Yellowstone is regarded as the best location in America (perhaps outside of Alaska) to see megafauna. America is ranked as one of the best countries to see wildlife. Here one can see most of America's big native animals all living together in this rich national park. But when should one visit?
Well, the answer to that is that it depends! This is one of the best places to see wildlife in America, and it can be seen year-round - although it is more restricted in the winter with the heavy snows. The best time to go depends on what one wants to see and experience - in every season one will see a very different Yellowstone. For where to stay and more information, see Yellowstone National Park Lodges.
Winter Season (December to February)
In the winter the park is buried deep in snow. Oddly enough December is a time when at least one species returns to the park. Early in the winter migratory trumpeter swans return and float serenely along the Yellowstone and Firehole rivers. Otherwise, much of the park is dormant. The elk and bison remain and the eternal fight for survival between the elk and the predator wolves begins as the elk descend to lower elevations.
- Wolves: Easy To Spot In The Snow
- Snow: Makes Movement Around The Park Difficult
- Birds: Most Migratory Birds Have Disappeared
Wolves are easier to see against the backdrop of snow, and elk are forced to lower elevations where there is more accessible food. The number of bird species has dwindled to a few dozen.
In February the wolf and coyote mating season is in earnest while bear cubs are born (deep in dens and out of sight). This is also the mating time for great horned owls. Along the rivers where they are free of ice, otters can be seen fishing and playing in their fishing holes.
- February: Wolf And Coyote Mating Season
Notably, as the hardship of winter wears on, many great bison and elk succumb. They are food for the many predators from wolves to bald eagles and from foxes to ravens. Hidden away in their dens, the bear cubs are born.
Spring Season (March to May)
Early on much of the park is still covered in snow. Male bears emerge from their dens and winter-weary bison start to return to Blacktail Ponds. One can spot the bear paw prints in the snow while the first of the birds start to return - with even more arriving mid-spring. The first birds to return include swans, geese, red-tailed hawks, ducks, robins, sandhill cranes, and meadowlarks.
- Bears: Male Bear Emerge
- Birds: First Migratory Birds Return
In April more migratory birds return - these are often traveling from South America, Mexico, and Central America. Adorably, the bison calves are born in April. Watch them experiencing life for the first time as they jump and frolic.
- Meadows: Green And Blooming
- Young: See Calves And Cubs
By May the meadows are emerald green and snow has receded to the mountain tops. The park is awash and covered in bloom. Mother bears appear with their cubs and so do the wolf pups emerging from their dens too. Coming after the bison, the first of the newborn elk calves start to appear. Hear the cacophony of frogs croaking from the marshes.
Summer Season: June to August
All animals are busy raising their young and the predators are hunting them. Grizzlies search the sagebrush for elk calves and spawning trout are food for otters and bears. By summer some 150 types of breeding birds can be seen across the national park.
- Birds: 150 Species Of Breeding Birds
By mid-summer, wolf pups are out and about and grizzlies make their way up to the high mountain peaks. Bison and elk are stunning in the sleek summer coats while summer fires are becoming a concern. This is now the best time for fly fishing.
- Fishing: Great Season For Fly Fishing
As a sign of things to come, by August the bison rut ramps up, and the bulls posture and fight for the females. Then it's time for pronghorn mating. Squirrels start stashing their treasure for the winter.
Fall Season (September to November)
Hear the high-pitched bugles of bull elks echo across the valleys. Migratory hawks and eagles begin their winter travels. Bears return to lower elevations and continue to gorge to build up fat reserves for the winter (including on worn-out bull bison that didn't make it through the rut). Autumn colors emerge.
- Mating: This Is The Rut Season For Elks and Others
- Bears: Gorging To Build Up Fat
- Color: See The Autumn Colors
By October snow is accumulating and females grizzlies are searching for a den. Most migratory birds are gone. Those animals staying develop thick winter coats.
In November deer and bighorn sheep are at the peak of the rut. Snowshoe hares, weasels, and white-tailed jackrabbits shed their brown summer coats for white winter ones.