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!
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
Mammoth Cave, the world's longest known cave system with more than 400 miles that have already been explored and mapped but park rangers say scientists believe that may still only be a fraction of
Mammoth Cave National Park is a truly amazing year-round destination. Read our full season guide below and scroll down even further if you're interested in the best cave tours and the top tips before visiting almost at the end of this guide!
Special Tip: While you're in Kentucky, do not make the mistake and visit Mammoth Cave only. Take a look at Kentucky Off the Beaten Path® - A Guide to Unique Places. This guidebook from the 'Off the Beaten Path' series is terrific! It's your chance to visit unforgettable places!
Season Guide (Monthly Overview)
In peak seasons (late spring until early fall) the cave draws big crowds, even more in the busy summer months. Each year, about 2 million visitors come to the park, with almost half a million of them taking a cave tour. Read our seasonal cave tour breakdown (shoulder season, high season, low season) and take a look at our tips to avoid the crowded tours in peak season. Please note that there are different tour schedules available for each season and that the number of participants allowed for each tour varies (up to 120). The visitation chart below contains official 2018 data. It gives you a nice insight about the busiest months at Mammoth Cave:
March - April - May | Spring (Crowded Tours)
Early March is often still a good time crowd-wise. From mid-March until May the tours get more crowded, especially on weekends and public holidays (Memorial Day). Making online reservations is recommended. To ensure a slot for your desired tour, we suggest booking 1-2 weeks in advance, although for many tours it's sometimes possible to make reservations 1-3 days in advance only during the spring. Spring 2019 Schedule — March 10 - May 25
June - July - August | Summer (Very Crowded Tours)
During peak summer months, the cave tours are heavily jammed. However, especially in June it's possible to get into a less crowded tour if you book an early morning spot on a weekday (Mon-Tue). Either way, making reservations is strongly recommended and often required to get into your desired tour. For the rare tours with very few participants, like the Wild Cave Tour, we highly recommend booking 3-4 weeks in advance, as it sells out real quick. Summer 2019 Schedule
September - October | Fall (Crowded Tours)
After Labor Day weekend (early September) the crowds at the park thin out slightly at least, and not every tour is sold out in advance. However, it's still not quiet at all and making online reservations is recommended even during shoulder season.
November - December - January - February | Winter (Uncrowded / Quiet)
November and December are much quieter months. January and February is the quietest time in the park. During both months there is a possibility, that you may have a mid-week tour nearly to yourself. 'Walking along Broadway without anyone else is a surreal and otherworldly experience.' You'll also enjoy lowest hotel rates in winter. Winter 2019/20 Schedule
Avoiding Crowds and Waiting Lines
Since the cave temperature is at a constant 54 °F (12 °C) year-round, you may just visit in the off-season in winter (see above) or at least during shoulder months, in late fall or early spring. In the summer, the whole place is jammed with tourists, particularly between 10 a.m. and 2. p.m.
However, if you'd like to visit in the summer months or maybe you can only visit then, we got you covered. Choose from one or more of our 3 tips to dodge the crowded tours:
- Book the Earliest Tour Spot: Book one night at a close hotel (see the tips below the weather details). Then you use the online reservation system Official Mammoth Cave Tour Reservation and book the earliest tour spot before the buses arrive: 8:30 a.m., 8:45 a.m., 9:15 a.m. (depending on the tour). Book a few weeks ahead of time to make sure the slot is available. Additionally try to go mid-week (Mon-Tue) and not on the weekends. Even those early tours can still be crowded (full) at times but the whole park is a lot quieter in the morning without the masses of tourists arriving via buses.
- Book a Tour with Fewer Participants: The number of people allowed on a cave tour varies by tour. The 'Domes and Dripstones Tour' for example allows 118 participants, which results in quite a crowd when fully booked. The Frozen Niagara Tour allows 'only' 39 people. Combine this one with an early morning time slot (see above)! However, the best tour to avoid the crowds is the Wild Cave Tour: An intense and very strenuous 6 hour drive for spelunking enthusiasts. Up to 14 participants only.
- Use Another Parking Area: If you happen to arrive when everything is busy, do not use the parking lot in front of the Visitors Center. It's ridiculously crowded. Just park in the overflow parking at the Lodge (turn right before the Visitor Center). Walk through the Lodge and cross the bridge that takes you to the Center.
Weather (For Camping) | Cave Temperature
The cave has a constant temperature of 54 °F (12 °C) throughout the year, regardless of the outside weather. However, winter temperatures can be below freezing at entrances. In most areas of the cave, you'll be comfortable if you wear long pants and take a sweater or jacket with you.
Outside Weather: Even with the consistent year-round cave temperature, the outside weather shouldn't be overlooked. Not only by camping visitors (jump to the campsite section). In general, the climate around Mammoth Cave National Park is moderate with warm summers and pleasant spring and fall temperatures. Winters are mild and rarely harsh. Monthly climate details at Monthly Climate - Mammoth Cave. Excellent weather details including temperatures, rainfall, humidity and winds at Average Weather - Cave City Kentucky. For current conditions check out the weather webcam: Mammoth Cave NPS Webcam. Want to know the weather details for each season and month:
Spring Weather (March, April, May)
Spring is a pleasant time to visit the area, although the weather can vary a lot from day to day. In March the average highs already reach 61°F (16°C), in April 72°F (22°C). The nights are usually still chilly during March. In May it gets even warmer. May is also the month with the highest precipitation throughout the year. In general, rain is somewhat common during the spring with 8 to 9 days of precipitation per month. Also keep in mind that the weather is unpredictable, especially in spring. An afternoon can go from clear and sunny to rain or thunderstorms within two hours. Campgrounds open March 1 (see below). The campgrounds are not too busy in the spring (except for spring break and maybe weekends). Due to more precipitation, a rain fly is highly recommended for camping.
Summer Weather (June, July, August)
In general, the weather is quite stable compared to spring and other seasons. Summers outside Mammoth Cave are usually sunny, hot and humid. Daytime high temperatures often pass 90°F (32°C) in July and August. The downside is the high humidity between mid-June and mid-September. Especially from early July until mid-August / late August it gets really muggy, which might be uncomfortable for some visitors. On the other hand, the less humid and lower cave temperature comes in handy during those muggy summer weeks. If you're not bothered by the high humidity, the summer months are great for camping. Big plus: Thanks to the bats, you don't have to deal with mosquitoes at all.
Fall Weather (September, October, November)
Autumn weather can also be unpredictable, but not so much as in spring. In September it can still be humid, although not as muggy as in the summer months. The average highs reach 83°F (28°C). October is still pleasant with temps up to 72°F (22°C). In November it gets cooler but it's still mild with average highs of 60°F (15°C). Locals say that November weather can be nice most of the times. The campgrounds are significantly less crowded compared to summer. First signs of turning leaves are often in early October. And a good chance to catch the beautiful peak fall foliage colors is typically from mid to late October
Winter Weather (December, January, February)
Although it gets colder, the winter months are rarely harsh. However, ice storms in January and February are possible, which may cause difficult driving conditions. The snowy period usually starts early December and lasts until mid-March. Most snow falls in January and February. Although the cave temperature is constant year-round, it can be freezing in the cave entrance area in winter. In winter whole Mammoth Cave becomes a warm refuge and the quietness in the park area makes up for the lower outside temperature.