Top Ten Parks for Spring

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone bison
Bison enjoying tender spring greens
Only-in-springtime view: Rivers racing wild and free from the snowmelt
Activities: Hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, late-season snow sports, scenic driving, geyser gazing

Yellowstone's roads start getting plowed in late March, and bit by bit the park opens up, ending with Beartooth Highway in early June. Likewise, bit by bit, the skis and snowshoes are put away, and out come the hiking boots and the fishing poles. The road to Mammoth Springs near the north entrance is the first area to open up—usually in early March. The road to Old Faithful is usually open by mid-April. This early in the spring, snow still covers the ground and night temperatures fall below freezing. Casual hikers visiting in early spring will be able to experience many of the park's renowned thermal features, even if they can't go the distance on the still snowbound trails.

But sure as sugar, the snow melts, the rivers swell, and the trails open up. The Yellowstone River Trail is the most popular trail near Mammoth Springs. This is a great hike to do in the spring, when the river is running high and wild. A treat: There is no road along this river.

Spring weather is dependably undependable. Trails do not become available like trains on a timetable. If you go early in the season, you'll have to play your choices by ear. But you'll be in Yellowstone. The scenery will still be magnificent, and the world-famous wildlife-viewing opportunities will still abound. Watch out for elk, bears, deer, bison, smaller mammals, birds, and more.

Wildflowers, my favorite rejuvenator, are a major draw to the grasslands of Pelican Valley and Hayden Valley, as well as the desert sagebrush regions near the north entrance. And as the higher trails open up, early summer wildflowers appear in the higher climes.

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