Explore America's Campgrounds
Where the Buffalo Roam: Best Times to Visit Yellowstone National Park
From watching Old Faithful to viewing buffalo, moose and other large mammals in their natural habitat, Yellowstone National Park has many activities sure to fascinate kids. Although the nation's oldest national park sees the highest number of visitors in summer, it's not the only "best" time to go to the park. Take advantage of school vacations and long weekends to check out the park like few experience it.
See Spring Splendor in Yellowstone
Watch Yellowstone awake from its winter slumber during April and May before tourist crowds hit. Temperatures vary from below freezing to the low 60s so be sure to plan plenty of layers in the family wardrobe to be ready for anything. Take a hike in the park's lower elevations and look for buttercups and other wildflowers, or head to higher elevations for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. See bison with calves and black bear with cubs at Lamar Valley and elk in spring velvet. May brings moose, elk and pronghorn calves into the mix.
Marvel at Fall Colors
Autumn leaves make a beautiful backdrop to family vacation photos, and you can enjoy Yellowstone in fall colors as early as September. Days in the mid-50s to upper 60s are ideal for outdoor activities, and mosquito numbers drop dramatically. Witness grizzly, black bears and rutting elk in roadside meadows. Boating services close in mid-September, and the Beartooth Highway and Dunraven Pass close in mid-October, so plan activities accordingly.
Survey Silent Snowscapes of Winter
Winter is the longest season at the park, lasting from mid-November through mid-April. Don't let below-freezing temperatures, road closures and 72 inches of annual snowfall scare you away from Yellowstone in winter: The park is at its most magical. Winter is time for wolf viewing at Lamar Valley and watching trumpeter swans and bighorn sheep in rut. Travel to Old Faithful by snowmobile or snowcoach and witness steam creating an eerie mist over the landscape. Enjoy days spent cross-country skiing in a snowy landscape and nights snuggled by fireplaces and making smores.
If You Go in Summer
Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend is the high season at Yellowstone, and you'll pay premium prices for lodging and tours and activities. Make reservations as early as possible for hotels and tours and buy tickets to any attractions you plan to visit in the surrounding areas. The least crowded times during the summer are before June 15 and after August 15.
Plan activities around peak visitation times to avoid the crowds. Head to Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin early in the morning before day-trip visitors enter the park, or wait until early evening after they leave. During the peak of the day, rent a boat at Yellowstone Lake or take a guided boat tour.
Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.