With thinning crowds and colorful foliage, fall is a spectacular time to visit Yellowstone. Plus, many of the park’s iconic animals tend to be more visible in the autumn, when cooler temperatures prompt them to move to lower elevations.
With a little planning, you can take advantage of all the season has to offer. Here are our tips for getting the most from your fall visit.
Dawn and dusk are the best times for spotting wildlife, but since the autumn days are growing shorter you won’t need to get up as early, or stay out as late, to take advantage of these prime times. Safety first: maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from all other wildlife.
In the fall, Yellowstone bears put in long days foraging for food in preparation for hibernation, and can often be seen from the roads. But don’t forget to also keep an eye on the sky if you want to witness the annual fall migration of hawks and other raptors through Yellowstone. The Hayden Valley, with its wide-open vistas, is a great place to spot these birds of prey.
The elk mating season, or “rut” is in full swing in the fall, and Mammoth Hot Springs is the best place to hear bull elk bugling and see them competing for female attention. During this time, bull elk are easily agitated and may charge, so never approach on foot and remember to stay at least 25 yards away!
While Yellowstone can’t claim the fall foliage fame of New England, the park’s landscape does dazzle with golden aspens, yellow grasses, and red-leafed shrubs. In a typical year, the peak time for viewing color in the park is from the last week of September through the first week of October. Some of the most colorful spots are Mammoth Hot Springs, the Lamar Valley, Blacktail Plateau Drive, and Lewis River near the falls and in the Lewis River Canyon.
Enroll in a Fall Program
Enrich your fall Yellowstone experience while leaving the planning to a seasoned guide. The Yellowstone Forever Institute offers fall programs ranging from one to five days in length, and highlighting the park’s amazing wildlife, geology, history, and wilderness. Program topic and activities include photography, hiking, wildlife-watching, art, and more. Learn more about programs and check out our course catalogs.
Ranger-led programs help you delve deeper into topics of interest or explore a special area of Yellowstone. Fall programs begin after Labor Day and run through most of the month of September. Examples include guided hikes, star gazing, geyser walks, lake cruises, and much more.
Hiking and Biking
Hiking a trail is a great way to enjoy panoramic views of the fall foliage. Just make sure you’re prepared for widely varying temperatures or inclement weather. Bicycling enthusiasts can also take advantage of Yellowstone’s fall bike season, which begins when park roads close in early November. This brief season ends when plowing operations stop so that enough snow can accumulate on the roads to support oversnow travel—usually by late November. During this time, some park roads are open to bicycles and most are closed to visitor automobile traffic.
Be aware that guest facilities and services gradually start to close in the fall. Check the park’s website for the fall closing schedule as well as weather and road updates. You may also want to check out special Fall Lodging Packages.
Enjoy your trip!
Fall program photograph by Jess Haas/Yellowstone Forever; all other photographs by Matt Ludin/Yellowstone Forever.