Geography and climate

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Yellowstone Up Close and Personal Chat Page Version 1.60 ] [ FAQ ]

Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 19:54:19 02/16/16

In Reply to: June 9-12 posted by Erin K


This may be covered to some extent in other information sources, but I still want to address it, because it has a big bearing on what visitors to Yellowstone discover when they arrive, and advance knowledge can avoid unpleasant circumstances.

As you may or may not know, the primary geologic/geographic feature in Yellowstone is the caldera. It is very large, and combined with some mountains that are remnants of a much earlier period of volcanism, it resulted in a sprawling area of relatively high elevation. The majority of Yellowstone National Park lies between 6,500 and 8,000 vertical feet above sea level. This contributes to the annual collection of winter snow. At this high elevation, snow can start accumulating as early as late October, and not melt until May, June, and in some places, even July.

The geology and climate combine in Yellowstone to dictate the vegetation you will find. Inside the caldera, which comprises most of the "inside" of the park, you will see mostly lodgepole pine forest, which is ideally suited to the acidic soil that results from decomposing rhyolite. Up high, in the mountains, you will see an assortment of well-adapted trees, including spruce, subalpine fir, and whitebark pine. North of the caldera, at the lower elevation of the Northern Range, you will see aspen, cottonwoods, limber pine, and douglas fir.

I have a tendency to divide the park into 3 major divisions geographically. The "Upper East Side" is the highest elevation area, at just below 8,000 vertical feet. This is where Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant Village, Lake Village, and Yellowstone Lake reside. The snow tends to last longer up here, and this part of Yellowstone is almost always cooler than other areas. The "Lower West Side" is the Old Faithful/Madison Junction portion of the park, located at an elevation at least 1,000 vertical feet lower than the Upper East Side. It tends to be a bit warmer, and the snow disappears a bit earlier in the spring. The Northern Range or "North End" is the lowest elevation portion of the park. The area around the North Entrance is well below 6,000 vertical feet. It is much drier and typically, warmer than the park interior. It's sort of a "pick your poison" proposition, depending on what sort of climate/weather you are looking for on a given day. These geographic variables tend to be more extreme in the shoulder seasons outside core summer and winter. In early June, it can make quite a difference.

The other thing to be aware of is that Yellowstone spans a large enough area that sometimes, when it is storming in one part of the park, it is sunny in another part.

This ends my long series of posts. If you want to talk hikes, particularly once you have canvassed the rest of the family, get back to me. Know that in some years early June can be way too snowy/muddy for decent hiking in some parts of the park, while in others, those same areas can be just fine. It depends on two important variables, i.e. how much snow accumulated over the winter, and what the spring was like. A real warm, dry spring can ratchet down a sizeable snowpack, while a cool, wet spring can preserve a moderate snowpack.


Follow Ups:

Post a Followup

Optional Link URL:
Link Title:
Optional Image URL:
Please enter the following value as your Submit Key:     
Submit Key:
Note: The Submit Key is Case Sensitive. Do not Copy and Paste!

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Yellowstone Up Close and Personal Chat Page Version 1.60 ] [ FAQ ]