We last visited Yellowstone in July of 2015, and were frustrated by the shear number of people also there. We thought that coming later in the season would improve our experience, as less people would be there. While the crowds were reduced at the end of September compared to July, there were many more people than we expected.
Also unexpected was the fog, which made it hard to see some of the features, especially later in the day as the air was cooling (at Grand Prismatic Spring the fog was very thick and swirling with the wind). The fog also made it challenging to see wildlife and pedestrians along the side of the road. We definitely slowed down leaving the park due to poor visibility; as our elevation decreased, the fog began to dissipate.
We were did walk the Fountain Paint Pots and Grand Prismatic Spring Nature trails. Both were board walks that went past multiple thermal features. These walks were smooth and easy for Alex to navigate, but people added a challenge. There was not a railing at all points to ensure a little boy stayed the course. It required some herding of Alex to make sure he didn’t run into people or fall off the walkway. There were stairs to Grand Prismatic Spring; Fountain Paint Pots did not have stairs, but there was one steeper grade.
Pay attention to park bulletins if you are camping late in the season. We wanted to camp at the Tower Falls campground, but it had closed three days prior. Additionally, there was road construction just south of the North entrance, requiring a significant re-route through the park. After reviewing the campgrounds that were still open (Mammoth Hot Springs, Madison, Slough Creek, and Lewis Lake) , we re-routed to the West entrance because Lewis Lake still had availability and we did not have to take the detour. We drove along the Gallatin River on US-191S; the fall colors were absolutely beautiful along this route.
We exited Yellowstone via the South entrance and drove through John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and Grand Teton National Park to Coulter Bay Village. This route allowed us an up close view of the damage caused by the fire earlier in the park from earlier this summer. The fire damage, along with the low level of Jackson Lake, emphasized the drought that western states have been suffering.
When is the best time to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton? We wish we knew. Rangers said that social media (people being warned about the crowded conditions during the summer) has extended the peak season closer and closer to season’s end.
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