Leaves and grasses turn lovely yellows and oranges. There’s that slight bite in the air. And the masses of summer tourists have returned home. Fall in Yellowstone National Park is a magical time to visit for dozens of reasons--just make sure you check for road closures and pack appropriately. Read on for tips on what to see and do in Yellowstone when autumn arrives.
Autumn Photo Gallery
The weather in Yellowstone during the autumn months can vary greatly between weeks and even days. Temperatures typically fall between 20 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Days get gradually shorter as winter nears, and temperatures tend to drop rapidly once the sun goes down.
Related: Average Weather by Season
The National Park Service recommends contacting the following organizations when finalizing trip plans:
- National Weather Service forecast for Yellowstone and Grand Teton www.crh.noaa.gov/riw/?n=ynp_gtnp
- WYDOT Road Information 888-WYO-ROAD www.wyoroad.info
- M-DOT Road Information 800-226-7623 www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/
Fall Hiking in Yellowstone
Getting out into the backcountry on foot, even if you only go a mile or so from the trailhead, is a great way to see the fall colors without the distraction of too many other people. You also stand a good chance of seeing wildlife as they get ready for the coming winter. In addition to bear and elk, you may well see pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.
Related: Hiking in Yellowstone
Biking in Yellowstone during Autumn
As in the spring, there’s a brief period in November in which most roads are closed to wheeled vehicles as park officials prepare them for winter use. Lucky for cyclists, sections of the roads remain open to those on bicycles, as well as to walkers, joggers, roller bladers, roller skiers, etc.
See route map at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fallbike.htm
The following sections of the Grand Loop Road are open:
- Mammoth Hot Springs to West Yellowstone
- Snake River Entrance Station to West Thumb Junction
- East Entrance to the east end of Sylvan Pass (6 mile corner)
- Tower Junction to the Chittenden Road as conditions allow
- Madison Junction to Old Faithful
- The road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, to Cooke City, Montana, at the park's Northeast Entrance, is open all year to cyclists and automobiles, weather permitting.
Related: Biking in Yellowstone
Fall Fishing in Yellowstone
Fall can be the best time of year to catch the largest and most beautiful browns of the season. Most of the brown trout in southwest Montana will spawn between late-October and mid-November. As water temperatures drop, late season anglers often see the big fish move out of their lairs and become more vulnerable to flies. They become much more aggressive as well. Browns want bigger food than they did in August and they are more willing to chase it down to get it.
Related: Fall Fishing in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Wildlife are Active in Autumn
Elk Go A Little Crazy During Rut Season
Autumn is arguably the best time to check out the elk roaming around Yellowstone because visitors not only get to see these beautiful ungulates, they get to hear them. Elk enter their breeding season during the fall, called the rut. During this time, male elk are vying for the attention of females, and they do this by bugling, letting out a sound alternately deep and high-pitched.
Elk also begin migrating during the autumn, leaving the high elevation grasslands that will soon be covered by snow. The park’s largest herd of elk spends the winter in the Lamar and Yellowstone river valleys from Soda Butte to Gardiner, Mont. It may also move out of the park and take up residence in the Gallatin National Forest or other private lands. Jackson’s National Elk Refuge provides a winter home for roughly 7,500 elk.
Bears Get Ready for Hibernation
Bears spend the autumn preparing for their long winter of hibernation, so you’re likely to see them foraging for nuts and other snacks to keep in their dens. Bust out the binoculars when you’re cruising down the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, the road to Yellowstone’s east entrance, or taking the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, which leads to the northeast entrance.
Bison Migrate For Winter Feeding Grounds
Most bison head down to lower elevations during the fall because Yellowstone winters can be so severe. This annual migration helps them to better find the resources they need once the snow piles up. Hundreds of bison head to Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Old Faithful area, and sometimes cross Yellowstone’s border into Montana farmland.
2018 Yellowstone Park Facility Seasonal Closures
Make sure to check closure dates before planning your fall trip to Yellowstone. Here are some key dates.
- Bridge Bay Campground closes Sept. 23, 2018
- Canyon Village Campground closes Sept. 23, 2018
- Fishing Bridge RV Park closes Sept. 5, 2018
- Grant Village Campground closes Sept. 16, 2018
- Indian Creek Campground closes Sept. 10, 2018
- Lewis Lake Campground closes Nov. 4, 2018
- Lake Village Hotel and Cabins close Sept. 20, 2018
- Mammoth Campground open all year
- Mammoth Hotel closes Oct. 14, 2018
- Mammoth Cabins close Oct. 14, 2018
- Norris Campground closes Sept. 24, 2018
- Old Faithful Inn closes Oct. 7, 2018
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins closes Sept. 29-30, 2018
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins closes Oct. 21, 2018
- Pebble Creek Campground closes Sept. 24, 2018
- Slough Creek Campground closes Oct. 9, 2018
- Tower Fall Campground closes Sept. 24, 2018
For a full list of opening and closing dates, visit www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/hours.htm
Seasonal Road Closures in the Yellowstone Area
Because fall weather in Yellowstone is unpredictable, roads may be closed temporarily due to snow or other weather conditions. Snow tires or chains may be required in some areas. The NPS also notes, “The section of the Beartooth Highway (Highway 212), between the junction of Highway 296 and Red Lodge, MT, closes in winter on a schedule determined by amount of snowfall. Travel between Red Lodge and the Northeast Entrance is not possible on Highway 212 until it opens again in the spring.”
Specific closure dates
- Oct. 9, 2018: Tower Fall to Canyon (Dunraven Pass), Beartooth Highway (US 212 to Red Lodge, Montana).
- Oct. 15, 2018: Full closure of Fishing Bridge over the Yellowstone River due to a construction project (see details above).
- Nov. 5, 2018: All roads close at 8 a.m. except the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance.
General closure information
- Most of the roads in Yellowstone are closed to auto travel between early November and late April
- The road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through the park to Cooke City, Montana, via Tower Junction is open all year to auto travel
- U.S. Highway 212 is closed to auto travel just east of Cooke City from late fall to late spring
Visit the NPS Road Construction and Delays and Park Entrances pages at