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1) Know where there will be crowds. The most crowded part of the park is usually the Old Faithful: the active geyser that erupts regularly is seen by almost all visitors, sometimes its the only site they see on a short visit. Mammoth Hot Springs can also be really overcrowded during high season.
2) Know where there will be small crowds. Less popular destinations include Lone Star Geyser, Point Sublime, Fairy Falls, and Yellowstone Lake. You may plan to visit them during peak hours, to avoid flocks of tourists that will invade the popular sites mentioned above.
2) Make the most of off-peak hours. The park is busy from 10am to 5pm. Coming earlier or staying later will help you to beat the crowds. Try to see the Old Faithful as early as possible. The frequency of Old Faithful’s eruptions ranges from 35 to 120 minutes, with an average of 92 minutes. Ask at the visitor center or somebody working in the park about the times.
3) Leave something spectacular for the sunrise and sunset time. You’ll find the least significant crowds at these hours, with most tourist buses and day trippers not yet on site or already gone. Watching for Wildlife in the Lamar Valley is one of the options.
4) Go hiking. The vast majority of visitors don’t get more than a quarter-mile from the road. Think of discovering some “off the beaten path” trails at midday to escape the crowds.
5) Think of spending the night in the park. During high season you may need to book accommodation well in advance. This pays off, since, in the morning you’ll be hours ahead of others.
6) Prefer visiting Yellowstone on weekdays. It is most popular on weekends and holidays.
7) Avoid visiting Yellowstone in July-August to avoid crowds. Just to make it clear, there are 5 times less visitors December through March. If visiting the park in winter doesn’t inspire you, consider going to Yellowstone in September or June.
Photo credits to Yellowstone National Park via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Crowds at Yellowstone during the year
If you like to avoid crowds, spring is the quietest time to visit the park. However, due to high elevation, spring looks a lot like winter, sometimes with snow staying till June. This month is a great time to visit Yellowstone, but the days can be cold and wet. Many of the hiking trails are still snowed in.
Visitation increases when the weather warms up. July and August are the busiest months, great for hiking and camping, though animals may be hard to find on hot days. These months also provide great opportunities to see bison; it is their rutting or mating season. The last week of August is a good option to visit the park, as kids are already heading back to school.
Fall weather is unpredictable; roads may be closed temporarily by snow or other weather conditions. Still, September is usually a good compromise between the weather and the crowds.
Avoid coming during public holidays, Thanksgiving week and Christmas week are pretty popular, as well as the Labour day weekend and - especially - the 4th of July.
Photo credits to Loren Kerns via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
By bus: all-year-round bus service from Bozeman, MT to West Yellowstone, MT via Highway 191, summer buses from Idaho to West Yellowstone.
By plane: the closest airports are Cody and Jackson, WY; Bozeman and Billings, MT, and Idaho Falls, ID. The West Yellowstone, MT airport is serviced from June to early September from Salt Lake City, UT.
By car: there are 5 entrances to the Yellowstone park. Check here for details and directions.