When is a great time to spot wildlife? Wild animals can be found in ecosystems like deserts, forests, rain forests, plains or grasslands. Often wildlife is hidden and difficult to spot. Here you will find the right time and areas where the chance for a wildlife sighting is much higher.
Where animal sightings happen, depends on habitat preferences, weather and seasonal cycles of movement. Still, it's often a matter of luck but you can increase your chances by following our monthly guide. Read our full guide below and find out which animal can be seen in which months and season (spring - summer - autumn - winter). And if you want to make the most out of your wildlife visit, consider this incredible private tour: Private Yellowstone Wildlife Tour (With extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and professional tour guides.)
April - Early June (Spring)
Most animals can be spotted in or near the valleys. It's the time for baby bison, baby moose, baby bear, baby elk and many more. Also a good time to spot wolves and grizzly bears. Grizzly sightings occur mostly at night, dawn and dusk. A great grizzly bear spot in spring is the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Gray wolves are often seen in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.
Mid-June - July - August (Summer)
Bears and other animals leave the valleys and head for higher areas in June/July. But still, visitors often report bear sightings throughout June. Later in July and August the chances to spot grizzlies or black bears in the valleys are very low. However, bison are still there, starting to rut in early August. Warm, great weather but also peak tourist months.
September - October (Autumn)
Animals return to the valleys. Elk rut throughout September. The fascinating rut can be witnessed up-close in Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance. Together with amazing fall colors it’s one of the best time to view or photograph almost every animal including elk, moose, bighorn as well as wolves and grizzly. Visitor wise it gets slightly less busy in September after Labor Day weekend. However especially weekends are still busy. In late September/early October the crowds start to dissipate.
November December- January - February - March (Winter)
Winter, a magical time and least crowded. Most animals are in or near the valleys. Some can be spotted near the steaming geyser basins. Winter is the best time to view wolves. You can also observe bison, elk, bighorn and others. Another great time for photographers, since animals are easier to spot against the snow. Grizzly bears can't be spotted, since they hibernate in winter until mid-March. The list with open facilities during winter and the overview with the warming huts are extremely useful. One thing you should always consider doing when visiting in the winter, is a snowmobile tour. That's an amazing experience! Find more useful winter tips on the official NPS website: NPS - Visiting Yellowstone in Winter and check out this great video on YouTube: Yellowstone - Winter in the Park
Must-Know Yellowstone Winter Facts and Tips
- Solitude: Winter is a silent time in Yellowstone. No tourist crowds and no packed areas. It’s not even busy at the popular spots. Example? Watching the geyser eruptions at Old Faithful in winter means standing there with only a handful of others. In the summer there are hundreds of visitors at the same time.
- Wildlife: Winter is by far the best time for wildlife viewing: You can spot bison, wolves, elk, and bighorn in the valleys (Lamar Valley), near the road, or some even at the geysers at Old Faithful. The higher areas are just too cold for the Yellowstone mammals in winter. Viewing wolves? You’re lucky to spot one in the summer months. In the winter, it’s not unlikely to spot a pack of wolves!
- Entrance and Roads: The only open entrance to private vehicles in winter is the North entrance in Gardiner (read our entrances descriptions). From Gardiner you have 2 choices: A) Drive the only accessible winter road to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City) through Lamar Valley and spot amazing wildlife or B) Drive to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is like the base for winter activities. From there, you can book a snowmobile or snowcoach which drives you to Old Faithful (the only other place with open lodging in winter inside the park). You’ll spot plenty of wildlife during this ride. The alternative in the South: A guided tour from Jackson. With guided tours, you get into Yellowstone almost anywhere in winter. We recommend these excellent guys: Full Day Snowmobile Tour from Jackson Hole. The best lodging in Jackson: Inn on The Creek (via booking.com with price guarantee).
- Lodging and Facilities: In the winter months most hotels and lodges are closed. Within the park, you can stay at two places: Mammoth Hot Springs and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Otherwise, we suggest to stay in Gardiner and drive to Cooke city through Lamar Valley as described above. Both towns have excellent lodging and facilities, even in winter. Check the lodging links in our ‘Entrance Section’
Time of Day
The best time of day for wildlife viewing is either dawn or dusk: Animals usually feed during the early morning and in the evening. That's why they're often more visible at these times as they're up and moving around. In general dawn is even superior: Be at the valleys just before at sunrise and stay until 9 AM. It's also less crowded. However, dusk is also great, particularly for elk viewing in Sept. Sunrise - Sunset Yellowstone
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Yellowstone National Parks gets heavily crowded in the peak summer months. If you plan a summer visit, book your hotel well in advance.
The most crowded months are June, July and August: Congested roads, overflown parking lots and the popular places are packed: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs. The month of May is still moderate visitor wise. However, it gets very busy on Memorial Day. Later in September visitation starts to drop off after Labor Day weekend. However, it's still busy, even more so on weekends. In late September the crowds start to thin out. In October it's getting a lot quieter again.
How to avoid the crowds during peak months? Arrive early! The rush hour in YNP starts between 9 and 10 AM. Get up as early as possible! Another way is to dodge the crowds is by staying late: The main attractions are packed between 10 AM and 4 PM. Get there later, as it doesn't get dark before 9 PM anyway. Another big advantage when arriving early or staying late: You'll get to see more wildlife at dawn or dusk (see above). Extra tip: Check the official NPS Webcams a few days before you arrive during certain daytimes.
There is one word which is true for Yellowstone's weather: Unpredictable! Temperature drops and rain can happen almost any time in spring, summer and fall. Thunderstorms in summer are common in the afternoons. Bring layer of clothes and always rain gear.
If you'd like to avoid snow completely, then don't visit before May/June. It still can snow in June at some places but it will melt very quickly. By late May the valley floor is usually snow free. In higher elevations you may still see some snow in late May and June. That's important to know if you go hiking. After the summer you can expect the first real snow in October. As a local expert says: 'You can count on snow on the ground in Yellowstone by Halloween!'. However, never let the snow stop you from coming. October is an excellent month: Quiet and still so much wildlife to spot! In spring late April and May are our preferred months, regardless of the snow. Just keep in mind that until late April it still can feel like winter!
The best time for Christmas island is depending on the moon calendar. In last phase of the moon shrinking in winter the red crab migration is taking place. You can spot millions of crabs moving around the island.
The Grey-headed flying foxes (also called fruit bats) stay in the Yarra Bend Park close to Melbourne year around as a permanent colony. The Colony numbers fluctuate with the seasons, and there are usually more flying-foxes in summer (December until April) and fewer in winter. During summer the colony grows immense up to at least 30.000 often more than 50.000 bats. Continue reading to figure out the best time of the day and what else to do in Yarra Bend.
Flying Foxes During the Day
During daytime, they roost upside down in the trees nearby the water. Like humans, the older bats have more experiences the reason they are hanging low in the trees getting more shade while the young ones are high up in the sun. They move their wings to cool down during the midday heat. These bats are vulnerable to overheating; therefore, they choose this area because of the higher humidity and the colder air. Another reason, they need to drink water on hot days, so they stay close to a water source such as the Yarra River.
Close to the Bellbird Picnic Area, you can find a viewing platform. The bat colony walking trail and interpretive boards provides details about the flying‐foxes. You can observe them from different stops along the Bat Colony Trail. Although some of them are very close to the path, you should either take a binocular or a good zoom camera with you. The young flying-foxes often roost high up in the trees; the elder flying foxes are more experienced using the shadow of the trees at lower places.
Flying Foxes at Dusk
Flying-foxes are nocturnal and at sunset, they fly-out to feed on nectar, fruit, and pollen from a wide range of plant species. Typically they start flying out together if it becomes dark, which is spectacular. Preferably a day with a blue sky during daytime and colorful sunset gives you the perfect experience. You may have to wait sometime after sunset before they start to leave the trees and taking pictures is more difficult due to low light.
Flying Foxes - Fruit Bats Calendar
- March and April; During the mating season, the colony can become very noisy as the males defend their territories. At the same time, the park can smell more intense due to the secretions from the male scent glands at the shoulders. He rubs this "perfume" on branches to mark the territory. After rainfall, the smell can become even stronger. The young ones are grown up and the colony reaches the highest number of up to 70k
- After becoming pregnant, the female fly north towards Queensland and, only the older flying-foxes stay in Yarra Bend Park. They migrate before the wintertime to warmer parts of Australia for feeding. The population then drops down to 5k-10k around April.
- Late September to November; Pregnant females give birth and the number of individuals in the Park increases again. The mother carries the young babies for 4-5 weeks until they become too heavy. Then the young ones hang in the outlying trees of the colony waiting for her mother returning at dawn. At around 8-10 weeks, they start to fly and can feed independently by about 12 weeks.
Winter is a great season to visit this place but if you aren't bothered by a few hours of afternoon rains then August-September is also a great time to go as there will be less tourists at this time of the year.
Jigokudani (means Hell Valley in Japanese) Monkey Park is open all year round, but its particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. So it's important to know when does it start snowing in the Snow Monkey Park?
The first snowfall cannot be predicted exactly but usually, it occurs by mid to late November. Although the first snowfall can be quite heavy, it will melt quickly due to the mild daytime temperatures.
Starting mid-December until February you can expect that the park is covered in snow and the monkeys live up to their name. The snow also hides a lot of the man-made pipes and other structures. Best conditions for plenty of snow on the ground are January and February, but you need to may check the live webcam for the actual conditions.
The Park is open daily from 8:30 to 17:00 (April to October) and in Winter 9:00 to 16:00 (November to March). Entrance fee is 800 yen ( 6 €) for adults and 400 yen for children in 2017. You can purchase an annual pass or if you are in a large group (more than 20) a group ticket.
You can expect crowds all year around, and it can become very busy. Most people gather at the upper man-made pool where you can find the monkeys (Japanese Macaque) playing in hot water. To make the upper pool more attractive to the monkeys, the park wardens sometimes throw food into it. There are fewer people at the lower pool but also fewer monkeys. You pass it anyway; therefore, you should spend some time there as well.
Tips for Photographers
You can photograph the most natural looking pictures from the staircase at the upper pool, but it is challenging to take pictures without any other visitor on it. At the lower pool, the angle is different, but there is no higher position for an excellent shot.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay close to the park we recommend the SENJUKAKU Hotel. The elegant property is well rated and perfectly located, surrounded by Japanese gardens with green pine forests, cherry trees, and Japanese maples. It is only a 15-minute drive away from the Park entrance, located in Kanbayashi Onsen, gateway to the Snow Monkey Park. It offers Japanese style rooms with a choice of bed or futon. Transfer and pick-up shuttles from Yudanaka Station is offered.
As an alternative, you may choose the JINPYOKAKU Hotel. It is also close by and located just 2 km from the Snow Monkey Park. Although it offers only a view Japanese style rooms, the atmosphere is exclusive and complemented with a luxurious Japanese-style hot springs experience. Here you can enjoy an exquisite Japanese cuisine with fresh local ingredients. The hotel is one of the best-rated locations in Yamanouchi.
Bear Watching Season
Starting in April, black and grizzly bears begin emerging from hibernation and head to Glendale Cove to feed on the succulent new spring growth. Glendale Cove is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly (brown) bears in British Columbia. Tours for Grizzlies start mid-May until end of September. Best time to see grizzly bears is June. At this time the berries are not yet ripe, and the bears are seeking for other food close to the water. They will collect eels, crabs, and isopods at the beach by rolling rocks.
Although August and September are mostly the months to see Grizzlies hunt for Salmon, it is not predictable. The salmon run, the time when the salmon will swim up the rivers and inlets to spawn, usually start after heavy rain falls. You need the luck to choose the right time for your trip. Planning a trip at this time requires pre-booking due to limited availability.
During our visit in early September 2017, not much Salmon had been seen compared to last year's early run in July. Peak season and tours should be booked in advance from mid-August to mid-September. It's a spectacle when the bears hunt the salmon, but this year they are feeding on a high protein grass. Grizzlies are hungry in the morning and come out of the higher vegetation to the shoreline. Therefore, the trip starts before 7:00 am because the travel time from Telegraph Cove to Knight Inlet is about 2 hours. In September the start time for the trip needs to be synchronized with the tides.
The summer climate at Telegraph Cove and the Johnstone Strait is characterized by still, cool mornings with not much wind and usually some fog. As the day progresses the fog lifts, sometimes slowly and shows the spectacular views to the area. In the late afternoon, winds can fresh up but drop for early evening to yield marvelous sunsets. In summer storms with rain are not very common, but it can occur when the wind changes to the South East. Usually, the wind blows from the North West. From July to August the precipitation is low compared to October until January, but you will always get some days with rainfall each month throughout the year.