Is it worth visiting in spring? Fall?
There simply is no “best time” to visit Yellowstone. Every season brings not only a new landscape to the park, but a variety of exhilarating seasonal pursuits. The months between Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend are exceptionally beautiful, though they gross the highest volumes of families taking summer vacations and road trips. Summers alone attract two million tourists, but you can beat the influx of campers and sightseers if you travel to Yellowstone early in June or September. Catch a quieter Yellowstone in summer time in the early days of September, after the kids are back to school, bison are nearly done with finding mates, and the mosquito swarms die down.
The spring and fall, or as they’re called, “mud seasons,” are also low-volume times to visit Yellowstone. The fall brings lightning and hail storms, while the spring thaws the remaining snow of winter, turning the park’s roads, trails, meadows and campgrounds—you guessed it—muddy. These seasons may yield swampy hiking conditions, occasional mudslides blocking parts of the Grand Loop, slushy snowpack and pouring rain that could hamper activities in Yellowstone like driving, skiing, biking or boating. However, tourism is at a minimum during these months leaving the park, weather and roads permitting, all to yourself.
A winter in Yellowstone is simply magic. Steam from thermal vents and springs turn to frost on nearby trees, elk post-hole through thick snow, and geysers burst boiling hot water scattering into droplets that freeze in the air. The season begins late in December and lasts sometimes through March, open for cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and exploring the ski and snow vehicle trails that cut through snowy basins like Black Sand, and frozen waterfalls that shimmer like frosted chandeliers.
J. Scott Donahue is a freelance writer and essayist with a passion for alpine climbing, trail running and other hard things. He writes for YellowstonePark.com and Sierra Club, and recently graduated with an MFA in Nonfiction Writing.