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Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

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When is the best time to visit Yellowstone? There really isn’t one cut-and-dry answer to this. I just know one thing, this National Park has to be on your couple’s bucket list!

According to US Travel and News, the best time to visit Yellowstone is late April-May and September-October. While I can see why they say this, I don’t fully agree.

I believe that the best time to visit Yellowstone is dependent on the visitor and what their expectations are. Yellowstone National Park is beautiful any time of year and has different attractions depending on the season.

No matter what, a visit to America’s first National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list. Apparently, it already is on a lot of people’s lists as Yellowstone welcomes almost 4 million visitors a year.

Yellowstone National Park is home to the highest concentration of hydrothermal features in the world! These features make Yellowstone National Park such a unique location.

The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park really depends on what you want from your Yellowstone trip. Yellowstone National Park has four distinct seasons, each with its own set of pros and cons.

And given the fact that not all of the park is open year-round, this could have a major impact on when you feel the best times to visit are.

For this post, let’s explore the different aspects of the seasons in Yellowstone National Park. We will dive into the differences between the summer, winter, spring, and fall seasons in Yellowstone.

We will also look at the weather in Yellowstone, what the crowds are like, the best time to see wildlife, and what you can see and do in the different seasons.

This should help you to determine the best time to visit Yellowstone for you and your needs. Thus helping you create your perfect Yellowstone itinerary.

At the end of each section, we will summarize all of the information for you and give you the pros and cons of each season.

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Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone in Winter (November-March)

snow by river and on mountains in Yellowstone -best time to visit Yellowstone
Photo by Robert Merrill on Unsplash

If you are planning to travel to Yellowstone in the winter, then be prepared for the coldest temperatures of the year in Yellowstone. I’m talking freezing temperatures for sure.

Average high temperatures in Yellowstone in the winter are under 32 F (0 C). While in early January and February, it is not uncommon for average low temperatures to be around 0 F!

These cold temperatures mean that there are very few crowds to deal with in the park. When you combine that with the geysers steaming next to a beautiful snowbank, this time of year can be a photographer’s dream.

Logistics in Winter

During the winter season, only small parts of the park are open to visitors. The northeast and north gates are the only entrances open for cars.

That makes staying in Mammoth Hot Springs one of the best places to stay if you are traveling here by car during the winter. The Mammoth Springs park headquarters and the Mammoth Campground are the only ones open year-round.

Visiting during the winter means that most of the accommodations in Yellowstone are closed. The exception to this is the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins, which are open mid-December until the end of February.

If planning to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter and you plan to stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, then you can enter through the west, south, or north entrance by snow coach.

Many of the roads are closed except for some that are open for snowmobiles or snowcoaches, making getting around the park difficult.

Wildlife in Winter

The cold temperatures and the heavy snowfall means that most animals migrate to the lower elevations of the park in the wintertime.

Meaning they are often easy to spot at the park’s west entrance and the north entrance.

This is the time when you can often see the animals huddled up near the warmth of the geyser basins, especially the bison.

The wildlife seen during the winter months includes bison, wolves, elk (in northern areas), and bighorn sheep.

The road connecting Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance around Lamar Valley is open in the winter and is a great place to see wolves.

bear and 2 cubs on mountain top with snow covered mountains
Photo by Adam Willoughby-Knox on Unsplash

Things to do in Yellowstone in Winter

person cross country skiing in the snow

Despite the cold temperature, you will still find plenty to do in Yellowstone during the winter months.

Winter brings about all of the winter sports. Cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing can be seen happening throughout the park. You can even go ice skating!

Of course, stargazing is great this time of year also. And as we said before, taking photographs of Yellowstone covered in snow makes winter a magical time to visit.

Pros & Cons of Yellowstone in Winter

Pros

  • Fewer crowds (less than 3% of the annual visitation if during this period)
  • Fun winter activities like cross-country skiing
  • Incredible opportunity for photography
  • The wildlife is out, especially at the lower elevations (and the wolves).

Cons

  • It’s COLD!
  • Most roads are closed due to snowfall
  • Most lodges, accommodations, and facilities are closed
  • Getting around the park can be challenging if you can do it at all
  • The bears are in hibernation

Yellowstone in Spring (April-May)

Spring in Yellowstone brings the emergence of wildflowers and bison calves. It also brings a little more unpredictable weather and snowmelt.

This means visitors need to be prepared for the mud and the rain.

The crowds are still thin in the spring months making the attractions in Yellowstone National Park easily accessible.

Honestly, a lot of change happens in Yellowstone during this two-month period.

If you come at the end of May, all of the roads and the lodges in Yellowstone are open, a sharp contrast to the beginning of April.

Logistics in Spring

As we mentioned above, if you visit Yellowstone in the spring, you can be in for a varying experience depending on the month that you visit.

While all Yellowstone accommodations are closed in March in April, a visit at the end of May will bring the opening of all of Yellowstone’s lodging options.

The mammoth campground is also open during this time, and other campgrounds are beginning to open.

Visit Yellowstone in mid-April to find the opening of the west entrance. The south entrance usually opens in mid-May, while the east entrance opens in early May.

The majority of the roads are open in the park toward the end of May, making spring one of the best times to visit Yellowstone if you want smaller crowds, yet access to the entire park.

This time to visit Yellowstone is considered the “shoulder season.”

Wildlife in Spring

bears in a meadow in Yellowstone
Photo by Delaney Van on Unsplash

The wildlife in Yellowstone National Park seems to come alive in the spring season.

Bison calves can be spotted throughout the park as they migrate with their herd back into the park.

Elk and elk calves are seen in the park this time of year as are bear and bear cubs. This is actually a great time of year to see the bears as they emerge from their winter hibernation period.

Things to do in Yellowstone in Spring

With the opening of the parks and the roads in the spring months, the park is a recreational playground.

This is a great time to visit Yellowstone if you enjoy cycling as there are fewer crowds in the park, so fewer cars to worry about during your cycling. Just remember that the bears are out and very active, so be careful!

This is also a nice time to go hiking, walking, or just enjoy some time taking in the great scenery in Yellowstone!

Pros and Cons of Spring in Yellowstone

Pros

  • The landscape comes alive with greenery and wildflowers.
  • Baby animals are everywhere!
  • There are fewer visitors than in the summer months.
  • Roads, accommodations, and facilities begin to open.
  • Bears are easily seen as they emerge from hibernation.

Cons

  • The weather is unpredictable.
  • The change in temperature makes it impossible to do winter activities yet not ready for summer activities.
  • Roads, accommodations, and facilities are opening on a staggered schedule, so be cautious when booking.
  • Bears are more prominent-be cautious!

Yellowstone in Summer (June-August)

herd of buffalo in a field

If you visit Yellowstone National Park in the summer months, you can experience all that Yellowstone has to offer.

Travel to Yellowstone during the summer means that the park is fully open and ready for business. After Labor Day, when the kids get out of school, the high season in the park begins.

With that comes loads of tourists (over 2.5 million visitors make their way to Yellowstone during these 3 months), higher prices, and more planning required for your trip.

This also means increased crowds at the major attractions like the Old Faithful geyser, the hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The weather in summer is great, with temperatures averaging in the low 70s F during the day and 40s overnight. Perfect for some selfies in the sunshine to pair with our sunshine quotes for Instagram!

We visited Yellowstone in July and had fabulous weather. The day temperatures were in the low 70s and the overnight temperatures were in the 40s. It was actually a whirlwind summer for us. We visited Chicago, San Francisco, Ruidoso, Yellowstone, and Boston all in the matter for a few months!

This was perfect considering we did not have any air conditioning at our lodge in Canyon Lodge.

Logistics in Summer

couple standing by Continental divide sign

The summer months of June, July, and August mean that all of the park roads in Yellowstone are open (well, unless there is road work). Visiting Yellowstone in the summer also guarantees that all of the Yellowstone accommodations are open as well.

Yellowstone National Park has fully reopened means that the crowds increase and there is a higher demand for those accommodations.

Higher crowds mean that visitors are vying for the same resources during this season.

A trip in June means that there are loads of families present, so book way in advance if you are wanting to visit in June, especially mid-June.

Popular places in the park such as Old Faithful Inn and Mammoth Hot Springs book out as far as a year in advance. Keep this in mind when deciding when you will visit Yellowstone National Park.

The farther in advance you can book your Yellowstone accommodations, the better.

The major attractions like the Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Geyser, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the major hot springs like Grand Prismatic have large crowds from Labor Day until the end of August.

These large crowds also mean that it is harder to find parking while visit Yellowstone in the summer.

Wildlife in Summer

elk grazing by a lake with trees

Travel to Yellowstone in the summer and you will have a great opportunity to see wildlife.

But take note that the wildlife tends to migrate further north as the temperatures warm up, making them harder to spot.

We found that the bison and elk are still very prevalent during the summer season. The bison seem to be everywhere in the park during the summer.

They are often seen by the side of the road and are known to cause road closures as they stand in the middle of the road.

Chances are if you are in a traffic jam in Yellowstone, it is probably caused by a bison. We saw herds of bison in Lamar Valley during our visit to Yellowstone in July.

Elk are also seen this time of year near the road and in the meadows, especially near Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley. The best time to see the elk is at dawn and dusk as this is the time of day they get out to feed.

Things to do in Yellowstone in Summer

Summer is the best time of year to enjoy all aspects of Yellowstone. The warm temperatures and the summer sunshine seem to invite visitors to enjoy spotting wildlife in the valleys before going hiking all day.

Summer is also the best time to view the amazing hydrothermal features of the park. The warmer temperatures mean that the steam from the thermal pools is not as prominent, so you can truly see the colors of the pools.

The Grand Prismatic Spring is the perfect example of this. Although we visited in July, the evening and mornings were still pretty cold.

Both of the times we visited the Grand Prismatic Spring, you could not see all of the vibrant colors due to all of the steam coming from the hot water.

We even hiked up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, but still, the steam covered the entire Grand Prismatic Spring and we were not able to see all of the gorgeous color contrasts that you see in so many photographs.

Grand Prismatic geyser from above

My advice, visit the Grand Prismatic Spring on a day that the sun is up and the temperature is nice and warm. Hopefully, then you will get to see the gorgeous colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

The weather in Yellowstone in summer also allows visitors to enjoy swimming, rafting, sightseeing, and more. Really, anything you can think of doing in nature, you can do it in Yellowstone in the summertime.

Summer is also an incredible time to take in the amazing sunrises and sunset in Yellowstone National Park. Catch a sunset at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see all of the amazing colors of the Grand Canyon come to life.

Catch the sunrise and see some animals in Lamar Valley for a real treat. The best time to visit Lamar Valley to see some wildlife happens at dawn and dusk. So you get a double treat, wildlife, and a gorgeous view.

Pros & Cons of Yellowstone in Summer

Pros

  • Wildlife is still out and about in the park.
  • The weather is generally mild and enjoyable with cool mornings and nice afternoons.
  • The only road closures will be if there is construction.
  • Great time to see the colors of the hot springs are gorgeous during the day.
  • Wildflowers color the meadows and hillsides.
  • All of the accommodations are open, including Old Faithful Inn and the campgrounds.
  • Getting up early to enjoy Sunrises in the Grand Canyon, Lamar Valley, and Hayden Valley is awesome. This is also the best time to see some of the wildlife as the animals are out eating during this time of day.
  • The summer season brings incredible sunsets to Yellowstone. This is also a great time to see some wildlife as the animals often eat this time of day.
  • There are many activities to participate in while on your trip.

Cons

  • Crowds are high at the major attractions like the Old Faithful Geyser, the Grand Geyser, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the major hot springs of Yellowstone.
  • You have to plan way in advance if planning to visit during the summer season as accommodations fill up quickly, especially beginning in mid-June.
  • There is so much to do during the day, it is easy to over-plan. Be sure that you allow time during the day to enjoy yourself at the park during your trip.

Yellowstone in Fall ( September-December)

light snow on mountains with red pine trees-
Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

Fall is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone if you want to avoid the crowds while still having great weather. As most kids go back to school in September, the fall season means fewer crowds visiting the park.

Unlike the spring, the autumn season has more predictable weather and an abundance of wildlife sightings as the animals start to prepare for winter.

The fall colors seem to invite photographers to capture their beauty. Combine the beautiful colors of September autumn leaves with the smoke from a Yellowstone geyser, and you have an amazing picture.

Logistics in Fall

During fall, the park does begin its preparations for winter. The road closures start in autumn as does the closing of the facilities of Yellowstone.

By mid-September, most of the campgrounds in Yellowstone close for the season, and the lodges are soon to follow. The majority of the lodges in Yellowstone are closed by the end of October.

Road closures begin in mid-October and by the first week of November, most roads are closed for the season.

The park is officially preparing for the snow and more inclement weather of the winter.

Wildlife in Fall

deer standing by trees

As the colder temperatures start to move into Yellowstone, and the promise of snow lingers over the mountains, the wildlife begins to move back into the valleys in the autumn.

The elk in Yellowstone are rutting during the fall months of September and October, meaning you will hear their bugling sound all over the park.

You will see the male elk fighting and showing off during the rutting season as they are all trying to get the attention of a mate.

If you are visiting Yellowstone in the fall, this is a great opportunity to watch the elk during their rut.

The fall is also the time that the animals are out looking for food to fatten up before the winter. Honestly, a trip to Yellowstone in the fall is a magical time to experience the wildlife.

Things to do in Yellowstone in Fall

man fly fishing in river
Photo by Greg from Pexels

A fall trip to Yellowstone brings about the opportunity to see the Old Faithful Geyser without all of the crowds. Actually, to see any of the Yellowstone attractions without all of the people.

Visiting Yellowstone in the fall also allows visitors to enjoy hiking, cycling, and especially fishing.

The golden hours of fall also mean that you can get some fabulous pictures of the park, sometimes catching an early snow!

Meaning a trip to Yellowstone in the fall allows you to enjoy all of the summer activities that the park has to offer without all of the people getting in your way.

Pros & Cons of Yellowstone in Fall

Pros

  • September and October bring about the rutting season for the elk in the park, an awesome thing to experience.
  • The wildlife are out and about and look healthy from their summer feast.
  • The changing of the colors in September, October, November makes for awesome photos while visiting Yellowstone.
  • The opening of school in September guarantees that there are fewer crowds in the fall season.
  • You might catch some early snow in the higher elevations.
  • There are lots of activities to keep you busy all day.

Cons

  • September and October bring the closing of roads and accommodations as the park prepares for the winter snow and weather.
  • Plan early since the facilities are starting to close down during the fall season.
  • Even visiting the park’s entrance towns is difficult as several close for the season also.
  • Visiting during the fall means unpredictable weather.

Final Thoughts On When to Visit Yellowstone

Again, I don’t know if there really is one perfect time to visit Yellowstone. There are definitely pros and cons to this fabulous National Park.

Unfortunately, the weather does not allow for all aspects of the park to be open year-round. In my opinion, this makes a difference and definitely affects my decision on when to visit Yellowstone.

No matter when you choose, visiting Yellowstone is definitely an experience like no other, and one of the best National Parks in the United States.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight:

We love using CheapOAir, Kayak, and Kiwi to search for the best prices on flights. We love using these search engines because they search the web for airlines all over the world to ensure you get the best deal! In addition to flights, you can also find great hotel prices on Kayak and Kiwi.

Book Your Vacation Package:

If you want to book an entire vacation package, then we suggest using Expedia. We love how easy Expedia is to use and we always find good deals on entire vacation packages on their site.

Another great site for vacation packages is BookVIP. BookVIP offers super cheap vacation packages to incredible destinations. You are sure to save money using their site!

For full guided vacations including hotels, some meals, transportation, and guides, then we book with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is a trusted tour company that will meet all of your needs while ensuring that you have a great experience.

Trip.com allows you to book flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, airport transfers, tours, and more all on one site. Owned by the parent company that also owns Skyscanner, this is a trusted resource for travel booking and a great “one-stop-shop.”

Book Your Accommodations:

We always begin our search by checking out the honest review on hotels at TripAdvisor. This allows us to narrow our search for specific properties once we are ready to book. Of course, you can also book directly on the TripAdvisor site as well!

There are several accommodation sites that we like to use. One of our favorites is Booking.com because it gives you a wide variety of hotels and guesthouses at a good price.

Another “go-to” hotel booking site for us is Hotels.com. We love their loyalty program that allows you to earn free nights, and their “secret prices” for members are fabulous deals!

HotelsCombined is another cool site. They allow you to compare all of the top travel sites with one search to ensure you are finding the best deal out there. Kayak works in this way as well.

If you are looking for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation, then consider checking out the Sandals/Beaches properties. Sandals properties are for couples only and Beaches are for families. We have visited Sandals in the past and absolutely love the attention to detail and the service they provide.

Tour Companies We Trust:

We love taking guided tours when visiting new places. Our go-to tour companies are Viator.com and Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have been in business for years and provide excellent customer service. You can trust booking tours from their sites for sure!

For a guided city tour, check out City Sightseeing and BigBus Tours. These bus tours are so much fun and easy to hop on and hop off at top attractions in cities around the world.

CityPass is a great way to save money when visiting large cities. CityPass allows you to get free admission to major attractions once you buy their pass. The savings add up quickly with this pass, often saving 50% with combined admissions.

Another great pass to save money in larger cities is the Sightseeing Pass. This pass allows you to save valuable time and money by combining admissions to major attractions. They also have a handy app that keeps everything you need at your fingertips.

Looking to Save Time and Money?

Check out our resource page for all of our favorite vendors. These companies help us to save time and money on our travels!

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Michelle Snell-Founder That Texas Couple

About the Author

Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures.  While she is a professional educator by day, her passion for travel has her jet-setting all over the world during her free time. 

Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blog, That Texas Couple.  Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region.  She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.

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Shelbs

Tuesday 17th of August 2021

Yellowstone is somewhere we've wanted to go forever! Hopefully going to do an American West Roadtrip next year. I didn't know the parks were closed parts of the year so thanks for the guide.

thattexascouple

Thursday 19th of August 2021

That sounds so fun, Shelby. I hope you get to make it to Yellowstone soon also. It is such a fabulous place!

galatia savva

Monday 16th of August 2021

Love the different point of view here! I visited Asia and even Latin America many times during July and August and had a lovely time even though I was told this was the ''wrong'' time to visit! Yellowstone really looks breathtaking, no wonder it is getting 4 million visitors per year!

thattexascouple

Thursday 19th of August 2021

Thank you so much! I hate telling people when the best time to visit is. That is such a subjective thing. I would much rather give them the pros and cons of each "season" and let them decide for themselves!

Elena Pappalardo

Saturday 14th of August 2021

What a helpful post on Yellowstone! I love how you've covered the pros and cons of each season - it definitely gives me a lot to think about.

thattexascouple

Saturday 14th of August 2021

Thank you so much for checking it out! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Natalie

Saturday 14th of August 2021

I was thinking of visiting Yellowstone again (visited as a kid but didn't fully appreciate it!) so I'm glad to have this post to help me plan when to go! Thanks for sharing! :)

thattexascouple

Saturday 14th of August 2021

That is so great to hear! Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you make it back soon!

Jenn

Saturday 14th of August 2021

I enjoyed reading your post about Yellowstone and I’m glad you promote visiting in more than just the summer season. This year has been a bit crazy for the park!

thattexascouple

Saturday 14th of August 2021

It has definitely been a crazy year for sure. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!