When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?
- Best Time to Book Hotels: The lodges inside Yellowstone National Park are notoriously difficult to secure. During the peak months of June to September, you need to book between 9 months to a year before. In spring and fall this is a little more forgiving – you can usually find accommodation anywhere between 3 to 8 months in advance.
- Best Time for Sightseeing: The months just outside of the summer peak – or, the shoulder season – in May and September are the best times for sightseeing in Yellowstone. The weather is still reasonably pleasant and the crowds are fairly minimal, so your views of the park’s most popular sites are unrestricted. You can see the Old Faithful geyser and Mammoth Hot Springs without jostling for position.
- Best Time for Outdoor Adventures: The warmer months of June, July and August are best for those wanting to experience epic outdoor adventures. On top of hiking and horseback riding around the park, you can try a number of watersports, like kayaking, canoeing and fly-fishing. There are more tours and guides available at this time of the year than any other, including llama treks in July.
- Best Time for Festivals & Events: July and August, the busiest months of the year, are the best time in Yellowstone for festivals and events. Most of the events are held in the towns on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park – West Yellowstone, Cody and a little further away, Alta, are where you will usually find them. Outdoor music festivals, rodeos and beer festivals are all something you can look forward to in July and August.
Yellowstone Travel Seasons
High season in Yellowstone is June through to August, though July is the busiest month of all. July sees 4 million visitors pass through the park in a single month, as crowds are drawn in to see the natural wonders of Yellowstone while the weather is warm and pleasant, and the kids are out of school. Families pack into the park at this time of the year, and the crowds can make the waiting times at the top attractions a little long.
June, July and August also tend to be the months with the most festivals and events. While there are few events inside the park, there are a number of music festivals and Wild West events throughout high season in the surrounding towns.
High season undoubtedly has the best weather, with the area around Mammoth Hot Springs seeing average highs of 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27°C) in July. If you want to try some of the more adventurous activities at Yellowstone, like kayaking or horseback riding, high season is the best time to visit.
The shoulder season sits on either end of high season; covering late April to May and September to early October.
Outside the warmer summer months, the weather is a little chilly, but not unbearably so. It’s a fantastic time to visit the park, as the crowds over summer have all but disappeared. Sightseeing is made easier by the lack of wait times at Yellowstone’s biggest attractions; you can walk to the viewing points over Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring without issue.
Wildlife is quite active in April and May, so there are many opportunities to see bears, elk and moose around the park. You are treated to the beautiful fall colors in September and October, making every hike a dazzling blend of warm oranges, yellows and reds.
The low season in Yellowstone runs from late October to early April. The temperatures are intensely cold at this time of the year, and heavy snowfall occurs regularly throughout the months.
Most of the roads into Yellowstone are closed during low season – the North Entrance near Gardiner is the only one open to the public, and often requires chains and winter tires. But you can still reach the park’s main attractions, like Old Faithful, by snow coach or on a guided snowmobile tour. One of the benefits of visiting Yellowstone at this time of year is that it is practically deserted; seeing the iconic park covered in white snow, as boiling geysers burst into the icy air is an incredible sight, and one that very few witness in person. It’s also a surprisingly good time to see wildlife, as many animals – including bison and elk – are pushed to lower plains to escape the cold.
The biggest draw to the Yellowstone area in low season is the opportunities it affords for winter sports and skiing. Big Sky, just north of the park, is famous for the sport, and a ski festival is held in West Yellowstone every year.
Weather By Month
Be prepared for snowy days and icy temperatures in January, as Yellowstone becomes a winter wonderland every year from November to March. The park is often covered with a white blanket of untouched snow in January, so you should bring the appropriate winter gear. Mammoth Hot Springs has an average high of 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.1°C), and a low of 11 (11.6°C). Old Faithful is even colder, with highs of 28 (-2°C) and frost-biting lows of 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17°C).
Little changes in February, as the dark of winter, still has its firm grip over Yellowstone. Temperatures stay hovering around 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1°C) in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, with lows of 13 (-10°C); a small improvement from January. Old Faithful is again even colder, with the top average temperature being 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2°C) and the lows 0 (-17°C). There are 13 days of snow and 14 days of rain on average this month.
You’ll still need your winter boots for this one.
As winter turns to spring, Yellowstone remains bitterly cold. The average temperature rises marginally from February, with highs of 36.1 degrees Fahrenheit (2.3°C) and lows of 9.1 (-12.7°C). There’s an average of 12.6 days of snow in the park in March. As for all the months with heavy snowfall, most of the roads are closed to regular vehicles.
The exception is the road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs at the North Entrance, which is open all year round. You will need to prepare your vehicle for winter, as snow tires and sometimes chains are required to enter the park. You can still access other parts of Yellowstone via snow coaches.
April is a chilly month of spring in Yellowstone. The temperatures climb to 43 degrees Fahrenheit (6 °C) on average this month, with lows of 18 (-7.8°C). The average snow and rainfall drop to 9.5 and 11.6 days, respectively.
As the snow begins to melt, some of Yellowstone’s roads begin to reopen, making it easier to visit the main attractions. April is a good month to visit if you would like to avoid the crowds, but the weather tends to fluctuate throughout the month. For April, you should bring plenty of thermals and waterproofs but prepare for a smattering of warmer days by wearing layers.
As the roads all reopen and the snow begins to melt, Yellowstone starts to feel truly spring-like in May. The temperatures are still cool, with highs of 52 degrees Fahrenheit (11.1°C) and lows of 28 (-2.2°C), but the days are far warmer than in April – and at an average 14.8 hours of daylight, much longer. The weather is at its most temperamental in May, with 11.5 days of frequently heavy rain and 4.4 days of snowfall.
May is one of the most unpredictable months for weather in Yellowstone, so you should prepare for all conditions. Plenty of layers for the fluctuating temperatures and a high quality waterproof is recommended.
It’s the start of the summer season in Yellowstone! The average high temperature is 61.5 degrees Fahrenheit (16.4°C) in June, with the average low temperature 35.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.9°C). You’re treated to the longest days of the year this month, with an astonishing average of 15.5 hours of daylight per day. While snow is unlikely, you will still have to contend with the rain – the average for June is 14.4 days of rainfall. The weather becomes reasonably pleasant in June, and unfortunately, the crowds soon follow.
The warmest month of the year, July has average highs of 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit (22°C) and lows of 41.5 (5.3°C). In Mammoth Hot Springs, this rises to an average high of 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27°C). July is filled with warm sunny days and is understandably one of the most popular months to visit. It’s ideal weather to take to the trails around the park and start an epic outdoor adventure.
Seeing out the last of summer is August – little changes this month from July. The average temperatures drop very slightly, with average highs of 71.4 degrees Fahrenheit (21.9°C) and lows of 39.9 (4.4°C). The days are still long and sunny; perfect for hiking or watersports. August has even less average rainfall than July, but you should still bring an umbrella just in case!
As summer ends, the temperature in Yellowstone drops significantly. You’ll find typically that the days are warm while the nights become colder. September is 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler on average than the previous month, with highs of 61.5 (16.4°C) and lows of 31.8 (-0.1°C). It’s a usually pleasant month for weather, with comfortable temperatures and minimal rainfall.
Snow is just starting to creep back into Yellowstone, with an average of 1.1 days of snowfall in September. Like in May, you need to dress for every weather in September. As fall sets in, the weather cools, but the crowds disperse. You get to see a relatively deserted Yellowstone in September, resplendent with fall colors.
The drop in temperature is even larger between September and October, as average highs fall to a chilly 47.8 degrees Fahrenheit (8.8°C), and lows to a frosty 23.7 (-4.6°C). Despite all other metrics getting objectively worse, the amount of rainfall improves in October; it’s the month with the least rainfall all year, at 8.8 days. But what it lacks in rain, October makes up for with snow. The average is up from 1.1 days in September to 5.8 days this month. Daylight hours are also down to 10.9 hours.
Like in September, you can enjoy relative solitude among the fall colors in Yellowstone for October.
If the weather was starting to feel a little wintry in October, it turns in earnest now. The average high temperature is 33.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8°C) and the low temperature is 13.8 (-10.1°C). With 12 days of snowfall and 13 days of rain on average, the weather becomes much more volatile. You need plenty of thermals, waterproofs, and general winter gear in Yellowstone for November.
Most of the roads close this month, so entrance to the park is limited. You can use the North Entrance to enter with a regular vehicle, but snow coaches are required to reach most of the park.
Right in the middle of winter, December is the coldest month in Yellowstone. When the average high temperature is sub-zero – 24.3 degrees Fahrenheit (-4.3°C) – you know it’s going to be a tough month! The average low temperature of the month is 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15°C). As well as being the coldest, the days of December are also the shortest; daylight hours last 8.9 hours on average this month.
December sees 15.6 days of rainfall and 14.9 days of snowfall, often accumulating around 30.5 inches of snow. Though cold and snowy, December is the most wonderful time of the year to see wildlife, as animals are pushed to lower elevations due to the colder temperatures.
Yellowstone Events and Festivals
Yellowstone in July
- Targhee Music Fest – The Targhee Music Fest occurs around mid-July every year in Alta, WY. The festival attracts a number of artists, with a particular focus on great American folk, country, and soul music.
- Wild Bill Days Rodeo & Concert – This annual rodeo & concert is held in West Yellowstone in early July. There’s everything from pig wrestling to firework shows at this bombastic event!
- Cody Stampede Rodeo – Held at the start of July, the Cody Stampede Rodeo attracts cowboys from all over North America to compete for grand prizes on the finest rodeo stock in the country. On top of the rodeo, the celebration involves daily parades, food stalls, and a craft fair.
- Yellowstone Beer Fest – The popular Yellowstone Beer Fest is held every year in Cody, from mid to late July. You can enjoy live music and unlimited samples from over 220 beers and 50 breweries from across the world. All the proceeds from the event are donated to local charities.
Yellowstone in August
- Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival – A few hours south of Yellowstone in Alta, WY, the Targhee Bluegrass Festival mixes great Bluegrass music with the stunning scenery of the Northern Rockies! With dozens of fantastic musicians performing, it’s one of the biggest events of the year around Yellowstone.
- Shootout in the Big Sky – Cowboy Mounted Shooting Competition – Bringing the Old West back to West Yellowstone is the cowboy-mounted shooting competition, which draws in a hundred contestants from all over the country every year. The event is usually held in early August.
- Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival – This Native American powwow is located a few hours south-east of Yellowstone, but easy to visit if you are traveling through Idaho to reach the park. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes celebrate their culture through dance, crafts, feasts, arts, and many more activities. The festival is held on the second weekend of August every year.
Yellowstone in November
- Yellowstone Ski Festival – West Yellowstone hosts the Yellowstone Ski Festival every year during Thanksgiving week. The event attracts thousands of skiers and enthusiasts from across the U.S and Canada. The festival marks the start of the Nordic ski season and includes competitive races, Biathlons, and ski clinics.