- By Kevin
- On May 25, 2017
- North America
- Travel Tips
When is the Best Season to Visit Yellowstone? The best month to visit Yellowstone National Park? What do I do if buffalo are blocking the road? Is it safe to drive into the herd? And, can I pet a buffalo? Here're the answer.
Is it worth visiting in spring?
There simply is no “best time” to visit Yellowstone. Every season brings not only a new landscape to the park, but a variety of exhilarating seasonal pursuits. The months between Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend are exceptionally beautiful, though they gross the highest volumes of families taking summer vacations and road trips. Summers alone attract two million tourists, but you can beat the influx of campers and sightseers if you travel to Yellowstone early in June or September. Catch a quieter Yellowstone in summer time in the early days of September, after the kids are back to school, bison are nearly done with finding mates, and the mosquito swarms die down.
The spring and fall, or as they’re called, “mud seasons,” are also low-volume times to visit Yellowstone. The fall brings lightning and hail storms, while the spring thaws the remaining snow of winter, turning the park’s roads, trails, meadows and campgrounds—you guessed it—muddy. These seasons may yield swampy hiking conditions, occasional mudslides blocking parts of the Grand Loop, slushy snowpack and pouring rain that could hamper activities in Yellowstone like driving, skiing, biking or boating. However, tourism is at a minimum during these months leaving the park, weather and roads permitting, all to yourself.
A winter in Yellowstone is simply magic. Steam from thermal vents and springs turn to frost on nearby trees, elk post-hole through thick snow, and geysers burst boiling hot water scattering into droplets that freeze in the air. The season begins late in December and lasts sometimes through March, open for cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and exploring the ski and snow vehicle trails that cut through snowy basins like Black Sand, and frozen waterfalls that shimmer like frosted chandeliers.
Bison, casually called buffalo, are so accustomed to cars and asphalt roads that they seem to know the right-of-way. Driving slowly behind a group of bison plodding along a two-lane road, you can certainly maneuver around them whenever it’s safe. Bison, when they do travel on the Grand Loop or other roads, usually don’t stop in the middle of the road, either. However, our city slicker impulses may be to beep the horn if one bison decides to hold everyone up. Be patient for bison to make their way off the road, or just simply go around them, but please save the honking for the city.
As for petting a bison? Don’t do that! Grown and calf bison may look fluffy and genteel, but they aren’t very nice playmates. The male bison (bulls) weigh 2,000 pounds, while smaller female (cow) bison are roughly half the size, and they prefer keeping to their herds and guarding their calves. You won’t like a bison when he or she is angry, either. Despite their bony, 6-foot-tall frame, their herd instincts make them sensitive to outsiders, aggressive and easily agitated, and they can run up to 35 miles per hour if they feel like chasing you away. They’ve been known to throw grown men ten feet in the air like ragdolls with a just hook and jerk of their horns. In short, when encountering a bison, stay at least twenty-five yards away or else.