Yellowstone: Endure the Cold to Avoid Large Crowds?

When planning your visit to Yellowstone National Park, it’s ideal to time your visit just right to where you can avoid the insane crowds or avoid the insanely cold weather.  Unfortunately you have to choose one or the other in most cases.

 

When the weather is great in Yellowstone, such as temperatures in the 70s or 80s (20s or 30s celsius), extremely large crowds visit yellowstone and you will likely be sitting in traffic while driving through the park.  When the weather is cold, there are less tourists.  Really the only way to avoid crowds and have not too cold of weather is to hope and pray that some heatwave hits while you’re visiting in October or November.

We were Lucky with such a Heatwave

Luck was definitely on our side when we visited in October 2017, at least on our first day.  Yellowstone weather in October is normally in the 40s during the day and teens and 20s at night, but when we arrived around 3 in the afternoon.  It was sunny and was 55 degrees and we did okay with just sweaters and light jackets when visiting the park.  We made a few stops within 10 miles of the entrance to see some smaller geysers and to see some of the roaming bison and we didn’t even have to think twice about the weather.  Even during the evening when we arrived back to West Yellowstone (the small town outside the park), it was relatively balmy and we enjoyed a good night of food before retiring to our hotel.

Then the Weather turned for the Worse

On day 2, we woke up to an inch of snow on the ground outside of our Hotel room.  It was a lot colder than it was the night before and we had to brush the snow off of our car before driving back into the park.  Now, the snow did not stick to the roads, so we figured everything was good and that driving would be without any difficulty.

We were wrong.  West Yellowstone weather is not the same as Yellowstone National Park weather.  The elevation varies greatly within the park and when we had to pass through West Loop between Old Faithful and West Thumb, we climbed to a very high elevation where the roads were covered in snow.  It was curvy and hilly, thankfully we were driving our SUV so we did not slide everywhere.

After spending a whole day in the park, we returned back to West Yellowstone and the clouds had completely gone away, but it was already in the 30s for the evening and we had to bundle up when we went out for dinner.

Our 3rd Day a Little Warmer

On day 3, it was very bright and sunny in the morning, but it was 12 degrees F outside.  Having just had 90 and 100 degree weather just 6 weeks earlier back home in Utah, 12 degrees was a shock to the system, heck, it was only October 9th.  Thankfully since it was a very sunny day with no clouds, the temperature rose well into the 40s in the park and with our coats we were able to stay plenty warm.

Colder Weather = Less Tourists

So, if cold weather doesn’t bother you, going to Yellowstone in October may be ideal.  You may even enjoy going in November, but keep in mind that many parts of the park are closed because they become too cold and covered with too much snow.  The good thing about the cold is that there are far fewer tourists to compete with.  The hotels may actually have some vacancies, restaurants may have less than a 2 hour wait, and the best of all, the big animals such as bison come down from the higher elevations where you can observe them from your car.

Even though the crowds are down, you will still want to book your hotel room at least 1 month in advance, because they can still sell out.  Our hotel was completely booked when we visited, we witnessed walk-ins get turned away when they tried to book a room.  Lucky for us we booked on time.

The most important thing you can do when visiting Yellowstone anytime outside of June, July, and August is to be prepared for cold weather.  Bring thermals, gloves, beanies, plenty of water, and plenty of gas in your car in case you get stuck somewhere in the park for a long period of time.  That way you have a source of heat to keep your warm (assuming a broken down car is not the reason for being stuck somewhere).

So the bottom line, if you don’t mind insane crowds, but you hate the cold weather, July and August are the best months to go.  If you dislike insane crowds, but don’t mind or you enjoy the cold weather, go in the fall or spring.

If you are really brave and you have some money to blow, you can visit Yellowstone in the winter and ride on snow coach through the park.  It’s extremely beautiful and extremely cold.  It’s not for the faint of heart for sure, and I am not sure I would be willing to visit that time of year, but there are people who are extremely adventurous and swear by it.

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