Yellowstone in Autumn Will Thrill You!

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You can’t beat the cooler weather, fewer people, gorgeous colors, and prime wildlife watching

Posted by: Yellowstone National Park on July 12, 2018

For photographers, autumn is nirvana. The grasses turn a golden yellow. Deciduous trees and shrubs reveal their true colors — hues of orange, red, and yellow. Aspen trees turn such a brilliant golden they appear to glow in the sunshine.

Many denizens of Yellowstone National Park would be hard-pressed to name their favorite season. It’d be like admitting to having a favorite child.

Not so with Dylan Hoffman, an avid fly fisher and resident of Gardiner, Mont., near the park’s northern entrance.

“Fall is my favorite time in the park,” he declares. “You see fewer people. The weather is wonderfully cool. You don’t have to wake up as early in the fall because the days are shorter and it takes a while to warm up, so you can have an extra cup of coffee. And the aesthetics … the leaves are changing color and there’s a crunchiness to all the vegetation. It’s a wonderful time to be a fisherman in the park.”

Fall arrives early (late August) in Yellowstone. And the season is relatively short, since park lodgings close on a staggered schedule with the last availability on Oct. 20 this year. (Some lodging re-opens for winter in mid-December.)

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Because visitation drops from the summer surge, it’s easier to find a room in fall, and you may find space even in high-demand hotels like Old Faithful Inn and Lake Lodge Cabins. A real-time reservations tool lets you check availability on certain dates at specific lodges.

Wildlife watching is prime at this time of year, too. Mating (rutting) season for bison commences in August. Rut season for elk is in September. The males vie for female attention by emitting high- and low-pitched bugling sounds, certain to make wildlife watching all the more memorable.

“It’s not unusual to see elk fight and spar,” says Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing director for Yellowstone National Park Lodges. “It’s an impressive sight. And they’re bugling, so there’s audio. There’s a music that can be found here that isn’t anywhere else.”

One of the best spots to witness the elk rut is around Mammoth Hot Springs near the park’s northern entrance. Lamar and Hayden valleys are both good bets for seeing bison. And because bulls return to the herds of cows and their young in autumn, their collective numbers are larger.

“In both cases, as wildlife prepares for winter, their coats are growing back, so not only are they active, they’re at their physical best,” notes Hoeninghausen.

Big bear and baby bear

Bears also are more active in fall, as they lumber about, foraging for roots, nuts, and berries to put on fat for their long winter hiatus.

Avid fishers are drawn to Yellowstone’s rivers and streams in fall, when brown trout are spawning. Two go-to spots for destination fishers: the Madison and Gardner rivers.

For photographers, autumn is nirvana. The grasses turn a golden yellow. Deciduous trees and shrubs reveal their true colors — hues of orange, red, and yellow. Aspen trees turn such a brilliant golden they appear to glow in the sunshine. Days are comfortably cool. But temperatures can drop to freezing at night, so you might wake up to steam rising off the waterways and a light layer of snow on the surrounding granite mountain peaks.

Two packages that highlight the magic of the season are the four-day Roosevelt Rendezvous Package (Sept. 7 and 11) and the four-night Fall Wolf and Elk Discovery Package (Sept. 3-26).

The Roosevelt outing includes a stay at the historic Roosevelt Lodge. Limited to 52 participants, it features small-group day hikes and evening programs led by a Yellowstone Forever Institute naturalist, most meals, and in-park transportation.

The wolf and elk package includes outings to the animals’ habitat with a naturalist from the Yellowstone Forever Institute, four breakfasts, three lunches and a dinner, plus in-park transportation.

How to Explore

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

For a multi-day visit of Yellowstone, consider the six-day guided walking tour from Country Walkers, “Montana & Wyoming: Yellowstone,” or the six-day walking tour from VBT, “Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Walking America’s First National Park.”

For more than 39 years, Country Walkers has provided active and immersive travel experiences on five continents. They offer two distinct ways to explore: scheduled, small-group Guided Walking Adventures and independent Self-Guided Walking Adventures. On tour, guests enjoy superb local cuisine, first-class guides, fine accommodations, and authentic cultural and natural encounters. Visit countrywalkers.com or call 800-234-6900 for more information.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations is the value leader in active biking vacations and has been rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for six years. VBT offers more than 55 deluxe, small-group bicycling, walking, and barge & sail vacations in 27 different countries and 10 U.S. states. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes round-trip international airfare from more than 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. Visit VBT.com or call 800-245-3868 for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Written by: Jayne Clark

Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.


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