Yellowstone in the Fall
Yellowstone changes dramatically during the transition into winter. Fall in Yellowstone feels different than any other season--the swelling crowds of the summer have dwindled and the feet of snow and bitter beauty of winter seem distant. For the year-round wildlife, this time of year is crucial for ensuring survival through the winter. And that message is clear as the high peaks are already snow-covered. For visitors, though, there’s a sense of calm. There’s less of a hurry to get up and go in the fall. The cooler mornings and later sunrises make relaxing and having another cup of coffee an easy choice. You won’t have to dodge as many rental RV’s and parking at pull-outs doesn’t extend into the road, so you get to have an experience in nature instead of a white-knuckled slow speed drive.
You may be surprised to hear that Yellowstone, with all the Lodgepole pines, Douglas and Fraser firs, has an incredible array of colors in the fall. Of course the yellowing aspens are the star of fall in the west, but the ground foliage doesn’t disappoint as the grasses turn orange and gold. The crisp air lets the steam of the thermal features stretch higher and the geyser basins seem even more vast. If you’re looking for a fall hike I recommend heading towards tower junction and hiking the Lost Lake trail. Another great spot this time of year is further to the northeast part of the park and hiking the Slough Creek Trail.
In the northern section of the park the sound of elk bugling defines the fall as mixed elk herds gather for the rut. Bull elk with their impressive antlers are hard at work solidifying their place among the cows. It’s not uncommon to hear the clack and thuds of antlers hitting and rubbing against each other as two bulls lock antlers to establish dominance. While an incredible experience to see and hear, this time of year means elk are aggressive and dangerous. These animals always deserve their space and, while park rules state visitors must stay at least 25 yards from elk, a bull elk can close that distance incredibly quickly. The bugling continues into the night. Find a porch and share a bottle of wine as you wait for the still and quiet night to be broken by the sharp sound of this Yellowstone fall tradition.
If you’re planning on visiting the park in the fall, watch the forecast and check road conditions. Snow can come anytime of the year in Yellowstone, but this time of year can mean serious snowfall and accumulation closing certain road sections. Also, Yellowstone is BIG, so check out the forecast for where you are and where you’re going; Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are separated by 50 miles and differ in elevation by roughly a thousand feet. With all that in mind, be flexible and if weather changes mean you can’t do one thing, there is always something incredible to experience in Yellowstone.
Written by: Stephen McNeal