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!
Yellowstone is the world's first national park, established in 1872. Witness volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers.
Long, cold winters. Mild, but short summers. The warmest months are from June to August and a great time for hiking. In spring the weather is unpredictable: Cold and even snow can linger into April and May. A warm jacket and rain gears are a must-have in spring. Fall months, especially SEPTEMBER and early OCTOBER may be the best months with mild weather, fewer crowds and lots of wildlife. In winter heavy snowfall occurs from December to March.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds:
July and August are also the peak tourist months. Crowds start to thin out after Labor Day in September. In October it even gets much quieter. A perfect month to enjoy many places without many others. Just keep in mind that a lot of facilities close sometime in October and November: NPS Yellowstone - Operating Hours.
Please note, that September became busier in the recent years. It's less busy than in summer but not a super quiet shoulder month anymore. Follow our September Tips:
- Go mid-September, as it gets quieter. A great sweet spot week is the last week in September.
- Go as early as possible. If you get up early you'll avoid heavy traffic at the busy areas like Old Faithful or elk rutting spots along the road.
Another great month is the first week of June with warm weather and fewer crowds before the peak summer season starts. Again, keep in mind that June became much busier recently: Go early in the morning and try to avoid weekends.