Bucket List Alert! When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Yellowstone National Park?

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siblings at Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Yellowstone National Park is a bucket list destination. From the bubbling hot springs to sizzling geysers and consistently impressive Old Faithful, the USA’s first national park delivers wows from wildlife viewing to waterfalls and wildflowers. Yellowstone is open year-round. Winter, autumn, summer and spring all deliver different experiences. This guide provides advice on the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park whether your goal is wildlife sightings, fewer crowds, cross-country skiing or avoiding road closures.

My family of four visited Yellowstone after Memorial Day. It was beautiful, but still chilly and the epic Beartooth Highway between Montana and Wyoming that we wanted to road trip on was still closed.

Writer Sarah Ricks says summer was the best time for her to visit because snow starts early and ends late — typically October through April. “I would be nervous driving the remote roads in snow,“ she says. “Also, Beartooth Highway is only accessible in warmer months.”

“The summer months are great but very crowded,” says writer Keri Baugh. “I recommend going in September or early October, as many of the animals are preparing for winter and you will see more activity. Plus, it is less crowded.” Here’s our list of what to expect in each season, so you can select the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: In June 2022, Yellowstone experienced unprecedented flooding. As a result, the North Entrance by Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast entrance by Cooke City/ Silver Gate, Montana were closed. Check the park’s website for current conditions.

Old Faithful erupting
Old Faithful received its name because it predictably erupts. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Should I Visit Yellowstone National Park in the Fall?

After Labor Day through early October might be the ideal time to visit Yellowstone National Park. If you can swing an autumn visit, you’ll encounter fewer crowds, mild temperatures, more hotel room availability and wildlife sightings.

Elk rutting, or mating season, is in full swing in September. Listen for bull elk bugles throughout the park. The majestic bighorn sheep are also mating in the fall and bears start preparing for winter hibernation in November.

In autumn, your drive around the scenic 143-mile Grand Loop will take closer to four hours versus as many as seven hours in the much more crowded summer months. Boardwalks around popular attractions, like the technicolor Grand Prismatic Spring, are less crowded so it’s easy to see the incredible sights at a more leisurely pace.

Read More: Why Wind River Country in Wyoming Needs to Be Your Next Fall Trip

Sunny days and cool nights make early autumn a lovely time for backpacking. Most campgrounds and lodging close by mid-October. Check the park’s website for dates and make sure to reserve far in advance.

Seasonal road closures start in mid-October.

Who Should Visit During Fall?

  • Those hoping to encounter fewer crowds
  • Outdoor adventurers who enjoy hiking, biking and fishing
  • Backpackers looking to take in fall colors
  • Wildlife viewers hoping to spot wolves, bears, bighorn sheep and bison
  • Animal enthusiasts wanting to hear elk bugling

Why Fall is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

  • Less crowded roadways and boardwalks
  • Most roads and amenities are open until mid-October
  • More hotel room availability
  • Willdlife viewing in lower elevations like Lamar Valley
  • Fall colors such as golden Aspens in Mammoth Hot Springs

SheBuysTravel Tip: Fall temperatures can range from the 60s to 30s during the day. At night, be prepared for single digits. Pack plenty of layers and warm clothing, especially if you’re planning to camp.

Read More: Complete Yellowstone Packing List (FREE Printable Download)

one of the waterfalls of Yellowstone National Park
There are nearly 300 waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Should I Visit Yellowstone National Park in Summer?

The summer months are peak season for Yellowstone National Park because the weather is warmer, all roads and visitor centers are open and kids are out of school.

Guided tours are plentiful during the summer season. Choose from hiking, boating, fishing tours and more. Surrounding towns also come alive with festivals and activities.

Summer crowds mean you should pack your patience and leave early to avoid traffic jams.

The West Entrance tends to be the busiest, as it’s closest to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. Plan to get to the park early to be rewarded with fewer lines and more animal sightings (wildlife is the most active at dawn and dusk).

Who Should Visit During Summer?

  • Families with time off from school and work
  • Those who plan ahead for lodging, as it can book far in advance
  • Festival lovers seeking to take advantage of concerts and rodeos in nearby towns

Why Summer is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

  • Daytime temperatures are the warmest, typically in the 70s, but as high as the 80s
  • Hiking, swimming, kayaking and boating are available
  • All campgrounds and lodges are open
  • Waterfalls flow at high volume in summer
  • Peak wildflower season is June through mid-July

Read More: Romantic Resorts for Two in Montana’s Big Sky Country

Lake Yellowstone with snowfall
Yellowstone Lake is beautiful even when it’s icy and the mountains are blanketed in snow. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Should I Visit Yellowstone National Park in Winter?

The winter months can be an enchanting time of year to visit Yellowstone, with steaming geysers belching through snowfall. However, most roads and park services are closed during the colder months. In fact, you can only visit Old Faithful via snow coach, snowshoe, snowmobile or cross country skis. The road between the North and Northeast entrances is the only one open to automobile traffic in winter.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Mammoth Hotel and Mammoth Hot Springs campground are the only accommodations in the park open during the winter season. Prepare for frigid temperatures at night and at higher elevations.

Wolves and bighorn sheep are easier to spot against the white backdrop of snow. The long winter months can be a very tranquil time to visit Yellowstone National Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Pack traction aids for boots and shoes. Snowy, icy boardwalks can get slippery, especially near geothermal features.

Who Should Visit During Winter?

  • Winter sport enthusiasts who like to snowshoe, snowmobile and cross-country ski
  • People seeking a unique, peaceful time to visit the park
  • Those hoping to spot wolves and bighorn sheep

Why Visit Yellowstone in Winter?

  • Snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing provide intimidate ways to experience the park
  • See “geyser rain,” the icy crystals that form when boiling geyser eruptions meet frigid winter air
  • Snow coach tours leave the driving to someone else
  • Wolves and bighorn sheep are easier to spot in a snowy Lamar Valley
  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge offers a cozy winter retreat
the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone National Park
The boardwalk is an easy way to see Grand Prismatic. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Should I Visit Yellowstone National Park in Spring?

Spring is the best time to observe animals at Yellowstone National Park, but the weather can be iffy. It’s still cold and snowy at higher elevations. Daytime temperatures can range between 30 to 60 degrees and snowfall is still common. In late April, snow melts can make for muddy conditions.

Park roads close for snowplowing, as they prepare the Grand Loop for peak season. The West Entrance tends to be the first to reopen in mid-April. Most of the park is open by the end of May.

Despite the unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly weather, spring is the best time of year to see the animals start to emerge from their winter dens. Be on the lookout for bison calves and other baby animals.

Who Should Visit in Spring?

  • Flexible travelers who are willing to deal with unpredictable weather and road closures
  • Animal lovers seeking to spot baby animals
  • Those hoping to see bears; March and April tend to be the best months to view bears as they emerge from their winter hybernation.
  • Visitors seeking fewer crowds

Why Visit Yellowstone in Spring?

  • Bears awaken from hiberation and can be viewable in lower elevations
  • If you’re lucky, you might spot bison calves, bear cubs or wolf pups

Read More: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone and Tips for Getting it Right

Horse-drawn covered wagons carry visitors to campfire cookouts. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

What Are the Best Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park?

  • Watch Old Faithful, the most popular geyser in the world, erupt
  • View thousands of geothermal features in Yellowstone’s geyser basins
  • Witness Grand Prismatic Spring’s colorful, sizzling display
  • See Mammoth Hot Springs, which the National Park Service describes as looking like “a cave turned inside out”
  • Spot wildlife like bison and bighorn sheep in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley
  • Be wowed by waterfalls (there are almost 300 across the park!)
  • See the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, also one of the park’s most popular hiking spots
  • Overnight at Old Faithful Inn, the largest log structure in the world
  • Snowshoe, snowmobile or cross country ski in the snow-blanketed winter months
  • Take a horse-drawn covered wagon ride to a memorable steak cookout
  • Fish or boat on Yellowstone Lake
  • Hike or backpack in the backcountry
  • Visit nearby Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, about an hour from the South Entrance
  • Experience the elk rut in the fall
Cortney Fries is a seasoned travel journalist, with words appearing in USA Today, Family Vacation Critic, Chicago Parent magazine, several AAA magazines, MSN, Yahoo and more. Outdoor adventures, family travel and girlfriend getaways are her main attractions, but she loves anything where she can learn and meet new people. Cortney believes that you should definitely do anything that makes you slightly nervous. When she’s not adventuring, she can be found in the Chicago area, reading and creating with her husband and two children.
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