Everyone should visit the world-renowned Yellowstone National Park at least once. If you’re making the trip sometime soon, you’ll want to get the details figured out to plan the most rewarding visit. Knowing the best time to visit Yellowstone should be priority #1 on the list.
You don’t want bad weather (rain, snow, and ice) to get in the way of your bucket list trip to this national park! Once you know the best time of year for your trip, you can nail down the finer details.
These include determining where you’ll stay, how long your trip should be, and what sights and activities are worth squeezing into your trip itinerary. It all begins with learning the best time of year to go – and that’s exactly what this quick travel guide is for.
Why You Should Visit Yellowstone
The first thing that comes to mind for most when they think of Yellowstone National Park is the incredible geyser activity – specifically Old Faithful, the most famous geyser known for erupting about 20 times each day.
The geysers and hot springs are definitely a huge part of what makes Yellowstone a visit-worthy destination. But that’s not all you’ll find at the storied 2-million+ acre Yellowstone National Park.
One of Yellowstone’s claims to fame is the fact that it’s the world’s first national park, established March 1, 1872. It’s known for being home to the world’s most prolific geysers (openings in the earth that regularly eject streams of steam and hot water) and hot springs.
That’s because the park sits atop a dormant supervolcano, and the underground magma activity powers its famous geysers and heats the geothermal hot springs.
With so much superheated magma running under the surface, the park has 500+ active geysers erupting on a near-daily basis and more than 10,000 geothermal features (hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and more).
Another cool feature many don’t know about is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
This amazing natural feature is over 20 miles long, over 1,000 feet deep, and an incredible sight to behold. It was carved by the Yellowstone River and the views surrounding this deep canyon are unrivaled.
The many waterfalls and cascades within the park are another major draw for visitors. While the famous Upper Falls, Lower Falls, and Crystal Falls are some of the most famous, the park is home to at least 45 named waterfalls and cascades.
Yellowstone is also one of the greatest wildlife destinations in the United States. The park houses the largest number of mammals in the contiguous U.S.
With 67 different species of mammals, 300+ bird species, and 16 fish species within its bounds, wildlife lovers are drawn to Yellowstone to catch a glimpse of the amazing biodiversity here. Grizzly bears, foxes, lynx, wolves, elk, and moose are commonly spotted inside the park.
It’s also home to large herds of bison that have roamed the area since prehistoric times. In fact, there are so many bison in the park that regular “bison jams” hold up traffic along the roads inside!
Feeling magnetically drawn to Yellowstone National Park yet? We thought so! Take a look below to see the best time to visit Yellowstone – we list the overall best, cheapest, least busy, and worst times of year to visit the park.
Overall Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
If you want to plan the ideal Yellowstone trip, visit sometime between mid-June to mid-September. This is the warmest time of year to visit the park and your trip will be more comfortable.
You won’t have to worry about cold daytime temperatures, snow and ice, or weather-related road closures during this time. This time of year is perfect for camping – for those who want the most intimate Yellowstone experience – and temperatures hover from the mid-60s to the mid-70s during the day.
It gets down to 32F-42F at night, so make sure you bundle up if you plan to camp, especially at higher elevations. The only potential drawbacks to visiting from mid-June to mid-September are the increased crowds and the potential for rainy weather.
Yellowstone sees the most rainfall from the month of May through September. However, the heaviest rainfall occurs in May, so visiting from mid-June through mid-September should be perfect.
Cheapest Time to Visit Yellowstone
The cheapest time to visit Yellowstone is during the off seasons or low seasons – basically anytime outside of the short, 3-month summer (Yellowstone’s peak season).
Specifically, mid-April, late September, and October are ideal times if you’re looking for cheaper flights, car rentals, and stays.
With most of Yellowstone’s visitors arriving in June, July, and August, planning your trip just before or after this time will guarantee lower prices. With less demand for hotels, rental cars, and flights to Yellowstone, you’ll benefit with slashed trip costs that keep your vacation affordable.
It just so happens that April, late September, and early October are great times for spotting wildlife. Baby bears emerge from hibernation with their protective mothers in April. Migratory birds make their landing in late April and elk enter their rut season in September and early October.
Least Busy Time to Visit Yellowstone
The least busy time to visit Yellowstone National Park are the months of April and October. Since the park’s lodging options open up in late April and begin to close their doors in mid-October, fewer visitors make their way to the park during these two “shoulder” months.
If you prefer an early springtime visit, planning your visit during late April will give you the most in-park lodging options. With so few tourists entering the park during this time, the lodging and accommodations availability is nearly wide-open, even for a last-minute trip.
Plus, you’ll have the chance to see lots of wildlife and their babies during late April! If you’d like a fall visit more, planning your visit in early or mid-October will be ideal with fewer crowds.
While it’s not as low-volume as April, there’s a major drop in the number of visitors during October. The summer’s visitors have come and gone; the weather’s much colder, with snow and ice threatening the roadways and making camping less comfortable.
Worst Time to Visit Yellowstone
What’s the absolute worst time to visit Yellowstone? Typically, the worst time to visit is during the winter and early spring months. Mid-December through March are typically “dead” months for the park, with very few visitors braving the rougher weather conditions, snow, and ice to get in.
But the worst time to visit really depends on what your goals for the trip are:
- If you’re sticking to a tight budget, the worst time to visit is in June, July, and August – especially July. With more than 2 million visitors entering the park during these 3 months alone (and July being the busiest month for the park), you’ll be charged peak rates for lodging and run into less availability during this time. If you’re unable to secure in-park lodging, you may pay more to stay in a room outside of the park and spend more money on gas and rental cars to trek back and forth.
- If you’re trying to avoid big crowds, the worst time to visit is in June, July, and August – especially July. More than half of all Yellowstone visitors arrive during the summer months, making the park much more crowded. You’ll encounter long lines for the most famous attractions and views, less availability for in-park lodging, and higher peak season prices during the summer.
- If you’re hoping for ideal weather, the worst time to visit is in March and early April (springtime). Spring is called the “mud season” in Yellowstone. Cold temperatures, lots of thawing snow and ice, and rough road conditions leading into and throughout the park make visits very difficult to fully enjoy during this time.
Winter is also considered a problematic time to visit because it’s very cold and snowy. Many park roads, lodging, and campsites are closed.
Winter lodging with special activities like tours by snowcoach and skiing make winter a more pleasant option than early Spring, however. With the proper cold gear, you can still take in Yellowstone’s incredible views and hike some trails during the winter months.
Yellowstone Travel Tips
Making the most of your trip to this famous national park starts with knowing the best time to visit Yellowstone. The next step is doing additional research and knowing what to expect for your planned visit.
Here are a few additional considerations to keep in mind as you research and plan out your stay:
- Most lodging and campsites in the park close in mid-October. If you’re trying to take advantage of a shoulder season stay for cheaper prices and fewer crowds, you may run into lodging and campsite closures. Make sure to check lodging availability in the areas you’re interested in before you get too far along in your planning.
- Plan for additional trip costs. A Yellowstone entrance pass is $35 ($30 for motorcycles) and it’s good for 7 days. Campsites are the cheapest lodging option, running from $15 to $80+ per night. Hotel lodging runs from around $100 to $300 per night. Activities like skiing and tours will cost extra, so plan for additional costs depending on your itinerary.
- Know when to see the most geyser activity. Yellowstone’s famous geysers are one of the major reasons to visit, so make sure you’re aware of when the geysers will be active! Smaller geysers like Baby Daisy erupt every 35-55 minutes, while Old Faithful erupts every 60-70 minutes or so. Here’s a helpful list from the park to learn when each geyser is expected to erupt.
- Pack the proper cold gear for your visit. Now that you know the best time to visit Yellowstone throughout the year, make sure you pack the right gear for your stay. It gets very cold in Yellowstone overnight beginning in September (32F-37F). By October and November, the daytime temperatures dip to the 30s. In December (the coldest month) it regularly gets below freezing. It stays quite cold through the month of April, when snows finally begin to thaw and give way to warmer daytime temps around 50F. Even in the warmest summer months, nighttime lows can sink to the high 30s and low 40s. Always pack some cold weather gear to be on the safe side!
- Bring a pair of binoculars. Much of the wildlife you can spot in Yellowstone will be off in the distance, making it difficult to fully appreciate. Bring a good pair of binoculars to easily spot wildlife from a distance – perfect for checking out animals like wolves, bears, and their cubs/pups without putting yourself in danger!
- Start your days early while visiting. The earlier you rise and begin exploring the park, the less crowded the most famous attractions and sights will be. You’ll also benefit from slightly cooler temperatures early in the morning if you visit during the peak summer months. Down a quick, energy-packed breakfast and head out!
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone?
Overall, the best time to visit Yellowstone is mid-June to mid-September. It’s the peak summer season, so it’s going to be more crowded and a little pricier, but the drier weather and warmer temperatures make it worth it.
Everything is open and in full swing, all roads are clear of snow and open, and camping is a great cost-saving option while the days are warm with cool (but not frigid) nights.
If avoiding crowds and planning the cheapest vacation are your goals, the best time to visit Yellowstone is mid-April, late September, and October. These months are not ideal regarding weather, temperatures, and lodging availability.
But it’s certainly less crowded and much cheaper to visit during this time. You can spot abundant wildlife during this time – even spotting baby mammals and seeing migratory birds start to arrive.
April sees some of the lowest numbers of visitors, but you may deal with lingering snow, closed roads, and cold temperatures. In late September and October, lodging and camping options begin to dwindle as in-park hotels prepare to close for the season due to snow and poor road conditions.
As long as you pack the right essentials, know which sights you want to see, and plan ahead for accommodations, you can enjoy Yellowstone National Park nearly any time of year.
Now that you know the best time to visit Yellowstone according to your trip goals, get ready to scratch this famous park off your travel bucket list – and prepare to take lots and lots of pictures!
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