When to Plan Your Yellowstone Vacation

There’s always an excellent time to visit Yellowstone National Park. In fact, some of the less popular times are some of our favorite months to explore. When the crowds dissipate, the vastness of over 2 million acres becomes more pronounced, and the quiet seems extra special. As you start planning your trip, we’ve compiled a few recommendations to remember when deciding when to come.


If you plan to stay in or around Yellowstone, it’s best to start planning a year in advance. Yellowstone National Park Lodges opens reservations on a rolling 13-month calendar. On the 5th of each month, they open reservations for the same month next year. It may seem like a long time out, but accommodations fill up quickly!  



Woman on the boardwalk in Yellowstone



Seasons in Yellowstone


Each season has its advantages. Spring brings wildlife babies, the first blooms of summer wildflowers, and far fewer crowds. The weather can change quickly, so you’ll want to bring waterproof layers, but the spring storms are spectacular. The hillsides get very green during the spring, so be sure to bring your camera!


Summer is the most popular time of year, with warm temperatures and families out of school. There’s a lot to do and see, and although it is a busier time of year, if you choose some of the lesser-known sites and get off the beaten path, you can still find areas of solitude. To see the more popular sites, plan to arrive earlier in the day, which is also the best time for wildlife watching!


Fall is a beautiful time to visit. The colors are golden, and the weather generally holds well into October. The bison and elk ruts are in full gear, and often, visitors catch two bulls fighting it out. It’s also an excellent time for hiking. Temperatures are cooler, and the trails are less crowded.


Yellowstone is spectacular in winter. The road from Gardiner to Cooke City remains open year-round and is the only part of the Park that allows vehicular travel in the winter. The Lamar Valley is home to most of the wolf packs, and it’s easier to spot the elusive animals against the backdrop of snow. If you enter through the West gate during the winter, you’ll need to book a guided snowmobile or snowcoach tour (or you are welcome to ski and snowshoe in!)



Bison in Yellowstone National Park in the Spring


Reservations, Permits, and Guided Tours


If you plan to go into the backcountry, day hiking does not require a permit. Still, all overnight stays require both a reservation and a permit. Professionally guided tours are available for backpacking, bicycling, boating, day hiking, fishing, painting and photography, skiing and snowshoeing, snowmobile and snowcoach, horseback riding, and road tours. These tours provide an extra enriching experience because the guides know the country and can educate guests about the ecosystem. It’s also a safe way to explore areas you may not get to alone.


Other Fun Considerations


Another fun consideration is to look at what events surrounding towns may have going on. Live music, farmers markets, and festivals pop up throughout the summer. Check out the Hells A Roarin’ Horse Drive if you visit Gardiner in May. In Livingston, Tap Into Montana, Brewfest happens in June, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Competition in August in West Yellowstone, and the Forget Me Knot Festival in Cooke City in August.


No matter the time of year you visit Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman makes an excellent basecamp for extending your stay. You’ll find various lodging options, from national brands to boutique motor inns. The dining scene is ever-evolving, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for live music at the Elm and Rialto.


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