When you first start planning your trip to Yellowstone National Park, one of the first – and most important – questions to answer is ‘When is the best time to go to Yellowstone National Park?’ There is no really bad time to go; the answer depends on a number of factors including your interests, availability and budget. Let’s take a closer look at the best time of year to go to Yellowstone National Park by season and interests.
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The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone in Spring (April-May)
Many people ask, “Is April a good time to visit Yellowstone Park?’ or “Is May a good time to visit Yellowstone?” Well, the weather in spring can be unpredictable, but most importantly, this is Mud Season. The melting snow turn trails, meadows and roads into mud. In addition, trails can still be icy and snowy and many of them are still closed.
Many of the roads, lodges, restaurant and visitor centers are also still closed in spring. In fact, there are a couple of weeks, usually in April, in which most of the roads are completely closed. They are closed for snow travel and not open for regular vehicles while the park service plows them. This is the perhaps the worst time to go to Yellowstone because there is no way to get around most of the park. See winter section below for more details.
However, although I don’t think that spring is the best time of year to visit Yellowstone National Park, there are some good things about visiting this time of year. For one thing, it is not crowded and you will avoid the crowds that descend on Yellowstone as summer approaches. Spring is also when baby animals are born and there is a good chance of seeing bison and elk calves, wolf and bear cubs, and bighorn lambs, making this a great time to see the park’s wildlife.
What is the best time to visit Yellowstone in spring? If you decide to visit this time of year, the best time is late May.
- Few people
- Baby animals
- Weather can be cold, snowy and rainy
- Many facilities, roads and trails are still closed
Yellowstone in Summer (June-August)
Summer is the busiest time in Yellowstone. More than 3 million people visit during the peak Yellowstone tourist season; mostly in July and August. This means that accommodations are at their most expensive and fill up early, so you should book well in advance. Check my shortlist of vacation rentals near Yellowstone to find a great place to stay. Because you need to walk on boardwalks around the geothermal areas of Yellowstone to see everything safely, they can get crowded in summer.
However, summer is a good time to see wildlife and wild flowers. Temperatures are pleasant (typically in the 60’s and 70’s F) and everything is open.
Is June a good time to visit Yellowstone? Yes. If you decide to visit this time of year, the best time to visit Yellowstone in summer is June.
- Everything is open
- Warm weather
- Wildlife is around
- It’s crowded
- It’s the most expensive time of the year
- Wildfires can create smoke and reduce visibility
Yellowstone in Fall (September – November)
As summer ends, the crowds leave. The boardwalks and trails are much less crowded. Accommodations are cheaper and easier to get. However, some visitor centers, stores and campgrounds start to close as early as mid-September.
Visiting Yellowstone in September
Is September a good time to visit Yellowstone? Yes, Yellowstone National Park in September is wonderful.
The weather in fall is typically mild; however, it can be unpredictable, which can lead to temporary road closures. When I visited in early-mid September, one day it was sunny and I was in a T-shirt. The next day it snowed and the road over the Dunraven Pass between the Canyon section and Tower Falls was temporarily closed overnight (not good when we were at the Canyon and our campground was at Tower Falls!).
Fall also sees the trees and grasses turn beautiful golden colors. The best time for fall foliage in Yellowstone is typically the last week of September and the first week of October.
September is the best time to visit Yellowstone in the fall.
Visiting Yellowstone in October
Is October a good time to visit Yellowstone? Yes, especially early October. September to mid-October is also elk mating season and seeing (or rather hearing) the elk rut is quite an experience as the males make impressively loud bugling sounds to attract the females. Elk and bison also migrate from higher ground down to the lower reaches where you can see them more easily in the fall. Bears are quite active as they are getting ready for hibernation.
Visiting Yellowstone in November
Is November a good time to visit Yellowstone? Not really. The roads start to close early November. Most of the roads in Yellowstone, with the exception of the northern section through Lamar Valley, (from the North Entrance at Gardiner to Cooke City) are closed to regular traffic from early November to April. The roads don’t open for snow vehicles until December, so most of the park is inaccessible in November.
- Good time for wildlife viewing. Elk rut; bison are heading to lower ground; bears are active before they hibernate in winter
- Fall foliage
- Fewer people
- Unpredictable weather – snow can cause temporary road closures as early as September
- Most roads in the park close early November to regular traffic
- Facilities start to close down from mid-September onwards
Yellowstone in Winter (December – March)
Winter is a magical time in Yellowstone. There are very few people (only 3% of the park’s annual visitors go in winter), you can get around by snow mobile or snow coach and it is incredibly beautiful. However, it is also VERY cold!
Starting in mid-December, roads reopen for snowmobile and snow coaches, which give you access to major sites like Old Faithful. Steaming hot springs and geysers surrounded by snow are an incredible sight. Mid-December to the end of February is also the best time for Yellowstone National Park ‘s winter activities. The park is open for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, ice-skating, dogsledding, and ice climbing.
This also a good time to see wolves and bison in Lamar Valley, as they hang around the lower elevations.
Accommodations and dining in winter
Usually, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and cabins and its restaurant and shop are open through winter; however, the rooms are closed winter 2020-21. The Snow Lodge’s Bear Den Gift Shop is open and its Geyser Grill is also open for take-out lunch service from December 15, 2020 to March 15, 2021.
Mammoth Hotel and hot tub cabins, along with its dining room, gift shop, ski shop, and day tour operations are open from December 15, 2020 to March 1, 2021.
Winter road information
Although the northern road through the park via Lamar Valley is open to regular traffic year-round, note that the Beartooth Highway which leads to the East Entrance is closed in winter, so the only way to access the park (unless you live in Cooke City, in which case you probably don’t need to read this) is the North Entrance.
Roads open for over-snow travel (snowmobiles and snow coaches) at 8:00am:
- December 15, 2020:
- West Entrance to Old Faithful
- Mammoth to Old Faithful
- Old Faithful to West Thumb
- South Entrance to Lake
- Lake to Canyon
- Canyon to Norris
- Lake to Lake Butte Overlook
- December 22, 2020:
- East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
Roads close to over-snow travel at 9:00pm:
- March 1, 2021: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
- March 7, 2021: Mammoth to Norris
- March 9, 2021: Norris to Madison; Norris to Canyon
- March 14, 2021: Canyon to Fishing Bridge
- March 15, 2021: All remaining groomed roads
Most of the park is then closed for all traffic while roads are plowed until they open for regular traffic in spring (April-May).
Is December a good time to visit Yellowstone? Only after over-snow travel opens. If you decide to visit this time of year, the best time to visit Yellowstone in winter is January and February when it is fully open for winter activities.
- Few people
- Can see wolves and bison in Lamar Valley and elk in the Elk Sanctuary
- Winter activities
- Most of the lodges, restaurants and visitor centers are closed
- Most of the roads are closed for regular traffic
- It’s very cold
- The bears are hibernating
When to Visit Yellowstone: At a Glance
Have a great trip to Yellowstone no matter when you go!
Do you have any thoughts on the best time to travel to Yellowstone? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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