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September 24, 2019 / mws

2019 Yellowstone Sept

Spring or Fall – When is the best time to visit Yellowstone?

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It’s always a joy to enter America’s first National Park. For 25 years, we have been visiting and learning about Yellowstone. In previous posts, I have relayed information about various areas of the park and activities we have enjoyed.  This year, we returned to visit a lot of our favorites…Trout Lake, the Canyon Area, Biscuit Basin, Lamar Valley, Beartooth Highway, the Madison River area and so much more.

This blog will be (mostly) a comparison about visiting in the Spring versus visiting in the Fall. One side note is that May 1st can be VERY different from May 31st, just as September 1st is far different from September 30th.  Most of our visits have occurred in May or September, though we have also visited Yellowstone in April, June, August and October. (not July!)  Certainly, many visitors enjoy Yellowstone anytime during the year, including winter.  It depends on your interests, your available time, and how tolerant you can be of other visitors, weather changes, and road jams. No one can say for sure that it will snow in May and no one can say for sure that September will be warm and sunny.  Every year is different!!  We have certainly learned to be flexible with our travel schedule and always have a Plan B. For 2019, there was a very noticeable difference in increased attendance in the park.  If this is any indication for the future, September is the new August and October (with a few snowstorms) may well be the new September!

May 2011 Yellowstone Falls

Let’s talk about weather! This is always a major concern for travelers and in Yellowstone, it can change several times in one day. In May, there will be mountain snow and snowbanks in Yellowstone and it is very likely that it will snow in the park several times in May. The overnight temps will likely be below freezing and an ice scraper is a handy tool to have in your vehicle. Several years, we arrived in Yellowstone on the first day that the South Entrance opened. Some years it was clear and dry and some years it was snowy and the Ranger warned us of slow travel conditions. One the positive side, the snowy years were great for scenic photos. ❤

May 2018 plant growth after 2016 wildfire

Another concern in September is wildfires. There may be smoke in Yellowstone from fires to the west or north. There may also be fires in areas of Yellowstone that cause closures. In 2016 Yellowstone experienced a wildfire eruption early in September.

On the day we wanted to enter the South Entrance to Yellowstone that entrance was closed. We had watched the news carefully and were coming from Lander, Wyoming. So as our alternative, we traveled north to Cody and arrived in Cooke City without further issues. Great to have a Plan B! Later in our 2016 trip we exited Yellowstone through the South Entrance. The roads were open but there was still smoke that affected wildlife and visitors.

When we returned in the spring of 2018, it was interesting to see the already abundant green undergrowth in the burnt out areas. The National Park Service states that fire is the key to the ecology of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Today, the National Park Service aim is to restore fire’s role as a natural process. Suppressing fires alters the natural landscape and diminishes diversity. Firefighters can suppress one flank of a fire to protect structures and people while allowing another flank to burn to achieve natural fire benefits.


Everyone delights in seeing the animals in Yellowstone.  Certainly, May provides a great opportunity to see wildlife and especially the newborn!  Years ago, the very first time we visited Yellowstone in May, a young couple from Utah gave up great tips on wildlife watching.  Mostly, it involves patience and location awareness.  We have stood in the huge groups of photographers waiting and watching young bear cubs in the Spring. Our longest experience with bear watching ( Mom and her 3 cubs) was about 4 hours, and it was worth every second! Late May is a good time to start seeing baby elk and moose. We had one awesome experience in Silver Gate, Montana.  We were the spotters and the only ones there!  A mamma moose and her newborn calf were trying to cross a creek.  They made it, but the little one really struggled.  It was so good to see her get to the other side!!  Another Spring favorite are the red dogs…the baby bison!  How they can kick up their heels!!

In September, the moose and elk are fully antlered and provide wonderful photos in the fall colors. In May and September, the bison travel in herds and are sometimes blocking the roads. (they have the right of way). Both Spring and Fall have unique opportunities for scenic photography. In May, the snow covered hills make wildlife spotting easier as well as provide a great background for any photo. September brings lovely golden browns and yellows throughout the park.

When visiting Yellowstone in Spring or Fall, it’s a good idea to use the National Park Service website. This link will provide great information on opening dates for Springs and closing dates for Fall. The website also has info on lodging including campgrounds, fees and permits, and current weather conditions.

Over the years of visiting Yellowstone, we have found a few areas that we enjoy hiking. Mostly, we have done the shorter hikes. In May, some hiking areas may be closed due to bear management or snowy trails. However, there have been some great hiking moments in late May.

September has always been our favorite hiking time.  We have been fortunate with warm, sunny weather and just a few fellow hikers on the trails. We only had one encounter with a bear on the trail in Yellowstone.  It was about 100 yards from us and walking away. We kept watching the hillside but it did not reappear.  Each of us carries a can of bear spray and so far have not had to use it!  Another note about bears:  in May, it’s not difficult to find a bear in the park.  However, in September, they can be more difficult to spot!

Sept 2009 YNP bear

The timing of a trip to visit Yellowstone can be a risk.  Each visitor has to decide when it’s best for them!

I love visiting in May. Seeing the newborn animals and the snow covered mountains is priceless to me.  Yes, in May, you will likely have to deal with some snow issues. You just have to use common sense and go where you can when you can.

My husband greatly enjoys the Fall visits to Yellowstone.  We both love hiking and in September and hiking is typically a great option. My husband is an artist and uses many of our photos as a basis for paintings.

Here’s an example.  This original photo was taken by me in June of 2014.  My husband painted the bears as the main subject, but also used his “artistic license” to change the background. Many of our friends have commented on his artistry.  To us, the priceless memories associated with the paintings bring instant recall and great joy!

For some visitors, the middle of summer may be a great choice for a visit to Yellowstone.  Everything is open, the weather is more constant, and special events are happening.  For those who go to the park to enjoy nature, hike, or take photos, a good choice would be Spring or Fall. There’s a lot to consider, but truly, you can’t make a bad choice!

2019 Comments from September 17-24
Mystic Falls Trail

Sapphire Pool

This year was the first time we had an opportunity to hike to Mystic Falls. We have tried for years to get this hike in our itinerary, but weather and time restraints delayed it until this year! It was worth the wait!! The hike begins at the Biscuit Basin Boardwalk, which is named for biscuit shaped mineral formations in the basin. Following a 1959 earthquake, the Sapphire Pool began erupting and blew away the rock biscuits around the crater. Biscuit Basin is an isolated thermal group and is actually a part of the Upper Geyser Basin.

Mystic Falls

From the Biscuit Basin Boardwalk loop far end (near Avoca Spring), follow the left trail to reach the falls. It is about a 115’ elevation gain to Mystic Falls. The dirt trail passes through an evergreen forest. The forest scenery changes to a rocky hillside on the right and the Little Firehole River with its white water rapids on the left side. Mystic Falls provides a scenic 70′ fast flowing waterfall that is not obscured by trees so the photo ops are good. The rocky moss covered cliffs that surround the falls create a nice background.

Red Rock Point Trail in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Accessed from the one-way North Rim Drive of the Canyon, the Red Rock Point Trail provides a closer look at the stunning 308 foot Lower Falls. There is no sign to indicate Red Rock Point at the parking area, but it is located at the same location as Lookout Point. From Lookout Point there is a panoramic view of the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Upward on the Trail

Just to the right of the Lookout Point walkout is a trail leading to Red Rock Point. The trail descends on a series of paved paths and wood stairs and is steep in places. The drop is about 260 feet into the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. On the return climb we took time to enjoy the smell of the pines trees and the great adventure of just being in Yellowstone National Park.

Little Gibbon Falls/Yellowstone

Top of Little Gibbons Falls

The short Little Gibbon Falls trail begins from a unmarked trailhead on the north side of the Norris to Canyon Road, just west of where the road crosses the Gibbon River.  The Little Gibbon Falls trailhead is not separately marked, but begins on the Wolf Lake Trail.  Parking for the signed trailhead for Wolf Lake is located on the south side of Norris-Canyon Road.  Cross the road from the parking area to the trailhead to begin hiking.

Little Gibbons Falls

Just over one mile, this hike is great for families or seniors, or anyone who wants to get away from the crowds. It is a good example of wildlife habitat, so bear spray is a must! The trail travels along the Gibbon River through a lovely meadow and trees. This hike provides a great perspective of the natural wonder and the wildness of Yellowstone. At the end of the hike, there is a short uphill section. At the top, Little Gibbon Falls can be seen to the right.

For more photos from our September 2019 trip to Yellowstone click here

Thoughts…Each year, it gets more difficult to leave Yellowstone! While we are packing to return home, the anticipation for the next visit begins! As we mature, it is especially tough to have a trip conclude. We hope to continue visiting Yellowstone Park for years to come, but we cherish the years of remarkable Yellowstone memories that we already have!

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” -John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901

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