There are many good reasons that so many people look forward to visiting Yosemite in May. As the days grow longer and warmer, the Yosemite area comes to life.
The waterfalls are at their most impressive, fueled by melting snow in the high country, and singing their songs as they cascade over Yosemite’s granite cliffs. At lower elevations, like Yosemite Valley and Wawona, the flowers are blooming. The often-photographed dogwood blossoms peak in May, and no one cares that the brilliantly eye-catching white ‘flowers’ are not actually petals but are composed of bracts surrounding the true flowers clustered in the center. There are fresh green leaves on the oaks, alders and willows. The dogwoods, alders and willow trees are decked out in vibrant spring-green leaves – a welcoming sight after a mostly monochromatic winter.
If you’re tempted to visit Yosemite in May, read on for what you need to know to plan the best trip.
Yosemite weather in May
By the numbers, for Yosemite Valley and Wawona you can expect an average high temperature of 68F and an average low of 42F, and just three days of precipitation on average. That means that you might still want a puffy jacket and beanie if you’re spending time outside early or late in the day, but it’ll be just about the perfect temperature to hike mid-day.
Of course, it’ll be cooler as you gain elevation. If you climb from Wawona or Yosemite Valley at 4000 feet, to Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet elevation, you’ll find yourself back in more wintry conditions with average high temps of only 54F (12C) that fall to 27F (-3C) at night.
In either case, it’ll be nice to have a variety of layers if you’re planning to be out and exploring during the day.
Snowstorms that require chain controls are rare in May, but not unheard of. Snow on the roads tends to melt quickly this time of year, but be sure to check the weather prior to your visit to be sure you have the proper equipment just to be safe.
What clothing to bring?
Like most times of year in Yosemite, it’s wise to pack a variety of layers that you can remove as the day warms up and then put back on when it cools off again in the evening.
Don’t forget rain gear. An average of 3 days of rain all month doesn’t seem like a lot, but Mother Nature still occasionally throws a snow storm into the mix, so be sure to watch the weather before your visit. Besides, if you decide to explore some of the amazing waterfalls, and it is waterfall season after all, you might want a bit of protection from the drenching mists. For example, in wet years, when the water is really flowing, people sometimes stop to wring out their socks at the top of Vernal Fall.
What can I see/do in Yosemite in May?
May in Yosemite is filled with water. Snow from the previous season is melting from the high country and rushing clean and cold through rivers and over cliffs. That makes lower-elevation areas like Wawona, Yosemite Valley or her sister valley in Hetch Hetchy ideal locations to go for a hike and marvel at the cascades and waterfalls.
The wildflower displays in the central valley and foothills are past their prime, and spring is moving up into the mountains. In addition to the dramatic flowering trees (dogwoods and planted apple trees), you’ll also find a myriad of wildflowers in bloom during this season as well. Look for the tall purple lupines in Wawona, or take a walk on the Wawona Meadow Loop to spot the many flowering signs of spring.
The wildlife is out and about as well, and the air is filled with bird song. Download apps like Merlin from The Cornell Lab, iSeek from iNaturalist or Yosemite Wildflowers from the Brecklings to learn about and identify some of the many sights and sounds you’ll find while out exploring. If you prefer a non-electronic version, we highly recommend The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. The author, John Muir Laws, has a knack for including most of the plants and animals you are likely to come across, in a small and easily-packed guide. It even has a section on exploring stars and the night sky in the back.
On a good snow year, May is still early for hiking in the high country without skis or snowshoes to help keep you afloat. The popular trails will be packed out by those who have gone before, but higher elevation roads like Glacier Point or Tioga Road are often still snow-covered and closed for the season, so if you decide to hike in those areas be prepared to encounter snow. Snow-covered trails can make travel difficult, and can also make it hard to navigate if you can’t see the trail beneath your feet.
From the Wawona area near The Redwoods In Yosemite, check out the Chilnualna Fall trail. The trail passes many beautiful cascades along the way making it appropriate for an all-day journey or a quick after-dinner stroll.
Another area close to Wawona and well-worth your time is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Though not the tallest or the broadest, these ancient trees combine the best of both, and are the most massive trees in the world. If you arrive before the Mariposa Grove shuttles start for the summer season, you can walk the Washburn Trail through the forest up to the Lower Grove.
If you have the opportunity to bring bikes with you, you’ll love being able to ride them up to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and around to different locations within Yosemite Valley.
There is also some amazing local single-track in the Sierra National Forest for the mountain bike lovers out there. Swing by Pedal Forward in Oakhurst to chat the team there for all the inside tips.
Hop aboard a Steam Train
Board the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for a fun trip into Yosemite’s past. Take a 1-hour history tour, or go all-in for a 3-hour evening special with family music, a theater performance or live jazz depending on the evening. While you’re there, you can also visit the Thornberry Museum, and learn to pan for gold.
Whether or not you have tried rock climbing before, a visit to Yosemite is a great opportunity to experience a fun and challenging activity with uncommon and extraordinary views in a special place. Sign up for a beginner class at the Yosemite Mountaineering School for a great introduction, or if you have some climbing experience, consider springing for a private guided climb.
Cultivate your inner artist in an art class or workshop run by the Yosemite Conservancy, and create a personal memento of your time in Yosemite. Classes usually begin in May. Check the Yosemite Conservancy website for more details.
Stroll through the Yosemite History Center
Especially if you’re staying at The Redwoods In Yosemite, be sure to stop by the Yosemite History Center to visit historic buildings that have been relocated to Wawona from all around the park. Interpretive signs by each structure tell a story about an important piece of park history.
Grab the reins and go for a ride through scenic forests and meadows and cross mountain streams. Horseback rides at Yosemite Trails and the Wawona Stables typically start near the end of May, so double check the website to see if they will be available for your May visit.
Find even more things to do in Wawona, Yosemite and the surrounding area.
Staying at the Redwoods In Yosemite in May
When you’re planning your May Yosemite trip, be sure to consider booking a vacation rental cabin in Wawona with The Redwoods In Yosemite. As you can see, there is so much to do near Wawona, and being inside the park gates, it’s an easy drive to Yosemite Valley for even more of what May has to offer. The Redwoods In Yosemite rental cabin listings make it easy to find just the home you’re looking for, plus you’ll save money by booking direct.
(Featured image of dogwood blossoms by Theresa Ho)