When is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park?

DSCF0392-1.jpg

Hey adventurers! It’s Kasey Austin – the President of Operations and self-proclaimed Yellowstone expert here at Austin Adventures! Yellowstone and its surroundings are where I plan year-round Yellowstone Vacations, guide group adventures and play on the weekends, so I feel like I know my stuff – at least a little bit!

 

The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

Let’s get down to this business of answering our question: When is the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park?  First, I bet you’re hoping I’ll give you a simple, solid answer like “September” or “wintertime when the park isn’t crowded.” And honestly, those were my first go-to answers, but after I sat down to think some more about my favorite time of year, I couldn’t nail down any one time to go. And truthfully, the best time to visit Yellowstone is all the time and anytime of year. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some pros and cons about visiting during each of Yellowstone’s seasons so you can choose what time of year to go based on what it is you’re looking for: less crowds, wildlife opportunities, best time for photography, etc. Read on to discover more about Yellowstone’s seasons and what time of year you should check out our world’s first national park!

 

Visiting Yellowstone by the Season

 

Visiting Yellowstone in Winter

(Mid-December – mid-March) I consider Yellowstone’s winter season to take place during the annual opening and closing of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the accommodation located directly across the parking lot from the Old Faithful Inn (and no, the historic inn is not open during the winter).

If you’re looking for a time of year where Yellowstone is practically barren of visitors, this is the season for you. Less than 3% of the park’s 4+ million visitors see Yellowstone during the months of December, January, February, and March combined! Most roads are closed to vehicle traffic and the Snow Lodge can be accessed via the West, South or North entrances by snow coach.

The only road open to vehicles is the road connecting Cooke City at the Northeast Entrance to Gardiner at the North Entrance. Having that road open is a win because this is a great time to go wolf watching in Lamar Valley, located just inside the Northeast Entrance. In the winter, there is an almost overwhelming amount of things to do inside the park’s borders like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, hiking, ice skating, wildlife watching, and star gazing.

Outside the park, there is even more to do including downhill skiing, dog sledding, sleigh riding, sledding, hot spring soaking, and more. If you need yet another reason, the scenery is beyond incredible – picture a mountainous snow-covered wonderland and pepper the scene with steaming geysers and brawny bison. Ahh, paradise!

 

 

Pros of Visiting in Winter

  • More breathing room - less than 3% of park visitors visit during this time
  • Winter activities abound and there’s something for everyone
  • The wildlife is out, especially at lower elevations near the park’s West and North Entrances
  • A stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth Hotel feels cozy and exclusive
  • Abundant winter photography opportunities of snowy landscapes and frost-laden wildlife

Cons of Visiting in Winter

  • Most roads are closed due to high snowpack
  • Nearly all lodges and other facilities are closed due to road closures
  • Accessibility can be challenging and expensive if you plan to make the trip to Old Faithful
  • It’s….well, cold! (Battle against this by dressing in layers!)
  • Bears are in hibernation but you can still see them at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

 

Visiting Yellowstone in the Spring

(mid-March – mid-June) Spring is a time when the park emerges from a cold, snowy winter and life starts to peek its way back into different parts of the park again.

If you study Yellowstone’s wilderness closely, you can practically watch spring materialize before your eyes as a white landscape slowly but surely turns green, usually by the time June rolls around. Green shoots of grass along with the first spring flowers – spring beauties, glacier lilies, and larkspur – start to pop up everywhere as snow melts away at the lower elevations.

It’s a beautiful time when everything looks and smells fresh, ready for the start of a new season. The animal babies of the year— tumbling black bear cubs, knobby kneed bison calves, and white-spotted elk calves—start to emerge as the snow melts and are sure to tug at any animal lover’s heart strings!

The park is practically void of visitors (compared to summer) and you’ll find all the lodges and facilities start to open up on a staggered schedule as the roads are cleared of snow. You can keep an eye on the Park Road Status and the Lodge Opening and Closing Dates at these links.

Pros of Visiting in Spring

  • Baby season! Wildlife babies are out and about and can first be seen April – June
  • Park has very few visitors March – May; June starts to pick up as kids get out of school
  • Landscape changes drastically from a winter wonderland to a bright, green terrain
  • Bears begin coming out of hibernation anytime from March on and are readily spotted
  • The first spring flowers begin to pop up out of the recently snow-laden soil

Cons of Visiting in Spring

  • It can be too snowy for summer activities and not snowy enough for winter activities
  • Trails can be quite snowy and/or muddy through June
  • Lodges and facilities open on a staggered schedule which can make planning challenging
  • Roads throughout the park open on different dates, conditions permitting
  • Weather can be unpredictable with snow storms occurring through May (sometimes later)

 

Visiting Yellowstone in the Summer

(mid-June – mid-September) There’s no question about it – Yellowstone in the summertime means crowded boardwalks, shoulder-to-shoulder Old Faithful eruptions, and busy roads (especially during a bison or bear jam!) The kids are out of school and families arrive to Yellowstone’s entrances in droves.

There’s a reason Yellowstone is so popular in the summer: the park is most accessible at this time of year and the scenery is at its absolute finest with colorful wildflowers taking over the hillsides, vibrant sunrises and sunsets gracing the wide open skies, and brilliant white snow capping the mountaintops.

Wildlife is readily seen across the park throughout the day; however, the wildlife enthusiasts who venture out at dawn or dusk are bound to get lucky with sightings during the coolest parts of the day when animals are most active, especially in areas like Lamar and Hayden Valleys.

Yes, Yellowstone is crowded in popular areas like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but I’ve found that most trails in the park are completely deserted. Whether this is due to most visitors’ shortage of time, lack of trail knowledge, or fear of bears (or maybe a combination of all three) is beyond me, but there are miles of backcountry (and frontcountry!) trails that rarely see hikers.

Summer is also the best time to visit Glacier National Park, allowing you to loop more parks into one epic summer trip!

Pros of Visiting in Summer

  • Great weather includes cool, brisk mornings and warm, sunny afternoons
  • Everything is open – roads, entrances, lodges, restaurants, trails, etc.
  • Wildflowers pop on the open hillsides June - August
  • Wildlife abound and are best seen at dawn and dusk when temperatures are cool
  • Limitless activities will keep you busy from sunrise to sunset

Cons of Visiting in Summer

  • Crowds are at their peak all summer long which can impact experience at popular sites
  • Afternoon thunderstorms can put a damper on outdoor plans
  • “Wildfire season” can severely alter air and view quality, although timing is unpredictable
  • There’s almost too much to do – don’t over plan and keep in mind travel time can be long
  •  Pre-planning and booking is essential as lodging and campsites can fill up a year in advance

 

Visiting Yellowstone in the Fall

(mid-September – mid-December) Fall in Yellowstone is one of my absolute favorite times to visit “Wonderland.” The kids have gone back to school and parents have resumed their normal work schedules. Yellowstone itself seems to sigh a huge breath of relief as the summer crowds dwindle and nature can get back to doing its thing without the presence of millions of people milling about.

The animals look their strongest and healthiest after a summer spent grazing, browsing, and feeding on the park’s rich lands. The antlered male ungulates (hoofed mammals) display striking racks, and the male elk put on quite the show competing for females’ attention bugling and fighting other males during the rut.

The change in fall colors is drastic but brief, and if you catch the timing just right, you’ll walk away with incredible photos of a golden season.

During the fall, roads and lodges begin to shut down on a staggered schedule throughout September into October, but the weather is often quite pleasant as the winds die down this time of year and the sun shines brightly. Snow is likely, oftentimes beginning in September, but that just adds to the beauty of Yellowstone during this special time of year.

Pros of Visiting in Fall

  • It’s an experience in and of itself to hear an elk’s bugle during the fall rutting season
  • Wildlife appear to be at their healthiest after a long, prosperous summer in the park
  • Bull elk, moose, and deer showcase their handsome antlers
  • Beautiful photography with the changing colors of the aspens – especially north part of park
  • Crowds die down to practically nothing once September rolls into October

Cons of Visiting in Fall

  • Roads begin to close down for the season and sometimes close in the blink of an eye
  • Unpredictable weather – you never know when the first snow is going to fly!
  • Advanced planning required for staggered lodge and facility closures
  • Just like the spring, trails can get very muddy or snowy
  • Many of the businesses at the park’s “entrance towns” close down for a much-needed break

Regardless of what time of year you choose to visit Yellowstone, all seasons have something exceptional to offer the wildlife enthusiast, the budding photographer, or the intrepid adventurer.

Each season holds dear memories to me, and my only hope is that you get out there to experience Yellowstone at any time of year with you and yours. (Bonus points if you make it to Yellowstone multiple times during different seasons!) Austin Adventures offers scheduled and custom Yellowstone vacations year-round, so if you need help deciding the best time to go to Yellowstone, your Yellowstone experts are here to provide direction.

See you on the trails!

 

 

Visiting Yellowstone FAQs

 

What's the best time to visit Yellowstone to Avoid Crowds?

Winter and spring are the best time to visit Yellowstone to avoid crowds. Winter can be cold, but it has opportunities for different activities such as snowcoaches, skiing, wildlife spotting, and more. Spring is great because everything is still breaking out of the snowpack and beginning to bloom. Fall still carries some crowds from the summer, but not as much. It's still warm in fall and many activities and campgrounds are still open. Does that mean summer is the worst time to visit? No, not at all. Summer in the US is a time of travel and vacation, lots of people venture to the Park for outdoor recreation. This isn't a bad thing though as it's still possible to enjoy the park. Many people who visit and produce the uncomfortable feeling of crowding, even on the warmest summer day, can be avoided by venturing away from the roads and down a trail.

What is the best time to visit Yellowstone for wildlife?

The best time of year to visit Yellowstone for Wildlife will vary depending on what you’d like to see. When Yellowstone was first established and the park was being built, the roads were constructed right next to the rivers where most wildlife congregate for water. Simply driving through the park is a near guarantee to see animals. Bison can be seen year round wandering the park. Bears are sometimes seen from the road too. Wolves are tricky to see, but can be seen year round, especially in Lamar Valley. Searching for wildlife one of the best things to do in Yellowstone!

What about the roads in Yellowstone?

The roads in Yellowstone can vary depending on the season. During the winter most roads are closed with the exception of the north roads. The park service has a great road status page for current road conditions. The west entrance of Yellowstone is open and very popular for snowcoach and snowmobiles. In summer expect all roads to be open and sometimes have delays due to Bison or construction. Don’t worry about that if you’re with us though as your Austin Adventures guides will navigate the logistics so you can maximize your adventure.

 

If you're ready to start planning your Yellowstone vacation, have a look at these amazing Yellowstone adventures.

Related Posts

Top 10 Things a Tour Guide Packs For a Day Hike in the National Parks

Whether you're heading out for an hour or a couple…

10 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone & Around the National Park

Between the wildlife, geothermal activity, mountains, valleys, and canyons, there…

The Best Winter Family Vacations for Sun, Snow and the Holidays

 

How to Plan Your Winter Family Vacation for 2022 

Adventurous families…

Best Time to Visit Alaska

While we believe the best time of year to visit…

The Best Time to Visit Maine

So you’re considering a visit to Maine—the popular U.S. coastal…

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone?

Have you been wondering...
When is the best time to…

Best Time to Visit Death Valley

 Visit During Other National Parks' Off-SeasonUnlike most National Parks, the…

Best Time To Visit Glacier National Park

Anyone who's been to Montana will tell you straight: Big…

Best Time To Visit Banff National Park

 

With unmatched panoramic views and magical vistas of jagged, winter…

Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon

 

The Grand Canyon is one of those must-see geological wonders…

Your Guide to Teen Trips

 Your Guide to Teen TripsTraveling with your children during their…

10 Best Places to Visit in Montana

 

Many of the best places to visit in Montana are…

Things to Do in Alaska in Summer, Spring, Winter and Fall

 

One of the biggest aspects of your next Alaskan trip…

7 Reasons Why You Should Take the Family to Costa Rica this Christmas

 

If you're looking for something fresh to do this holiday…

The Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is one of Utah’s lesser-known natural wonders.

However,…

10 Fun Facts About National Parks

It's no secret that we, at Austin Adventures, love national…

The Best Time To Visit Arches National Park

 Thinking about when to visit Arches National Park?Utah holds a…

The Best Times To Visit Zion National Park And What To Do There

Thinking about the best time to visit Zion National Park?Zion…

Top 10 Reasons to Get a Guide on Your Trip to Costa Rica

The Resplendent Quetzal is an elusive, near-threatened bird that often…

Go Climbing in Yosemite!

First off let me start by saying rock climbing is…

9 Best Places for Your Yellowstone Photography

 

Yellowstone Photography GuideOur world’s first national park—perhaps best known for…

The 15 Best National Parks to Visit in the U.S.

The Best National Parks to VisitOut of the 59 national…

9 Fun Facts About Alaska

 

Alaska. The Great Land. The Last Frontier. The Land of…

10 Tips for Choosing the Right Tour Operator

When it comes to your precious vacation time and dollars,…

Fun Facts About 3 Classic American National Parks

 1) Yellowstone National Park

There are fewer than 1,000 geysers in…

10 Fun Facts About Yellowstone National Park

 

Here at Austin Adventures, Yellowstone National Park is a place…

The Differences Between Our Yellowstone, Wyoming, & Montana Vacations

First of all, I should explain that Austin Adventures, based…

Insider Tips for Family Adventures in Yellowstone National Park

Planning a trip that the whole family will love isn’t…

A Rainy Day in Zion by Emily Todd

This summer I had the pleasure of guiding for Austin…

How to Explore the Canadian Rockies | Your Adventure Vacation to Canada

Mountains can take on different meanings for everyone—inspirations, challenges, something…

Bryce and Zion National Park Hikes - Trails

This Austin Adventures blog post was written by one of…

Cycling Yellowstone to the Tetons

To help you get inspired to bike it up this…

Top Three Favorite Adventure Activities When Visiting Yellowstone Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of those destinations that every…

Five Types of Geothermal Features You'll Find Visiting Yellowstone National Park

There are rare Geothermal Features and pools in the Yellowstone…

Experience the Differences Between the Rocky Mountains' Best National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Parks:

We live in a magical place. Our…

Four Rules for an Adventurous Mindset

Follow these four rules to live a more adventurous life.Often…

10 Best Photography Spots in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a great place for photography! Its…

Pine Nut Crusted Halibut

The delicious food hub, Chico Hot Springs resort restaurant.

Bring the…

10 Ridiculously Cool Things You Didn't Know About Death Valley

It's always been a hot destination, so we couldn't be…

Top Five Experiences in Yellowstone National Park

By Austin Guide: Bryan Codi

I have been fortunate enough to guide for…

Driving the Alaska Highway & Driving to Alaska

 

Driving the Alaska Highway…The Ultimate Road Trip to begin your…

7 Last-Minute Travel Ideas and Tips

 

So you've got some unexpected time off on the horizon?Or…

Why Alaska is one of our Favorite Adventures

Why Alaska is one of our Favorite AdventuresAlaska, the name…

San Juan Islands: The Best Kept Secret in Washington

The Space Needle is great, not to mention the dripping…

Spinning Wheels in Grand Teton National Park

Spinning Wheels in Grand Teton National Parkby Rob Hartsig

Of all…

The Best National Park Vacations

Did You Know?You can visit a different national site each…

8 May-cations You Don't Want to Miss

When most people think of traveling during May, they think…

The Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Perhaps you already know the popular things to do of…

Tips for Photographing the Southwest United States

Before I get started, I want to introduce myself -…

Six Things You Might Not Know About South Dakota

South Dakota doesn't quite have the pole position on most…

An Austin Adventures Extension By Sheri Saari

At the end of the Austin Adventures guiding season, people…

Top Ten Awesome Things About Alberta

1. Alberta, known for its majestic Canadian Rockies, contains five national…

From Guest to Guide by Zach Kellman

As a stubborn teenager, being with my family on vacation…

Give Me 5 Minutes -- And I'll Show You An Unbelievable Arizona Bike Tour

Immersed in sun and sceneryAs we roll in the New…

Can You Tell the Difference Between a Black Bear and a Grizzly Bear?

As a guide in Yellowstone National Park, it's very important…

Angel's Landing

If you're looking for a thrilling hike with amazing views…

Things to do in Bozeman, Montana

 

On all the Austin trips that I have led, I…

Things to do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite…

3 Places to Visit in Southwest Utah

Considering a Southwest Adventure?Seek out nature's playground of red rock…

Need an End of Summer Trip? Explore the Secrets of South Dakota!

As the end of summer is quickly approaching, what better…

South Dakota - History of the Old West

Who doesn't just love a good story of pioneer grit…

Arches National Park

 

There is just something about the desert for me.

It's harsh,…

Top 5 Reasons to Visit South Dakota

Visit South Dakota!Kasey here, Field Operations Liaison/Guide for Austin Adventures.

As…

Go Big Sky with Our Montana Vacations

Four World-Famous Parks in One Trip!Austin Adventures offers the most exciting…

Adventure Vacations for Couples at Havasupai Falls

Nothing can make you feel more alive than the rush…

Secret Paradise in the Grand Canyon, Havasupai Falls

The Grand Canyon is easily one of the most iconic…