The first designated national park in the United States, Yellowstone National Park is an icon best known for its famous hot springs, alpine rivers, dramatic canyons, and a wide array of unique wildlife. The park is composed of 2.2 million acres that stretch across parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. With approximately 4 million visitors each year, the only question is: when should I go to Yellowstone National Park?
Ask four people when the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is and you may just get four different answers. There are benefits to visiting the awe-inspiring park in every season, so it all just depends on what you want to get out of your trip.
In this comprehensive guide to the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park, we will break down what each season is like there and why people visit during that time. This way, you can decide for yourself when you should visit Yellowstone.
While most people associate the springtime with pleasant weather and blooming flowers, that’s not quite the case here. As the snow melts, the park grounds become covered in mud. The weather is still fairly cold and can be incredibly unpredictable, because spring is a transition season.
If you want to avoid the massive crowds that summer brings without the harsh conditions of wintertime, late May would be the best time to visit Yellowstone during the spring. As animals migrate back to the park and bears awake from hibernation, spring is often known as the best time of year to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park.
Best For: Wildlife sightings, affordable lodging, and avoiding peak season crowds.
Things To Do: Hiking, fishing, biking, and wildlife watching.
The summer months of June to August are peak season in Yellowstone National Park. With temperatures that range from the 60s to the 80s, the summer boasts the most pleasant weather of any season in the park. Tourists flock to experience the park in all of its glory, making summer the busiest time of the year with approximately 2.5 million visitors in the span of 3 months. With peak season comes peak prices, so you can expect the rates for airfare and lodging to be the highest during the summer.
If you want to experience everything Yellowstone has to offer, the summertime is the best time to visit. During this time, you can enjoy water sports like whitewater rafting and kayaking, as well as exciting activities like zip lining and horseback riding. While many animals leave for higher elevations during the summertime, you can still expect to see bison, elk, and mountain goats.
Best For: Outdoor activities, excitement, and people who don’t mind crowds.
Things To Do: Whitewater rafting, kayaking, swimming, hiking, fishing, ziplining, horseback riding, and viewing the geothermal features.
The Autumn months of September and October are known to be fairly mild in Yellowstone National Park, with average temperatures that range from the 30s to 60s. Fall foliage is stunning during these months, so it’s a great time to bring along a camera. Kids are back in school now, so you can avoid many of the massive crowds and still take advantage of decent weather.
Because the weather is cooling down at this time, many of the animals who left during the summer are coming back now, making for plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting. If you don’t mind that you probably can’t go swimming, autumn provides a wonderful combination of affordable prices, pleasant weather, and fewer crowds than in peak season.
Best For: Wildlife lovers, outdoor activities, and people who want to avoid crowds and harsh weather.
Things To Do: Hiking, biking, fishing, and wildlife watching.
The winter months of November to March are notoriously the least popular time to visit Yellowstone. Temperatures drop below freezing and the park becomes a ghost town. However, this is also when you will often find the cheapest hotels, and, for many—the lack of crowds is more appealing than not. If you’re willing to bundle up and brave the freezing cold, the fluffy blanket of snow that covers the park is something truly spectacular to witness.
Because the majority of tourists avoid visiting Yellowstone in the winter, prices for airfare and lodging are typically lower than any other time of the year. In addition to being cheaper and less crowded, the wintertime is also the best time for spotting wolves and bighorn sheep. If you choose to visit during the winter, it’s important to bring sturdy winter boots, insulated clothing, and protective gloves.
Best For: Avoiding crowds, affordable lodging, wolf and bighorn sheep sightings, and nature and wildlife photography.
Things To Do: Skiing, snowshoeing, ice-climbing, and wolf viewing tours.
As you can see, there are benefits of visiting the park in any season. If you don’t mind freezing temperatures and hate crowds, winter is for you. If you’ve always dreamt of seeing a bear and don’t mind the cold, spring is the perfect choice. If you are willing to deal with peak season prices and tons of tourists, if it means kayaking through the park, then you’re going to want to visit during the summer. To snap photos of the stunning fall foliage and get a glimpse at some incredible wildlife, then autumn here you come.
No matter when you decide to visit Yellowstone National Park, it’s always important to come prepared by packing warm layers, protective shoes, bug spray, sunscreen, and bear spray. Even during the summertime, the evenings can get chilly enough for a jacket. As one of the most popular national parks in North America, Yellowstone National Park is one that everyone should see at some point in their lifetime.
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