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Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Written by Brad Lane
Feb 3, 2020

The first national park in U.S. history, Yellowstone National Park is worth a visit no matter the time of year. Encompassing the supervolcano known as the Yellowstone Caldera, the national park is home to one of the largest collections of hydrothermal features in the world. First established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park now attracts over four million visitors every year.

The best time to go to Yellowstone National Park depends on what you want from the experience. The summer months bring beautiful 70-degree weather and extended daylight hours. Half of the park's annual visits also occur during these months. Summer visitors should expect crowded boardwalks, backed-up traffic, and difficulty with finding lodging.

The shoulder seasons offer some respite from the crowds, making the fall and spring a good time to travel to Yellowstone. Visitors will want to pack warm clothes in the shoulder seasons and a rain jacket for the spring. The new colors in the park are well worth the travel. Between wildflowers blooming in the spring and the crisp air of autumn, spring and fall are beautiful seasons to go to Yellowstone.

Winter also offers a magical time of year to visit Yellowstone. The park's many fumaroles, hot springs, and geysers are true natural beauties when covered with snow. Winter temperatures and few operating facilities deter many visitors to Yellowstone in the winter. Winter offers one of the best times to visit Yellowstone National Park to avoid the crowds.

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Best Time of Year to Visit Yellowstone

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park

Make no mistake, Yellowstone is a special place to visit any time of year. The spring and fall are the best times to go to Yellowstone thanks to fewer crowds and comfortable weather. Specifically, the months of May and September cater to great visitor experiences.

Road closures in Yellowstone begin in late October, and many roadways remain closed until April or May. The time between these road closures and Memorial Day and Labor Day are great windows for visiting. Colder temperatures and rain or snow are present during early spring and late fall.

Despite the crowds, the summer is also a great time of year to visit Yellowstone. With near perfect 70-degree weather throughout the day, summer also lines up with many vacation schedules to make for a busy park. Arriving early to the park or exploring some longer trails can help you navigate the growing crowds of Yellowstone during the summer.

Best Month to Visit Yellowstone

Adult grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park

Steaming features like Steamboat Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Black Growler are active throughout the year. If you had to narrow down the best month to visit Yellowstone, though, it would have to be September. Crowds thin out after Labor Day in Yellowstone, temperatures remain in the 60s, and autumn foliage gives some fantastic color to the park.

All roads typically remain open in Yellowstone National Park throughout September. Popular lodges like the Old Faithful Inn and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel also accept reservations throughout the month. Crowds still exist during September, but dropping temperatures and school schedules lend to a decline of visitors by the end of the month.

Best Season to Visit Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in summer | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Spring (April - May): Every road in Yellowstone National Park is typically accessible by the end of May. A few prominent roadways open as early as April. Rain and mud are common in spring, but with far fewer crowds and full accessibility of the park, the spring is a great season to travel to Yellowstone.

Wildflowers bloom throughout the park beginning as early as April, and the open meadows of the park really gain some color in May. Bison calves are also spotted within their herds during the spring, as well as many other animals that become more active as temperatures warm up. Visitors should pack for the weather, including a rain jacket, as well as shoes that can handle a little mud.

Summer (June - August): The summer brings fantastic weather to Yellowstone and extended daylight hours. Every facility and roadway within the park operates throughout the summer. Many of the towns and communities surrounding Yellowstone also host celebrated weekend events. Between these three months of summer, Yellowstone receives upwards of two million visitors. Resources like lodging and campgrounds are something to plan for in summer.

Fall (September - October): Roads in the park remain open throughout September and October. Many lodges still accept guests into November. Fall is still a popular time to go, but crowds tend to thin out after Labor Day. Logistics like parking and lodging are easier to navigate in September and October.

Wildlife is still active this time of year as the animals prepare for a long winter. Yellowstone shines with fall colors from approximately the last week of September through the first week of October. Snow is a possibility in October, and dropping temperatures can dip well below freezing throughout the night.

Winter (November - March): With freezing temperatures, less-active wildlife, and snow-covered trails, winter is the least popular time to travel to Yellowstone National Park. For those that like to avoid crowds, this is what makes the winter the best time to visit Yellowstone. Alongside fewer crowds, the scenic beauty of a geyser steaming next to a snowbank is inspiration enough for repeat winter visits.

The Best Weather in Yellowstone

Sunny summer day at the Lone Star Geyser | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For 70-degree daytime temperatures, extended daylight hours, and pleasurable weather to sleep at night, the summer offers the best weather in Yellowstone. The months of July through September are also some of the driest months in Yellowstone. Nighttime temperatures are comfortable during the summer for enjoying sunsets and a starry night sky. Much of the park's wildlife can also be spotted enjoying the nice weather this time of year.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park for Wildlife

Gray wolf in Yellowstone during the winter

A major appeal of the entire Yellowstone ecosystem is the diverse amount of wildlife the habitat supports. Wildlife sightings in Yellowstone include bison, mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. Both black and grizzly bears also live in the park. Wolves have made a dramatic resurgence in Yellowstone, and the winter is the best time to see these stealthy creatures.

Bison calving typically occurs mid-April in Yellowstone. Bears tend to be more active this same time of year following winter hibernation. The summer is a great time to spot big animals like moose and elk. Resident bison herds sometimes block traffic throughout the season. Wolves are easier to spot in the winter, especially with binoculars, thanks to the stark white backdrops of a snowy landscape.

Dawn and dusk tend to be one of the best times for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone National Park. It's extremely important for the safety of the visitor, and the safety of the animals, to never feed, approach, or otherwise interact with wildlife at Yellowstone.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park for Fall Colors

Yellowstone in Autumn

In a typical season, the best time to go to Yellowstone for fall colors is from the last week of September to the first week of October. Variable weather conditions adjust these dates, but if you aim for this time in autumn, the chances of seeing fall colors are high. Park roads typically remain open until the second week of October.

Some of the best areas for fall colors in the park include the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs. Hikers and backpackers can go the distance on hiking trails throughout the Lamar Valley to indulge in the changing scenery. Visitors in the fall should plan for below-freezing temperatures throughout the night.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park to Avoid the Crowds

Bison at Yellowstone National park in the winter

The winter is the best time to go to Yellowstone National Park to avoid the crowds. The snowy landscapes and road closures keep winter visitors to a minimum. The only road in the park that is open year-round is from the Gardiner, Montana entrance down to Mammoth Hot Springs. Beginning in January, other roads in the park are only navigable by cross-country ski, snowshoe, or stagecoach.

To enjoy the full accessibility of the park with fewer crowds, the spring and fall are the best months to go. Larger crowds gather in the weeks before Memorial Day in May and began to thin out after Labor Day in September. The weather this time of year has variable conditions with more rain in the spring than the fall.

The beautiful weather and idyllic conditions contribute to Yellowstone National Park's two-million-plus visitors in the summer. When traveling during this peak summer season, arriving early to the park can make a big difference. Checking out popular areas in the early evening can also help beat daytime crowds.

How Many Days You Need to Visit Yellowstone National Park

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

With the distance that is required to travel to Yellowstone National Park and a total land area that's twice the size of Rhode Island, Yellowstone can never be completely experienced in a single trip. Visitors should plan for at least two days minimum to explore Yellowstone National Park.

Not including travel time to the park, two days allows for enough time to see iconic attractions like Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone, which encompasses 142 miles and a figure-eight loop at the heart of the park, is far too scenic to drive in a day.

Numerous stops line the Grand Loop Road, as well as impromptu wildlife viewing opportunities. Five days is an optimal vacation length at Yellowstone. Five days gives enough time to make plenty of roadside stops and discover new points of interest. Five days also allows some flexibility in the schedule to account for weather.

Cheapest Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin

Depending on where you are traveling from, the winter and spring tend to be the most affordable time to travel to Yellowstone National Park. Limited park facilities are available in the winter, but the real deal on lodging is in the surrounding communities. Places like Cody, Gardiner, and Jackson offer special rates for winter visitors.

Early spring is also historically a cheaper time to visit Yellowstone. Roads in the park begin to open by mid-April, and all roads are typically accessible by Memorial Day. Alongside the park thawing from winter temperatures, park facilities and local businesses also begin full operations. Visitors can expect lodging and airfare rates to climb beginning Memorial Day Weekend and throughout the summer.

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Exploring Yellowstone National Park: To really nail down the logistics of a Yellowstone vacation, our guide to visiting Yellowstone National Park includes the top attractions, tours, and some extra tips for when you go. To explore the boardwalks, dirt paths, and backcountry trails of Yellowstone, the best hiking trails in Yellowstone tour the park's best hydrothermal areas. Spending the night in Yellowstone is a great way to fully take in the environment, and campgrounds in Yellowstone offer the perfect place to pitch a tent.

Visiting Grand Teton National Park: Grand Teton National Park is directly south of Yellowstone and connected by a short drive. Visitors often combine Yellowstone and Grand Teton into one vacation, where they have the hard decision of which one they enjoy better. Many of the best hiking trails in Grand Teton tour the majesty of the mountain environment, and campgrounds offer an affordable place to spend the night. Our guide to Where to Stay near Grand Teton is a good resource for all types of travelers who are interested in a hotel in the area.

Other Nearby National Parks: While Yellowstone is the first national park in the country, it certainly is not the only one worth visiting. To the north of Yellowstone in Montana, Glacier National Park, the Crown of the Continent, waits to be explored. The state of Washington is home to three dramatic national parks that beckon for adventure, including the crown jewel of the state, Mount Rainier National Park. For other westward adventures, the best national parks in California include Joshua trees, redwood forests, and remote ocean islands.

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