The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park, is in the fall and spring when crowds have thinned out and the weather is still relatively nice. Summer, particularly July and August, has the warmest and most desirable weather, but the high number of tourists and vehicles can make exploring the park a challenge, especially if you’re hoping to see wildlife (though herds of bison can be seen year-round).
Whenever you decide to go, use this guide to help plan your trip to this popular national park, known for its geysers (Old Faithful is the most well-known), hot springs, waterfalls, mud pots, and wildlife—you can see grizzly bears, wolves, elk, bison, and moose.
The Peak Tourist Season in Yellowstone National Park
Located in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, this park attracts more than 4 million visitors each year, with July and August welcoming the highest number of tourists. November through April receives the lowest number of travelers. Exploring the park’s natural attractions and getting the chance to spot wildlife is more enjoyable outside of the overcrowded summer months.
Flights to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or to Bozeman, Montana—the closest international airports to Yellowstone National Park—are typically less expensive outside of the summer months. Hotel prices are, in general, lower during the off season after Labor Day, when children have returned back to school and summer crowds have dissipated. Keep in mind, the park does have road closures due to weather, so plan accordingly.
How to be Safe in Yellowstone National Park
Dangers exist throughout the park, most of which are avoidable.
- The best place to view animals is inside of your car. Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 years from bison, elk, and other animals in the park. Never feed wildlife.
- The boardwalks and trails in the park’s thermal areas are there for your protection. Stay on the designated paths to avoid injury or death. Keep children close to you and never let them run on the boardwalks.
- Don’t stop in the middle of road to view wildlife. Use the pull-outs to avoid car accidents and to allow other drivers to pass. If you encounter a wildlife traffic jam, which does frequently happen, stay inside your vehicle and be patient for the animals to pass.
The Weather in Yellowstone National Park
In the spring and fall seasons, the weather during the daytime is typically between 30 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime temperatures below freezing in the teens and single digits. The summer season experiences the warmest weather (usually between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit), however, thunderstorms can happen, and nighttime temperatures can be quite cool, necessitating warm layers and rain gear. The winter season brings cold weather, settling between 0 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t count this season out. The wildlife viewing is incredible, there are hardly any visitors in the park, and the natural landscapes look stunning under a blanket of snow.
Most of the park sits at 6,000 feet above sea level, or more, so the weather can be unpredictable even in the summer months. It’s best to be prepared for the weather with lots of inner and outer layers. Also, when driving in the winter months, or when roads are snow-covered, be sure to have a vehicle equipped with proper tires.
While the weather can be quite chilly (low 30s to low 60s Fahrenheit), it’s not unbearable. There are many perks for visiting the park this season. Crowds will have scattered, but wildlife will still be active—keep an eye out for bears, elk, and raptors, and lodging and camping will be more affordable and available. Not only will you see colorful foliage, but also, many of the park's animals will migrate to lower elevations due to the weather. Dawn and dusk are excellent times for wildlife viewing and the good news is that sunlight hours dwindle this season so you won't have to rise too early. Bears will be preparing for hibernation, so you may see them as they forage for food. Elk mate during the fall and you can see these creatures around Mammoth Hot Springs—or hear their bugle throughout the park. Fall is also the migration season for hawks and other raptors—don't forget to look up!
Event to check out: Free to the public, the Bridger Raptor Festival celebrates birds of prey in and around Bozeman, Montana, at the Bridger Bowl Ski Area and the Gallatin National Forest. Learn about impressive wildlife through the Wildlife Film Festival, live raptor talks and programming, and nature walks and hikes.
There’s no doubt about it, the winter season is freezing. Exploring nature, seeing wildlife—wolves and bighorn sheep can be spotted—and experiencing the park when there are very few other tourists is the magic of this season. You’ll need to cross-country ski, snowshoe, drive a snowmobile, or ride inside of a snow coach as many of the roads will be closed. There are many winter touring companies that can provide an otherworldly, yet safe, experience. Rivers and lakes will be frozen, and the landscape will be covered in a layer of snow and ice. Driving the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance is a sure bet as it’s open to traffic year-round.
Events to check out:
- Experience the Yellowstone Ski Festival each November, a cross-country skiing adventure on the Rendezvous Ski Trails. Highlights include skiing clinics, competitive races, biathlon races, gear demos, and an indoor ski show.
- The Bozeman Ice Festival is designed for winter climbers—beginner level through advanced—in Montana.
- The Cody Cowboy Christmas Stroll is a fun Wyoming community event, featuring a parade, ice carving, shopping, live music and caroling, and roasting marshmallows.
While the weather can be quite unpredictable, spring is a wonderful time to visit the park, before the substantial number of tourists arrive for summer. Be sure to check the park’s website for current conditions, road closures, construction, and openings days, which are weather-dependent. Late spring is also a neat time to view wildlife as you’ll see baby animals emerge.
Events to check out:
- Every April, National Park Week, a presidential declaration, celebrates America’s best idea through special programming, digital experiences, and events.
- MSU Foundation Wine & Food Festival is a large social event held each spring in Billings, Montana.
The summer months experience the best weather in the park, drawing visitors from all over the world. You can expect hotel, cabin, and camping accommodation prices inside the park to be at a high. Old Faithful Inn, for example, is quite popular and you’ll have to book well in advance to stay during their opening season of May through October. If traveling in the summer, plan your vacation well ahead of your visit to make the most out of your visit.
Events to check out:
- The Cody Stampede Rodeo, held outdoors in Cody, Wyoming, is a fun family-friendly summer event, held every year on the fourth of July weekend, since 1919.
- Yellowstone Beer Fest, also held annually in Cody, Wyoming, highlights breweries from across the country.
- The Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds and Exhibit Hall hosts the Last Stampede and Fair. Think: rodeos, parades, live music, a carnival, 4-H events, and street food.
- Learn about Native American culture by attending the Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival, held in August each year on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, featuring Powwows, drumming circles, traditional dancing, and The Indian Relay Races.