Thinking of visiting Yellowstone National Park, but not sure when to go and what is the best time to visit Yellowstone? This article should help you decide!
Yellowstone National Park has very distinctive seasons, from extremely cold winters to pleasantly warm summers. And while each time of the year is unique and special, there are also some advantages and disadvantages of visiting Yellowstone in each season.
In this article, you can find detailed information about what to expect when visiting Yellowstone in spring, in summer, in autumn, or in winter. What kind of weather to expect, when are the roads and accommodations open, what to see and do in each season, and how to visit.
At the bottom of the article, you can also find a short summary and our advice for the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Find out!
Yellowstone in Spring (April – May)
Spring is a transition season in Yellowstone and is probably the most unpredictable time to visit the park. As the snow melts, everything also gets extremely muddy. If you decide to visit Yellowstone in spring, you’ll have to be very open-minded and flexible.
There is also a very big difference between visiting Yellowstone in April or in May. If you come at the end of May, when the roads and the lodges are open, you will find a very different place than in mid-April, when it’s just starting to wake up after a long winter…
So if you want to visit Yellowstone without the crowds, the second half of May might be one of the best times to visit Yellowstone.
Spring in Yellowstone is still very wintery and you may also expect snow. The weather is highly unpredictable, and temperatures are usually around or just above the freezing point. You can expect daytime temperatures in the 30-60 °F range (0-15 °C), and freezing cold nights.
Roads & Accommodations in Spring
It’s important to know that all Yellowstone accommodations are closed in March and in April. Yellowstone lodges and cabins start to open during the month of May, but some only open towards the end of the month.
If you are interested in camping, Mammoth Campground is open in spring. Other campgrounds slowly start opening in early May, but some only open at the end of June.
Many roads inside the park remain closed in April. Weather dependent, West Entrance usually opens first, around mid-April. Followed by East Entrance that usually opens at the beginning of May. South Entrance usually opens around the second week of May, and the other roads – around the third week of May.
Non-motorized travel (bicycling, jogging, walking, rollerblades, etc.) is usually permitted in Yellowstone from around early April (weather permitting). You can then explore the park in between the West Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs.
TIP: If you are visiting Yellowstone in the shoulder season, make sure to check the official website for the most up-to-date information and current road conditions.
Yellowstone Wildlife in Spring
Spring season comes together with increased wildlife activity. It’s probably one of the best times of the year to see wildlife in Yellowstone; it’s definitely the best season to see baby animals.
Bison migrate back into the park from Gardiner area. Bears emerge from their winter sleep together with the newly-born cubs…
Keep in mind that bears are also more aggressive in this period because food is scarce and they’ll want to protect their food sources from perceived competitors. All this means that you should be extra cautious on the roads, but also when bicycling, skiing, or hiking.
Yellowstone Tours in Spring
One of the best ways to explore Yellowstone in early spring is by taking an organized tour.
The most popular option is this highly-rated day tour from Jackson that runs daily starting mid-April.
Yellowstone in Summer (June – August)
Summer is by far the best time to visit Yellowstone if you want to experience everything that the park has to offer. It’s also the best time to visit Yellowstone for families with kids.
All the park roads and facilities are open during the summer months, but some activities such as rafting or guided hiking trips only start towards the end of June.
Needless to say, summer is also the busiest time of the year with the biggest number of tourists (over 2,5 mln of people visit Yellowstone in these three months). It’s also the most expensive time to visit Yellowstone as accommodation prices in and near the park skyrocket. More info further below!
The weather in Yellowstone can get really warm in summer, especially during the day. In general, you can expect high daytime temperatures to be in the range of 68-78 °F (20 – 25°C), but it can also get as cold as 36-40 °F (2-4 °C), especially at night or at higher elevations.
While summer is the driest time of the year, you should always be prepared to get some rain. Afternoon storms and lightning are very common in summer too. Luckily, they usually pass just as quickly as they came.
Our experience: We visited Yellowstone at the end of July – beginning of August and just two days before we arrived, they had snow on top of Mt. Washburn. Somebody even posted a picture of a snowman on the internet… Whereas we had really warm days with temperatures up to 80 °F (27 °C) and it was even too warm to hike in the sun at some places… One day, we also had a torrential downpour that arrived seemingly from nowhere, left us soaking wet in a matter of minutes, and then stopped as quickly as it started. The sun came out again and half an hour later we were completely dry again…
As you can see, Yellowstone can experience beautiful warm temperatures, but it can snow in summer too. So be prepared for everything!
LEARN MORE: What to Wear in Yellowstone in Summer
Roads & Accommodations in Summer
All the roads in Yellowstone are open in June, July, and August. However, it’s also the season when any road works and repairs have to be done, so there might be some local closures and delays.
All Yellowstone lodging and campings are open in summer, but some campings only open in the second half of June.
Good to know: If you are planning to visit Yellowstone in summer, you should know that accommodation inside the park gets fully booked over a year in advance. They usually open reservations for next year in May of the current year and you have to be quick!
So if you are planning to visit Yellowstone in summer, you really have to plan ahead or be prepared to stay outside the park. And even then, you’ll have to book well in advance if you want to find the best deals at the best locations nearby. The longer you wait to book, the further away you’ll have to stay, and the more expensive it will get (because all the best price/quality options are filled-up first).
LEARN MORE: Where to Stay in and Near Yellowstone
Geothermal Features in Summer
Beautiful sunny skies and warm temperatures make for the best conditions for seeing the colorful geothermal features of Yellowstone.
The colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring, for example, are at their best on a sunny warm summer’s day. If you are lucky to see it under the optimal conditions, it’s just as colorful and impressive as in the pictures. Simply incredible! However, if you come on colder days, the steam will often cover the spring, and if there is no sun, the colors will usually look dull…
LEARN MORE: Complete Guide to Grand Prismatic Spring
Wildlife in Summer
Summer is a great time to see wildlife in Yellowstone. With 67 different types of mammals and countless other species, Yellowstone is a real paradise for wildlife viewing.
However, as summer temperatures warm up, many animals move to higher elevations. There is also plenty of food and so animals can safely stay in the forests and there is no need to come closer to the roads or the people.
The easiest animal to see in Yellowstone is bison. They are everywhere! Hundreds of bison can usually be seen next to the roads of Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. They often disturb traffic and create long traffic jams, so always plan for bison jam delays when planning to drive through these two valleys.
You can usually see plenty of elk and deer next to the roads as well, especially early in the morning or around sunset. Bear sightings are common too and it’s wise to carry a bear spray if you plan to go hiking in Yellowstone.
Summer Crowds in Yellowstone
The months between June and September are the busiest in Yellowstone, with July and August being the most popular months to travel.
We also visited Yellowstone this time of the year (end of July – beginning of August). While it was busy at the main Yellowstone attractions (especially at the Old Faithful), we found that, in general, it was quite easy to escape the crowds in Yellowstone. If you just walk further than 20-30 minutes from the car, you hardly meet anyone…
LEARN MORE: Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in July or August
What to Do in Yellowstone in Summer
Summer is the best season to see everything that Yellowstone has to offer. Hiking, swimming, rafting, sightseeing – Yellowstone is a real paradise for those who love beautiful scenery and outdoor activities.
If you are not sure how to plan your time in the park, here you can find our suggested Yellowstone itinerary for 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 days.
Yellowstone Tours in Summer
There are plenty of tours visiting Yellowstone in summer. From day tours, rafting adventures, to multi-day tours – you can find a wide selection of tours and check availability here.
Yellowstone in the Fall (September – October)
Autumn is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone: the weather is still mild, the roads and accommodations are open (and more affordable), there are plenty of wildlife watching opportunities, and the number of people is lower too. Furthermore, the autumn season brings beautiful fall colors.
TIP: The nearby Grand Teton National Park is simply stunning in the fall!
However, autumn is also very short in Yellowstone and before you know it, winter arrives. The weather is very unpredictable too, and so if you travel to Yellowstone in the fall, be prepared for everything.
Roads & Accommodations in Autumn
Many Yellowstone facilities start to close in September already and gradually close down by the end of October. Most campgrounds close by the third week of September and many lodges close soon after that.
Some roads close as early as mid October. By the first week of November, most Yellowstone roads close for the winter season.
The weather in Yellowstone during autumn months is very unpredictable and can vary a lot from one day to another. You can expect temperatures anywhere between 20 and 65 °F (-6 to 18 °C) – huge difference, isn’t it! Also, as the days get shorter, it gets colder even quicker when the sun goes down.
Wildlife in Autumn
As the weather cools down, many animals return to the valleys in the fall. Autumn is, therefore, a good time to see wildlife in Yellowstone.
This is also the season of elk rutting. You can expect to hear loud bugling (a sound alternately deep and high-pitched) and see some duels as male elk try to impress females before the mating season.
It’s always fun to watch wildlife, just keep a safe distance at all times.
Activities in the Fall
Autumn is a great season for sightseeing. As long as the roads remain open, you can explore all the most beautiful places of Yellowstone, just like in summer. Autumn is also a great season for hiking and bicycling in Yellowstone. It’s also the best season to go fishing.
Yellowstone Tours in the Fall
Pretty much all the multi-day and day tours to Yellowstone that run in summer also go in September and the first week of October.
Some tours continue till mid October and this day tour from Jackson is possible till the 1st of November. Here you can find the best tours and check availability for your travel dates.
Yellowstone in Winter (November to March)
The months between November and March are the coldest months in Yellowstone. While it can be a magical time to visit, it’s also the most challenging season to travel to Yellowstone. Here’s why.
Winter in Yellowstone can be really harsh. There is lots of snow and it’s usually really cold with temperatures falling well below freezing point. Average high temperatures in Yellowstone in winter are under 32 °F (0°C), and average low temperatures in January or February are around 0 °F (-17 °C).
TIP: If you are visiting Yellowstone in winter, make sure that you are well-prepared. Good winter boots are a must, just as a warm winter parka, wool and fleece sweaters, thermal underwear, insulated winter pants (or ski pants), wool socks, waterproof winter gloves, and a warm winter hat.
Roads & Accommodations in Winter
Because of snow, only small parts of Yellowstone are accessible in winter. The North and the Northeast entrances of Yellowstone are the only entrance open to regular cars in the winter season. Most roads inside the park close around mid-October or at the beginning of November and remain closed during the entire winter.
The Northern part of Yellowstone (Mammoth Hot Springs area) is the best place to visit in winter if you are traveling on your own. The park headquarters at Mammoth Springs also remain open during the entire year. Mammoth Campground is also the only one that’s open year-round (although I’d think twice before camping in Yellowstone in winter).
Most Yellowstone accommodations are closed in winter. However, Yellowstone now also has a ‘Winter Recreation Season‘, which lasts from mid-December till the end of February. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins are the only two accommodations inside Yellowstone that are open during that period.
During this period, many park roads are open for over-snow travel by snowmobile or snowcoach. You can find more specific information here.
Wildlife in Yellowstone in Winter
Winter is a great time to see wildlife in Yellowstone. Most animals migrate to lower elevations in order to find food. They can often be seen near warm geysers or hot springs.
You can expect to see lots of bison and winter is also the best time to see wolves. Bighorn sheep rut occurs during the early winter months. Elk migrate north in winter and can often be seen in big numbers in the northern part of Yellowstone and around Gardiner.
Bears hibernate this time of the year, so you won’t see any bears in winter.
Winter Recreation Season is the best time for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, or ice-climbing. It’s always fun to watch frozen waterfalls and geothermal features against the snowy background.
Yellowstone Winter Tours
If you decide to visit Yellowstone in winter, you should really consider going with one of the organized tours that have experience with visiting the park this time of the year. As already mentioned, you’ll need a snowmobile or a snowcoach in order to travel inside the park.
There are multi-day tours available that, in winter, mostly concentrate on visiting the Old Faithful and the Mammoth Springs areas and focus on bison and wolf-viewing.
When is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone – CONCLUSION
As you can see, there is no one simple answer as to when is the best time to see Yellowstone.
If you want to experience everything that the park has to offer, then the second half of June, July, August, and the beginning of September are the best months to visit Yellowstone. However, this is also the busiest and the most expensive time to travel.
The end of May and the end of September – beginning of October are quieter periods that have most of the advantages of summer travel, but a somewhat lower number of visitors. This very short period could probably be described as the best time to visit Yellowstone. The weather is good enough and pretty much everything in the park is accessible, accommodation prices are lower, and there are fewer people.
However, don’t be fooled thinking that you’ll have the park all to yourselves. While the month of May has just about 50% of the visitor numbers compared to August, September is almost as busy as August, with just 10% fewer visitors.
Mid-December till the end of February is the best time to visit Yellowstone for those who want to experience the park in winter.
So, this is our guide for the best time to travel to Yellowstone. Have a question or want to share your experience when visiting Yellowstone? Leave a reply below. Planning a trip? Check out our other articles below!
More information for your trip to Yellowstone:
- Overview: Yellowstone Travel Guide
- What to do: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone
- What to know: Travel Tips for Yellowstone NP
- How to plan your time: Yellowstone Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days
- Quick visit: 1 Day in Yellowstone or 2 Days in Yellowstone
- Accommodation: Where to Stay in and Near Yellowstone
- For families: Yellowstone with Kids
- What to pack: Yellowstone Packing List
- Must-see: Old Faithful Geyser & Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, as well as Yellowstone Canyon
- Fun to do: Boiling River
- Nearby: One Day in Grand Teton NP
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