Exploring the World on Foot

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Yellowstone During the Shoulder Season

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Yellowstone During the Shoulder Season

Did you know that more than 65% of the visitors to Yellowstone visit in the three months of June, July and August? If you visit during the “shoulder season”–right before the start of summer or right after the end of summer–you can experience the park as it was originally intended to be experienced, in peace and serenity without the distractions of man.

The Trail Ninjas went during what we think is the best time to visit Yellowstone — the 2 weeks before the Memorial Day weekend. Here’s why.

No Crowds at Roosevelt Arch
No crowds at Roosevelt Arch

 

No Crowds at Old Faithful

During the peak summer season, thousands of visitors crowd around the Old Faithful Geyser to witness an eruption. When we visited in mid-May, we were amongst a smattering of about 25 people waiting for the Geyser to erupt.

Old Faithful after sunset
Old Faithful after sunset

 

Old Faithful nearly deserted
Old Faithful nearly deserted

 

No Traffic or Trouble Parking

With fewer visitors, there will be fewer cars on the roads. Fewer cars on the roads = fewer traffic jams. We had read about traffic jams as long as two to three hours, but we didn’t experience any of that. While we did encounter a herd of bison taking over our road, it did not subject us to anything more than a 15-minute delay.

Light traffic on the roads
Light traffic on the roads

We never had trouble finding a spot when we pulled into any of the parking lots, even at the most popular destinations like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, and Norris Geyser Basin.

*Note that mid- to late-May is generally the better than April or early May in terms of the least amount of road closures because the park is gearing up for the summer season by then. Although, the fall shoulder season is probably the best for road accessibility.

 

No Bugs

Shoulder season is too cold for the mosquitoes and other buggies to come out. We didn’t need bug spray at all.

 

Cleaner Bathrooms

The campground bathrooms were some of the cleanest that I’d seen at any national park, likely because there just weren’t that many people using them. I never saw anyone else using them either in the morning when I woke up or in the evening as I prepared for bed. While the bathrooms at the various scenic points were almost all outhouses that are inherently gross and smelly, at least they weren’t getting the double or triple the usage they would get in the summertime…

 

Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon in the Snow is Gorgeous

Roads, viewpoints, and trails around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone open up in mid-May. During this time, if you are lucky enough to be there during or right after a day of snow, you can see a snow-covered canyon that is usually off limits (except to cross-country skiers and snowshoers) during the winter.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with snow
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with snow

 

Baby Bison, Baby Bison, BABY BISON!!!

Bison give birth during the April and May months. While bison herds are a common sight in Yellowstone, seeing a bright red baby bison is not. When you visit in the month of May, you can soak in this rare sight! The bears and their cubs also come out from hibernation at this time and can be spotted foraging for food.

Bison herd
Bison herd
Yogi and Boo Boo
Yogi and Boo Boo

 

Steamy Geysers and Springs

Due to the colder temperatures of May, the geysers and hot springs will steam. The steam adds a level of mystery to the already otherworldly geysers and springs.

Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring

More Affordable

During the shoulder season, car rentals, lodging, and flights can be more than 50% off the peak summer season. We paid approximately $250 for a 7-day SUV rental in May. During mid-June, the same rental was easily over $500 for the 7 days.

 

Easy to Book Campsites and Dinner Reservations

We were able to book sites at Madison campground pretty much on a whim, just 3 weeks out. And we were able to get dinner reservations at the popular Lake Yellowstone Hotel dining room (and get window seats facing the lake!) and Old Faithful Lodge dining room without any problem.

Old Faithful Lodge during dinner
Old Faithful Lodge during dinner

Sales in the Gift Shops

If you’re a bargain hunters like us, you will appreciate that the gift shops often change their inventory ahead of the summer season and will mark down prices of last season’s magnets, cups, t-shirts, and other knick knacks. We got some Yellowstone magnets for $0.99 when they were originally $5.99; that’s at over 80% discount!

All the ease, time saved from not being stuck in traffic, and extra money to splurge on divine dining experiences at the historic lodges just made our experience so much more magical.

 

Other interesting posts from the Trail Ninjas

Interested in learning more about an amazing short hike to the new Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook? Then check out our post on how to find the trail to hike up to the overlook.

Don’t forget to check out Grand Teton National Park while you’re in Yellowstone. We wrote a post on some of the best sights to see for a day trip.