Picnic among the aspens. Sentinel Beach, just off the Valley Loop Drive at the south side of the valley, is one of the prettiest
spots for a picnic and a great place for wading in the Merced River. Pick up lunch at the Village Store (209/372-1253), in the heart of Yosemite Village.
Two wheels, good to go. Exploring the valley by bike is a rite of fall. You can rent comfy SoCal-style cruiser bikes in Curry Village ($24.50 per day; 209/372- 8319; bike rentals also available at Yosemite Lodge, 209/372-1208). Heading north and west from Curry Village, ride along 12 miles of paved bike paths, past the Merced River and Swinging Bridge, taking in the dry, golden meadows and craggy black oaks. The valley's famous waterfalls have slowed to a trickle or disappeared entirely by now, but you can see black streaks of lichen on the granite where the rush comes in spring. "When the falls go dry, we like to say Yosemite Falls becomes Yosemite Walls," jokes the park's Tom Medema.
Dessert before dinner. As the afternoon fades, ride over to the Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge to roast your own s'mores on their indoor firepit (s'mores kits $3 at the bar). The Mountain Room Restaurant ($$$; www.yosemitepark.com or 209/372-1274), just steps from the lounge, is an elegant choice for dinner.
Spot climbers. October is usually a prime month for big-wall climbers on El Capitan (stop at pullouts along the Valley Loop Dr. at the southwest end of the valley). Watch them in action during the day (bring binoculars), or spot the twinkle of climbers' headlamps on granite by night.