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.
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.
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!
Great experience and wild life viewing in Winter.
Yukon has equally stunning aspects to offer, both in the cold and the hot months. It depends on what appeals to different individuals. Below is a guideline to help you decide when to visit.
November-April (winter/spring): The average temperature in Yukon during the day in winter is high of -13.3C in January to 6.4C in April. During the night in winter, it is a low of -22C in January to -4.6C in April. Average hours of daylight one can expect to get is 4.5 hours in December to 15 hours in April. Winter is a very constitutive part of the Yukon lifestyle, making it one of the most interesting times to visit. The Northern Lights are undoubtedly the top attraction during the winter nights. During the day one can go on dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snow shoeing among many activities. Spring in Yukon is breathtaking with migrating birds returning and wildflowers blooming.
May-October (summer/fall): The average temperature in Yukon during the day in summer is high of 20.5C in July to 4.3C in October. During the night in summer, it is a low of 7.7C in July to -3.1C in October. Average hours of daylight one can expect to get is 20 hours in July to 10 hours in October. The Yukon summer is typically warm and dry. It has long hours of daylight known as the midnight sun. Long days mean lots of wildlife activities that one can witness. June - August is the best time if you want to canoe the river. The short fall season from late August is breathtaking with cooler days and spread of vibrant colours across the landscape.
Summer is the ideal time for viewing the stunning wildlife Yukon is harbouring which is 4 species of amphibians, 36 fish species, 66 mammal species, 227 bird species, 1238 plant species and over 6000 species of insects! The key to successful wildlife viewing is being spontaneous and always keeping an eye out. There are specific places, however, where one can go to spot wildlife.
The Northern Lights, the highlight of Yukon, can be seen as long as the nights are dark and without clouds. Therefore the winter months are perfect to spot this mesmerizing phenomenon. Roughly from September to April. However, with any natural phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis shows up without any precision or timetable when the weather conditions are favourable, usually on clear nights only. Time of day: Your best chance of seeing aurora borealis is around local midnight.
Monthly Weather / Climate
Weather for Yukon Territory - Whitehorse (switch between C° and F° at the top of the page)
Waterton is great at any time and open throughout the year. However, from May - September is probably the best time with the most wildlife being about and more pleasant temperatures. Check out our place Glacier National Park for weather details, since both are close and experience the same climate.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Although it's tiny compared to Banff and less touristy, Waterton became much busier in the recent years. Especially during the peak months of July and August. If you go during the summer: Avoid weekends and arrive early in the morning. In summer, the visitor center opens at 8 AM. Later in the day, there can be 40-50 cars waiting at the gate. Be there right at 8 AM and start your hike before the crowds arrive. Another way to avoid tourist crowds is visiting in the spring (May - mid-June) or in September after Labor Day Weekend until October.
Season Overview: Activites by Season | Waterton Lakes NP
Opening Hours: Hours - Facilities - Operation | Waterton Lakes NP
Dry season December until April, Semi-Dry Season June, July and August