Best time to travel to Yellowstone National Park

Fall Colors in Yellowstone National Park

America's first national park is all dressed up for the fall

Best time: late September–early October

Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Overlooking the Yellowstone River drainage from Custer Gallatin National Forest

Yellowstone might not be famous for its fall foliage, but you won't regret paying a visit to the park during this magical time. Crowds are much thinner compared to the summer, wildlife is more active, and golden tones dominate the landscapes throughout the park. Yellow grass and golden cottonwoods and aspens create amazing pictures from northwestern Wyoming to southern Montana and eastern Idaho.

When is the best time for fall colors in Yellowstone

Peak time for leaf peeping in Yellowstone National Park is from late September through early October. Colors first appear on higher elevations, where some nice yellow accents can be spotted from mid-September, and then move to the valleys. Mid-September is a good time to visit the park while most of its facilities and lodges are open. Starting from October, roads and visitor centers gradually shut down for the winter season.

Where to photograph fall colors in Yellowstone

Lamar Valley is among the most beautiful fall destinations in Yellowstone National Park. This remote area in the northeast of the park is rich with cottonwoods and suits perfectly for wildlife viewing. Bald eagles, coyotes, herds of bison, pronghorn, grizzly bears, and deer are frequently seen there in the fall.

Northern Yellowstone borders to Custer Gallatin National Forest, a fall foliage paradise that can be easily accessed from Gardiner, Montana. Explore the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness just east of Gardiner or the Gallatin Wilderness to the north and west.

Mammoth Hot Springs is another picturesque fall foliage spot located south of the North entrance to the park. It's the best place to hear bull elk bulging during the rut. Mammoth Hot Springs terraces look beautiful when dotted with colorful shrubs. From there, you can take a 20-minute drive to Tower Junction on Blacktail Plateau Drive, a scenic dirt road running through the woods of Blacktail Deer Plateau.

South of Swan Lake Flat, you can enjoy fall foliage along Indian Creek and around Sheepeater Cliffs. Elk can be frequently spotted there during the rut season. Bunsen Peak also offers some photo-worthy views.

In the central part, Pleasant Valley boasts golden grass, picturesque boulders, bright yellow cottonwood and aspen trees, coloring the banks of the Yellowstone River. Hayden Valley is another beautiful fall destination with a mud volcano and rich wildlife, such as bison and elk.

Picturesque Lewis River with its geysers and scenic Lewis River Canyon is located in southern Yellowstone. The lower section of the river, near Lewis River Falls, is especially beautiful because of the old-growth fir and cedar forest with patches of deciduous trees.

In addition to hiking, Yellowstone is a perfect place for a fall biking trip. As park roads close for the winter, biking enthusiasts can have them just for themselves. If you're longing for more leaf peeping, Grand Teton National Park, south of Yellowstone, is famous for its postcard views.

Practical info

When is the peak time for leaf peeping in Yellowstone National Park?

The colors of fall make their appearance in Yellowstone National Park during late September and the beginning of October. Fall foliage is at its highest peak during this time, though it may be different year to year depending on the atmospheric conditions. The mountainous regions are the first to show signs of the turning colors, and soon the valleys follow suit. Show more

Where can I photograph fall colors in Yellowstone?

Photographers and nature lovers alike can find several picturesque locations throughout Yellowstone National Park for capturing the beauty of fall. Lamar Valley, located in the northeast of the park, is perfect for wildlife viewing and contains abundant cottonwoods. Mammoth Hot Springs is another scenic location, south of the North entrance, distinguished by elk, dotting shrubs, and colorful terraces. Pleasant Valley is another location, central Yellowstone, boasting rocky cliffs, bright cottonwoods, and yellow grasses. Hayden Valley offers mud volcanos and wildlife sightings. Finally, South Yellowstone's Lewis River Canyon has idyllic forests with pops of autumnal trees. Show more

What are the best spots for wildlife viewing during fall in Yellowstone?

During the fall season, visitors can spot an array of wildlife, such as bison, bears, wolves, and coyotes, emerging from the thick forests in the park. The Lamar Valley in the northeast is a popular location for wolf sightings and bison. Mammoth Hot Springs, where elk and bison roam, is another must-see spot. Indian Creek, south of Swan Lake Flat, brings you closer to herds of elk and bison. Hayden Valley is another popular spot, where you can catch glimpses of grazing bison and other animals. Finally, South Yellowstone's Lewis River Canyon offers a beautiful forest interior with a sprinkling of deciduous trees. Show more

When does the winter season start in Yellowstone?

Typically, the winter season at Yellowstone National Park commences in October, immediately following the fall season. Following the peak of autumn color, roads, and centers close gradually, allowing for winter activities such as skiing and snowshoeing. Before beginning your trip, visitors should check the park's website for the latest updates on road closures and facility conditions. Show more

Can I ride a bike in Yellowstone during fall?

Fall is the perfect time of year for cycling fans to visit Yellowstone National Park. Visitors can rent bikes or bring their own to experience the breathtaking views of the fall foliage before the roads close for the winter season. During this time of year, crowds thin out, and you can nearly have the roads to yourself. Regardless, it's critical to take safety precautions and abide by the park's bike rules and guidelines. Show more

Ask a question
Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen