Yellowstone National Park
|Yellowstone National Park (William S. Keller)|
Since unpredictability, more than anything else, characterizes Yellowstone's weather, it's wise to always check ahead for forecasts and road conditions and closings, especially when planning backcountry trips on Yellowstone Lake. Call park headquarters (long distance from some areas of the park) for current road and weather information. Stay informed about changing conditions by calling or stopping at visitor centers for information.
A jacket and rain gear is recommended even in summer. Remember, snow might start falling in June! Here, then, is a four-season guide to enjoying Yellowstone:
Temperatures at Yellowstone hover near zero throughout the day, occasionally reaching highs in the 20s. Subzero nighttime lows are common. Annual snowfall averages near 150 inches in most of the park. At higher elevations, 200 to 400 inches of snowfall have been recorded. The snowmobile and snowcoach travel season runs from mid-December to mid-March. All roads and entrances are closed to all but oversnow vehicles, except the North Entrance and the road from Gardiner, Montana, through the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City, Montana, which is open only to wheeled vehicles. Plowing stops at Cooke City, so you must return to the North Entrance to leave the park.
Cold and snow can linger into May, with average daytime readings in the 40s and 50s. By late May and June, temps climb to the 60s and 70s. Nighttime lows still fall below freezing, and may plunge near zero. Plowing begins in early March. Depending on weather, the first stretch of road open to motor vehicles is the Mammoth-Norris road. By mid-April, the road opens from Norris through the West Entrance and as far south as Old Faithful. Roads on the park's east side may open in late April or early May, with the East and South entrances typically open by early May. Craig Pass, between Old Faithful and West Thumb, and Dunraven Pass, between Tower and Canyon Junctions, open by late May, weather permitting. The Beartooth Highway, connecting Cooke City to Red Lodge, Montana, generally opens between Memorial Day weekend and early June. Spring storms may cause restrictions or temporary closures on some roads.
Summer is the season of choice to visit for most of the park's 3,000,000 annual visitors. Average temperatures are in the 70s and occasionally reach the 80s in lower elevations. Nighttime temps may drop into the 30s and 40s, falling into the 20s with a light freeze at lower elevations. June is cool and rainy; July and August drier, though afternoon thunderstorms are common. Barring accidents or rock/mud slides, park roads are generally open for travel.
Although pleasant, temps average 10 to 20 degrees lower than summer readings, with nighttime lows occasionally falling into the single digits. Snowstorms increase in intensity and frequency as the season wanes. Storms may cause temporary restrictions (snow tire or chain requirements) or closures of park roads. Around October 31, park roads close for the season. The only exception is the year-round road from Gardiner to Cooke City, Montana. Winter season begins mid-December.
Activities by Season
No matter what the season, Yellowstone is a sports lover's wonderland. (However, steer clear of rock climbing; it's dangerous due to loose, crumbly rocks. It's also illegal in the Grand Canyon.) Yellowstone is a winter wonderland. There are a variety of enjoyable and challenging ski trails. Stop at a visitor center or ski shop for help in planning your trip. Biking is a less cold weather pursuit. Bear in mind that there are no bicycle paths along roadways, and bikes are prohibited on backcountry trails and boardwalks. High snowbanks make travel more dangerous during April, May, and June. Road elevations range from 5,300 to 8,600 feet and relatively long distances exist between services and facilities. Naturally, there are hiking trails throughout the park. Check at the ranger station for restrictions in some backcountry areas, and always carry water. Anglers, keep in mind that fishing season traditionally begins on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and continues through the first Sunday of November.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication