Yellowstone is the US’ first national park and one of the most visited in the country, and for good reason! This summer, I got to spend two days in Yellowstone National Park and immediately fell in love. I can tell you that no matter which time of year you decide to go, you’ll have a fantastic time seeing this unique and stunning national park.
So, what is the best time of year to visit Yellowstone? I think this depends on what you want out of your trip. There are so many different factors to take into account. So, for this post, I’m breaking it down into what you might want out of your Yellowstone trip. Do you want fewer crowds? Warmer weather? Lots of wildlife? We’ll go through all these scenarios so you can pick the best time of year for your trip!
I’ve also filled this post with tips and ideas for your trip, no matter what time of year you decide to go.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone to Avoid Crowds
There are two times of year you can visit Yellowstone to avoid crowds. Both of these times of year will have a little bit riskier weather, but it can pay off if you’re willing to risk some snow or rain!
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1. November – March
During Winter, Yellowstone changes – a lot! The park gets heavy snowfall, and daytime temps are almost always below freezing. If you decide to come to Yellowstone during this time of year, you’ll need to plan ahead. Snow tires, extra water and food, blankets, maps, flashlights, shovels, and first-aid kits should all be on your packing list so you can be prepared for conditions.
Most of the roads will be closed, and the only entrance available to use is the North Entrance. Most park facilities are also closed during this time of year, but you can stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge or Mammoth Hotel. This means that there are no crowds in the park, with less than 3% of people visiting Yellowstone during winter. This can make for a really unique and beautiful winter experience!
Old Faithful Snow Lodge has fireplaces in the lobby, and between the bar and dining room are magnets for chatty gatherings of friends and family. The Bear Den Ski Shop has cross country ski, and snowshoe rentals, lessons, and tours are available. A range of tours and skier shuttles depart daily from the Snow Lodge, providing access to places like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, Firehole Canyon, and the Lone Star Geyser trail. There’s also an outdoor skating rink with free skate rentals is just outside the lobby.
You must contact their reservations office at 307-344-7311 to arrange your snowcoach winter transportation to the hotel. Seating may be limited. I’m ready to stay there, aren’t you?!
2. Shoulder Season: April – May or September – October
Not into cold weather? There’s still an option for you to avoid crowds – shoulder season! Shoulder season is between low and high season and occurs twice a year in Yellowstone. April – May and September – October are months when school is still in session, and the weather can be slightly unpredictable so, fewer people tend to visit. Average temperatures this time of year are between 30 – 60 degrees F.
Unlike winter, there’s are few road closures this time of year so that you can go about the park more freely. Of course, it can be too snowy for summer activities and too rainy for snow activities, so I recommend being flexible with your plans if you visit this time of year; however, you’ll likely get to see all the parts of the park you want this time of year.
Some lodges are open mid-April – early October and most open by May, so you’ll have several different options for lodging within the park with less competition when trying to book! You’ll also want to check which entrances are open for your visit as they open depending on the weather.
The last consideration with crowds in shoulder seasons is that this can be the perfect time of year if you want to bike in the park. With fewer cars on the road, it’s the only time I would recommend biking due to how heavy traffic can get in Yellowstone during the summer.
Note about fall in Yellowstone: The leaves do change colors in Yellowstone, but it happens quickly. Time it correctly, and you’ll get stunning views of the park! During the fall, roads and lodges begin to shut down on a staggered schedule throughout September into October, but the weather is often quite pleasant as the winds die down this time of year and the sun shines brightly. Snow is likely, usually beginning in September, but that just adds to the beauty of Yellowstone during this special time of year.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone for Warm Weather
There are a few months in Yellowstone to visit if you want warm weather. Not surprisingly, these are the most crowded months as well. The warmest months in Yellowstone are July and August. June can also be pretty warm but still can see some different weather. We went in July on our road trip from Yellowstone to Glacier, and it got sweltering during the day! We were so glad we chose to visit this time of year, though it was perfect weather the whole time.
The sun is also intense in Yellowstone, so pack the sunscreen too. Average temperatures this time of year, though, are around 70-80 degrees F during the day and down to 45 degrees F at night.
Yellowstone hosts almost half the visitors to the park for the entire year within these two months. Yellowstone welcomes more than 2 million visitors, meaning accommodations will fill up quickly.
You should look into booking accommodations as far out as possible for your visit. July is an especially popular time to visit for festival lovers, as the park and its surrounding towns host an array of events. Popular lodges I mentioned that are located in the park will book typically a year in advance for this time of year.
Areas around the park have limited options, so book up quickly. We ended up waiting until March before our July trip and the only place we could find under $200 a night was the Motel 6 in Bozeman which is about 2 hours away from Yellowstone, so take it from me – book early!
The park is also most accessible during this time of year. All roads tend to be open, so there is lots to see and do while visiting. Hiking, wildlife viewing, wildflowers, waterfalls, and ranger programs are available throughout the summer. Plan ahead for traffic and difficulty parking in popular parts of the park if visiting this time of year!
Best Time of Year for Lots of Wildlife
As someone who loves wildlife, I am always looking for a chance to see animals in their natural habitat (it’s why I loved going on a Safari so much!). Yellowstone has a few different times of year to visit if you want to see wildlife.
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Spring is when all the babies in Yellowstone are born, so naturally, it’s a great time of year to visit if you want to see wildlife. How cute would that be to see?
In addition to babies being born this time of year, bears come out of hibernation, and Bison migrate from the Gardiner area. One thing to keep in mind during this time of year is because bears are having their babies and coming out of hibernation, they tend to be more aggressive this time of year. Use extra caution!
With all the animals moving around and warmer temperatures, you’ll likely see a lot of wildlife in Yellowstone visiting in Spring.
If you choose to go in summer, you’ll get to see plenty of wildlife as well. In the summer, the animals move further north into the park, so the best place to find them is in Lamar Valley on the outskirts of the north part of the park.
While we were there in summer, we saw a mama bear and her cubs, brown bears, wolves, bison, pronghorn, elk, and more. There were so many animals all over Lamar Valley in summer!
Best Time of Year Overall
Overall, I recommend May or June for your visit to Yellowstone with all this information. You’ll have fewer crowds, get to see lots of wildlife, and you don’t risk things being closed due to weather.
There are pros and cons to whatever time you visit Yellowstone, but no matter what, you’re sure to have a great time on your trip.