View Full Version : Yosemite at the end of May?

18-Feb-2008, 19:33
Hey everybody...

For many, many years I've wanted to go to Yosemite and the High Sierras to photograph. Ever since I saw Ansel's wonderful photographs of the High Sierra I've been inexplicably drawn to this place even though I've never been anywhere near the area.

For the past number of years either time or money has been an issue and my plans were thwarted. Indeed, with nursing school and now a full time job in nursing even getting out with my 5x7 camera locally has been a real chore...for many months it has sat unused. This year, thanks to a great new career money is more abundant and I have about two weeks of vacation that I can take at the end of May. Out of all the places I think I would like to go Yosemite ranks high on the list..primarily because I want to go and take what I hope will be wonderful photographs. I'm planning this to be primarily a photographic excursion, a chance for me to reconnect with my photography....it's almost the journey to "Mecca."

I'm sure I'll get all sorts of differing opinions but I'd like to hear about your experiences of Yosemite and the Sierras? Sublime? Overrated? Do you think the end of May is an ideal time to visit?

Thanks so much for your input!


Eric Biggerstaff
18-Feb-2008, 19:44

If Yosemite is a place you have always dreamed of going, then go! Don't let any opinion sway you away from it. I think anytime of year is great, all that is required is a feeling of excitement being there and the pictures will come to you no matter when you are in the park.

Sure, there are times of the year when crowds will be less or the clouds more abundent or the falls flowing more, but it really doesn't matter. Just make plans and go.

I am sure you will have a great time, I always do!

Make sure to stop by the Ansel Adams gallery, take plenty of film and have fun.

Ron Marshall
18-Feb-2008, 19:51
I went with friends two years ago and we had a wonderful time. We went at the end of April and the weather was terrible; snow rain and constant mist, only one day of the five was clear. Even so, all of us had a wonderful time. That was my first visit to a national park, and I am still kicking myself for not having made more time earier in my life to see such awesome wonders. I hope to make up for lost time in the future!

The weather at the end of May should be much better than when we were there, but I think it will be too early to camp in the high country, which is where I will go the next time I visit. The valley is beautiful, but even that early it was crowded. Any later in the year and I think the crowds would definately have reduced my enjoyment.

Get a good guide book, make reservations as early as possible, and take lots of film. PM me, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

18-Feb-2008, 19:51
I'll be there in mid may and i strongly recommend getting your accomodations taken care of asap. You won't be able to reserve a campsite in the park as they get taken up within minutes of reservation openings. There are first come sites i believe but that may be hit or miss. Tioga pass opens late may sometimes and the eastern sierras are spectacular. Kings canyon and Sequoia are close too.

Harley Goldman
18-Feb-2008, 19:53
Scenery-wise, it should be beautiful. The waterfalls will be full, the area fully green. As long as you are mentally prepared for some crowds, you should have a great time. It is not as crowded as mid summer, but it isn't quiet either. You can hike anywhere off the main areas and you can find peace and quiet. It should also be fairly peaceful early in the morning. There are not that many early risers. If you really want to go there and the timing fits your schedule, go for it and enjoy. You will be very inspired to shoot a lot. It is an incredible place. Grand landscapes and wonderful intimate opportunities.

Sideshow Bob
18-Feb-2008, 20:23
May is an excellent time to go to Yosemite, everything green, fresh looking and the falls are at their peak. Before you go, I would suggest that you get Michael Frye’s book (http://www.amazon.com/Photographers-Guide-Yosemite-Michael-Frye/dp/1930238002) it is written by a photographer for photographers.

Have fun!

Ron Marshall
18-Feb-2008, 21:10
May is an excellent time to go to Yosemite, everything green, fresh looking and the falls are at their peak. Before you go, I would suggest that you get Michael Frye’s book (http://www.amazon.com/Photographers-Guide-Yosemite-Michael-Frye/dp/1930238002) it is written by a photographer for photographers.

Have fun!

I second Frye's book, very helpful.

Barry Trabitz
18-Feb-2008, 21:47
Yosemite is the closest I have ever come to spending time in a true temple. If your experience approaches mine then you will have fulfilled your ambition. Best wishes.

David Karp
18-Feb-2008, 21:56
Any time is a great time to go to Yosemite.

If you have trouble finding accommodations in the park, keep trying. People change plans and let go of their reservations. You just have to keep calling. Hopefully, you will be lucky and call right after someone backed out.

Justin Black
18-Feb-2008, 22:24
Unless you have specific photographic goals, Yosemite Valley is good any time of year. The only problem with going in May is that you will be most likely limited to the Yosemite Valley area, though you could spend years photographing there. The Yosemite high country and the Tioga Pass crossing to the Eastern Sierra is usually only accessible from late spring/early summer until some time in November unless you want to ski in. The east side of the Sierra is good year round, with excellent access to wonderful photographic opportunities. If you want to go backpacking or mule packing into the High Sierra backcountry, I'd aim for either July or September.

The Sierra Nevada in general is truly a photographer's playground, though serious research in advance will reap considerable rewards. Let me know if you have any questions. Have fun!

18-Feb-2008, 22:39
Sometime in May is usually the time when Tioga Pass opens, if so then the snow at Tioga Pass is spectacular to photograph and that part of the park is simply amazing all the way to Mono Lake, the Valley will mesmerize, there is nothing like seeing El Capitan for the first time, the falls are usually gushing in May if there were sufficient rains that year. if Tioga is open most likely Glacier Point is open and you can see the entire valley from far above.

Yup, May is a fine month for Yosemite.

John Kasaian
18-Feb-2008, 23:20
Yosemite is fine any time. If Tioga is open so much the better. The spring brings waterfalls to thunderous life (and danger as well! Be cautious around water especially durng the run-off) and heroic mosquitos (so eat lots of garlic and protect your hide with Avon Skin So Soft or Deet or sheets of fabric softener) In summer, the crowds in the Valley are a bit much, but gridlock probably won't set in until U.C. lets out (besides, you can always escape to the high country!)

I think you'll have a wonderful time. IMHO the best way to see Yosemite is to stay there. Soak it up for two weeks---ten days minimum and the longer the better. Get used to the natural order of sunrise and sunset and the movement of the animals and weather. Let your imagination soar as you look at the granite and the big trees. If you don't take a single photograph you'll still have a great trip.

Ted Stoddard
19-Feb-2008, 07:52
Yes I agree with all of the opinions you can never loose by going to yosemite... at anytime of the year... If you want to be around others who love yosemite then send me a PM and I will add you to the list of a group that i will be leading for the following dates May 9th to May 13th... I dont know if you can change your dates but it might be a good idea to look into... You will fall in love with Yosemite as I have and I am still amazed by the beauty of the granite walls that reach for the sky and touch the bounds of heaven, in all its great beauty.... Well enough said let me know if you would like to join us.... Enjoy Yosemite either way.... Ted

Darren H
19-Feb-2008, 07:54

Yosemite is a great destination. I have been there in May before and really enjoyed it. The waterfalls should be at their peak flow. The valley will be green. The valley will be crowded, it is afterall Yosemite, but not as crowded as June will be. I also recall that the skeeters are not as bad as in June. Temps will probably be cool/cold nights and warm days.

Yosemite Valley is full of sights and great locations, most of them have had one famous image or another made there.

A couple of comments/suggestions I might make are:

1-buy Mike Fry's Photographers Guide to Yosemite. It costs like $5 and is a great guide to help you find locations at the right time.

2-Sunrise images will have less crowds. Sunsets are more crowded, especially on the bridge and at Tunnel View. BTW the best light in the valley is about one hour AFTER sunrise and BEFORE sunset. The deepness of the valley means it gets little to no light at surise/sunset.

3-If you are not a camper but want semi rustic fun, the Curry Village is a decent place to stay. You get a canvas tent cabin with a bed and have community shower/bath.

4-Best places to eat are pizza patio in Curry Village and Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village.

5.-Many great photo locations here, a few must see classics are Tunnel View and Valley View. Both are sunset locations. But just get out and explore lots to do here.

6-It is likely that Glacier Point and Tioga Pass will still be closed but there is plenty to see in the Valley and you can daytrip to the big trees.

7-Do be sure to stop by the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. Great images there to inspire you.

Good luck, have fun, and you can see some of the locations I visited in Yosemite on my blog:


19-Feb-2008, 13:03
Some great info on this thread... I myself am planning on a visit there from mid to late September with my father (who shoots a DSLR), while I am bringing my 4x5 and 645. I am figuring a week in the park.. and the second week heading west and north into southern Idaho perhaps. Though our iterary is pretty open and flexible for the two weeks. We will mostly be "off road" shooting, though I may after this visit have a better idea of what to plan for a backpacking trip in the future. This will be an exploratory trip for me, to help me narrow down when and how to plan for future trips as I have never been there.

20-Feb-2008, 21:32
Thanks so much for the sage advice folks...I really appreciate it. Right now the airfares are really reasonable but finding accomodations within the park is almost impossible....probably because my visit coincides with the Memorial Day weekend. Do you think it is better to stay inside the park or would someplace like Oakhurst be a good base of operations?

I've heard the Memorial Day crowds are pretty unbearable so it is looking more and more likely that I will wait until the 26th to go. This means I can only spend about 8-9 days...I hope that's enough time!


Lon Overacker
24-Feb-2008, 18:37

Great advice so far. You can lose yourself, even in the valley on Memorial weekend, so don't let the crowds discourage you.

If you can't get reservations in the park, my personal opinion is that Oakhurst is not a great base of operations. Although I've only traveled that route once, it's a long and winding drive to the valley on highway 41 - close to 2hours maybe? There are very nice accomodations in El Portal (Yosemite View Lodge (http://www.yosemite-motels.com/) specifically) and you can be on the valley floor in about 15min. The drive up highway 140 is the quickest from highway 99.

As far as timing goes, late May is about a 50/50 proposition whether the road to Glacier Point or Tioga will be open. Check the nps.gov (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm)site for updated info when the time gets closer.

If you are there for the extended time and the pass is open, I would highly recommend driving over to the eastern side.

Although you'll miss the dogwood, you won't be dissappointed - not even close. There's been a good amount of snow this year and the waterfalls should be raging. One tip would be at least once to be at Tunnel View about 3-3:30 in the afternoon if it's clear. With large flows, you'll get a chance to see a nice rainbow at the bottom of Bridal Veil falls. And if you're really lucky with a spring rain and the classic "clearing storm," you could witness a rainbow crossing the entire valley.

As far as crowds, Yosemite and Curry Villages will be a zoo, as will the walks to Bridal Veil and Yosemite falls. But even after a day, you'll get your bearings and figure out where you can go to get away...

Have a great time.


John Kasaian
24-Feb-2008, 18:58
Thanks so much for the sage advice folks...I really appreciate it. Right now the airfares are really reasonable but finding accomodations within the park is almost impossible....probably because my visit coincides with the Memorial Day weekend. Do you think it is better to stay inside the park or would someplace like Oakhurst be a good base of operations?

I've heard the Memorial Day crowds are pretty unbearable so it is looking more and more likely that I will wait until the 26th to go. This means I can only spend about 8-9 days...I hope that's enough time!


Stay in the park if at all possible! Check the DNC reservations site often---it is suposed to be a "real time" reservations so cancellations do occur---except for the Wawona Hotel. Call their desk directly. There are also campgrounds within the park. Camp 16 (housekeeping) is nice---whatever camping gear you don't have they'll rent but on Memorial Day it will be a zoo :(

For accomdations outside the park---how much do you want to spend? The Marriot in Fishcamp is a ritzy place. The Apple Tree B&B (IIRC) is across the parking lot and probably lots less expensive. The Narrow Guage Inn in Fishcamp is also very nice (I've heard)

If you'll have a week to play with try renting a cabin at The Redwoods in Wawona---not cheap but at least you'll be in the park and on a river.

One very good reason for staying inside the park on Memorial Day weekend if you can would be traffic. Hwy 41 at the gate can get gridlocked. If there is a deer of bear in close proximity to the road once again---gridlock. If you have to stay outside the park, leave for the valley at 0dark30 :)

Have a great trip!

John Bowen
24-Feb-2008, 19:17
I've been to Yosemite twice in '84 & '88. Both times we were there over Memorial Day weekend. Both times Tioga pass and Glacier point were open. Both times we were fortunate to stay in a cabin in the valley. I wish I could join you this year. HAVE FUN

24-Feb-2008, 20:54
You might be able to get a room at a motel in El Portal. The road to Lee Vining will probable be closed but you can easily spend a whole vacation in the Valley. Lon is right, Oakhurst is a long drive. I stayed there once as a base and it was not good. OTOH if the pass is open Lee Vining is a good base. When I stayed there I only went to the Valley once. The rest of the time was spent in the eastern part of the park, Mono Lake and Bodie are alot of fun.

24-Feb-2008, 21:23
Since moving to Northern Nevada from Italy, I've been to the greater Yosemite area 3 times. My first time in July of last year was a fluke but I took that time to scout out the area. My second time (October), I went there with the purpose to photograph as much as I could in 3 days. For that trip, I went to Mono Lake, Lundy Lake, Bodie, Twin Lakes and Yosemite Valley. My most recent trip was in early January for some snow shots. Spring time should be a great time. Most of the snow has melted off, the waterfalls are turned on, it's green and Tioga Pass should be open so you can explore both sides of the park. I have my homepage attached to my profile. Take a look for ideas on what to shoot and where to go. The area from Bridgeport to the Bishop area and beyond is so photogenic that you'll wish you had a year to be there. This March and April, I am planning trips to Manzanar, Mono Lake, and Devil's Postpile region to photograph for my current photography class. I hope you have fun with your shoot. I wish I could join you there.

God Bless,

25-Feb-2008, 11:30
If you can't get a place to stay in the valley, El Portal (on the west entrance, hwy 140) In any case, check with the registration at the Yosemite Inn or Curry Village in the morning first thing. They'll know if they've had any cancellations and you can often get a place in the valley that way.

Definitely dress for changeable weather. You can have rain, snow and sunshine at any time in the Sierras. The only bad time I've ever had there was during a torrential rain that just didn't stop...but that was March during an El Nino year.

The great part about Yosemite is that you can take a short hike away from the crowds and have the entire area to yourself. Have fun!!!


1-Mar-2008, 17:57
UPDATE: Well, reservations have been made....I'll be staying in one of the tent cabins at Curry Village. Have never really "roughed" it like this before but as long as I don't freeze my buttocks off or get ravaged by a bear in the middle of the night I think it will be a fun experience.

I'm flying into Fresno on the 27th and driving up that same day....returning home on June 3. I'm really, really hoping that the Tioga Pass is open so I can get to Tuolumne Meadows and Lee Vining to shoot Mono Lake. If the pass is indeed open I plan on staying four days in the Valley/Tuolumne and then another few days in Lee Vining/Mono Lake, etc. If the pass is closed I guess I'll just spend the entire time in the valley...I thought about driving over to Lee Vining via the southern route but that means at least a 6 hour drive. I'm sure it is worth it but that's a lot of driving and I would have to drive all the way back to Fresno at the end for the return flight.

Thanks to all of you for the advice and well wishes...I'll be checking this thread again for any additional info that comes along.


John Kasaian
2-Mar-2008, 00:04
The pizza patio at Curry is very good, as is the pizza at Degnan's---I hope you like pizza! The Maytag blue cheese cheese burgers at the Ahwanee are also very tasty! With all those calories to burn you won't have to worry about keeping warm ;)
One nice thing about Curry is that you'll be right next door to Happy Isles (always good light at Happy Isles) and the trail head for Vernal and Nevada Falls. have a great trip!