Yosemite National Park! Mesmerizing and spectacular views! Read on for our complete season guide updated in 2019 or scroll down even further for tips about the most breathtaking places. You can use our quick navigation to find your desired subject:
- Spring Months | Season Guide
- Summer Months | Season Guide
- Autumn Months | Season Guide
- Winter Months | Season Guide
- Winter Special | Winter Quick Tips
- Avoiding Crowds - Busy Times
- 3 Must-Know Lodging Alternatives
- Glacier Point-Lower-Yosemite Falls-Half Dome
- 9 Yosemite Top Tips
Special Tip: If you have limited time and like it hassle-free, take a look at these tours: Yosemite National Park Tours (Service by the excellent provider GetYourGuide). Outstanding guides, stunning experience, and you get picked up and dropped off again at your hotel in case you're staying in San Francisco (depending on the tour)! Quote from a recent visitor: 'Brilliant guides very knowledgeable, had a brilliant day, an amazing place to see, absolutely outstanding!' The tours are also great in winter, as it takes away the headache of driving with tire chains. You might love these (the third one is not available in winter):
The Best Time
The best time to visit Yosemite National Park with mostly pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds is either from mid-May until early-June or from late September until mid-October. But still, try to visit mid-week and not on weekends. July and August are always ridiculously busy.
However, despite the crowds, summer brings the most pleasant weather of course. If you plan a summer visit, read our tips to avoid crowds (see below). Waterfalls are at their best in late May, and skiing the Badger Pass lasts through the end of March. Backpackers thrive into early October, while those who prefer to drive do best when all roads are likely to be open July through September. Take a look at our seasonal breakdown. We went to Yosemite ourselves many times, also analyzed thousands of reviews to help you determine the advantages of each season:
Season Guide | Monthly Weather & Highlights
Please note: These are temperatures for lower elevations. It gets a lot cooler at higher elevations!
SPRING (April - May)
April's showers (and melting snowcaps) bring May's spectacular waterfalls.
Weather: Though it varies, temperatures are getting warmer. Average daytime highs hover around 70, though it is always possible to encounter a late winter snowstorm.
Accessible Areas: Lower elevation and good roads make Yosemite Valley and Wawona accessible all year long. It is difficult to predict the likelihood to enter Tioga and Glacier Point Roads due to residual snow. Crews begin clearing snow April 15, but work can last well into May. Weekends can be especially busy, be sure to arrive early to avoid unnecessary delays.
Highlights: Water is abundant in spring. Well-known rivers and waterfalls reach peak runoff in late May, and this is by far the most popular time to see them. Check out the booming rush of water at Ribbon Falls, which only flows through June. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in all of North America. Don't expect to be wowed by the wildflowers; it's still too early for the blooms, though you might catch a few poppies or redwood along the way.
Crowds: Light in April. It gets busier in May. Especially weekends are crowded in late spring, visit midweek, and get to the main hot spots first thing in the morning. Try to avoid the extremely congested Memorial Day weekend.
SUMMER (June, July, August, early September)
Sweet summer weather brings peak level crowds.
Weather: Ample sunshine. Average temps soar to nearly 90, but cool down significantly under the night sky.
Accessible Areas: Most of the park is accessible now, but it is still possible to discover your own private paradise. Venture outside of Yosemite Valley, and away from the crowds. Take in the stunning views in High Sierra where you will be met by little more than a cool mountain breeze.
Highlights: Waterfall flow is typically still at its peak in early June and often remains high by mid-June. It begins to slow in July due to warmer weather. Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil Falls run all year; however, their flow can be very low by late summer. Yosemite Falls may dry out completely by August. Check Yosemite Falls Webcam to see the current flow. Your draw in summer is the spectacular colors of the wildflowers. In the valley, the blooms burst in June. Follow the winding river in Tuolumne Meadows, and enjoy the sub-alpine flowers like gentium or shooting stars. Explore one of the many trails that begin in these meadows, including the route to the summit of Mount Lyell, the highest in the park.
Crowds: June is already busy, while July and August are extremely jammed. Popular spots will be crowded all season, and expect long lines at entrance points. Take a chance and hike a lesser-known trail instead.
AUTUMN (early September, October, November)
Crisp breeze and colorful trees, along with dwindling crowds make fall one of the best times to visit the park.
Weather: Varies. Average daytime temps are in the 50's, but it is not unusual to see drastic ranges. Snow and rain are also possible, especially at higher elevations. Yosemite Valley is your best bet for comfortable daytime weather; though expect it to turn chilly when the sun goes down.
Accessible Areas: Most areas in the park remain open through October, though this is fully dependent on the weather. Services begin to shut down in mid-September, and the park does not allow overnight parking after mid-October. However, most hotels and lodges in Yosemite Valley, El Portal or other nearby accommodations are open year-round. Check our 'Lodging Tips' below. While it's not very likely at lower elevations, you may require tire chains in November.
Highlights: As the snow begins to fall, so does the water. Yosemite Falls has been dry all late summer and early autumn but resumes its flow quickly usually by November (after a little snowfall). From Wawona, your best bet is Chilnualna Falls. You will have to hike to it, but the way it twists and turns through the rocks makes it completely worth the effort. Fall colors peak around mid-October, though don't expect to see radiant hues throughout. Most trees are evergreen, but shades of yellows, orange, and even some purples can be found sprinkled among the trees.
Crowds: Warning! Early September (Labor Day Weekend) sees the highest crowds. After Labor Day it's less crowded but still busy. Even if you visit mid-September avoid weekends and try to get up early. Crowds start to thin out by late September. In October everything is much quieter. As long as the roads remain open, you are likely to have the place to yourself in late autumn, particularly in November
WINTER (December, January, February, March)
If solitude is what you seek, winter will be a treat. Check out the official NPS tips: NPS Yosemite Winter Tips
Weather: Cold but not freezingly cold. Snow and wind are a constant presence, though you might find a few sunny days in between storms. Temperatures in Yosemite Valley are more moderate, averages remain in the low 50's, though evening lows can dip below zero.
Accessible Areas: There are few trails visible enough to hike during winter, and once Tioga Road is closed vehicles are prohibited for your safety. However, Yosemite Valley is accessible by car via Highway 140 (El Portal Road). Although you're required to carry tire chains in your car. Alternatively book a hotel in El Portal and use YARTS (read our winter tips at the top and lodging tips below the seasons guide for details about YARTS and El Portal) Ski areas remain open, as the Badger Pass is plowed often. Both downhill and cross-country activities are popular here, and there are some great runs for snowboarders as well.
Highlights: Water is flowing again, thanks to the snow and rain, and it is possible to get some great winter shots of the falls. If you get to Yosemite Falls early enough, it is possible to see it frozen solid. If possible, consider visiting the Horsetail Fall Firefall. Only occurring in winter when the sun is at just the right angle, this natural beauty looks just like a cascading flow of fire. It is truly unforgettable. The peak time for the Firefall is usually from February 17-19. However, it can vary. The sweeping snowy vistas are magical in the winter, and the lack of crowds makes it even better. Yosemite Valley is your best bet to find a route to hike, keep in mind the trails range in difficulty and distance, so plan accordingly.
Crowds: None. You are likely to encounter some crowds at the ski areas, but if your intent is just to visit the park, you may be lucky enough to never see another person.
Winter Special | November - December - January - February
Besides our ‘Autumn Guide,’ we collected some special tips for your November and December visit. November is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park with the crowds gone and mostly pleasant temperatures. In December it gets a little colder but it's still worth visiting. You'll love it! Don't forget read our quick tips for your winter visit below the November/December section.
- Crowds? It’s not busy at all, as the visitor count drops to 30% in the month of November compared to the very busy summer months. It's even less busy in December and January.
- Road Accessibility: It’s very likely that Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road will be open until mid-November. However, both roads usually close by the end of November. Check the historic closures here: NPS - Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road Opening & Closing Dates. Tire Chains? When driving in lower elevations (like El Portal Road, Highway 140) tire chains are usually not required. But still, visiting in late November, December or any other winter month means, that you should carry them in your car.
- Weather? While often still pleasant with temps around 45-50°F, it can also rain and even snow, especially at higher elevations. However, the first snowfall in October/November is usually light and the snow melts very quickly. In late November the ground is generally cold enough for the snow to accumulate, but mostly at higher elevations above Yosemite Valley. In December there can be snow on the ground in Yosemite Valley, but usually for a few days only. Often it's simply cold and chilly with a clear ground in the valley.
3 Quick Tips for Winter
- Road Conditions: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are both closed throughout the winter from late November until late May (sometimes until early June). All other Yosemite Park roads including Wawona Road (Highway 41) and El Portal Road (Highway 140), remain open year-round. However, you are required to carry tire chains in your car in case you need to use them. Find more information about road closures here: NPS Yosemite - Winter Road Closures And detailed information about tire chains: NPS Yosemite - Tire Chain Requirements. Always check current road conditions before you drive: NPS Yosemite - Road Conditions Don’t want to use tire chains? Check our winter accommodation tip just below.
- Accommodation: Since El Portal Road and Wawona Road are open in winter, you may drive to Yosemite Valley and stay there. However, there are two drawbacks: 1) You’re required to tie carry tire chains and mount them during certain weather conditions. 2) The lodging options in Yosemite Valley are very(!) pricey, actually the most expensive ones there. Solution: You stay in El Portal and decide if you use the YARTS service, which gets you directly into Yosemite Valley or you drive by yourself, depending on the weather conditions. The great thing about YARTS: It operates year-round, regardless of the weather, and picks you up in El Portal right at the ‘Yosemite View Lodge’ (via booking.com). Check out our ‘Lodging Tips for El Portal’ below.
- Walks/Hikes: The great thing about a winter visit, is the missing crowds. Places which are crowded from summer to fall can be visited now almost in solitude. Even if you don’t want to hike, you should do the super easy walks: Bridalveil Fall Trail, Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, and Cook’s Meadow Loop. Each only requires a 0.5 miles - 1 mile (loop) walk and is open in winter as well. A little more strenuous is the equally stunning Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails. Find great trail information and tips about all the trails on the official NPS website: NPS Yosemite - Hikes
Death Valley, the hottest, driest and lowest national park! It's an excellent place to go hiking and discover new things about the desert in the Western United States.
This is our complete guide with unique tips you’ll love before visiting Death Valley National Park. The desert in Death Valley is one of the hottest places on our planet! We provide you with tips for each season, must-know tips, tips for amazing places like Badwater Basin or Zabriskie Point, and much more.
Important: Wondering, how to dodge the crowds in Death Valley? We got you covered. Jump to our helpful tips: Avoiding Tourist Crowds
When to Go
Death Valley sunset in autumn
The best time to visit Death Valley is either in spring with blooming wildflowers or in autumn with clear skies. Both seasons bring pleasant temperatures. Winter months are colder but still great in terms of weather and least crowded. In the summer, it gets very hot. It’s also the busiest time.
Regardless of the season, you can visit Death Valley year-round of course. Just follow our tips to avoid the crowds in summer and what to do when temperatures reach extreme highs and exceed 115 °F (46 °C). Read our complete season guide with tips for each month and everything else you should know before visiting. Use our quick navigation below:
- Spring | Season Guide
- Summer | Season Guide
- Autumn | Season Guide
- Winter | Season Guide
- Blooming Wildflowers
- Stargazing Tips
- The Best Tours & Hotel Tips (Recommended!)
- 9 Must-Know Tips (Summer - Late Spring - Early Fall)
- 3 Must-Visit Places & Top Tips
Spring (March - early May)
Zabriskie Point by Giuseppe Milo, CC BY
This is a very popular time for a visit with pleasant temperatures. On the other hand, spring also brings the most wind. The blowing sand, which may last for days, can make camping uncomfortable. A real attraction is the gorgeous spring wildflowers. However, it’s an exception to see whole the desert filled with all kinds of colorful wildflowers. In some years, there are only a few. Regarding crowds: Keep in mind that spring is also a busy season. It gets very busy during spring break holidays from the last week of March through the week after Easter. Make sure to book well in advance for a spring visit.
Summer (mid-May – September)
Death Valley (July) by Murray Foubister, CC BY-SA cropped
Summer arrives early in Death Valley. In May, the average daily high is already 100 °F (38 °C). June, July, August are even hotter (up to 120 °F), as well as September. At least it’s a dry heat with low humidity, which helps a little. The month of August and early September also bring thunderstorms, sometimes causing dangerous flash floods. Always check the weather forecast. Camping or hiking is not recommended during these months with boiling heat. Hikes during the day in lower elevations are dangerous and can become life threatening because of the extreme temperatures. If you do anything outside at lower elevations: Do it until 10 AM. However, there are two summer hikes at higher elevations which can be done: Wildrose Peak and Telescope Peak. Most visitors tour by car on the paved road along the main Points of Interest. Despite the heat, July, and August are the months with the highest visitation from Europe and other continents. However, almost all of them stay in their car for a short tour between 2 hours and half a day or a little more, while stopping at the main viewpoints. Also read the 9 Summer Tips in the section below.
Autumn (October – November)
Death Valley - Badwater Basin (October) by Paxson Woelber, CC BY cropped
Warm but more pleasant temperatures and usually clear skies. You may hike at lower elevations now. But still, start early to avoid the possible midday heat. Ranger programs and camping season begins in October. It’s relatively uncrowded, except for the Death Valley ‘49ers Week and Thanksgiving (both in November).
Winter (December - February)
Death Valley National Park (December) by Rob Rattray, CC BY cropped
Temperatures drop, but it never gets cold in the winter except at higher elevations. However, since it's cooler in the mornings, we suggest that you bring an extra jacket. There is less daylight in Death Valley now, but it usually lasts long enough: Sunset - Sunrise. Employees and park rangers say, the winter months of January and February are among the best months weather-wise. January and February bring the most rain, but it usually doesn’t rain heavily. Soaking rain, going for hours, can happen but it’s the exception. Winters also bring snow to the higher elevations and coat Telescope Peak (Panamint Mountains) in white. December, January and most of February are quieter months. Except for public holidays/holiday weekends (see below: Avoiding Tourist Crowds). Tip: If you visit in the winter months, don't forget to check our hotel deals & tour tips below. We updated them recently. Alternatively bookmark this link: Death Valley Winter Hotel Deals via booking.com > sort by star rating & price to see the best deals. Important: Book in advance but not too far in advance, or you'll run the risk of paying a lot more! Just save the link and check prices about 2-3 weeks before you go)
A very helpful weather and climate overview can be downloaded here: Death Valley | NPS | Weather & Climate. Rule of thumb for strenuous and longer outside activities: During summer, stay at higher elevations. During winter: Longer activities at lower elevations are possible. Bring layer of clothes for higher elevations.
Blooming Wildflowers (Highlight)
Death Valley is popular for its fascinating wildflower displays in the spring. However, only when the conditions are perfect you'll see blankets of gold, purple, pink or white flowers. Depending on the winter rain, it can be a great year for wildflowers or a moderate one with less blooming flowers. Check the official website: NPS Death Valley - Wildflowers. Another great website with updates and photos for each year: Death Valley NP Wildflower Reports
Peak Blooming Periods:
- Mid-February - Mid April: Lower elevations (Areas: Jubilee Pass, Highway 190 near the Furnace Creek Inn, base of Daylight Pass)
- Early April - Early May: 2000 to 4000 ft. Elevations (Area: Panamint Mountains)
- Early May - Mid July: Above 4000 ft. Elevations (Area: High Panamints)
Stargazing Tips | Milky Way Viewing
Death Valley National Park is a paradise for stargazing. Why? For the best stargazing experience a dark sky is require and Death Valley is certified as the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country by the International Dark Sky Association. The park offers one of the darkest skies in the US. When you get the chance for a visit after dark, do it. It's an incredible once in a lifetime experience. Visitors report, that you can see the Milky Way galaxy almost as clearly as on NASA photos. Watch this intriguing video on YouTube: Death Valley Night Skies.
You might be wondering: Which are the best spots for stargazing at night? In fact the whole valley is excellent as long as you're not very close to buildings or other light sources. However, these are some top spots:
Dante's View: This is our favorite place in the valley for stargazing. Its altitude makes it perfect for sky-watching in the night. Read more details the place itself below. Tip: If you have enough time get there earlier to enjoy the sunset as well as the stars later. Also bring warm clothes, and maybe a blanket as it gets a lot colder up there in the night.
Badwater Basin: Different from Dante's View as you are at the lowest level, but almost equally stunning. The mountains may block the Milky Way view. However, the unique night sky view from the salt flats can't be missed. Especially if you want to take photos which look from out of this world. Read more details about Badwater Basin in general below.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: We have a separate article here. For stargazing this is a perfect spot, since your view isn't obstructed by anything. There is as much dark sky to see as possible from here. The only small downside could be light pollution from cars driving on the close highway.
Harmony Borax Works: It's close to Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Harmony Borax Works Map Location). The big advantage here are the great foreground elements for taking photos, like the mule cart (see the photo above).
For the most stunning stargazing experience you should follow these rules and tips:
- The Best Season: The beautiful dark skies can be observed year-round. However, in winter and spring there are even special ranger tours and programs. Check them here: NPS Death Valley Program
- New Moon: Without a visible moon the sky is much darker, which will greatly enhance stargazing with more visible stars. Preferably visit during new moon: Moon Phases Death Valley Calendar
- No Light Pollution: Try to avoid places with nearby lights from buildings or cars. Since the whole valley is a natural area, it's often easy to walk away from light sources. Walking away 100m from smaller light sources is usually good enough.
- Time: Stay outside for at least an hour. It takes about 20-30 minutes for your eyes to get adjusted to the dark. Then enjoy the spectacular view. Even better with binoculars.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The busiest times are: Spring (March/April) - even busier from the last week of March till the week after Easter - and summer from July to August (mostly visitors from Europe and other countries), as well as September. According to a park ranger, the least crowded months are December and January. However, even during low season, it gets busy on certain days: From Christmas to New Year's, on Martin Luther King Day weekend in January, and Presidents' Day weekend in February.
To avoid the crowds at the main points of interest during peak months: We know it’s a challenge, but get up very early and try to reach most destinations around 8 AM, at least before 9 AM. It’s worth it, as you’ll dodge the crowds at beautiful places like Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course, etc. In the summer, you’ll not only beat the crowds but the boiling heat as well. On a single morning, you could cover the quick 2-hour tour: Badwater | Zabriskie | Devils Course - Google Maps
Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments. Over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife.
Sweet spot months in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) without the heavy summer crowds, open Trail Ridge Road and a good chance of nice weather are late May until early June or September after Labor Day (mid-week) until mid-October. However, snow is possible at both times. September is also great for wildlife because of the elk rutting season (peak mid-September to mid-October). In fall the air is clear and crisp and the skies are blue.
Please make sure to read our full Season Guide below (including monthly weather), tips for Avoiding Tourist Crowds, Hotel Suggestions as well as more useful tips at the end of this article (scroll down!)
Top Tip (Very Easy Hikes)
Tip: Venture off Trail Ridge Road to experience the real beauty of RMNP. If you can't do any strenuous hikes but still want to be awed, then take a look this guide on Amazon: Best Easy Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park. It covers amazing hikes for everyone, even suitable if you visit with small children (like 0.5 miles or 2 miles round-trips). But also hikes which are slightly more challenging. Like John Muir said 'Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.'
Highlight (Trail Ridge Road & Tours)
The stunning Trail Ridge Road is open from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) until mid-October. The official closing date is October 23, but they often close it a few days before that date. Even in June or September, it’s possible that it’s closed for hours or a day due to snow, often between 8 PM and 10 AM. Make sure to check more tips for the Trail Ridge Road in our section below the season guide (scroll down).
Special Tour Tip (from Denver or Boulder): If you're staying in Denver or Boulder and would like to experience the Trail Ridge Road as well as the most stunning viewpoints hassle-free, we suggest the Unique Rocky Mountain National Park Tour (from Denver and Boulder). It's an 8 hour day tour which includes driving the amazing Trail Ridge Road as well as other mesmerizing parts of RMNP. The views you'll get to see on this trip are just spectacular. Everything is taken care of, including pick-up service from Denver and Boulder (In case you need a hotel in Denver, check these deals: Denver Hotels)
Regardless of the season: The higher into the mountains you go, the colder it gets. In general, RMNP is known for its extreme weather patterns which can change very quickly, as well as wide variations between day and nighttime temperatures. Find detailed weather data here: Climate Estes Park - Colorado
Spring | April - May
Early Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park
The weather in spring is unpredictable: Up to 70°F (21°C) on one day and a temperature drop together with blizzards on the next day. It varies between warm and cold, wet and dry. Many trails are still snow-covered well into May, often even at the end of May. After a warm April, trails can be snow free in May, but are very muddy. This means you either have to deal with snow or with muddy trails. In general, snowfall is not uncommon in spring. Temperature ranges between 70°F (21°C) and 60°F (16°C).
Summer | June - July - August
Cub Lake in RMNP at Dawn
The most comfortable weather is in the summer months from July to August: The temperature climbs up to 75°F (24°C). However, afternoon thunderstorms can occur and wind is normal. Always prepare for temperature drops of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that the highest elevation trails are snow covered well into June. Wildflowers are in bloom from late June to early August. What to wear in the summer? Always bring layers of clothes, even if you don't plan to hike at higher elevations. A morning can be mild and in the afternoon temps can drop remarkably. Always bring a rain jacket, as well as a warmer long sleeve shirt in your pack. Usually you can start with a short sleeve shirt for hikes or walks.
Fall | September - October - Early November
Autumn is usually a great time for a visit. September and October bring clear, crisp air, blue skies, and generally dry weather. Especially in September it's generally still mild and warm. However, mornings and evenings can be a lot chillier. Always bring a jacket! Early snow is already possible in October. Looking for fall foliage? Leaves start changing colors in late August at higher elevations, peak is around mid-September and the beautiful fall foliage lasts until October in most years at lower elevations. Early October is often still a good time for leaf peeping at lower elevations. At higher elevations the vibrant fall colores will be already gone in October. Elk rutting season begins in September as well and continues through mid-October at least. Like in spring you need to be flexible, check the forecast and bring gear and clothes for various conditions.
Winter | November - March
Winter in RMNP means snow and arctic conditions. However, lower elevations on the east slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are usually free of deep snow. The west side of the park experiences more snow, less wind, and clear cold days during these months. Most high country overnight trips require gear suitable for freezing temperatures. Skiing and snowshoeing conditions are best in January, February, and March. There are lots of other exciting activities in Winter: Sledding at Hidden Valley, Winter Wildlife Viewing, Ice Climbing and more. Visit NPS Rocky Mountain Winter Activities and 20 Things To Do in the Winter. Trail Ridge Road: While it's closed in the winter, keep in mind that you're allowed to drive the first 8 miles until Many Parks Curve overlook. Depending on weather conditions of course.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
With over 4 million visitors each year, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited Parks in the U.S. Expect the most crowds in summer and fall. The busiest months are June until August, with heavy crowds in July/August. During the week it starts to thin out after Labor Day in September (first Monday in September), but not on weekends. Also, try to avoid National Public Lands Day at the end of September. Entrance to to all National Parks is free then and RMNP will be extremely busy on this day/weekend!! Visiting mid-week in September means less crowds as well as enjoying elk rutting and pleasant fall temperatures at the same time.
In general from July through September: Avoid weekends and/or go early in the morning to beat the crowds. In the peak months arrive between 7 and 8 AM to get a parking spot. Usually, it starts to get busier after 9 AM. Especially popular entrances like Estes Park or trailheads like Bear Lake Trail are extremely busy. In general, the west side (Grand Lake) is less crowded than the Eastern side (Estes Park Entrance). Regardless of the month, season or entrance: Go as early as possible, head out on a trail, hike a few of miles from the busy areas and you won’t see too many others.
Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers.
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!
Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.
Summer offers the best and driest weather in July and August. However, bad weather can still occur. Always check the forecast, bring rain gear and dress in layers to be prepared for every kind of weather. If you want to avoid the most snow, don’t go before June. In May even places like Paradise are still covered with snow. In most years the area is usually snow-free from about mid-July through late September.
Avoiding the Crowds
July and August are also the peak tourist months. Paradise and Sunrise will be quite crowded. If you can, visit in June or September: After the first Labor Day weekend (early September) tourist crowds dissipate. However, there are 3 simple ways dodge the crowds and get a parking lot even during peak season in the summer:
- Be there early in the morning. Preferably before 9 AM. The earlier, the better. Stay at a nearby hotel or lodge (see our tips below).
- Alternatively, you could arrive late, between 5 PM and 6 PM. Most visitors have left the park at 6 PM. You'd avoid most crowds and enjoy one of the fascinating Shorter Hikes.
- Try to avoid weekends and visit mid-week if possible.
Sweet Spot Months
Sweet spot months with fewer crowds and a high chance of good weather are June and September (immediately after Labor Day crowds disappear). In September it’s even snow free, and the visitor centers and all its facilities are usually open until the end of September. But still, try to avoid weekends in September if possible or start early in the morning.
Six million acres of wild land: Taiga forest, alpine tundra, and snowy mountains and stunning wildlife. An amazing place year-round.
Welcome to our unique Denali guide (updated 2019) with tips for each month, hiking insights, and everything you should know about the bus transport service. When is the best time to visit? Denali is open year-round. However, main activities and tours are being offered in summer only. Shuttle busses will get you into the wilderness from May 20 until mid-September. Now, read our season guide below the quick navigation or jump directly to the top hiking and bus tips.
Quick Navigation (Selected Topics):
- The Best Denali Hotels (Avoid Glitter Gulch!)
- Shuttle Bus and Tour Bus (The Definitive Bus Guide)
- Hiking & Off-Trail Hiking (With Easy Hikes & Walks)
Special Tip: Don't forget to check out our unique Denali Bus FAQ at the end of this article. It's extremely helpful and answers all of your questions!
Stunning and Scenic Denali Flights from Talkeetna | Nearby Airport
These flights are expensive, we know. However, if you can afford, go on one of these once-in-a-lifetime plane ride adventures where you fly over Denali National Park. The views are just mesmerizing!
Season Guide | Weather and Monthly Tips
Weather overview? Find helpful weather details at: Denali Park Weather Monthly averages here: Climate Denali National Park (switch from C to F at the top right. Keep in mind that the temperatures vary depending on the elevation and the part of the park). Check the Denali Webcam at Wonder Lake and read on for more details about a summer, winter, spring or fall visit:
The best time to experience amazing fall foliage in Denali: Late August/early-September
Mid-May - late May (spring): May is the driest month and the weather starts to get warmer. Average high: 52°F (11°C). Most tours and the shuttle bus service start around mid-May. However, some snow has still to melt. As a result, the deeper parts of the park are often not fully accessible. Rates are low and there are no crowds.
June (late spring, summer): June is also a very dry month and temperatures climb. Average high: 66°F (19°). Flowers are in bloom and you get the most hours of daylight (Sunrise-Sunset Denali). After the first week of June, the park is usually fully accessible. Early June until mid-June is a great time before it starts to get crowded with tourists coming from cruise ships and everywhere else. Drawback: Mosquitoes are an issue from June until the end of July.
July (summer): July is the warmest months with temperatures climbing to 70°F (21°C) and still a lot of daylight (18-19 hours). There is slightly more precipitation than in June, but no need to worry about long periods of rain. July is the peak month in terms of visitation. Again, small drawback: Mosquitoes are still an issue.
August (late summer): It's still pleasant. However, temperatures already start to drop slightly but it's still a great month temperature wise. Average high: 62°F (17°C). Also, there are slightly fewer daylight hours in August (16-17 hours). August has the highest average precipitation of all months. However, nothing to worry about. You need to bring rain gear regardless of the month. In terms of visitors, it's still very crowded.
Early September - mid-September (early autumn): As temperatures drop it will be cooler in September and there is also less daylight (11-14 hours). Average high: 50°F (10°C). However, it's still a great month to visit as the temperature is still pleasant and all services are being offered until mid-September. After Labor Day Weekend (beginning of September) the crowds dissipate as well. You'll enjoy a much more peaceful park. Looking for the leaf color explosion? Fall foliage starts early in Denali. The peak time for the beautiful fall colors is usually the end of August and early September.
Mid-September - mid-October (autumn) and April - early May (spring): Most services are shut down, restaurants, hotels, and shops are closed from mid-September to mid-May. However, the shoulder season can be quite rewarding as you can experience the 'real' Alaska. In the fall temperatures can still be pleasant or already freezing cold in October. Always check the weather forecast. In fall and spring, you need to rent a car as the shuttle service is not available. More helpful details about visiting in shoulder season: Fall and Spring Visit
Late-October - March (winter): It gets freezing cold and it's time for Winter Activities. Including skiing, winter biking and snowshoeing. Temperatures are ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit and colder, to high 20s on warm days.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The summer months experience the highest visitation. Check out the visitation chart below, then our tips for enjoying a more peaceful visit to Denali National Park.
- Shoulder Weeks (late spring/early fall):
To avoid the most crowds at the popular spots (entrance areas, bus tours, visitor centers, famous spots) during peak season, still use the shuttle bus service and enjoy mostly pleasant weather: Visit during either in the very short late spring or early fall season: End of May until mid-June or early September (after Labor Day) until mid-September.
- Popular Tours in Shoulder Weeks:
The very popular day tours which do not include hiking like the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Experience Tour are usually fully booked during peak months. During shoulder weeks (see above) there is a good chance that a tour bus is less than half full. That means you can spread out. The tours usually run from mid-May until mid-September (Kantishna from early June until mid-September). Read below for more info on bus tours.
- Own Activities / Trail Hiking:
You can avoid crowds in peak season by planning your own activities. And even if you only drive to Savage River (by free bus shuttle or with your own car) for the short hike and to spend time there, you'll avoid tourist groups by starting early. Check the list of trails: Denali Trail Details. Always start early, and you'll avoid the crowds. If you take a shuttle bus: Make an online reservation and book the earliest departure.
- Off-Trail Hikes/Walks:
Even in the summer, it's quite easy to get away from every group of tourists and spend time in solitude: Book a transit shuttle bus early in the morning departing from the WAC (Wilderness Access Center). Get off the bus wherever you like and start hiking or walking. Regardless of your fitness level or age! If you feel intimidated, you can stay close to the park road the whole time and still experience stunning wilderness and wildlife. Get back on the bus to WAC whenever you like for free. Find more details about easy off-trail hikes (even short 1-2 hours hikes/walks) below in the hiking and shuttle text section.
- Stay at a Hotel Outside the Park:
The entrance area is always filled with thousands of people in the summer. The same applies to the hotels very close to the entrance (Princes Lodges, Bluffs Hotels, …). The easiest way to avoid those heavily crowded areas is to take advantage of the more quiet lodging alternatives in Healy (17 Minute Drive - Google Maps). You'd need a rental car in case the hotel doesn't offer a shuttle service (UBER is also available now), but the hotels there are also less expensive. Check the best prices and book well ahead: Healy - Recommended Hotels
Wildlife / Flora / Northern Lights
The best time of day to spot wildlife is in the morning or late afternoon/evening. Being on a bus long enough increases your chances. Best season is during the warmer summer months. There is not much wildlife in the winter due to hibernation. Denali also has a rich and amazing flora. Wildflowers begin to bloom in early June till late July. How to spot the Northern Lights? Since the Denali region is almost free light pollution, it's an excellent area to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). The sky must be dark enough and clear. With a partly clouded sky, it's less likely to experience it. Time of day? Usually, you can start looking after 1,5 hours after sunset. It's possible to see the Aurora here between mid-August and early-May. However, the highest chance to spot Northern Lights is in March/April and September/October.