Best time to visit Yellowstone National Park

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, spanning over two million acres of breathtaking parkland and unique geological and hydrothermal marvels. 

Visitors flock from around the world to stand in awe of nature’s power on the site of what was once a volcano, boasting thermal features that provide a truly unique experience. There are numerous hot springs, fumaroles with steam bursting through cracks in the earth’s crust, and active gurgling geysers emitting sky-high eruptions of hot water and steam, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser.

Visitors enjoy an incredible array of wildlife including the once near-extirpated gray wolf, majestic bison herds, delicate pronghorns, fierce moose, elk and black and grizzly bears, as well as numerous other mammals, fish and over three hundred species of birds.

The park also has nearly three hundred waterfalls, with the 308-foot Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River the most famous, known for its pastel colors of yellow, pink and orange with winding water cascading down from the nearly 600,000-year-old Canyon Rhyolite lava flow. Best viewed from Artist Point, this waterfall, like most of Yellowstone National Park, will take your breath away. 

There are thousands of trails for every kind of hiker, but visitors may also drive the grand loop road and take in the spectacular scenery from the comfort of their car. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many picnic areas along the way.

Below we look at what to expect from Yellowstone National Park by the season including the best time to avoid crowds, spot wildlife, and visit with the family.

Visiting Yellowstone by the Seasons

Visiting Yellowstone by the seasons

It’s best to visit Yellowstone prepared for all four seasons whatever time of year you go, as the weather can vary and be very different to what you might expect. 

Springtime in Yellowstone is much like winter in many other places, so you need to be prepared for snow, sleet and freezing temperatures. Yellowstone Lake may also still be frozen until mid-July. Much of the park is shut in Spring, however, so you would not have the road access, hotels or restaurants that you would if you visited in summer. Roads may start to open again around mid-April. As much of the backcountry will still be blanketed in snow, hiking in some areas may be limited during spring. Spring is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone national park to avoid crowds as they will be far fewer than in the Summer months.

Summer brings the most dependable weather to Yellowstone and with that crowds can be more abundant. However, you can attempt to beat the crowds by arriving early in June, or early September. All the roads and facilities are open at this time, however the best season for guided hiking trips and rafting usually start in mid to late June. Make sure to book in advance, arrive early, and check for traffic conditions at the North and West entrances. Also be prepared that light snowfall is not unheard of in June at higher elevations.

The fall brings darker days earlier as well as colder temperatures, but it is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone National Park and take in the fall scenery as the summer crowds will largely have returned home. At this time of year, particularly in September and early October, the landscape turns red and golden, and many of the hoofed animals are in the ‘rut’, which is a time marked by interesting behaviors only occurring at this time of year, such as grunting and bugling. By October and November, the snow will start to fall again, and roads and facilities will be closed. The North Entrance is at the lowest elevation, so this will provide the warmest weather conditions and the only entrance open year-round.

Yellowstone National park will see around 72 inches of snowfall in December, so most roads will be closed during this season as well as stores, restaurants, campgrounds and lodges. Lakes and rivers will be frozen, however warming huts are available at certain points. Some guided activities and trips may be available. Visitors at this time of year can enjoy traveling in a snowmobile or snow coach, or can take a ski or snowshoe tour of a certain region. If you can brave the cold, this is another great time of year to avoid crowds as the park is near-empty and wildlife abundant against a picturesque backdrop of pure white snow.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone to see Wildlife

best time to visit yellowstone to see wildlife

Yellowstone offers incredible wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the year. April and May can be a great time to visit as you may spot the awakening of new life everywhere, such as baby bison attempting their first steps on wobbly legs. Bears will be waking from their winter hibernation in March and April and be on the prowl for their first meal, with adorable bear cubs in tow. They can often be seen grazing by the roadside before the summer heat forces them along to higher elevations. Winter is a fabulous time for wolf-spotting, as they’re out of their dens and wolf pups are usually seen in May and are often easier to spot in the snow. If you prefer to look at wildlife grazing among wildflowers on a backdrop of gold, these will not start to bloom in Yellowstone until well into June and July, not Spring, as you may expect. Early morning or late afternoons may be the best time to spot wildlife in many cases as they are feeding at this time and more visible. Spring is also a wonderful time to spot the abundance of songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.

Best Time to Visit Yellostone National Park with the family

best time to visit Yellowstone with family

The self-guided Junior Ranger Program for Kids aged four and above runs throughout the year at different times. Be sure to check the schedule if you want to take advantage of this wonderful way to introduce children and all the family to the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park. Kids will delight at the belches and burps of the Mud Volcano and love identifying different speeches of bison, bear and elk. There is also a Young Scientist Program, and with both, children are awarded a Junior Ranger or Young Scientist patch with a different animal for their age group. During the early summer months where the weather is less frigid, all the family will enjoy camping, roasting marshmallows over the fire, having a dip in a hot spring, or a picnic at one of the 52 available picnic areas. 

With all the exciting and unique experiences that Yellowstone National Park has to offer, your visit will undoubtedly leave you with memories that last a lifetime! Plan your trip to Yellowstone with Flight & Hotel Guru! Click here to book cheap flights and hotels.

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