Yellowstone National Park is one of my most favorite places to visit. It is a magical place of wild animals, gorgeous landscapes and amazing thermal features. The park is Mother Nature’s showcase of all that she can do. Visiting Yellowstone in the Fall is a bit of a gamble, however.
Yellowstone in the Fall: 2016
Our first fall trip was the second week of September 2016. We hadn’t been to the park in at least 10 years, and were very exciting to be coming back. We knew, going into it, that the weather could do absolutely anything in September, and we weren’t disappointed.
The Importance of Having Flexible Travel Plans
Our initial 2016 plan was to spend a night in Cooke City, at the High Country Motel, then head into the park and camp at the Madison Campground for most of the week. Things didn’t quite work out that way, due to a snow storm.
The first day we were in Yellowstone, it was quite warm shirt sleeve weather. We were out hiking, and driving around enjoying the buffalo and scenery of the Lamar Valley. Towards the end of the day, it clouded up as a storm started to move in. The next morning was wet, gray and snowing. We got to experience a white out blizzard. Fortunately, we were able to stay another night at High Country. So, we spent the day driving a bit around the park, trying to stay warm and dry.
Since we were able to stay the extra night in the motel, when we went to set up our tent, it was nice and dry. It hadn’t snowed much on the west side of the park, where the Madison Campground is, so that helped too. We did run into folks who had camped in other places and had gotten several inches of snow on their tents.
Cook Stoves and Happy Accidents
The first morning we woke up at the campground, we couldn’t get the camp stove to work. We had cooked dinner on it the previous evening, but couldn’t get it to stay lit in the morning. We weren’t out of propane, but were in need of coffee. Our plan for the day was to head down to Old Faithful and walk through that geyser basin. Since it was still really early (6 am) we decided to go ahead and drive down there to see if there was anyone up and selling coffee yet.
Within two minutes of walking up to the Old Faithful Geyser it erupted! We couldn’t have planned it better. We were all alone, in the quiet of the morning, with a little fog. It was truly an unforgettable moment.
After getting a cup of coffee, we walked through the geyser basin. It was amazing to have it all to ourselves, surrounded by a blanket of fog. The only sounds were the geysers, and some elk bugling in the distance.
Yellowstone in the Fall: 2017
This year, due to some other plans, we weren’t able to get to Yellowstone until the third week in September. Right off the bat we ended up having to detour from our driving plans, due to Bear Tooth Highway being closed, from a recent snow storm. We ended up driving down through Buffalo, WY thru Cody, WY to get to Cooke City, MT. It is actually a very pretty drive, and is shorter than the route we had originally planned.
We arrived in Cooke City around 2 pm, which is too early to check in to the motel. So, we headed into the park for a “quick” drive through the Lamar Valley. The weather was rainy, cold and windy. The only animals to be seen were the buffalo, the vast majority of which were off in the distance, up on the hill sides.
This is pretty much indicative of how this trip will go. Long story short, the rain and snow that moved into the park pretty much kept the roads closed. With the Mammoth to Norris road closed for construction, the only option to head South was via Dunraven Pass. With the constant snow, we were nervous about getting stuck on the other side of the pass, and having to drive a very long way around to get out. So, we spent a night camping at Mammoth, and headed home.
Yellowstone in the Fall: The Wildlife
Fall is typically a really fun time to get out into nature. The elk put on quite a show, and both of our trips were punctuated by watching and listening to the elk. This year, there was a whole herd of elk in the campground with us. We got to listen to the bull bugle back and forth with others, nearly all night!
Last year, we were privileged to hear and see some of the wolves living in the Lamar Valley. This year, we found out that they don’t really like to be out in the rain and wind (which is pretty much what the weather was doing…). Thus, we didn’t get to see or hear them this year. If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, and would like to find out where the wolves (and bears) are, and what they are up to, check out Yellowstone Reports, a paid subscription of daily reports and other articles.
A trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without a few Buffalo sightings…
When Planning to Yellowstone in the Fall, make sure you are prepared for all weather. Be flexible in your plans, and be smart about your safety. If you would like to learn more about Yellowstone, or see some amazing photo’s from this spring, check out these articles: