Factors to consider

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 12:52:21 04/11/17

In Reply to: Camping in Yellowstone, First Timer posted by Amanda


There are a host of variables to consider as you try to nail down the date, including likely congestion in the park and contention for campsites, prevailing weather, foliage (abundance or lack of wildflowers), availability and viewability of wildlife, and even fishing regulations (only pertinent if someone is planning to fish).

When I camped in Yellowstone with young kids, my decided preference was for mid to late June or mid to late August, and over the years, we went with June about 2/3 of the time, and August the rest. By June 26, the park will be plenty busy, and contention for campsites will be heavy. If you have a preference for a campground with bathrooms that have flush toilets and cold water sinks, then you need to have a site reserved at one of the larger campgrounds that accept reservations. Those reservations may be scarce at this late date. There are a number of smaller campgrounds that do not accept reservations, and have vault toilets. Tower is the one "in betweener" that I can think of, and thus, is a real favorite of many Yellowstone regulars. There is a bathroom with flush toilets and sinks just outside the campground. I can't remember if the facilities within the campground are similar or vault toilets.

Generally, you will see a lot more wildlife in late June than at the other two times. There will be lots of new calves, cubs, and pups. The rivers and streams will still be running fairly high, which is largely a factor of concern for fishermen, hikers who might need to ford a particular waterway, and a few of the legal soaking/swimming spots. Wildflower diversity and abundance is much higher in late June. The weather tends to be dryer and hotter in late June than in late August, when monsoonal moisture can produce thunderstorm activity. By mid-September, the nights are noticeably cooler, and there is even a chance of a freak snowstorm.

I did find that the last 2 weeks of August tend to see a gradual shrinkage of visitation in the park, and contention for campsites. One year, we were in the park during the third/fourth week of August. We noticed that day by day, the fill times for the campgrounds was progressively later in the day. Eventually, on our last night, several campgrounds did not fill. This was back in the early/mid-1980s, and I know visitation has risen since then.

By August 21, the bugs will have disappeared for the most part. In late June, if it is a bad mosquito/biting fly year, you would be approaching peak season. In late August, the bison rut should be in full swing, so you should get to witness some of that dramatic activity, but you also could get caught in a bison jam, when a herd of a couple hundred critters take over the road temporarily. In mid-September, the elk rut will have commenced, but it will not have reached its peak. You would have a strong likelihood of hearing and seeing rut behavior.

I would not be bashful about the possibility of "networking" in one of the non-reservation campgrounds, meaning walking around on your arrival morning, and asking folks if they are pulling out. It's a bit like homesteading!

Feel free to post back with any additional questions.


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