One of the most common questions we're asked here at Yellowstone Safari is "When is the best time of year to come to Yellowstone?" The truth is, whenever you can!
Each season is different. The geysers and hotsprings and the beautiful canyon and waterfalls are geophysical features which are ever-present. And the wildlife experiences are always amazing and possible. But wildlife events, and even seasonal possibilities, vary throughout the year. For example, you are not likely to experience bears in January, so if bears are high on your prioroity list, you don't want to come at that time!
Many factors influence when any of us have time to spend a holiday or vacation in Yellowstone. So, needless to say, consider when you have the time. Ideally 5 days for Yellowstone will allow you to have time for a hike, sitting and watching a sunset, and driving the road system to see commonly visited features. If you don't have that much time allow for at least 3 days on location. It will take 3 days to drive the roads and see the common, well known, features. Otherwise, a person can easily spend a full week here to bask in the natural landscape and really explore.
I think of Spring as the best time for both bears and wolves. Regardless of the bear species, viewing a bear in the wild is the top desire of visitors to Yellowstone. Wolves are number two on the wildlife popularity list. You can see wolves year around, and we are often successful at this, with winter being the best season for observing wolves, but spring is the second best, and you can see bears at the same time. In Spring, wolf pack activity will be focused on a den site and this does make the pack movements somewhat predictable, which helps in observation. Migrating birds, denning of all canids, nesting of birds of prey, bison having their calves, migrating herds, black bear cubs, and spring wildflowers are all part of the season.
Summer is when most people come to the Park. Of course the weather is most accommodating at that time and, in general, most people are best able to take a holiday at that time. Summer also means crowds and traffic in certain areas. But we still see the same wildlife, just at a lesser density. During the summer, animals become broadly distributed on the landscape, which means they may not be near roads in the numbers they often are at other seasons. However, we continue to experience all the great wildlife of Yellowstone! Summer wildflowers, green valleys, herds of bison: cows, calves, and courting bulls, velvet antlered elk and deer, bighorn sheep lambs cavorting among the boulders and cliffs, it's Yellowstone!
Fall is the season of the "rut." It is also the season of color. Finally, there will be fewer people after the first week of September. Keep in mind it is common to have blustery weather and even snow after the first week in September. But the changing leaves of aspen, cottonwood, willow and the many herbaceous plants will add color and definition to the landscape. Now add large male elk, sheep , moose, pronghorn, and deer courting the females and you may have exciting wildlife events unfold before you! Generally late September and early October can be crisp and cool, with no insects, fewer other visitors, and excellent photo opportunities.
I think of Winter as big animals on big landscapes. Of course the weather can be cold and snowy. It is the best time to observe wolves as they often are easily visible on the snow covered grasslands and hills. Large herds of bighorn sheep, bison, elk and mule deer will congregate on Yellowstone's "Northern Range" and be easily, and often closely, seen. Many fewer people visit in winter, but keep in mind it is more difficult to "get around" as roads may be closed and transportaion to various locations takes planning and distinctly more time.
As a quick summary, consider when you have the time, and what you would particularly like to experience. Then consult some reading materials and give us a call. We can guide you in the field, or help guide you in your planning!
So, When is the best time to visit Yellowstone? As soon as possible!