Many travelers arrive in northeast Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park by car, hoping to see the park’s natural wonders of the world’s largest thermal basins and one of its most successful wildlife sanctuaries. As one of the five most visited national parks, Yellowstone is crowded in summer with caravans of motorists backed up behind bison jams. By following a few tips, summer travelers can avoid the overcrowding and still see all that this park has to offer.
When to Visit Yellowstone to Avoid Summer Crowds
Some roads in Yellowstone aren’t open until May. Even then, there can be deep snow on the sides of the road and blizzards can occur. Traveling to Yellowstone at the end of May or first two weeks of June is uncommon. Note that not all park services are available at this time, so check with the park service regarding what is open. July and August tend to be the busiest months of Yellowstone’s summer season.
Holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, always bring more visitors to national parks than on regular weekends. However, Yellowstone doesn’t experience much of a difference between weekday and weekend visitation since it’s located far from major population centers.
Rising early allows visitors at national parks to avoid crowds, even at the most visited sites. Few travelers see Old Faithful at dawn, but that same area can be overcrowded a few hours later.
How to See Yellowstone’s Attractions without Crowds
Most visitors to Yellowstone follow the 142-mile Grand Loop Road to see the park’s major attractions. Mammoth Hot Springs; Norris Geyser Basin; Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basins; Old Faithful; West Thumb Geyser Basin; Yellowstone Lake; and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are the main points of interest on the Grand Loop.
Avoiding masses of people at Yellowstone is as simple as getting out of the car and taking a hike. Most visitors don’t get off the beaten path. Yet there are 1,100 miles of trails in the park. Yellowstone includes an isolated path of wilderness over the Continental Divide — the Thorofare — that’s often described as the remotest place in the lower 48 states.
Camping at Yellowstone affords visitors a chance to sleep under the stars in an uncrowded atmosphere. But most visitors opt for hotels and lodges in the park. Or travel to nearby GrandTeton National Park for scenic views of wilderness and wildlife without the crowds.
Uncrowded Places to Visit at Yellowstone Park
Old Faithful is rarely uncrowded. Climbing nearby Observation Hill affords a bird’s-eye view of the famous geyser without the crowds. Lone Star is a lesser known geyser that erupts about every 3 hours. Peaking at 45 feet, it rivals Old Faithful, and is a mere 5-mile round-trip hike away.
Lower Yellowstone Falls is a popular visitor site in the park, usually viewed from Artist Point. Hiking farther to Point Sublime offers different views of the falls and Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.
Lamar Valley is off the beaten path and Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, but it offers prime viewing of wildlife, such as wolves and grizzly bears. The nearby Tower-Roosevelt area features scenic, quiet forests, meadows and streams. The Tower Fall Trail half-mile hike is rewarded with a 132-foot cascading waterfall. Board a stagecoach near the Roosevelt Lodge and experience travel in Yellowstone as early park visitors did.
Yellowstone Lake skirts the Grand Loop, but most visitors don’t take the time to hike around the huge lake (the largest high-elevation lake in North America), see its hot springs or fish its waters. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel, an historic inn with 1920s ambiance, offers fine dining and unsurpassed views of the lake from wicker chairs in its sun room. Take an interesting road trip from the nearby east entrance to the park on the Bighorn Mountain Loop.
Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres of land offers plenty of space for all its visitors, even in summer. Travel to Yellowstone early in the summer and avoid holidays. Visit popular attractions early in the day, and spend the remainder of daylight hours hiking the many trails and traveling to less visited areas of the park. Camping rather than staying in hotels and lodges in and around Yellowstone also offers a different experience.
Few tourists visit Yellowstone in winter. The park’s thermal features still put on a show and wildlife is much more accessible when snow is on the ground. Mount Rainier National Park is uncrowded in spring or fall, allowing visitors to climb Washington State’s tallest mountain and hike its many trails. Or take a train trip to Glacier National Park to view glaciers, alpine meadows and wildlife, like mountain goats.