Trying to figure out details on how to maximize your adventure when you visit Yellowstone? Some seasons to visit Yellowstone are great, while others are just a headache. Let’s talk about the best time to visit Yellowstone and some other helpful insider tips to make your trip great.
YellowStone National Park Is A Bucket List National Park
If you have never been to Yellowstone then I’ll just say it, you ARE missing out. I’m not saying to be rude or brag, but if your summer vacations are the same theme park and roller coasters, you may want to plan a trip to Yellowstone to at least experience it once. Yellowstone is the standard for National Parks, it’s full of wildlife, active geysers, and breathtaking mountain landscapes in all directions.
One key factor to really consider before you head up to Yellowstone is knowing the best time of year to visit the park. Timing it right can put you in a situation where you get to experience all that Yellowstone has to offer. Timing it wrong, however, can leave you frustrated as you didn’t see the wildlife you expected, regions of the park are seasonally closed or it’s just too dang busy and you can’t enjoy anything without bumping elbows with another tourist at every turn.
When NOT To Go To Yellowstone National Park
When picking a time to visit Yellowstone, it’s important to remember that Yellowstone is a National Park, so it’s open year-round, kind of. Problem is, when the weather gets cold (Late October through March) the park sorta just shuts down. All the amenities will be seasonally closed, meaning no bathrooms, maybe one or two ranger stations open and overall, the palace is dead. While that may sound like heaven for many, I’m going to assume you’re from the south because the cold here, isn’t like a cold you’ve experienced before. Your “winter” jacket isn’t going to cut it.
Northern Wyoming winters in Yellowstone are brutal. You won’t be taking long hikes, or standing outside sightseeing for hours on end. Your tour of Yellowstone will be best remembered looking through the window of your car. In general, the park will be frozen, closed off, and essentially, so will you. Additionally, wildlife visibility in the winter season is greatly reduced. Bears are hibernating, water sources are frozen and aside from the Bison, you most likely won’t see much.
On the other hand, in the exact opposite time of year, Summer in Yellowstone would be perfect right? The weather is warm, the animals are out and the access to amenities are all wide open! While that all may be true, there is an enormous factor around Summer that will kill any nature vibe you may be dreaming about.
Tourists. I’m not talking about busy national park tourists like you saw on your last national park trip. I’m talking people everywhere, people at every bathroom, exhibit, information center and don’t forget, nothing says Wyoming like bumper to bumper traffic. Yes, traffic will be from the park entrance to the park exit with every parking area completely full along the way. I’m not kidding on this one, traffic is bad peak summer months.
Best Time To Visit Yellowstone NP
So, I’ve clearly laid out the wrong times to visit Yellowstone, and if you’re smarter than a rock, you’ve likely concluded that the best time to go is the Spring and Fall. Both the Spring and Fall are great times to visit Yellowstone, but each is great for different reasons.
Spring In Yellowstone
Spring is wonderful basically everywhere, but in Yellowstone, spring is outstanding. Temperatures are warming up to a level that can be enjoyed. Snowmelt is giving a rush of life to the rivers and streams. Trees and vegetation are blooming in all directions. Wildlife has given birth to their young and you can spot the famous Mama Grizzly #399 with her season’s cubs. The crowds are definitely still present, but nothing like peak season, and you can still enjoy all the park has to offer.
Fall Colors In Yellowstone
So we get it, Yellowstone is beautiful, but have you seen Yellowstone with the leaves turning beautiful fall colors? This is wildly pretty scenery and it’s worth the wait if you’ve ever seen it. Also, most people are back into their routine of kids back in school and the summer vacations are over. Traffic will have subsided to manageable rates and you will be able to enjoy the hikes, scenery and all Yellowstone has to offer on your fall trip.
If you have never been to Yellowstone National Park, it’s highly suggested, it’s iconic and famous for a reason. Also, nearby Jackson Hole and the Grand Teton National Park are less than an hour away from the southern entrance to Yellowstone and provide excellent shopping and scenery of the Tetons. No matter when you decide (for you) the best time to visit Yellowstone, what matters is that you get there. So pack up, head out and go see Yellowstone! Not sure what to pack on your next outdoor adventure? Check out our helpful reminders here.
How Many Days Do You Need To Visit Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone is a BIG park, in fact, Yellowstone National Park is 3,741 square miles! If you need a comparison, that’s about the same size as some of our northwestern states like Delaware and Rhode Island COMBINED! Now, it should be clarified that much of the land in Yellowstone NP is made up of wildlife and forests where there are no roads to travel. However, there are hundreds of hiking trails through the forest for you to enjoy.
Due to its size and popularity, many of the roads in Yellowstone are congested with both visitors and Bison herds in the peak seasons of April-May. It is not uncommon to take an hour to travel 10-15 miles during peak season. Additionally, many of the nearby hotels and cabins are located in neighboring cities like Jackson Hole, WY, and Cody, WY. Once you factor in traffic, the number of attractions to see, and the time it takes to get to and from the park each day from your hotel, each day goes by VERY fast. To give yourself enough time to enjoy all that Yellowstone has to offer, I recommend having AT LEAST 4 days to enjoy Yellowstone NP.
To get the most out of your visit, attempt to break your trip up into two stays where for 2-3 days you stay south near Jackson Hole, WY and the take another 2-3 days and stay north or northwest in either Montana or Cody, WY. This way you won’t spend two hours a day trying to head from the south end of the park to the north end. Breaking it up will allow you to take in the park and its attractions in more consumable sections. Otherwise, most of your time in Yellowstone will be spent seeing it through your windshield.
The Worst Ways To Visit Yellowstone National Park
I get it, people have budgets, time constraints from work leave, and not all the time/money in the world to have a two-week guided vacation in Yellowstone. My family and I have made so many mistakes trying to do too much at one time or in a few days. Let’s look at what NOT to do when visiting Yellowstone National Park.
Attending Peak Season
We have beat it to death, but trust us, peak season in Yellowstone is beautiful, yet so busy you might not appreciate the beauty when your shoulder to shoulder with 50 people in bathroom lines and waiting an hour to see an attraction. Again, try to make your trip on the transition of seasonings like late summer, late spring, fall, etc. Peak months are very busy and traffic, tensions are high.
Leaving the Park For Lunch in Jackson Hole
There are some really great foodie options in Jackson Hole, WY, and do not confuse what I’m saying here, the food and restaurants are definitely something to take in while visiting Yellowstone. The problem we ran into (more than once) is thinking we can just “grab lunch” in Jackson Hole and then head back into the park. It’s not a fast trip. First, it’s about 57 miles one way from Jackson Hole WY to the South Gate of Yellowstone.
Pro-Tip: Check out Bubbas BBQ in Jackson Hole for the best dang breakfast in Jackson Hole, try the country-fried steak or Biscuits and gravy for an amazing breakfast you will definitely need to walk off in the park.
So, right off the bat, you are down 2 hours driving round trip. Factor in waiting 30 min for food as all restaurants are crowded, and then just the time it takes to navigate the park once your back in. Before you know it, “grabbing lunch” has cost you 3-4 hours. The best thing you can do is grab bites to eat in the park or pack in a cooler with your own DIY lunch. You can eat on the go, save some cash and eat in-between attractions all while staying in the park saving time.
Don’t Try To See Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone In The Same Day
Another common mistake for first-timers is thinking they can see both Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone on the same day because they are so close. This is another easy trap to fall into, after all, they are only about 30-40 miles apart, gate to gate. Yet, each park is so vast and crowded, it takes a substantial amount of time to see anything. Additionally, when we are in these amazing national parks, we want to explore and that takes time.
For example, the popular Jenny Lake Trail in Grand Teton is a roughly 8-mile trail round trip and it takes about 4 hours to complete it. There’s no way your gonna do a quick hike in either national park and then hit the other one for another venture out. You’re just going to get frustrated and run out of time, but it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you can……don’t listen to that little voice in your head, they are lying!
How Much Is It To Rent A Cabin In Yellowstone?
Opportunities to explore Yellowstone NP while staying in a cabin are pretty vast. There are cabins located within the park for rent, as well as, lots of private cabin rental companies sprinkled throughout Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Depending on amenities, time of year, and proximity to Yellowstone National Park, the average nightly rate for a cabin rental at Yellowstone National Park is $147 and prices range from $89 on the low end and up to $300.
Many homeowners and entrepreneur rent out their homes and cabins on AirBnb where you can find modest, inexpensive rentals around $100 per night, or very fancy upscale cabins for $500 and up per night.
What City Is Closest To Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone is uniquely located in the corner of Northwestern Wyoming. Because the park is in the corner of Wyoming, it has access gates that overlap into the states of Montana and Idaho just a few miles outside of the park.
The closest city to Yellowstone National Park is Gardiner Montana, located just 0.7 miles from the North Entrance. Gardiner Montana is a nice little town that will remind you of the wild-west saloon days, but just swap out the saloon for tourist shops, adventure rentals, and foodie options. The Yellowstone South Entrance is located about 25 miles north of Grand Teton National Park and about 57 miles north of the famous Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Traveling between Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP and Jackson Hole is a popular 60-mile stretch to see a little bit of everything.
Pro Tip: The South Entrance is closed in the winter season, so check with NPS.gov to ensure the entrance you plan for will be open in the winter months or any other closures.
The East Entrance to Yellowstone is situated along Highway 14 just 52 miles from the very cool town of Cody, Wyoming. Cody, WY is a true cowboy town and home of the famous Buffalo Bill, a US Army Scout soldier, a buffalo hunter, and the person who coined the term “Wild West”. The West Entrance to Yellowstone NP is located just 1-mile away from the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. West Yellowstone Montana is a popular pitstop for food, tourism, hotels, and cabin rental.
What Is The Cheapest Airport To Fly Into Yellowstone?
Finding the cheapest airport to fly into Yellowstone can be a bit difficult to gauge because I don’t know where you are coming from. However, a quick search for tickets from my location in Denver Colorado showed me that it was cheapest to fly into the Jackson Hole Airport. Now keep in mind, that’s from my location in Denver. It is an 8-hour drive from Denver to Jackson Hole Wyoming.
There are also airports located 90 miles south of Jackson Hole in the town of Pinedale Wyoming. For most people, the closest major airport to Yellowstone would be the Salt Lake City Airport in Utah. Keep in mind, you must then travel by car from SLC to Yellowstone and that drive is approximately 320 miles and will take you about 4.5 hours.
There are several shuttles that travel from the Salt Lake City airport to the neighboring West and south Yellowstone entrances. I did a quick search and found that a company Salt Lake Express has several shuttles per day between SLC and Yellowstone. On my search, I found that a shuttle from SLC to West Yellowstone, MT takes 7 hours and the ticket price for one adult was $59.20. The price for a shuttle from SLC to Jackson Hole with Salt Lake Express was 5.5 hours of travel time and a ticket cost for one adult was $74.50.
Final Thoughts – Visiting Yellowstone
If you have never been to Yellowstone, start your planning now! Fact is, hotels get booked well in advance, and the park can fill up fast. By avoiding peak seasons and staying in nearby towns, you can have a much more enjoyable stay in Yellowstone. Remember, dont try and do it all in a day or two between both Gran Teton and Yellowstone. Instead, devote one day to each park or a few days at a time to each park, you will be glad you did!
Mike is a Colorado resident, a combat veteran, and a former Police Officer, and an avid outdoorsman. Mike has camped, hiked, and Overlanded all over the United States. From backpack Elk Hunts on Public Land, solo truck camping to Multi-week Overlanding adventures with his family, Mike is very familiar with these outdoor topics.