Must-Read Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in the Fall

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?

One of our favorite times to plan a Yellowstone vacation is to visit in the fall, and Yellowstone in October is one of the best months in our opinion.

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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What to Pack for a Trip to Yellowstone in the Fall

What to Pack

Here’s the list of gear we recommend for a National Park trip in the fall:

→ CHECK OUT our National Park Packing Lists.

1. US National Parks Pass: You can order passes online or get them at any of these Federal Recreation Areas.

→ BUY THE PASS AT REI and they will donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation. 

2.  Fall Hiking Shoes: → Check out our FAVORITE hiking shoes/boots!

3. Fall Hiking Socks:  → Check out the BEST SOCKS EVER!

4. Fall Clothing for Hiking (Layers)

Wicking and quick-drying base layers

Fleece jacket (Columbia is the BEST!)

Rain jacket

5. Daypack

6. WATER:  → We carry water bottles or hydration backpacks

7. FOOD:  → Check out our favorite healthy snacks

8. Flashlight:  → Check out the headlamps we like

9. National Park maps

10. Female urination device

11. Toilet paper (carry out in a bag – do not bury)

12. Hand sanitizer

13. First aid kit

14. Bags to pack out trash

15. Camera Gear – DOWNLOAD our Camera Gear Checklist

16. Photography gear for hiking


During our trip the second week in October, we found limited services for food and gas available. All general stores were closed. Check the dates when the general stores in the park are open.

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.

Places to Stay at Yellowstone

Places to Stay at Yellowstone National Park

Hotels and Vacation Rentals in West Yellowstone that we recommend:

Holiday Inn, West Yellowstone

ClubHouse Inn, West Yellowstone

Kelly Inn, West Yellowstone

→ CHECK OUT more West Yellowstone hotels!

Hotels and Vacation Rentals in Gardiner that we recommend:

Yellowstone Gateway Inn, Gardiner – full kitchen and comfy bed, one of our favorite places to stay!

Park Hotel Yellowstone, Gardiner – charming place to stay and loved by guests!

Absaroka Lodge, Gardiner – beautiful location with river views!

→ CHECK OUT more Gardiner hotels!

Hotels and Vacation Rentals in Cooke City or Silver Gate that we recommend:

Sunny Log Home on the Creek, Silver Gate (VRBO) – the most AMAZING location with an awesome fireplace and comfy bed!

Mountain View Cabin, Cooke City – great views and we enjoyed having a washer and dryer!

High Country Motel and Cabins – local owners who love what they do, and make you feel so welcome!


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


  • 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


  • 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)

READ MORE ABOUT Yellowstone in October

November in Yellowstone

Crowds: low
Services: limited
**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

READ MORE ABOUT Yellowstone in November


  • 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:

National Weather Service forecast for Yellowstone 

WYDOT Road Information 888-WYO-ROAD

M-DOT Road Information 800-226-7623. 

TIP: Know the Current Conditions at Yellowstone before you arrive so you can plan and modify your itinerary as needed.

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!

Be educated about bear safety: the National Park Service and websites provide information and videos on this important subject.

There are so many easy Yellowstone waterfalls to see that don’t even require hiking that you can add to your itinerary list.

Wildlife at Yellowstone 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.

Educate yourself about Safely Viewing Wildlifeand 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.

Click to hear the bugle of an Elk and learn more about Yellowstone Elk.

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 RutIt 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.

Moose in Yellowstone in the fall

Yes, there are Moose in Yellowstone, but they are very elusive!

Moose are usually active at dawn and dusk. They are most commonly observed in the northern portion of the park near Pebble Creek, the Soda Butte Creek picnic area, and along the river in the towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate.

If you’ve got time, head down to Grand Teton where moose are more commonly seen.


Our favorite things to photograph in Yellowstone are waterfalls, wildlife and thermal features.

Yellowstone Waterfall Photo Spots

Keep in mind 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:

  • Firehole Falls
  • Undine Falls
  • Gibbon Falls
  • Lower Fall
  • Moose Falls

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
  • Mammoth: elk

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
  • Artists Paintpots
  • Mud Volcano

Plan a Yellowstone Vacation

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    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: [email protected]

  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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