day Hike. There are also some good early-season backpacking opportunities to Laurel Lake, Rancheria Falls, Tiltill Valley, and Lake Vernon, all between 4000-6900′. (Be careful on the Frog Creek crossing!) We will also use this area for many May/June backpacking trips, including family trips and our youth Summer Camp programs.
Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees – 3999 and 5600 feet in elevation
Wawona is in southern Yosemite and halfway between Yosemite Valley and the park’s southern gate along Hwy 41. Open year-round, Wawona is home to the Yosemite History Center, Chilnualna Falls, and near the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite. The hikes around Wawona and Mariposa Grove are accessible year-round, yet conditions should be good to enjoy these areas mid to later April.
Please note that predicting weather in California during a warming trend is not easy. The predictions above are based on the current snowpack only. The weather between now and any specific summer trip date in Yosemite can significantly affect the conditions. For example: In the next few weeks in California, there is a high chance for multiple strong and warm atmospheric river events. These can potentially wipe out the snowpack rapidly while triggering an earlier waterfall season and increased potential for flooding.
When is the best season to visit? It depends on what you’re coming to see. If seeing waterfalls in their most total capacities is your goal, then April-June are the months to go. Suppose you want to visit when more of Yosemite is open, including Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road, then anything after early July. The crowds are worst between July 4th and the first week of August. Late August through September, the masses calm, waterfalls trickle, mosquitos die, the temps cool, and the trails should all be accessible. This part of the season is our favorite to visit the backcountry.
Other expectations and gear suggestions: Walking along the trails as they wind through meadows and up and over passes coming alive from the snow is an experience to be noticed. Be prepared for wet and muddy trails while walking along, besides, and over snow. But also be prepared for ephemeral streams, lush meadows, snow-covered summits, giant waterfalls, and fast-flowing rivers. Backcountry camping throughout the early season will be in dried-out areas among the snow, with snow within the vicinity, or sometimes even on snow. Expect warm days and cold nights, with mosquitoes being an ongoing issue until after the snow has fully melted. Essential gear will include waterproof shoes or boots, trekking poles, sandals with back straps (for river crossings), base layers, a warm hat, mittens, and extra socks. A mosquito head net is essential and an added sense of adventure for experiencing these magical conditions.
Our last prediction is that Yosemite National Park may put reservations back for this 2023 season. With the significant snowpack, delayed openings, and tremendous waterfall season expected, it would be in everyone’s best interest to limit entry and crowds. The park is aware of this, and we predict the return of required reservations for 2023 at least until the Tioga Road opens fully.
Glacier Point Road Opening: Pending no construction issues, by May 26th for Memorial Day weekend.
Half Dome Opening (Cables in-place): First to second week of June
Tioga Road Opening: Will not open until at least July 1st.
Reservations Returning for 2023 summer? We think so, at-least until the Tioga Road opens fully.
For more up-to-date information, see:
Tioga and Glacier Point Roads Plowing Update
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