Avoiding Crowds in Yellowstone: The 3 Best Ways to Enjoy the Park Without the Traffic
Written by Nick on March 20, 2023
To avoid crowds, visit areas that are less crowded.
— National Park Service (@NatlParkService) February 23, 2023
It sounds like the most straightforward advice ever, right? But if you’re a first-time visitor to Yellowstone National Park, you could understandably find yourself feeling as if there’s just no way to avoid throngs of people everywhere you go.
When you’re exploring the great outdoors, the last thing you want to do is wade through crowds of tourists. And while certain areas in Yellowstone can leave you feeling claustrophobic — especially during peak season — there are some easy things you can do to avoid congestion and immerse yourself in the park’s natural beauty.
Here’s a list of the most effective tips for avoiding the swarm of tour groups, pushy parents, and sulking teens who’d rather be on Snapchat.
Get Out of Your Vehicle
The figures are impossible to verify, but it’s been said that 97% of visitors to Yellowstone use only 3% of the park. That’s because so many people are only interested in what they can see from the road.
Your single best bet for enjoying a bit of solitude is to park your vehicle at a trailhead and do some hiking. Yellowstone has all kinds of trails running through lesser-known areas that are incredibly scenic without the fanfare.
Use an app like AllTrails to find excellent hiking spots without the traffic, but be prepared before you go. Take plenty of water and snacks, and pack extra clothing in case of inclement weather. Don’t plan on running into established restrooms on your hike.
In fairness, Yellowstone’s roads were designed to connect some of the park’s most stunning features, which is exactly why there’s so much traffic in areas like Old Faithful or Mammoth. These sites are definitely worth seeing, and there are ways to do it without surrendering to the masses.
Don’t Sleep In
Some people are adamantly against setting an alarm while they’re on vacation, and that’s totally their call. But if you want to avoid crowds in Yellowstone and still see the most popular sites, you’ll need to be dressed and on the road before everyone else.
No, that doesn’t mean you need to drag the kids out of bed at zero-dark-thirty and lead them on a forced march. But you should use the maps app on your phone to estimate how long it’ll take to get where you want to go. Use that information so you can be there before everyone else.
Keep in mind, the park is open 24 hours a day. Rangers staff each park entrance beginning at 8 a.m. daily, so that’s when the traffic really starts to stack up. If you can make it to the park before 8 a.m., you’ll find hardly any congestion. In general, avoiding the West Entrance between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. is a solid rule of thumb.
For questions about entrance passes and fees, refer to these answers to common questions about entering Yellowstone National Park.
What’s the simplest way to get into Yellowstone before everyone else? Camp or stay overnight in one of the lodges, of course.
On the other hand, if you’re staying in a gateway community like Cody, Wyoming, you can enjoy a stunning dawn drive on your way to Yellowstone along one of the nation’s most scenic highways. Here’s a list of six types of wildlife to look for on your drive from Cody to Yellowstone’s East Entrance.
Enjoy Yellowstone During Spring, Fall, or Winter
The vast majority of Yellowstone visitors arrive in the summer. It’s best if you avoid holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day weekend.
Seeing Yellowstone in the spring and fall is a surefire way to enjoy a unique experience and see things that all the summer visitors miss.
If you’re up for it, a winter adventure in Yellowstone makes for the trip of a lifetime. Exploring America’s first national park on a snowmobile or in a snowcoach is a memory anyone would cherish.
Consider visiting in March through early May or September through October. However, keep in mind that wetter, colder weather often results in road closures and other restrictions. Keep an eye on the park’s website and know what to expect before you book your trip.
Before you visit Yellowstone, check out our helpful guide to being a responsible park guest.