Although the summer months are by far the most popular in the park, there are plenty of reasons to visit Yellowstone throughout the year. The change of the seasons brings different things to see and experience.
It also is an opportunity to visit the park during times when fewer visitors are in the park, allowing for more intimate experiences.
Here are 15 of the best things to do when you’re in Yellowstone National Park.
Things to do in summer
Go horseback riding
One of the best ways to experience the park is on the back of a horse. After all, this is a part of the country once roamed cowboys. There are numerous horse trails in and around the park along with plenty of options for guided tours.
Horseback riding also allows you to cover more ground than you would be able to on foot and access parts of the park that are unavailable to automobiles, all while experiencing an activity that is a rich part of the park’s history. Many companies around the park lead tours. Just make sure to make reservations first.
Go for a hike
With more than 900 miles of trails in Yellowstone National Park, there are numerous opportunities for epic hikes. There are hikes ranging from difficult to easy with opportunities to experience incredible views, view the park’s many geothermal and geological features and observe wildlife.
Some of the most popular trails include Lamar Valley with its population of large animals to view, Cache Creek, which features beautiful views and dense woodlands, Fairy Falls Trail, with its large geysers and waterfalls, and Dunraven Pass, with its 10,000-foot peak and spectacular views.
Read More : What Should I Bring for A Day Hike?
Get in the water
When it’s blazing hot outside, why not look for one of the options the park has to offer for getting wet. There are many water-related activities throughout the park. Paddle in Yellowstone Lake or soothe those sore muscles by wading into the park’s Boiling River.
You can also visit the Firehole swim area on the Firehole River. There are also numerous whitewater rafting touring companies located just outside the park in Gardiner and also in West Yellowstone
Things to do in fall
Observe the wildlife
Much of the park’s wildlife is arguably the most active during autumn when the heat of the summer has dissipated and the animals are migrating from higher elevations in preparation for the winter and the coming snows.
This is an excellent time to view the park’s herds of elk and bison as they make their journeys to their winter homes in the Lamar, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Yellowstone river valleys.
Bears, meanwhile, spend the fall foraging as they make their preparations for winter hibernation. You can catch them making these winter preparations while traveling some of the park’s scenic roads.
With cooler daytime temperatures and a decrease in traffic, fall is an excellent time for biking in Yellowstone Park. Fall, and spring too, are an excellent time of year for cyclists as the park closes its roads to traffic but not to bikes or pedestrians.
This means cyclists can freely ride from the park’s West Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs and have the road all to themselves. Routes are also available from the East entrance to the east end of Sylvan Pass and the South Entrance to West Thumb. Make sure to check the park’s bicycling page for road opening status.
Enjoy the fall foliage
The arrival of cooler temperatures precipitates changing colors in Yellowstone National Park. The leaves and grasses in the park transform into golden yellows and brilliant oranges, making for spectacular views. Even short hikes on some of the park’s trails will afford you great views of the fall scenery.
Particularly beautiful parts of the park to view for fall colors include Lamar Valley in northeast Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Lewis River. Just be sure to pack cold-weather gear as the park can experience lows near freezing in the fall months.
Things to do in winter
Enjoy winter adventure sports
With the arrival of winter comes snow, and a lot of it. Yellowstone National Park sees an average of 150 inches of snow per year with higher elevations seeing up to 400 inches. That makes the park an excellent destination for a variety of winter sports including cross country skiing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
These activities afford you an opportunity to see such amazing sites as frozen waterfalls and virgin winter landscapes. There are numerous outfitters around the park that rent gear for all manner of sports.
Visit a geyser
Just because most facilities in the park are closed during the winter doesn’t mean this is a bad time to visit the park. By prepping properly, wintertime visits to the park will reward you with spectacular winter scenes and a much lower volume of visitors than any other season in the year.
The hot steam from geysers burst through the winter air, creating beautiful frost coverage patterns on the surrounding landscape.
Visit with wildlife
The bears may be nestled away in their dens for the winter, but there are plenty of large animals still active during the winter. It’s prime season for viewing the park’s wolf population, which is active in its Lamar Valley. With bare vegetation and the white background, it’s easier to spot wolves than ever at this time.
Explore the area yourself or take a guided tour with a trained ecologist. A guided snow coach tour is also an excellent way to view wolves, bison, and other wildlife during the winter.
Things to do in spring
Fly fishing is one of the most popular activities to do in Yellowstone National Park and the season begins in late May. With wild scenic backgrounds of roaming bison, elk herds, and the occasional bear fishing nearby, this is truly a one of a kind fishing experience.
In fact, the park is home to some of the world’s most famous trout streams including Madison, Gallatin, Snake, and Yellowstone. There are numerous outfitter around the park to prep you for the experience and guide you to the best locations.
View baby animals
Spring is not the most hospitable season in the park. Unpredictable weather makes for a variety of weather conditions from snow, to rain to unseasonably warm weather. Warming temperatures lead to snow runoff, which turns much of the roads inside the park into slush and mud. There are, however, upsides, and one of those is viewing baby animals.
This is the time of year when animals give birth, affording you an opportunity to witness young red-colored baby bison, baby elk, and even the occasional mother bear with her cubs. Just make sure to keep your distance as most wildlife are very protective of their young.
Take advantage of the offseason
Inhospitable and unpredictable spring weather makes this time of year part of the park’s low season. This is a great time to take advantage of low lodging rates. And, with fewer people in the park, you can enjoy a more intimate experience free of the crowds that will fill it up come summer.
There are plenty of spring tour packages available, many of which can be booked late enough for you to get a weather report before committing. Just make sure to pack for quick changes in the weather.
Things to do with kids
Visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
The Grizzly Wolf and Discovery Center offers an excellent opportunity to educate you and your kids about some of the biggest inhabitants of the park. The center, which is located in West Yellowstone, Montana, has a collection of live grizzlies and wolves as well as a birds-of-prey exhibit, giving you a chance to see these amazing animals up close.
The center is open year-round every day from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 5 to 12. Children 4 and under are free.
Visit the park’s geothermal features
Yellowstone’s geothermal features don’t require long hikes for viewing and offer the instant payoff that will wow the kids. Old Faithful is, of course, a great option, but it’s just one of many. West Thumb geyser is a beautiful blue hydrothermal pool that features a boardwalk for viewing. Mammoth hot springs also feature a boardwalk for viewing as well as a drive around the upper terrace.
Morning Glory is also sure to please and is located in Upper Geyser Basin in close proximity to Old Faithful. Mud Volcano is a kid favorite thanks to its boiling pool of mud and Dragon’s Mouth Spring, which erupts steam and water, resembling a dragon.
Become a junior ranger
If time permits, have your kids take part in the junior ranger program, which is led by the park’s team of eco experts.
This program will give your kids a great understanding and appreciation of the park’s ecosystem and its many inhabitants. This program is available to kids ages 8 to 12 years old and is available at any of the visitor’s centers.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.