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Best Time to Visit Yellowstone: Weather, Crowds, Wildlife, Winter

More than 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone every year. And in certain months the amount of visitors is significant (July and August). When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?

The best time to visit Yellowstone is in the offseason. You’ll find less crowds so you’ll wait less. And it will be easier to get around. You can still see lots of wildlife and enjoy great hiking. If you plan to visit in the winter, always confirm that your route is open and that the trails are accessible.

best time to visit yellowstone

This post is part of our Yellowstone Visitor Guide. Learn more about Yellowstone camping and the best hikes in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Weather: Best Time to Visit

Visitors regularly head to Yellowstone National Park during every season and on every day of the year.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that the park shuts down all but its north entrance for several months.

This can make getting to the park difficult because you need to follow roads that wrap around Wyoming and through Montana to get to the north entrance rather than taking a shortcut to one of the other gates.

The best time to visit Yellowstone can depend on what you want to do while in the park and how comfortable you feel in cooler weather.

It snows in Yellowstone, and roads are open primarily to commercially guided snowcoach and snowmobile travel only. Most Yellowstone roads are closed to automobiles during winter.

How Many People Visit Yellowstone?

In 2020, 3.8 million people made recreation visits to Yellowstone, down 5% over 2019. That averages to 9,589 people every day visiting the park.

Of course, many more visit during the summer season and less in the winter months.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

The best time to visit Yellowstone is often during the off-season and when parents are home with their kids.

April and May are popular times to visit for singles and groups, but some also enjoy visiting in September, October, and November.

During the spring, temperatures in Yellowstone can range from 26 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 to 1 degree Celsius) at night and 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 21 degrees Celsius) during the day.

Temperatures range from 9 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 to -6 degrees Celsius) in the winter and 45 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 32 degrees Celsius) in the summer. Fall temperatures are usually somewhere in the middle.

Avoid the Crowds in Yellowstone

One way to avoid the Yellowstone crowds is with a visit during the off-season. You’ll find far fewer people visiting in the winter because they don’t like the ice and cold. It’s also helpful to camp for the night.

You can get up early in the morning and hit the popular attractions before the crowds line up at the gates.

But keep in mind that some of the trails close in the winter and that only backcountry camping is available inside the park in the winter (more on this below).

Many of the park’s top attractions are open 24/7, which means that you can visit them whenever you want. You may want to avoid the areas with parking lots too. Those just passing through the park often use those lots to get in and out and to take photos quickly before hitting the road again.

When to see Wildlife in Yellowstone

Tourists have a tendency to forget that Yellowstone is a park and that many animals call the park home.

You might hear stories about the couple who tried to put a baby animal in the backseat of their car or the people who died because they approached the wild animals that they saw.

If you want to stay safe in Yellowstone, it’s helpful to bring bear spray with you. One spray of this liquid will incapacitate one of the grizzly bears in the park and give you time to get away.

Here’s a popular brand with holster. Here are some tips for correct bear spray use.

The best places to see wild animals on your trip are in some of the valleys in Yellowstone.

Black bears commonly live in Hayden Valley, while grizzly bears prefer the Pelican Valley. You’ll find other wild animals too, including bison, wolves, elk, moose, and bald eagles.

Learn about the 9 largest eagles in the world.

Yellowstone Wildlife
You might just see wildlife (like this elk) at your campsite in Yellowstone

The best time to see those animals is usually in the spring, which is when many come out of hibernation. You’ll also see bears in the early summer, especially in June.

That is when the fish begin spawning and the bears come out to feed on the fish.

Most Trails Open

Some of the trails in Yellowstone shut down during the late fall and open again in the early spring. Those trails are often quite treacherous and can cause less experienced hikers to suffer injuries.

Most of the trails open in the middle of May, though some do not open until the beginning of June. Yellowstone often shuts down those trails near the beginning to the middle of September.

Winter Camping in Yellowstone

Before you decide to grab your RV or pop-up camper and head to Yellowstone this winter, keep in mind that the campgrounds in the park close for the season.

The last dates you can camp are usually around the end of September, and some campgrounds close even earlier in the year.

Winter backcountry camping is available though. You can pick up a permit between the hours of 9 am and 4:30 pm on weekdays up to 48 hours before your trip.

The park sells permits through the Albright Visitors Center, West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center, Old Faithful Ranger Station and the Snake River On-Call Ranger Station near the south entrance.

If you plan to go winter camping, don’t forget to bring a heater. A campfire is great for cooking, but you’ll probably need more during the night. Here are some great winter camping tents for the backcountry.

Back-country camping permits let you camp in groups of up to 12 people. You can stay in the same location for up to three days before you need to move.

If you want to use a snowmobile or any other motorized vehicle while camping, you need a permit to operate that vehicle.

Yellowstone has both mule deer (common) and white-tailed deer (scarce). Here’s what deer eat in winter and how they stay warm.

Yellowstone National Park

Your Turn

When are you planning to visit Yellowstone? Have a favorite time to visit? Let us know your experience below!