The first National Park in the world, Yellowstone holds a special place in my heart. But its popularity also makes it a tourist magnet. During the summer, crowds can be unbearable. Even parking can be hard to find. Yellowstone offers some of the best wildlife viewing and natural wonders on the globe. Knowing when to go and what to see will ensure that your family vacation is not spoiled by endless crowds.
Travel during Shoulder Season
Shoulder season is the time between tourist seasons. For Yellowstone, this would be in the early spring and late autumn. Most people travel during the summer, taking full advantage of the sunny skies and warm weather.
Take full advantage of tourist season and traveling during the shoulder season for a better experience.
Weather in Yellowstone
Being a National Park, the majority of your vacation will be spent in the great outdoors. The weather in Yellowstone can be quite harsh, but it’s nowhere as bad as the crowds can be.
Traveling in early spring means there will still be some cold, wintery days. At night, the temperatures will drop below freezing.
Going to the park in late fall will have similar weather patterns. As the summer ends, winter is close behind. There is a good chance that a snowstorm could hit. Temperatures will still be warm during the day, but it will drop below freezing at night
What to Pack for Yellowstone Shoulder Season
Packing the right gear for your Yellowstone vacation will mitigate any concerns you may have about the weather. I laid out my top five items that will make your trip more enjoyable.
- Three season tent. Most high-quality camping tents will already be three season tents. Waterproof your rain fly, and be ready for anything from snowfall to thunderstorms.
- 20-degree sleeping bags. Using a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees will keep you warm. The temperatures dip below freezing almost every night and if you are prepared, sleeping in cold weather will be a comforting experience.
- Rain gear. Bring quality rain pants and a rain jacket. Forego any soft shell designs that claim to be “waterproof.” Your rain jacket can also act as an insulating coat.
- Hat and gloves. Bringing a hat and gloves will save your extremities on windy days. I always dress in layers. If you get too warm, you can always take off the hat and gloves.
- A sturdy pair of hiking boots will work. I would hesitate to wear trail runners during shoulder season. The cold wind and snow can easily permeate shoes made from lightweight materials.
Benefits of Yellowstone during Shoulder Season
The crowds are fewer and the weather is more unpredictable. If you are still on the fence about why shoulder season is the best season, let me change that.
More Animal Sightings
Yellowstone is located in high elevations, and the majority of the park sits in a volcano caldera. This means that the valleys and rivers are sheltered from the more extreme weather happening around the park. During shoulder season, there will be snowpack in the high elevations. All this snow forces most of the wildlife into valleys. This phenomenon can only be seen during the shoulder season.
The best place to view wildlife is Lamar Valley. Herds of bison thousands strong, Pronghorns, elks, and moose frolic in the protected river valley. It also means that cougar, wolves, and grizzly bears call this area home.
If you want to experience the best wildlife viewing in the Western hemisphere, this is where you go. During the summer, the animals spread out and crowds of tourists gather can ruin any potential animal sightings. When I backpacked Lamar Valley in early May, I was the only person out there. I even had wolves run right by me.
Camping permits cost less during shoulder season. The lack of tourists also means you have your pick of sites. You can sleep anywhere you want with no waiting lists. If camping is too much and you would rather stay in a hotel, shoulder season is still the best time of year. Hotels will not be booked out and managers will be begging you to stay in their rooms.
If you are flying to Yellowstone, airline tickets will cost less. It’s simple supply and demand, less demand and prices go down.
Yellowstone in all her Glory
Yellowstone is waiting for you. Go during shoulder season and have an experience of a lifetime.