Most of Yellowstone National Park’s 3 million annual visitors miss out on its best season. July and August draw throngs of vacationers and trigger “no vacancy” signs in border communities.
September and October visitors find a quieter experience where humans are outnumbered by the park’s wild inhabitants.
Snowcaps start creeping down the mountains, driving more wildlife to lower elevations. Geysers erupting into cooler air create bigger steam plumes. Bears are eating nonstop to fatten up for their winter hibernation. Plaintive bugles pierce cool mornings while bull elk gather their harems. Brown bison stand out on buff-colored meadows. Aspen become gold and orange flames on landscapes of dark, green pine.
No wonder autumn in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks attracts bicyclists, campers and photographers. Gazette photographer Bob Zellar captured these images of the parks in transition from summer to fall — even a taste of winter.
However, visitors must be prepared for sudden blasts of winter. Snow tires were required at the end of September this year. But more often than not, hikers can traverse these high altitude parks on dry ground under mostly sunny skies into October.
October is a last chance to drive into the park interior until next spring. The National Park Service starts closing roads in November. Only the road from Gardiner to Cooke City is open year-round.
The federal government shutdown interrupted the best season of the year in Yellowstone. Once the park is reopened, check the weather and road reports before heading to the park plateau. Pack your winter gear and warmer weather duds, too. Those who are ready for anything, will have a blast in the parks’ fall shoulder season.