How to Avoid Crowds in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park has over two million breathtaking acres. We’re talking about some serious breathing room. And while it is true, crowds can tend to gather in the popular areas of the park during peak summer months, there are ways to avoid the masses, and in our opinion, garner an even more unforgettable experience.
Get Out Early
Our first suggestion is to go early, real early. Mornings are one of the most splendid times to be in the park. Wildlife is most active at dawn, particularly the elusive wolves, which roam the Lamar Valley. Bears are also active, so if you’re hiking, be bear aware and practice safety measures such as making noise, carrying bear spray, and keeping food wrapped up. An early start also lets you get through the main roadways to trailheads that take you off the beaten path. Hiking is much cooler during this time of day, leaving you plenty of time for a nice picnic lunch in the sun once you arrive at your destination. Plus, morning light is one of the golden hours for photography.
Go Off the Beaten Path
Explore the understated areas. There are 110 hiking trails in Yellowstone, and the backcountry is rarely crowded. Keep in mind that traffic can double your average drive time during peak summer months, so plan accordingly to ensure you have enough time to get back before dark.
You can also check out the backcountry thermal areas. While the more developed regions of the park are well worth the time, several thermal areas in the backcountry are as interesting, with fewer people. Cache Creek and Wahb Springs is a moderately difficult, ten-mile out-and-back hike taking you to the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek. Anglers love this area for fishing, and the thermal area of Wahb Springs is a short two miles from Cache Creek Trail junction.
Another easy hike with great fishing is Buela Lake. This easy 5.2-mile out and back takes you to a 107-acre lake with a healthy cutthroat population. If you’re looking for a pleasant overnight, there are two campsites located here.
For those wanting a more challenging adventure, check out Buffalo Lake. This 4-day backpacking trip is not for the faint of heart. Although it’s one of the most remote and challenging hikes, it’s a quintessential Yellowstone experience. Bechler Meadows didn’t get burned in the fires of 1988, so the area is lush. Keep an eye out for sandhill cranes, moose, wolves, and hot springs and thermal areas. The last part of the trail gets rather challenging with several fords over the creek. Keep in mind; Buffalo Lake does not have fish, so don’t plan on catching dinner! This is a good hike trip to get away from the crowds in August; the area stays very wet until then.
If you want to get really remote, check out the Two Ocean Loop, which starts with a 20-mile paddle across Yellowstone Lake to the trailhead, where you’ll have another 40-mile hike ahead of you. You’ll need a good nine days to enjoy this adventure!
Have Off-Season Adventures
Visit during the off-season. Spring in the park is extraordinary. Wildlife babies are everywhere, the hillsides turn a vibrant green, and the wildflowers start to pop. In the fall, the colors are dramatic, and in certain areas, you could witness the elk rut, which can turn into quite the spectacle of bull elk bugling to females and using their large antlers to battle other males. Winter is especially magical. Only one road remains open to vehicular travel during the winter, which means most of the park is only accessible via guided snowmobile or snow coach tours. There is something surreal about frosty bison walking among the steamy thermal areas. (There are a limited number of non-commercially guided snowmobile passes available by lottery each year. If you’re a snowmobiler, you can apply here.)
Keep in mind, due to COVID-19, there will be fewer dining options open within the park. Packing your lunch will help keep you at a safe distance and free up your time spent waiting. Always bring extra water, layers of clothing, and sunscreen!
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