4.26 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year. It’s one of the most popular National Parks in the United States.
That fact often prevents people from visiting this beautiful park, and it shouldn’t. Yellowstone is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and should definitely be on your must-see list! Here are 10 easy ways you can avoid Yellowstone’s Crowds on your next visit and ensure a great experience.
What’s the best way to beat the crowds in Yellowstone?
There are 10 easy ways to avoid Yellowstone’s Crowds. Let’s plan ahead and prepare for an amazing Yellowstone National Park Vacation together!
1. Visit Yellowstone During Shoulder Season (or winter!)
If at all possible, visit Yellowstone in its off-season. The Spring shoulder season is early March through May and the fall season is late September through October. Summer crowds bring Yellowstone’s vast majority of visitors, so avoiding that time is key to experiencing the park with fewer people.
Only 35 % of Yellowstone’s visitation occurs during the off-season making Spring, Fall, and Winter ideal times to visit the park. Winter definitely has its limitations, however, if you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast who regularly recreates in winter conditions, this might prove to be your best time to visit.
Our Experience: As teachers, summer is our prime adventuring time! This means heading to Yellowstone during the winter season or off season simply isn’t an option. Luckily, there are so many steps you can take to have a great time and avoid Yellowstone’s crowds.
2. Get Up and Out Early
Time of day is so important in Yellowstone National Park! Wake up before the sun rises and hit the road in the early morning hours. Whether you’re trying to find parking at a popular trailhead or looking for solitude at one of Yellowstone’s famous hydrothermal features, the earlier you go, the better. Added bonus, you’ll likely get so see some sights without the crowds and then enjoy a meal crowd free during prime viewing time.
Waking at dawn will also improve your chances of seeing Yellowstone’s most coveted wildlife. Lamar valley and Hayden Valley are prime wildlife viewing areas- The early morning light is also one of the prettiest ways to experience nature (& snag drool-worthy photos of your favorite sights). Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
Our Experience: We woke up at 5:00 AM to head over to Old Faithful geyser one morning. It was amazing to watch it errupt in the morning haze with only a handful of other park visitors. After a quick hike to solitary geyser and around the basin, the viewing area really started to fill up. We made our way inside to Old Faithful Inn and grabbed breakfast without much of a line and made our way out of the area just as the parking lots began to fill up! It was a perfect morning in the park.
3. Overnight in the Parks
Go to bed in the park and wake up in the park. It’s simple as that! Cut the travel time of staying outside of the park and plan for your accommodations to be within Yellowstone National Park. Staying within the park is an experience itself! Why miss out on more time in Yellowstone?
Within the park’s boundaries, there are hotels, cabins, campgrounds, and backcountry campsites. Choose your own adventure and pick the accommodation that works best for your family.
Our Experience: Yellowstone is a beautiful place! This also makes it a bucket list spot for many with multiple iconic sites, local wildlife, amazing trails. To optimize our time in the park, we decided to sleeping in the park each day that we were there. We stayed about 10 minutes away from the North Entrance in Montana the night leading up to our trip and it put us in a great position to start early, avoid Yellowstone’s crowds, and really enjoy such a beautiful place from the start.
4. Campsite Hop for Best Positioning
Take your Yellowstone National Park stay one step further by campsite hopping. This will make the most of your time, allowing you to avoid Yellowstone crowds along the way.
This might seem like a pain in the butt, but hear me out! Make the most of your time by covering one area of the park per day; stay at a different location within the park each night and choose where you explore based on where you’re staying that evening. This strategy completely removes unnecessary driving from your schedule and makes more time for sightseeing.
Our Experience: The best place to sleep is the campsite closest to where you’re exploring for the day. This gives you more than enough time to see everything you need during daylight and prevents you from spending all of your time driving back and forth on grand loop road.
Packing up our campsite in the early morning hours wasn’t the highlight of our trip, but it allowed us to spend the whole day exploring before setting up camp somewhere new. We were able to sleep in all four corners of the park and truly experience all Yellowstone had to offer because of it.
5. Leave the Main Road
If you have the capability, take the path less traveled. Put some miles on your hikin’ shoes or bikin’ tires and leave the beaten path! Take a hike or ride your bike to some of Yellowstone’s hidden gems.
It’s imperative that you’re prepared with the 10 essentials, including bear spray, and are physically fit enough to embark on a little adventure BUT it’s so worth it. Avoid Yellowstone crowds by simply leaving them behind. You’ll find yourself in a sea of beauty experiencing sights that many other visitors are missing out on!
Our Experience: Yellowstone is home to many famous geysers, wild animals, and miles of trails. We made sure to visit all of the popular destinations, check out a visitor center or two, and still avoid large crowds by getting an early start and heading out on longer hikes at peak hours. We purchased a Yellowstone National Park Map and chose the best hikes based on how far away they would bring us from the main road and popular sites.
6. Pack a Lunch
Brown bag your lunch and bring it along for the adventure! Packing your lunch will save you time and give you the freedom to eat when you want, where you want.
This allows you to eat on the trail, which is the perfect place to be in the middle of the day when Yellowstone crowds are at their highest! Additionally, you can simply avoid Yellowstone crowds by avoiding restaurants mid-day and opting for a peaceful picnic lunch at one of the many picnic areas within the park. All picnic areas come with beautiful views and an opportunity to leave the herds of tourists behind.
Our Experience: We ate many late afternoon lunches in beautiful picnic areas. We avoided all of the long lines and wait times by finding a good picnic area or a scenic parking spot and enjoying lunch together on the fly!
7. Hit the Water
Are you a paddler? This is an amazing way to avoid Yellowstone crowds and experience views most other guests will miss out on.
Bring your watercraft to the park for a truly unique experience; motorized watercrafts are permitted on Yellowstone Lake only but non-motorized watercrafts such as kayaks and canoes and allowed in many bodies of water after inspection. Additionally, you can always schedule a guided trip or rent from the National Park Lodges.
Our Experience: Honestly, Spencer and I aren’t really big paddlers. However, we must admit that a paddle down the Yellowstone river would be a great way to experience the park and avoid Yellowstone’s crowds. When we return, we will definitely look into a kayak or canoe rental because I can’t think of a better way to skip the tourists and experience the park.
8. Embrace Alternative Views
Try to check out a different, lesser-traveled view of the most popular attractions! For many of Yellowstone’s tourist attractions, there’s an even more amazing view that you have to work a little bit harder for.
For example, there are several different ways to experience Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful are also home to trails that lead you up and above the crowds for a gorgeous view!
Our Experience: Luckily, we’re big time hikers. Hiking in the areas around popular thermal features, such as the Norris geyser basin, helps you to escape the crowds and experience the park. We took the long route at nearly every iconic area and we don’t regret our decision!
9. Stay Out Late
Stay out past your bedtime in Yellowstone! You won’t regret the peaceful, stillness of night in the park.
Visitors start to turn in around 6 PM to clean up, eat dinner, and make camp. If you’re willing to stay out until the sun sets, you’ll be experiencing a lot of the park without the Yellowstone crowds. Be mindful of headlamp needs, bear spray, and layers; it gets dark and cold quickly in the greater Yellowstone area.
Our Experience: I am an early bird through and through. Staying out late is really not on our list! We had a few evenings where we ventured out after setting up camp and it was really nice to experience popular destinations with less people.
10. Take A Backcountry Trip
Reserved for true, experienced outdoorsmen and women… hit the backcountry. Secure a permit and plan for an epic overnight (or two) in the Yellowstone wilderness.
With the proper gear and knowledge, this is the best way to experience the beauty of Yellowstone National Park. A backcountry trip is a surefire way to avoid Yellowstone crowds.
Our Experience: We saw backcountry campsites on so many of our Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Hikes! It really had us itching for a good overnight in the woods. With that in mind, we were a bit apprehensive in an grizzly bears paradise and decided to stick to our front country campsites.
If You Can’t Beat the Crowds, Join Them
If you can’t bring yourself to wake up early, can’t hike a few miles into the wilderness, and can’t travel to Yellowstone during off-peak times, you’re going to have to join the crowd. Embrace it! Understand that certain attractions are tourist traps and that’s okay! Go into it knowing that you are one out of a million -literally- who will visit that site that year. Just because it’s crowded, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!
What Should I Avoid in Yellowstone National Park?
- Visiting During Peak Season: Traveling to Yellowstone National Park in late June through early September will not help you in avoiding the crowds.
- Famous Sights between 9 AM and 4 PM: Simply avoid major sights during 9AM and 4PM. This is when the park is most alive with bustling human crowds.
- Popular junctions, such as Mammoth, mid-day: Road junctions, restaurants, and park entrances are busy at mid day. The peacefulness of the landscape will completely escape your mind as you wait in traffic.
- Getting out of the car every time you see a Bison: Please and thank you. First a foremost, pulling over causes traffic jams. Secondly, give the animals their space! Enjoy them from the car or find a pull out to safely exit your vehicle for a better look.
- Going in Without A Plan: You have to arrive to Yellowstone with some type of lose plan at the minimum. Otherwise, you won’t make the most of your time and you’ll miss out on so many amazing things withing the park!
How do you avoid Yellowstone’s crowds?
- Visit Yellowstone During Off or Shoulder Season
- Get Up and Out Early
- Book Overnight Accommodations in the Park
- Campsite Hop for Best Positioning
- Leave the Pavement
- Pack a Lunch
- Hit the Water
- Embrace Alternative Views
- Stay Out Late
- Go Backpacking
Is Yellowstone too crowded to visit?
No, Yellowstone is not too crowded to visit. It’s a busy place in the summer months, however, during these busy times it’s more than possible to avoid Yellowstone’s crowds with these 10 tips!
Where Should I Stay in Yellowstone National Park?
Where you stay should really depend on, one, what’s available and, two, what you want to see. Luckily, I have a post that covers the 25 best places to stay at Yellowstone National Park by region! You need to read this if you’re planning a trip.
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