After the under-18 set heads back to school and the swarm of summer visitors slows, Yosemite National Park welcomes some of the most comfortable weather of the year. Aspens and cottonwoods turn from green to gold, meadows are dotted with milkweed pods spilling their silvery strands, and a peaceful splendor invites you to relax.
"Yosemite seems to take a breath in fall," says Tom Medema, the park's Interpretive Operations chief. "Things slow down, the weather cools―it's almost like the park is getting ready for its own hibernation."
Before winter comes, take a long weekend to see the best of what the park has to offer. Three days are a perfect chunk of time to explore the park's three main areas: Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley, and Wawona. Plan to stay in the valley―it's central to everything, and reservations are easier to come by at this time of year.
Day 1: Friday
Spend the afternoon at a cool 8,600 feet in Tuolumne Meadows, an hour and a half north of Yosemite Valley. Tioga Road/State 120 usually closes by early November because of snow, so this month is your last chance to explore the area before spring.