A visitor walks across a bridge over a stream in Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

What’s the Worst Time to Go to Yellowstone National Park?

On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park, not only in the United States, but also in the world. John Muir was instrumental in convincing the federal government to preserve certain places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Denali.

He would probably be ecstatic to know that our National Parks now cover 63 different sites and welcome millions and millions of visitors each year. But with the growing popularity of national parks and people’s desire to unplug and connect with nature comes overcrowded parks and heavily-trafficked roads.

One of the most visited parks in the country is the first national park. Let’s look at when you should avoid visiting Yellowstone so you can have a better experience at this historic and scenic wonder.

About Yellowstone National Park

Located in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, Yellowstone National Park covers over 2 million acres of unique hydrothermal and geological features. From spraying geysers to vast canyons, Yellowstone has as many wonders as any other place in the world.

Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Fishing Bridge are just a few of the popular sites visitors flock to see.

In addition, the wildlife here is unparalleled. Bison, elk, wolves, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions are just a few of the predators that call Yellowstone home.

The largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states is within the Yellowstone National Park boundaries, and the area also sees yearly migratory patterns.

How Many Tourists Visit Yellowstone Annually? 

In 2021, over 4.8 million visitors traveled to Yellowstone National Park. July 2021 was the busiest month on record and the first time visitation exceeded 1 million in a single month. From 2016 to 2019, over 4 million visitors came each year.

Because of this huge increase in visitation over the last several years, Yellowstone has completed over $100 million in projects to improve transportation infrastructure, reduce traffic congestion, and enhance visitor experiences.

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One reason Yellowstone National Park is so popular is its history. As the first national park in the country, it’s a bucket list item for many Americans.

But the real draw is the natural scenery. More than 10,000 hydrothermal features are here. It also has the largest collection of hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles on Earth.

The vast amount of wildlife in the national park also draws crowds. According to the National Park Service (NPS), “There are nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, six species of reptiles, and 67 species of mammals.”

The wildlife viewing is incredible with opportunities to see bison, elk, wolves, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. There are also bald eagles, peregrine falcons, grizzly bears, black bears, and wolverines.

What Is Peak Season for Yellowstone National Park?

The summer months bring the most visitors to Yellowstone National Park. Kids are out of school, families are taking vacations, and the Wyoming-Montana-Idaho area is an escape from the humidity and heat of Texas and Florida.

As mentioned earlier, July 2021 was the first time visits exceeded 1 million in a month.

When Should You Not Visit Yellowstone? 

Winters at Yellowstone are brutal. Although the park is open year-round, many concessionaires and amenities shut down during winter.

Tips for visiting Yellowstone if winter is your season.

So even though the crowds may be much smaller, you won’t catch the wildlife sightings or experience the true essence of Yellowstone National Park during these cold months.

What Time of Day Is Yellowstone Most Crowded? 

As with all national parks, it’s best to arrive as early as possible. When you want to play at Sand Beach for the day in Acadia National Park, you can’t arrive after 9:00 a.m. or you won’t find parking. If you want to hike Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, don’t arrive with your permit in hand at noon unless you want to be hiking the trail with numerous other hikers.

The same is true for Yellowstone National Park. If you want to get in quickly and be able to see the sights up close unabated by other tourists, get to the park early. The most popular locations, like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, get crowded early and stay crowded all day long.

Visit those locations early in the morning and venture to more remote, lesser-known locations that still offer unbelievable scenery during the day to avoid crowds.

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How Many Days Should You Stay in Yellowstone? 

You cannot visit Yellowstone National Park in a day. This isn’t like Shenandoah National Park, where you can just drive a scenic route and enjoy the natural beauty.

Remember, Yellowstone covers 2.2 million acres. It’s one of the top 10 largest National Parks in terms of square miles in the U.S., so it’s impossible to see in one day.

Travelers offer their tips of how to plan your trip to Yellowstone.

Most visitors aren’t able to see everything they want to see in one visit. Unless you can stay two or three weeks near Yellowstone, you have to pick and choose specific sites to visit. Because it’s so spread out, it can take an hour to get from one location to another.

So how you spend your time is very important to your overall experience. Planning your trip to Yellowstone National Park is worth the effort ahead of time.

If you can stay at least four days, you’ll be able to experience a lot of what Yellowstone has to offer. You’ll still have to make a list of priorities, and beauties will be left unseen, but you’ll at least capture the heart of the park in four or five days.

What Is the Best Time of Year to See Wildlife in Yellowstone? 

Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park exists everywhere. However, bears hibernate in the winter and bison aren’t as active. So, your chances of seeing these magnificent creatures are slim.

The summer offers great opportunities, but your view may be blocked by the thousands of other tourists visiting on that day. The crowds are serious in the summer and can dampen your Yellowstone experience.

A head of bison cross the road in Yellowstone causing a big traffic back up

So the best times to visit the park are in spring and fall. The crowds will be manageable, the weather will be mild, and the wildlife will be active. Just bring lots of layers, as temperatures can range from single digits to lower 60s. 

Is Yellowstone National Park Worth Visiting? 

If Yellowstone National Park isn’t on your bucket list, it needs to be. There’s something magnificent about the geology and wildlife here that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

It’s not just about Old Faithful’s “faithful” eruptions daily. It’s not just about soaking in the hot springs or watching bison outside your car window. There isn’t just one feature that defines Yellowstone National Park. It’s all of it.

So start making your plans to visit America’s first National Park. When will you make the journey?

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