Visiting Yellowstone in the fall means:
- crowds are gone
- animals exhibit interesting behaviors and create magical sounds
- leaves and grasses turn yellow and orange
- no biting bugs to swat
Wouldn’t this scenario be the ideal time to visit the park?
This guide has seasonal information about weather and services; and tips on what to see and do at Yellowstone in the autumn.
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PLAN A TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE IN THE FALL
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.
September in Yellowstone
Crowds: high to moderate
Services: full to limited
Access: all roads open
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
Campgrounds begin to close for season
Mid-September the boating services close for season on Yellowstone Lake
October in Yellowstone
Crowds: moderate to low
Access: roads begin closing for winter season, and weather causes many temporary closures
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
**Access: winter travel restrictions for all areas except Mammoth to northeast entrance
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
Check closure dates before planning your fall trip – Yellowstone Park Facility Opening & Closing Dates.
Lodging, Food & Gas in the Fall at Yellowstone
TIP: Pack a cooler with drinks and food for your travels within the park. 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. The one we used often was at the 4-way stop in the Canyon area. This station had limited food and drinks to purchase. There are gas pumps open year-round at Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction.
Yellowstone Weather & Road Conditions in the Fall
The weather in Yellowstone during the autumn months can vary greatly between weeks and even days.
- September: low: 30F, high: 64F
- October: low: 22F, high: 51F
- November: low: 12F, high: 34F
Days get gradually shorter as winter nears, and temperatures drop rapidly once the sun goes down.
The National Park Service recommends contacting the following organizations when finalizing your trip plans to Yellowstone:
M-DOT Road Information 800-226-7623.
The week before our trip in October, Yellowstone had a snow storm that closed roads or required chains to travel those roads. By the time we arrived, the roads were open and clear, but the mountain peaks were covered with snow.
There were sections of Dunraven Pass that would be wet during the day from the melting snow on the sides of the road that turned to ice at night. You had to be careful traveling those sections in the early morning or at night.
TIP: Know the Current Conditions at Yellowstone before you arrive so you can plan and modify your itinerary as needed.
WHAT TO WEAR IN THE FALL AT YELLOWSTONE
The weather during the Fall months in Yellowstone can be unpredictable. One day it could be sunny and warm, and the next it is cold and snowy.
Be prepared for sudden changes. Always be equipped with clothing suitable to various types of temperatures and weather. Dress in layers and plan to add and remove the layers often.
Here’s our list of clothing and gear we recommend:
- Merrell Moab hiking shoes | Oboz hiking shoes | Insulated boots (just in case)
- Darn Tough Socks
- Wicking and quick-drying base layers
- Fleece or insulated jacket
- Wool, down or heavy-weight insulated jacket
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Insulating hat
- Insulating winter gloves
- Fleece neck gaiter or buff
THINGS TO DO AT YELLOWSTONE IN THE FALL
Fall Hiking in Yellowstone
Hiking in Yellowstone, even if you only go a mile or so from the trailhead, is the best way to experience the park without the distraction of too many other people.
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!
There are so many easy Yellowstone waterfalls to see that don’t even require hiking that you can add to your itinerary list.
Yellowstone Wildlife in the Fall
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.
Here’s a good general rule: if you cause an animal to move, you are too close!
It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within ANY distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.
Educate yourself about Safely Viewing Wildlife and watch Wildlife Safety Videos produced by the National Park Service. It’s important to understand the best way to visit Yellowstone National Park without making headlines!
Elk in Yellowstone in the fall
Elk enter their breeding season during the fall, called the rut. During this time, male elk are vying for the attention of females, and they do this by bugling.
The best place to view elk in the fall is in the town of Mammoth. We were amazed at the number of elk there. If you plan to visit Mammoth, you should read this article: “Bulls Behaving Badly: Yellowstone in a Rut”. It accurately describes the elk rut in the town and provides insight on viewing them safely AND keeping your car free of dents from large elk racks!
We also see elk along the Madison River, along the road from Tower to Mammoth, and at the north entrance just outside the city of Gardiner, Montana.
Bears in Yellowstone in the fall
During the fall, bears are preparing for winter hibernation. You may see them foraging for berries, nuts and other snacks to keep in their dens.
Black bears are usually active during daylight. Look for black bears in small openings within or near forested areas. They are most commonly observed on the northern portion of the park along the road corridor from Elk Creek to Tower Falls, and from Mammoth Hot Springs north to Indian Creek.
Grizzly bears are active at dawn, dusk and night. Look for grizzly bears with binoculars or a high power spotting scope in open meadows just after sunrise and just before sunset. Grizzly bears are most commonly observed in Lamar Valley, Swan Lake Flats, Gardiners Hole, Dunraven Pass, Hayden Valley and in the wet meadows along the East Entrance Road from Fishing Bridge to the East Entrance of the park.
One October trip to Yellowstone we were driving near Gibbon Meadows, just west of Norris. There were several cars pulled off to the side of the road which usually means wildlife sighting.
Luckily we were able to park so we were off the road. In the meadow was a grizzly sow with her cub.
Watching wildlife in nature, so close and in person, is enthralling. Watching the spectacle of humans on the roadway or in the meadow trying to get closer to the bears, is very sad to see.
TIP: When you see cars pulled to the side of the road, stop at a turnout or drive slowly to make sure you don’t miss a good wildlife scene! DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD to take pictures. (Or stop in the middle of the road, put your car in park, get out of the car and walk away to take a picture….yes, that really happens.)
Watch this video about Bear Jams in Yellowstone to understand your responsibility as a visitor at the park viewing wildlife.
Bison at Yellowstone in the fall
Most bison head down to lower elevations during the fall because Yellowstone winters can be so severe. This annual migration helps them to better find the resources they need once the snow accumulates.
Hundreds of bison head to Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Old Faithful area, and sometimes cross Yellowstone’s border into Montana farmland.
This migration causes Bison Road Jams. Use patience and common sense when encountering these animals on the roadways in the park.
Did you know that bison:
- injure more people in Yellowstone than any other animal
- can sprint three times faster than humans can run
- are unpredictable and dangerous
TIP: The safest view of wild animals is often from inside a hard-sided vehicle.
Yellowstone Photography Spots in the Fall
Our favorite things to photograph in Yellowstone are waterfalls, wildlife and thermal features.
Yellowstone Waterfall Photo Spots
Keep in mnd the waterfalls in the fall aren’t as full of water, but they are still impressive. Some of our favorite waterfalls to photograph in Yellowstone:
Yellowstone Wildlife Photography Spots
We have had success photographing wildlife in these areas:
Lamar Valley: bison, antelope, grizzly bears, wolves, coyote and moose
Hayden Valley: bison, grizzly bears, raptors
Tower: black bears, elk and moose
Yellowstone Geyser Photo Spots
Our favorite locations to photograph the thermal features:
Old Faithful (and the hot pools in that area)
Grand Prismatic (and the hot pools in that area)
Mammoth Hot Springs
Your Photography Journey Facebook Group
This is the group for you if...
• You have a camera
• You like taking pictures
• You want to improve your photography skills
PLACES TO STAY NEAR YELLOWSTONE
In the fall we like staying in Gardiner, Montana so we’re close to Mammoth (and the elk) and Lamar Valley (for other wildlife).
If you prefer to see the waterfalls and geysers, then it’s best to stay in West Yellowstone. Here are places we’ve stayed, and recommend, in those two towns:
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