The world’s first national park and home to incredible biodiversity, Yellowstone is a natural magnet for nature lovers across the world.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park is a daunting task because of its size and available activities. Even more difficult is selecting the right time to visit.
Honestly, there is no such thing as the right or wrong time to visit Yellowstone. It all boils down to three things – the things you want to do, the weather you prefer, and of course, your budget.
As a digital nomad or long-term traveler, for example, you’ll likely prefer to travel when prices for accommodation, flights, tours, etc., are low, which usually means before or after the peak tourist season.
If you are planning your Yellowstone trip anytime soon, this guide of the best time to visit Yellowstone will be of incredible value to you. Keep reading!
Opened on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first national park. Known for its geological and hydrothermal features, the park is spread over 2.2 million acres, and it is ripe with wildlife and incredible flora.
Yellowstone is home to Yellowstone Lake centered over the Yellowstone Caldera – the continent’s largest supervolcano.
More than half of the world’s hydrothermal features and geysers can be found in Yellowstone National Park.
Many recreational activities such as boating, camping, hiking, sightseeing, and fishing are available within the park. Major geothermal areas, waterfalls, and lakes can all be accessed through paved roads.
If you want to spot wildlife, you can visit Yellowstone any time of the year, but the species you’ll see will vary based on the season.
For cross-country skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, winter (December to March) is the best time to visit.
If you want to enjoy low prices, shoulder seasons (April and May and September to November) and winter months are the best.
To enjoy all the main attractions and the national park’s geyser basins such as Midway Geyser Basin, Upper Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, etc., the summer months (June to August) are perfect. It is also the best time for outdoor activities and avoiding winter chill.
Yellowstone National Park experiences four seasons, namely:
- Spring (April and May): Average high temperatures in Yellowstone Lake are between 5°C and 10°C and average low temperatures are between -8°C and -3°C. In Mammoth Hot Springs, the average high temperatures are between 10°C and 15°C, while the average lows are between -2°C and 2°C.
- Summer (June to August): Average high temperatures are between 16°C and 22°C in Yellowstone Lake, while the average lows are between 1°C and 4°C. The summer months in Mammoth Hot Springs experiences average high temperatures between 21°C and 27°C, while the average lows are between 5°C and 9°C.
- Fall (September to November): In the autumn season, the average high temperatures are between 0°C and 16°C in Yellowstone Lake, and 4°C and 20°C in Mammoth Hot Springs. The average lows are -11°C to -1°C in Yellowstone Lake, and -6°C to 4°C in Mammoth Hot Springs.
- Winter (December to March): In winter months, the average high temperatures in Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs are between -5°C to 1°C and -1°C to 5°C, respectively. The average lows are -16°C to -13°C and -11°C to -7°C, respectively.
The four seasons can further be divided into:
Peak Season: Summer months of June, July, and August – this is when tourism is at its peak.
Shoulder Seasons: Spring (April and May) and Fall (September to November) – this is when tourism is low to moderate and prices drop a little.
Low Season: Winter months of December to March – this is when tourism is at its lowest and prices hit rock bottom.
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park depends on what you prefer and what you want to do. Wildlife can be spotted year-round, but available activities will differ as per the season.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park:
January is the winter season in Yellowstone. It is a winter wonderland with a snow blanket everywhere.
The landscape is enchanting and dramatic with frozen waterfalls, snowy basins, and steaming geysers. Frozen rising mists form steam inversions and rime ice.
The best time for wolf-watching, Lamar Valley is the best place to spot wolves, elk, and bison. Trumpeter swans are on open river waters and the bizarre atmospheric optical phenomena known as sun dogs (bright spots that appear either side of the sun) can be seen now.
It is the best time for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through quiet forests. Guided snowcoach tours are available and you can stay overnight at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
It is still a winter wonderland. Lower elevations have a higher concentration of animals, increasing the chances of wildlife sightings.
Elk, wolves, foxes, bighorn sheep, etc. are found abundantly in the valleys. Hayden Valley is best to spot bison congregations. The chances of spotting lynxes, bobcats, badgers, and mountain lions are high.
While many lower-elevation trails are open for activities, many around the Canyon Village are closed.
Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basin can be accessed by over-snow traffic. Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar valley can be accessed by car.
The ethereal and hushed winter atmosphere continues with abundant wildlife in the valleys and fewer crowds. The conditions are almost the same as in January and February.
Snow coach or snowmobile access to Grand Prismatic Spring, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Old Faithful is possible before March 15 road closures to over-snow traffic.
After March 15, you can access Lamar Valley, the Tower Area, and Old Faithful.
If you are willing to brave the freezing temperatures, winter sports are also available, too!
Late April is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone for digital nomads or long term travelers. Winter thaws and wildlife become more active because of relatively warmer temperatures. Wildlife viewing is more fun because of newly born baby animals. You can spot bison calves, moose calves, elk calves, and pronghorn fawns in early spring.
By mid-April, black bears and grizzly bears come out of their dens with cubs. Park roads will remain closed until the end of the month but it is a great time for backpacking and hiking at lower elevations.
Many campgrounds and accommodations are still closed and won’t open until mid-April. Road access to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring is possible only after April 21.
Yellowstone is now teaming with wildlife and some have already started taking the yearly migration route. Most roads are open but some may be closed depending on the previous winter snow they received.
The south entrance to West Thumb opens on May 12. The east entrance to Lake Village opens on May 5.
Many hiking trails are open now, and waterfalls and rivers are flowing tremendously. However, weather fluctuations are common ranging from clear & sunny to cloudy & cold. This is aggressive calving season, so caution is important.
Fishing season starts with Memorial Day weekend. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, and Yellowstone Lake are prime attractions.
Summer crowds start pouring in. Wildlife and wildflowers are abundant. Most trails are open even at higher altitudes, attracting hikers and backpackers.
It is the prime fishing season now and backcountry activities are open. The weather is very predictable. Warm weather means increased tourism and long queues for wildlife viewing, geyser watching, etc.
Popular spots are Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Hayden Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
It is the peak summer season and one of the best times to visit Yellowstone. Wildlife is plenty and almost all trails are open. Elk and bison calving season is over. Warmer temperatures attract more visitors but expect 5 days of rain.
All park facilities are open, but prices for accommodation are very high. You can encounter bison jams or bear jams on the roads.
Fishing, whitewater rafting, bus tours, and kayaking are popular activities. Warm temperatures allow star photography at night.
Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Mammoth Hot Springs are common attractions. Lamar Valley, Artists Paint Pots, and Black Growler Steam Vent are less popular attractions, but beautiful nonetheless.
Conditions are almost the same as in July! It is mating season for bison and elk, so they can be spotted in large herds.
All outdoor activities are available and all the usual attractions can be easily accessed.
Since it is peak tourist season, prices will be high, so, book well in advance.
September is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone. It is quite simply, spectacular this time of year. Summer crowds start to dissipate after Labor day, and by mid-September, it is nearly quiet and prices drop, making it a perfect time for digital nomads and long-term travelers to show up.
September is also the mating season for many species, making wildlife viewing easy.
Mild weather makes a great time for backpacking and hiking and also because the bugs are all but gone. Pockets of aspen trees turn yellow and shimmer in the sunlight.
The summer crowd has disappeared by now and you can have the entire park almost to yourself except the Dunraven Pass which closes in mid-October. Many visitor centers close by early October only to reopen for winter.
October is also the mating season and elks move to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and Madison River.
Wildlife is still abundant and following their prey, wolves have come down from higher elevations.
Daytime temperatures are warm and suitable for hiking but expect cold nights and icy conditions. Carry cold weather gear. Fishing is still available.
All roads will close for private vehicles except for the north entrance to the northeast entrance. But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting.
Even the fall crowd has disappeared now. Animals congregate in lower elevations, giving a better chance of wildlife viewing. Bears are most likely in hibernation, but other predators are still wandering the plains.
Because only one road is open and snow coach transportation will not open until mid-December, only Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Area, and Lamar Valley are accessible.
Colder temperatures can restrict your activities. So carry warm clothing.
It is winter utopia in December. Winter lodging is limited to the one at park headquarters in the Mammoth Hot Springs and the other at Old Faithful.
For the first half of the month, most of the park remains closed and only the north entrance leaves Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Area, and Lamar Valley accessible.
By mid-December, many low-elevation trails open allowing snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Wildlife becomes abundant.
During bad weather, you can enjoy the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center just outside the west entrance, or head to the Old Faithful Visitor Center and Museum.
Summer is best for hiking because of snow-free trails at higher elevations, but May, September & October are best for hiking at lower elevations when temperatures are cool and there are fewer crowds.
Wildlife can be seen year-round, but the species you see will depend on the season. Winter season is best for spotting wolves, elk, and bighorn sheep. It is also best for spotting mountain lions, lynxes, bobcats, etc. April and May are best for bear spotting. Moose, elk, bison, etc. can be spotted easily during spring, summer, and fall.
For digital nomads and long-term travelers, budget is a big concern. This means summer or the peak season is often a no-no. The shoulder season (April-May and September-November) is cheap and the winter season is the cheapest.
Both the shoulder and winter seasons will give stunning photography opportunities with little to no crowds photobombing perfect shots. Wildlife spotting, outdoor activities, and even winter sports can be enjoyed at a relaxed pace.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is April-May when the park begins to come out of the winter freeze. There are less crowds and prices are low.
The other best time is September and October when there are no summer crowds and prices drop. Winter is yet to set in and most of the park is open.
November is also a good time, but that’s when the park is preparing for snow and inclement weather. Though most of the park is closed, you can deeply explore the open areas and find hidden gems.
Two days are enough to visit all popular spots, but an extra two days will allow for exploring lesser-known attractions.
It depends on what you call cold! May falls in spring and daytime temperatures can be between 10°C and 15°C while nighttime temperatures can be between -3°C and 2°C depending on where you are. Nights can be very cold, so you need to prepare accordingly.
It depends on what you like. If you don’t like subzero temperatures, summer is the best time. But winter’s snow-clad charm makes the park look nothing less than a fairyland. Both seasons have their attractions.
The perfect time to visit Yellowstone depends on your personal preferences. Peak or high season (June, July & August) is great if you want plenty of sunlight and don’t mind the crowds.
Shoulder months are best for a great mix of outdoor activities, wildlife spotting, and photography without the rush.
Winter months are best to enjoy dirt-cheap prices, winter sports, and of course, a mystical hushed beauty.
No matter what’s on your mind, Yellowstone is a beautiful place to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park has helped with your travel plans.
Have an amazing trip. 🙂