Yellowstone National Park is the first national park and a favourite for tourists all around the world, but what is the best time to visit Yellowstone?
If the USA is famous for one thing, it has to be its national parks. With 63 national parks gracing the 9.83 million kilometres square area of the United States of America, there is no doubt in the fact that these national parks deserve their very own hall of fame.
A Little Background About National Parks
National parks are Congressionally-designated protected areas. They are operated by the National Park Service, which is an agency of the Department of the Interior and was founded in 1916. However, the first national park in the world was made official decades before that – Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. This was when former President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law.
National parks are usually set aside by governments to preserve the natural environment. It may be for recreation or because the area offers historical and scientific importance. In the US, these parks are focused on protecting both the land as well as the wildlife.
These parks stretch from the northern expanses of Alaska to the snowy landscapes of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Although there are 423 national park sites, only 63 of them have the title of National Park in their name. To visit all 63 of these, you would have to travel to 30 states and two USA territories.
Millions of tourists visit these parks each year. Indeed, the existence of these parks depends on the support and public interest in nature that funds them. However, in the interest of preserving the natural beauty and diverse ecosystems of the park, tourists are often restricted to certain regions within parks. Parks offer incredible sights that are sure to astonish all those who visit them.
These sights range from gushing geysers and hot springs, roaring waterfalls, magnificent mountain ranges, newborn animals accompanying their parents, vast expanses of greenery that bring us in touch with nature, and so much more. There is a reason these parks are famous all around the world, with various countries also creating national parks.
One particular park that instantly comes to mind is Yellowstone National Park. Situated in the district of Wyoming, this park stretches over 2,219,789 acres. It is also located atop a volcanic hotspot, which makes it all the more popular with tourists. Yellowstone National Park receives an average of about 3-4 million visitors each year.
Although anyone that goes to Yellowstone is sure to enjoy it, there are a few things that will make your trip even more incredible. One of these things is choosing the perfect time to go.
What Is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park?
One could argue that there is no ‘best time’ to visit Yellowstone National Park as every season offers something different. However, there are certain pros and cons to each time, particularly when we factor in each tourist’s personal preferences.
Spring in Yellowstone National Park
In the US, spring usually arrives around late March. While in some parts of the country – such as California and Texas – spring brings about pleasant weather, it is far more unpredictable in Yellowstone National Park. It is a season of transition, as the park leaves the throes of winter and moves towards summer. Often, there are still colder temperatures than usual, particularly in early spring or mid-April, and snow is not an unusual sight in these times.
There are numerable benefits to this season that allow it to be called the best time to visit Yellowstone by many people. For one, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the park in early spring, wake up after the winter season, and rejoin the world of sunshine and flowers.
Wildlife exits its winter abodes and is active during this season. It provides the perfect opportunity to spot elk, moose, bears, and others. Moreover, it is also the season of baby animals! Bears, in particular, emerge with newborn cubs; be warned, however, that they might be more aggressive and protective than usual, especially when we consider the limited food supply.
Bison migrate back into the park during this time. Bison calves are having a wonderful time during this period. In Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley, bison calves can be seen scurrying around with their parents in the herd.
Yellowstone National Park has unpredictable weather at this time of the year. It can range from anywhere between 30-60°F, with suitably cold nights. Be sure to pack warm clothing – do not let the label of ‘spring’ deceive you about the weather! As the snow melts, the roads often turn muddy and difficult to navigate, so come prepared.
Many roads in the park remain closed during the early portion of spring. The West Entrance is usually the first to open by mid-April; the East Entrance follows, and finally, the South and North Entrance by the second and third week of May.
Accommodation inside Yellowstone is also not open during March and April, and consequently, you would have to look for other places to stay. If camping is up to your alley, be sure to check out the Mammoth Campground, which is always open. Other campgrounds also start opening around the end of May. You can check out the official website of the National Park Service to keep yourself updated with the conditions of the roads and the opening dates.
There are a few popular tours available at this time that you might find to your liking, such as the four days and three nights tours. Do not miss out on those!
Activities such as snowshoeing, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing are available to tourists during this time. If you are keen on avoiding the crowds while also gaining some benefits, the ideal time to visit would be in late May – by then, the roads, accommodation, and campsites are usually open and not flooded with people.
Why is spring the best time to visit Yellowstone? Beautiful opportunities to watch wildlife and explore Yellowstone National Park with fewer crowds. There are also quite a few activities available. If these are your priorities for a trip, don’t think – book your tickets for Yellowstone!
Summer in Yellowstone National Park
Easily the most popular time period, summer in Yellowstone is a sight to behold. But is it really the best time to visit Yellowstone? Like all the other seasons, there are pros and cons. The summer months in the United States of America are considered to be from June to August.
Let us make one thing clear from the onset- if you are looking for a time to visit the park peacefully and are not keen on having multitudes of other people around you, summer is not the time for you to go. Yellowstone National Park receives about 3 million visitors during this season every year. This figure alone indicates the amount of time you would have to book the trip in advance to ensure a trouble-free vacation.
Of course, these crowds are usually concentrated around the major tourist attractions. There are some easy ways to avoid the surging crowds. These include waking up earlier than usual to start the day before the rest, hiking a little higher to get a better, unobstructed, and staying away from the hotspots of the park. By doing these actions, you can stay away from the hordes.
The biggest advantage that can make this season the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is that all the park features are open and available for the public. Park roads, accommodation, campground, activities are all ready for access. There may be some road closures, but that can be checked from the National Park Service website. However, as mentioned before, these park facilities get booked from practically a year before, especially the popular ones like Old Faithful Inn.
If you plan to visit Yellowstone in the peak summer season, particularly around mid-June, get your planning done well in advance to avoid the booked-out accommodations and sky-high prices.
The weather during this time is, naturally, hot. Average high temperatures are around the 70-80° F mark. Sudden rain showers are also a norm, so be prepared. The weather provides for perfect hiking conditions.
As the temperatures warm, wildlife may move to higher elevations, but plenty of opportunities exist to view them. In particular, elk, deer, and bison are easily viewed on the side of roads in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley.
There are a variety of tours available in summer for those interested. From single day to those lasting several rafting tours, be sure to check these out to get the full experience!
There are many attractions and activities for visitors in Yellowstone National Park. Some famed attractions like Old Faithful are teeming with crowds. During this season, the park and the surrounding towns host many festivals that are a source of great enjoyment. It is also the best season to view the Grand Prismatic Spring and other geothermal features. Hiking, swimming, sightseeing, and rafting are some activities that can be undertaken by tourists wanting to connect with nature.
From Memorial Day weekend onwards till Labour Day weekend, the time is optimal for families with kids to visit Yellowstone National Park. It is an incredible family summer vacation to go on and will create beautiful memories.
Why is summer the best time to visit Yellowstone? Availability of all the park facilities, gorgeous weather, plenty of activities to keep your days occupied, and the opportunity to view attractions like the Grand Prismatic Spring in the most vibrant form! These factors ensure that it is called the best time to visit Yellowstone by almost everyone.
Autumn in Yellowstone National Park
Ah, autumn – that magical time where the leaves of crisp hues like orange, yellow and red line the trees, creating a beautiful sight. Most importantly – the hordes of tourists have gone back home. With school starting back up again, most of the families that arrived for a summer vacation vacated the park.
Fall in the United States of America occurs during September, October and November before winter arrives. The warm temperatures of the summer remain for a while, and so do the wonderful wildlife viewing experiences. It is also far more affordable than the adjacent summer season.
The weather is highly unpredictable during this time. The temperatures can vary in the 30-60° F range, with night temperatures sometimes reaching single digits. The ideal autumn season is often very short, with winter coming in earlier than expected, so you might want to book your trip in early to mid-September time.
The days are shorter, the colder temperatures set in faster as the sun dips down below the horizon. Due to this erratic weather, it’s important to ensure to pack the necessary warm clothing and gear.
Another point to be noted is that quite a few facilities start shutting down during the autumn months itself, such as stores, post offices and visitor centres. By the time mid-October or early November rolls around, the road closures begin as the park prepares for winter. Most campgrounds are closed by the last two weeks of September, followed closely by the Yellowstone accommodations.
As the weather loses some of the intense heat of summer, animals start coming back down into the valley, which allows tourists spectacular wildlife viewing. At these times, the elk are in a rut, where they attempt to win the hearts of their female counterparts before the mating season. They act crazy, which is exciting to watch and listen to – from a distance!
When it to comes to the question of activities during fall in Yellowstone National Park, there is quite a large array available. Visitors can go fishing, explore hiking trails, backpacking, camping, wildlife viewing, and bicycling. The fall season is the best time to go fishing in the park – the fishing season opens by Memorial Day weekend. Sightseeing is also a popular activity – as long as the roads remain open, all the attractions available in summer can be viewed in autumn too. There’s also a Montana State University Billings Foundation’s Food and Wine Festival that takes place in September.
As for tours, there is no shortage of options! Almost all the options of tours available during summer continue to be available in the fall, at least for the first couple of weeks. Don’t forget to check the booking and tour dates while finalizing your trip.
Why is autumn the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park? Well, you get to view the glory of Yellowstone without the summer crowds, as well as better opportunities for wildlife viewing and a vast range of activities to be undertaken – all while enjoying the changing season!
Winter in Yellowstone National Park
December, January and February constitute the winter season in the United States of America. These are also the winter months in Yellowstone National Park, and the temperatures are no joke.
Yellowstone’s natural landscape changes as heavy snowfall overtake it, and the winter wonderland sets in. While it is a magical time, the freezing temperatures ensure that it is also the toughest time to visit the park. Approximate high temperatures just barely touch 32°F, whereas the average low temperatures are about 0°F.
It should come as no shock that there are considerable parts of the park that are closed from around mid-October and remain closed throughout the winter months. For normal cars, only the North entrance and Northeast entrance are open. In particular, the only road available to vehicles is the road connecting Cooke City at the Northeast Entrance. However, there is the option of travelling some roads by snow coach and snowmobile.
The park headquarters, which is situated in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, are open but little to nothing else. This Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park is probably the best place to visit on a trip to Yellowstone during the winter.
For accommodation in the park in winter, there are two options – the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins. These two are the facilities offered by the park for those who are visiting Yellowstone in the winter season.
If you have come to visit Yellowstone mainly for the wildlife, then you are in luck – winter is a great season for tourists looking to view wildlife. Usually, animals choose to migrate to lower areas while looking for food.
Expect to see plenty of bison and elk, particularly in the northern regions of the park, around Gardiner. Winter is the best season to see wolves and also the time when the bighorn sheep are in a rut. These animals, alongside others, can often be seen near hot geysers and springs.
Speaking of hot springs and geysers – these kinds of geothermal features are a spectacle to watch in winter. The transition of steam from these thermal vents to frost is incredible. Another feature you are sure to remember forever is frozen waterfalls. These spectacles look and shimmer like menacing diamonds.
One major advantage of visiting Yellowstone during the winter is that there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied. From cross-country skiing, ice climbing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing to exploring the snow trails in the park. In fact, there are also festivals like the Yellowstone Ski Festival in November and the Bozeman Ice Festival in December that entertain tourists.
As for tours, there are a variety of snowmobile and snow coach ones available. These can be single day wildlife viewing or hiking tours or multi-day affairs that focus on certain particular areas. They provide an organized and experienced visitors to the park.
It should go without saying that the correct gear is essential when it comes to visiting Yellowstone in the middle of winter. Whether that means warm thermal wear, extra food and water, sleeping bags, shovels, first aid kits, or flashlights, leave no stones unturned while packing for your trip to ensure that it is one to last a lifetime!
Why is winter the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park? Fantastic wintery views, incredible wilderness viewing opportunities, and fantastic snow activities are sure to delight every tourist who is visiting Yellowstone. Plus, there are far fewer crowds than any other season, which certainly boosts when vying for becoming the best time to visit Yellowstone.
After all that, what is the best time to visit Yellowstone? We would say that the best time to visit Yellowstone is from mid-June to mid-September! Experience everything Yellowstone National Park has to offer, with pleasant weather.
However, as we saw while discussing the various seasons, there is no clear cut time that is the best for everyone. It is certainly not a one size fits all situation. You need to understand what your priorities are – is it avoiding summer crowds? Viewing wolves? Seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring in all its glory? Going cross-country skiing? Then make an informed decision about when the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is for you and your travel companions.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States of America and the world over. Attractions like the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley, Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs ensure this.
If you have visited Yellowstone, what was your experience? Did you go on a summer vacation or during the winter instead? What do you think is the best time to visit Yellowstone? Let us know in the comments below about what you saw! For those of you planning to visit Yellowstone, we hope this guide helps you prepare for your trip.
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