Planning a Yellowstone Vacation in the Fall

Yellowstone vacation in the fall is a terrific time to enjoy all the park has to offer.

Use this Yellowstone National Park travel guide to plan your fall trip: things to do, what to pack, where to stay and services available.

3 elk at yellowstone in the fall

This guide includes everything you need to know for visiting Yellowstone in the fall. Keep in mind that services and weather vary in September, October, and November so note that when making Yellowstone fall vacation plans!

We’ll include links to specific guides for each month to help you plan your fall trip to Yellowstone.

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Yellowstone National Park Packing List

FREE DOWNLOAD: Printable Yellowstone Packing Lists

Check out this resource if you’ll be packing for a winter vacation in Yellowstone

Outdoor Gear we recommend! Travel Gear & Hiking Gear

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Visiting Yellowstone in the Fall

Yellowstone in September you’ll find all the park roads, services, and campgrounds are open. Visitation numbers in September are high so be prepared for crowds during the day. We always recommend entering the park early in the morning, or even later in the afternoon.

Yellowstone in October you may find road closures due to inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions. For up-to-date information on roads call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information, or sign up to receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). 

Yellowstone roads will close the end of October or beginning of November each year to prepare for winter. Be sure to check the Yellowstone Fall Closing Dates for the most current information.

Yellowstone in November most of the roads close the first of the month. From the beginning of November to mid-April, all roads except from the north entrance in Gardiner to the northeast entrance in Cooke City are closed.

When Does Yellowstone Close in the Fall

In September all Yellowstone roads, services, and campgrounds are open. During the month of October a lot of Yellowstone services and lodging begin to close. In November the only services available are along the road from the North entrance to the Northeast entrance. Always check the Yellowstone operating hours and seasons for the most updated information.

TIP: Pack a cooler with drinks and food for your travels within Yellowstone in the fall. Buy these items at a grocery store outside the park. The stores inside the park, when open, are pricey.

The service stations around the park open and close seasonally. You’ll find credit card fueling available 24-hours at many of the Yellowstone service stations.

Yellowstone Weather in the Fall

There one constant at Yellowstone – the Yellowstone National Park Weather is never predictable! In the fall you need to be prepared for cold to freezing temperatures with rain or snow at any time!

  • September temperatures: low 30 and high 64 degrees F
  • October temperatures: low 22 and high 51 degrees F
  • November temperatures: low 12 and high 34 degrees F

Days get gradually shorter as winter nears, and temperatures drop rapidly once the sun goes down.

Layers are key when exploring Yellowstone during the fall months. Reference our winter clothing guide so you can enjoy the outdoors, even when it’s cold! We recommend at the minimum:

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Check out our guide for finding the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park. Each season and month of the year will have different activities and services available.

The Yellowstone National Park website has all the up-to-date seasonal information you need for planning your trip.

Here’s the general idea of what to expect during your fall trip to Yellowstone. The weather in Yellowstone during the autumn months can vary greatly between weeks and even days.

September in Yellowstone

Crowds: high to moderate
Services: full to limited
Access: all roads open

Highlights: 

  • Elk rut in Mammoth Hot Springs and Grant Village
  • Black and grizzly bears along the roadside meadows
  • Raptor migration in Hayden Valley
  • Fall color above 7,000 feet
  • Fewer mosquitos
  • Campgrounds begin to close for season
  • Mid-September the boating services close for season on Yellowstone Lake

October in Yellowstone

Crowds: moderate to low
Services: limited
Access: roads begin closing for winter season, and weather causes many temporary closures

Highlights: 

  • Bears return to lower elevations and are more visible along roads
  • Elk rut in Mammoth Hot Springs and Grant Village
  • Raptor migration in Hayden Valley
  • Fall color below 7,000 feet
  • Snow begins to accumulate above 7,000 feet
  • Mid-October – Dunraven pass closes, Beartooth Highway Closes (outside northeast entrance)

November in Yellowstone

Crowds: low
Services: limited
**Access: winter travel restrictions for all areas except Mammoth to northeast entrance

Highlights: 

  • Bighorn sheep rut near the north entrance
  • Bison begin migrating to lower elevations
  • Snow begins to accumulate below 7,000 feet
  • Wolves in Lamar Valley
  • Early November – interior roads close to vehicles and fishing season ends

Things to Do at Yellowstone in the Fall

Here’s a list of things to do at Yellowstone National Park in the fall. Remember this list of activities will vary depending on the month you will be in the park.

Mount Washburn sign at the end of the hiking trail in Yellowstone

Fall Hiking in Yellowstone

Before exploring any Yellowstone hiking trails in October, we recommend you check with the rangers at the Visitor Center to get current trail conditions. Also tell someone your hiking destination, route, and estimated time of return.

Stay on trails: taking shortcuts causes trail erosion and is dangerous. In hydrothermal areas, stepping on thin crust may plunge you into boiling water.

During the fall, your hike can yield amazing autumn colors and opportunities to see wildlife as they get ready for the coming winter. You could see bear, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.

TIP: Carry Bear Spray and know how to use it! Be educated about bear safety: the National Park Service and YellowstonePark.com websites provide information and videos on this important subject.

Here’s a list of hikes in Yellowstone by region:

Yellowstone Waterfalls in the Fall

Experiencing and photographing the various Yellowstone waterfalls is always at the top of our must-do list. The waterfalls aren’t as full as they are in the spring, but they are still amazing nonetheless.

Here’s a list of the main waterfall attractions in the park:

  • Canyon: Lower and Upper Falls, Brink of Upper Falls
  • Firehole Falls
  • Gibbon Falls
  • Kepler Cascades
  • Lewis Falls
  • Moose Falls
  • Tower Fall
  • Undine Falls

Yellowstone Geysers and Hot Springs in the Fall

Any time of year is a good time to see the hydrothermal features in Yellowstone: geysers, hot springs, mudpots, travertine terraces and fumaroles. Check out the NPS website for the latest geyser eruption predictions!

Here’s a list of the best locations to see these these unique features:

Wildlife at Yellowstone in the Fall

Fall is one of the best times to visit yellowstone for wildlife.

September Wildlife at Yellowstone: Around the second week of September, you’ll begin to hear the high pitched bugle of bull elk signaling the elk rut! The town of Mammoth is a terrific place to watch the male elk exert their dominance.

Bears return to the lower elevations looking for berries and bull bison or elk that perished during the rut. Migratory hawks and eagles begin to travel south and west for the winter.

October Wildlife at Yellowstone: As snow begins to fall, male grizzlies are eating what they can before denning season, and female grizzlies are looking for possible den locations. Bison, elk, deer and other mammals build up coats of fur for the winter. Most of the summer birds have left Yellowstone, and those that remain also build up coats of feathers to withstand the cold.

November Wildlife in Yellowstone: Around Thanksgiving the deer and bighorn sheep rut is at its peak. If you’re lucky you’ll hear the smack of bighorn rams butting heads over females. Rabbits and weasels don white fur coats for the winter.

Wildlife Viewing Guidelines: 

  • Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m).
  • Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year, park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely.
  • Use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife.
  • Use binoculars, scopes or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to its needs, you will see more of an animal’s natural behavior and activity.

If you’re serious about wildlife photography, check out the gear we recommend:

Yellowstone Photography in the Fall

We recommend you have your camera ready to go because the wildlife you may see as you drive through the park won’t wait for you to find the camera in your car.

In October you’ll also want to photograph the geysers, hot pools, waterfalls and rivers. Here are some tips for taking pictures at Yellowstone.

plan your dream vacation to yellowstone

Places to Visit at Yellowstone in the Fall

Did you know that Yellowstone is divided into regions? To avoid a ton of driving, here’s a list of the places to visit and things to do in each region to help make planning easier! Check out our done-for-you: 4-day Yellowstone Vacation Planner!

Here’s a list of places to visit in the two areas of the park:

Yellowstone Visitor Centers in the Fall

Be sure to check which Yellowstone Visitor Centers and information stations are open in October. Talk with a ranger, learn about the park through exhibits and interpretive offerings, or get oriented to the things you can do at the park.

Yellowstone Regions: Services and Attractions

There are various regions or areas throughout Yellowstone. Each one has different lodging options, services and things to do! Remember many services and lodging options begin to close during the fall months!!

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Lower Falls photo jeepers

Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon

  • Scenic Drives: Dunraven Pass, North Rim Drive, and South Rim Drive
  • Hydrothermal Feature: Mud Volcano
  • Natural Features: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, and Mount Washburn
  • Visitor Services: Canyon Campground, Canyon Lodge, Canyon General Store, and Canyon Visitor Education Center
  • Waterfalls: Lower Falls, Silver Cord Cascades, and Upper Falls
  • Day Hikes, Wildlife Watching
fishing bridge at Yellowstone

Fishing Bridge, Lake, and Bridge Bay

  • Scenic Drives: Gull Point Drive and Lake Butte Scenic Drive
  • Hydrothermal Features: Mud Volcano and Steamboat Point
  • Natural Features: Mary Bay, Natural Bridge, Sedge Bay, Storm Point, Sylvan Pass, and Yellowstone Lake
  • Visitor Services: Bridge Bay Campground, Bridge Bay Marina, Fishing Bridge General Store, Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Lake General Store, Lake Hotel and Cabins, and Lake Lodge Cabins
  • Day Hikes, Fishing and Boating
Firehole Falls at Yellowstone

Madison and the West

  • Scenic Drives: Firehole Canyon Drive and Firehole Lake Drive
  • Hydrothermal Features: Fountain Paint Pot, Grand Prismatic Spring, Great Fountain Geyser, Midway Geyser Basin, Terrace Springs, and White Dome Geyser
  • Natural Features: Firehole Canyon, National Park Mountain, Madison River, and Purple Mountain
  • Visitor Services: Madison Campground, Madison Information Station, and West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center
  • Waterfalls: Fairy Falls and Firehole Falls
  • Day Hikes and Fishing
mammoth hot spring at Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs and the North

  • Scenic Drives: Blacktail Plateau Drive and Upper Terrace Drive
  • Historic Areas: Apollinaris Spring, Fort Yellowstone (historic US Army headquarters, now park headquarters), and Obsidian Cliff
  • Hydrothermal Features: Boiling River, Canary Springs, and Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Natural Features: Bunsen Peak, Mount Everts, Sheepeater Cliffs, and Swan Lake Flat
  • Visitor Services: Albright Visitor Center, Indian Creek Campground, Mammoth Campground, Mammoth General Store, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
  • Waterfalls: Rustic Falls, Undine Falls, and Wraith Falls
  • Day Hikes

Yellowstone Maps and Guides at Amazon:

Yellowstone maps and guides

Plan a Yellowstone Vacation

Places to stay in West Yellowstone that we recommend:

Places to stay in Gardiner that we recommend:

Places to stay in Cooke City or Silver Gate that we recommend:

Yellowstone Tours and Day Trips

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19 Comments

    1. Check the Yellowstone NPS website – all roads will close November 8 this year (2021) EXCEPT the road between the North Entrance (Gardiner) and the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City). If you can get there 1 week earlier then you can enjoy the full park. Be ready for any type of weather that late in the year too. Email us if you have any more questions: jamie@photojeepers.com

      1. While Oct sounds like a great time the reality is the Park service has very limited snow removal equipment & staff (and little motivation) so will close many if not most of the roads throughout the park with as little of
        1 inch of snow accumulation!
        We know we were just there in mid- Oct BEWARE!

  1. I absolutely loved reading this. You put in such detail and effort — excellent guide. I haven’t been to Yellowstone yet, but when I do I’ve pinned this so I can reference back!

  2. What a great and super informative article! I LOVE your photos of the elks, they look so noble. I’m very envious of all the wildlife sighting. I visited Yellowstone a loooong time ago (2005?) and I think I only saw some female elk. But it was in August. Guess I’ll have to try to get back for a fall trip!

    1. Finding wildlife is always tricky – we knew we’d see a lot of elk in the fall, but were so happy to see the bears! Thank you for your positive comments about the photos and article.

  3. Your photos are incredible! You’re definitely right about November, places like this are always quieter than. So nice to have some space.

  4. brilliant photos and a great article. Yellowstone is one of the bet national parks I have seen so far. Thanks for sharing your experiences

  5. You are truly blessed to get all those beautiful captures. Great tips for each month. I didn’t know there existed a bear spray!

    1. Yes, bear spray is important in many of the US National Parks. We haven’t had to use it yet, but always carry it in Yellowstone!

  6. A very well written article with clear direction. I enjoy details hence loved it! Easy to follow and a great guide!

  7. I really want to visit Yellowstone National Park some day. I always wondered what the temperatures were like in Autumn and it sounds like they are quite unpredictable. Your photos are simply stunning!

    1. I prefer cooler weather when I’m outdoors. I only needed my coat when out photographing early morning and late evening. The rest of the day was warm enough to wear a long sleeve shirt or light jacket. BUT the weather is unpredictable and can change from hour to hour. Snow can happen in the fall at any time, but it’s not as cold as winter when that happens.

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