Predicting the future is always hard. This year that is more true than usual given that we had quite a winter in 2023. Huge amounts of precipitation continuing until rather late in the year have left a lot in question.
Below are some general thoughts on park operations and such. We also have a comprehensive article on Yosemite Hiking in Spring 2023, including a basic overview, gear recommendations, and a trail-by-trail rundown.
- No park-entry reservation system. No reservation is required to enter the park this year. This is a good news/bad news thing. The good news is that no reservation is required. The bad news is that we are likely to see a return to difficult parking and mid-day traffic jams. The strategies that applied before 2020 apply now: start early. Simple as that. At 7:00am, we have never had any issues with traffic or parking. At 8:00am, that’s mostly true with the exception of a couple of especially popular parking lots (the Half Dome hikers start early, so that lot fills early). By 9:00am, things are usually okay, but starting to fill. After 10am, all bets are off. If you will arrive in Yosemite Valley in particular after 10am, your best bet is often just to wait until 3pm to arrive.
- Road openings: We can assume these will be late. As is the case every year, there is no projected opening date and there will not be any projected opening date until plow crews have punched through and maintenance crews have had a chance to assess infrastructure. A lot has to happen to get the high roads open. But we can make some rough guesses.
- The last time we had this much snow, Tioga Pass opened at the very end of June. Expect Tioga Road to open in very late June or early July. But we still have to wait to see whether or not the road has suffered damage that will require repairs.
- Similarly, the National Park Service has already announced that the “Glacier Point Road opening will be delayed in 2023 beyond its typical May opening as a result of the extremely heavy snowpack and because some road construction work must be completed prior to the road opening.”
- Road construction. Crews made excellent progress on Tioga Road last year, completing all pavement and just having curbs and bus stops and things like that to complete. Glacier Point Road was closed for all of 2022 and is scheduled to open for summer 2023 with pilot car escorts through some areas.
- High-country hiking: While hiking in Yosemite Valley and Wawona should melt out quickly, we expect snow above 6000 feet to last into May except in sunny areas. Up high, June and July will probably still have a lot of wet areas on the trails. So for April and May, poles and microspikes will be useful. That will likely remain true all summer, but just at higher and higher altitudes.
- Rafting, Stables, High Camps. Rafting will certainly open late and run late. NPS has a formula based on river height, air temperature and water temperature that determines when rafting opens. The stables may open late too as it will take time for trails to dry out. The last couple times we had very big winters like this, the Sierra High Camps did not open. By the time the camps melt out and damage was repaired, there were only a few weeks left in the season which is not enough to get staffed up for.
- Disease, pestilence and plague. Hopefully no more closures for that reason!
- Fire danger. It would be nice if all this moisture meant no fire risk, but only time will tell. Fire is always a possibility in the Sierra as summer wears on. This year, that danger will come later though, because the soil will have a lot of moisture for thirsty trees well into summer.
- Flooding. The fourth horseman of the Yosemite Apocalypse (after snow, fire and plague)? All the serious floods in recorded Yosemite history have happened as a result of high-altitude rains in the fall and winter. Major flooding from spring runoff is rare. Minor flooding, such as a bit of water on the road in a couple of low spots does happen. In 2011, when we also had massive low-altitude snows in March, the river ran close to its banks all through the month of June. If things warm gradually and we do not get really hot days until after the lower altitude snows melt out, we probably won’t see much flooding. If it stays cold and then suddenly warms, things could get interesting. It’s a matter of how much surface area is covered in snow when the first really hot sunny days beat down on it, along with other factors, of course, like ground saturation.
There are probably many things we’ve left out. As we get questions and things progress, we’ll update this page from time to time.