Yosemite Fall Colors – The Yellows of Autumn

Ironically, just before Yosemite valley’s leaves die for the season, they put forth one last gasp of color. While it’s not quite upstate NY grade leaf-peeping, Yosemite fall colors can still be a once in a lifetime experience. You just need to know when (and where) to look.

Tourist cars (Ford Mustang) near Pohono Bridge - Yosemite Fall Colors
Tourist cars near Pohono Bridge in Autumn

For example, I took most of these photos during the last week of October. While you may encounter patches of color sporadically through the park, some locations are better than others. Here are my photos and recommendations, starting with the drive into the park on Highway 120.

Best Locations For Yosemite Fall Colors

Highway 120 Corridor

Fall colors in the trees along the side of the Highway 120 road - Yosemite National Prak
Fall colors along the side of the Highway 120

While there are four entrances to Yosemite Valley, the one I use is obviously the one I know best. Highway 120, also known as Big Oak Flat Rd, has some incredibly scenic sections with fall colors.

I believe the photo above was shot a few miles after Crane Flat (though keep in mind that I pulled over and turned around to take this photo of the road).

Beautiful creek canyon foliage with reds, yellows, and greens - Autumn in Yosemite
Beautiful creek canyon foliage

Overall, I think this is the most vibrant, colorful patch of Yosemite fall colors I encountered all season. A lot of tourists miss it because of their rush to get down into the valley.

Merced River Maples – El Portal Rd.

Yellow Maple Tree Along Merced River

While it may be tempting to turn left into the heart of the valley, those coming in on highway 120 should turn right on El Portal Rd instead. On your quick left you’ll see a stunning display yellows and oranges along the Merced River.

Fall leaves with long exposure water flowing - Merced River on el Portal Rd
Fall leaves with long exposure water flowing

Given that the river flow has died down a bit by this time, it’s great for long exposures…and even wildlife viewing! I photographed a family of bears here, as well as a majestic great blue heron.

Fallen autumn Leaves on the river rocks - yellows and oranges - Merced River at El Portal Road
Autumn Leaves on the river rocks

Anyhow, depending on when you arrive, you can also find a lot of picturesque fallen leaves on the rocks.

Pohono Bridge (Big Leaf Maple Trees)

Pohono Bridge in Fall, with yellow trees and merced river - Yosemite Fall Colors
Pohono Bridge in Fall

Without a doubt, Pohono bridge is one of my favorite Yosemite scenes to photograph through all four seasons. However, autumn may top the list. I just love how the orange leaves compliment the beautiful stonework of the bridge, as well as the emerald waters of the Merced River flowing below.

Lone yellow maple tree by pohono bridge - Yosemite National Park in Autumn
Lone yellow maple tree by bridge

I think this little (big leaf) maple might be one of the famous trees in all of Yosemite! Haha. I’ve certainly seen it featured in a LOT of pictures. However, it’s not just the maple trees on display here – Pacific Dogwoods are also turning yellow and preparing to shed their leaves.

Merced River – Northside Dr.

From Pohono Bridge, you can drive all the way around the valley to some beautiful fall color scenes along Northside Dr.

Fall color forest reflection in Merced River
Fall color reflection in Merced River

Here, the Merced River is calm and reflective, lending itself perfectly to Autumn photography.

Yosemite Fall Colors – When To Visit

Although it can be tricky to determine when the fall colors will peak, generally the low elevation of Yosemite valley is best the last week of October. Keep in mind that the stretch on Highway 120 is up at a higher elevation, so it will likely peak a week or two earlier.

Also check out my eastern Sierra fall color photos nearby Yosemite…

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About My Photos

The images on this website are available for licensing and/or sale as framed prints. If you’d like to purchase them for a blog, news article, or gift, feel free to contact me with the specifics. This way you’re supporting photographers such as me directly (as opposed to buying from a faceless stock photo corporation).

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– Nathan Allen

About Me

Photographer Nathan Allen

I’m Nathan Allen, photographer / creator of YosemiteParkPhotos.com (Yosemite Photos) and international travel site I Dreamed Of This. In truth, I lived in San Francisco, New York, & Singapore…but nothing compares to life in the mountains. I share my experiences HERE.