It’s important now more than ever to take time in making the decisions of where, when, and how to travel. Research your destination and mode of transportation to be sure you’re aware of any restrictions or advisories you should be following. We also highly recommend booking transportation and accommodations with a clear and flexible cancellation policy.
Disclaimer: This article was written in collaboration with Hotels.com which we personally use for booking accommodations. All opinions and suggestions are our own.
Are you wondering when is the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park? We went to Yellowstone in fall and we found it to be a perfect time to visit. However, some may disagree.
To be fair, as one of the top National Parks in the USA Yellowstone will wow you any time of year. But this spectacular area has very distinct seasons and there are pros and cons to each one. So, unless you live close enough to visit Yellowstone in spring, summer, fall, and winter you’ll need to pick a season based on your priorities. Below you’ll find notes on what each season offers which will help make a decision on when to plan your Yellowstone itinerary.
It’s also necessary to book accommodations for your Yellowstone vacation well in advance as this National Park sees millions of visitors a year. If you want to stay within Yellowstone Park during high season you will need to book up to a year in advance. Booking outside the park or in low season will give you more flexibility but still don’t wait until the last minute.
There are atmospheric lodges and cabins inside Yellowstone National Park which will provide an unforgettable immersive experience. However, be prepared to live without lots of amenities and make the surrounding nature your entertainment. If having more choice of dining, shopping, and activities are a priority then consider looking outside the park for a hotel or lodge in West Yellowstone or Gardiner.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone in Spring
Spring in most parts of North America is a magical time of new beginnings as we emerge from the shorter, colder days of winter. Yellowstone in springtime can be gorgeous but the weather can also be unpredictable and the difference between March, April and May can be huge.
Although March is technically Spring the high elevation means that it usually feels more like winter with snow covering the ground often well into April. Yellowstone temperatures in spring can range from a low of 10 degrees Fahrenheit in March to a high of 60 degrees in May. Storms can appear at any time so be prepared for all weather conditions.
Trails can either be still snow-covered in early spring or muddy from melting snow later in spring. Roads don’t start to open for motorized vehicles until mid-late April with the Beartooth Highway the last to open usually in late May. Services and accommodations have staggered openings in Spring so for all these reasons, it’s important to check the Yellowstone website before making plans.
Why Visit Yellowstone in the Spring:
- Spring in Yellowstone is a great time for wildlife viewing. Bears start to emerge from their dens in March followed by the return of migrating birdlife. Then in April through May/June new life comes forth with baby bison, elk, pronghorn, moose, and wolf cubs.
- Nature lovers will be in awe of the lushly renewed leaves, grasses, and wildflowers in the forests and meadows as well as the rivers and waterfalls in full flow from the snowmelt.
- By late May visitors to Yellowstone begin to increase but it’s still nowhere near the level of summer. Late-April to late-May is a great time to visit Yellowstone because roads, services, and major attractions are opening and you can enjoy the park without the summer crowds. It’s the best of both worlds.
- Although not all accommodations and campgrounds will be open until late May the ones that are open will be offering lower rates than the high season of summer.
Yellowstone in Summer
Summer in Yellowstone is by far the busiest time for visitors for many reasons including the fact the kids are on summer vacation from school. If you hate the idea of crowds and traffic jams you might want to reconsider this time of year or at least avoid the most popular Yellowstone sites like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic.
Of course, more people mean higher prices for accommodations as well as higher demand so make sure you book your Yellowstone hotel or campground well in advance.
Yellowstone weather is definitely the most pleasant in summer with highs up to 30 degrees. However, temperatures drop quite a bit at night and there can be afternoon thunderstorms so make sure to bring some light layers.
Why visit Yellowstone in Summer:
- As mentioned above the weather is a big reason for people to choose to visit Yellowstone in the summer. The days are long and warm and there’s little chance of rain outside of the odd thunderstorm.
- Everything is open in the summer so you’ll be able to access all the roads, services, and amazing Yellowstone sights.
- Summer is the best time of year for hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating. Trails are all open and free from snow and mud, the fish are biting and the water is warmer.
- Camping and glamping is also best in the summer when all the campsites are open and the nighttime temperatures, though still cool, don’t require extreme cold bedding. If you plan to camp, here are some camping tips everyone should know.
- Sunrise and sunset in the summer are amazing and a great time for wildlife viewing and fewer crowds.
Yellowstone in Fall
Fall is the season of change and that is apparent in several ways in Yellowstone. As mentioned in the opening, we visited Yellowstone in the fall so we can say from personal experience it’s a great time of year to go. In fact, visiting Yellowstone in September can be absolute perfection.
However, as in spring, the weather can be unpredictable, the trails can start to get muddy or snowy and once you get into October the roads will begin to close, often with little to no notice. Services and accommodations will also begin to close as fall sets in so once again, check with the Yellowstone website for information.
Why Visit Yellowstone in Fall:
- By late September crowds have thinned substantially and once you hit October you’ll often feel like you have the park almost to yourself.
- As summer temperatures cool the wildlife returns to the valleys and meadows after heading for higher elevations to escape the heat.
- Animals are well fed and healthy and the deer and moose have spectacular antlers to show. The elk is especially entertaining as they strut around bugling for the rutting season as are the massive bison. There will also be more bear sightings as they forage the meadows in preparation for hibernation.
- Fall is short-lived and the autumn leaves of the Aspen change quickly before dropping but if you’re there during that window you’ll be treated to a colorful show. We definitely recommend a visit to neighboring Grand Teton National Park if you like fall foliage.
Yellowstone in Winter
Winter in Yellowstone National Park is extreme. Frigid temperatures, stark landscape, closed roads, and services are all good reasons not to visit Yellowstone in winter. However, as you’ll see below there are also some pretty awesome upsides.
If you do decide to go to Yellowstone or Grand Teton in the winter you’ll need to be well prepared. Bring good cold-weather gear, have winter tires and chains for your car, and book lodging and transportation in advance. The only road open to private vehicles will be the one that runs between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance.
Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are the only two areas of the park that have open facilities in winter and they’re accessible by snowmobile or snowcoach tours.
Why Visit Yellowstone in Winter:
- If you’re looking to avoid crowds and experience the natural beauty of Yellowstone in peace and near solitude then winter is your time.
- Non-hibernating animals migrate to lower elevations to find food so you’ll see lots of bison, herds of elk, rutting bighorn sheep, and wolves. The snow-covered ground also makes it easier to spot wildlife.
- The winter wonderland of crisp snow, frozen waterfalls, and the contrast of the geothermal features in Yellowstone is spectacular.
- Winter sports like snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are great ways to explore Yellowstone National Park.
- If wolf-tracking is something you’ve always wanted to do, winter in Yellowstone is a perfect time for this when the bears are in hibernation.
We hope this guide on the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park has been helpful. As we’ve already seen Yellowstone in fall our goal is to visit in the other three seasons. How about you?
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.