If you can’t stand crowds or waiting in line but you love cool weather with a little bit of sunshine, a trip to Yellowstone in April may be just what you’ve been waiting for.
Yellowstone in April? Isn’t the park closed? Why on Earth would I plan a trip to Yellowstone in April?!
Yes, the park is closed…for the first couple weeks, at least. But that’s actually the #1 reason you should consider visiting Yellowstone in April: it’s a unique month of the year where—if you time it right—you can enjoy the peaceful privacy of the offseason and also access most of the park’s popular destinations.
Highlights of a trip to Yellowstone in April:
- Bike along paved open roads where cars are outnumbered by bison
- Stroll freely along geyser basin boardwalks and avoid bumping elbows with tourists
- Soak in the vibrant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring, without being pushed forward on a human conveyor belt
- Enjoy a rare, undisturbed moment in front of majestic Old Faithful geyser
- Watch a ‘red dog’ cross a river
What’s a red dog? A red dog is a baby bison. And you’ll only spot them in April.
Yellowstone in April: 3-day itinerary overview
Our visual itinerary for Yellowstone in April is unlike any Yellowstone travel guide you’ve come across. We’ll guide you along 317 miles of open road, tell you where to stay, where to find the best tacos in town, and help you beat the crowds.
By straddling the park’s Spring to Summer transition, you’ll experience a unique combination of offseason by bike and early on-season by car: a truly best of both worlds dynamic. But there’s only 1 week of the year where you can make this happen.
Don’t worry: at the end of the guide, we’ll break it all down for you…all the way down to specific dates.
For the most part, we’ll let the photos—and one awesome video—do the talking.
Day 1: West Entrance → Madison Junction
Check out our full guide to visiting Yellowstone in the offseason.
The experience was so incredible, we also made a video of this first day to take you there with us, check it out:
Day 2: Upper Geyser Basin → Midway Geyser Basin → Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Today’s route includes 114 miles of driving, 3 major stops and some of the most breathtaking natural phenomena we’ve ever seen.
During our adventure on Opening Day of the Summer 2018 season, we were fortunate and avoided crowds all day, at every stop along the way.
Upper Geyser Basin: Old Faithful
Old Faithful typically erupts every 90 minutes. Plan your trip to the Upper Geyser Basin so that you arrive 15 minutes before a predicted eruption.
The Yellowstone Geysers app offers predicted eruption times for the park’s main geysers, with a pretty high degree of accuracy. Don’t forget to download that app before entering the park.
Old Faithful is completely surrounded by a wooden boardwalk. The side closest to the parking lot offers a looooong bench that can seat at least 100 people, but even in the slower months, the most famous geyser in America can get crowded. We chose to walk to the other side of the geyser, halfway around the boardwalk, to find our spot and enjoy an undisturbed view.
Upper Geyser Basin: surrounding springs
The Upper Geyser Basin features a dozen geysers of all shapes, sizes and colors. The boardwalk system that connects them can keep you busy for a few hours. We did a 90-minute loop and explored most of this area in between Old Faithful eruptions.
Scroll through the gallery below, to catch a glimpse of the diverse group of geysers in the upper basin.
Midway Geyser Basin: Turquoise & Opal Pools
From the Upper Geyser Basin, we began making our way back north toward the Midway Geyser Basin, home to Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic.
But first, 2 nearby pools that were simply stunning:
Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Spring
What’s the best way to photograph (arguably) the most picturesque place in all of Yellowstone?
With snow on the ground…and no one around.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone & Upper Falls
We made our way back to Madison Junction, drove towards Norris Junction and then on to Canyon Junction to find the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
timing tip: we arrived a little too late in the afternoon (4:45pm) and the light was not in our favor. The views were spectacular, but we found ourselves staring into the sun. Suggest getting here no later than 3pm.
Day 3: Mammoth → Tower Junction → Lamar Valley
This was our longest day, by far: only 2 major destinations (Mammoth Hot Springs & Lamar Valley), although we drove over 175 miles roundtrip, and found a “few” (20-30) more places to stop along the way.
Not to mention, a couple unforgettable wildlife encounters.
Bison wander freely around the town of Mammoth. Observing the carefree way in which they interact with (or should we say: ignore) both cars and humans, it’s safe to say that bison are the Mayors of Mammoth.
safety tip: you can tell a bison’s mood by its tail. Tail down = calm bison. Straight up = agitated bison. Be aware, and treat them with respect!
Mammoth → Tower Junction → Lamar Valley
After a brief stop in Tower Junction to eat lunch in the car, we continued making our way east toward Lamar Valley.
In April, the valley is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, which make for incredible reflections. Lamar Valley offers endless hours of exploration, by car, by bike, or on a hike!
The most animal-rich area of the park, Lamar Valley has earned the nickname the Serengeti of Yellowstone. Late in the afternoon, you may get lucky and spot a pack of wolves hunting on a mountainside. During our mid-afternoon visit—according to some local experts—the dominant, local wolfpack were all taking a nap.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The drive back to West Yellowstone
To close out what was already a picture-perfect day, we stumbled upon a herd of bison crossing the Madison River, just a few miles away from the West Entrance. We couldn’t believe our eyes!
The grand finale: as the herd made their way up onto shore, one by one, we noticed a new face in the crowd. One that we hand’t noticed when they were mid-river, because he was underwater.
Behold, our first baby bison, also known as a red dog. Another beautiful part of the offseason; another great reason to visit Yellowstone in April.
Yellowstone in April: the best of both worlds
Our best of both worlds itinerary for Yellowstone in April is designed to give you a taste of unadulterated wilderness by bike and by car. So, how do you make it happen?
- Arrive during the last few days of the offseason
- Stay through the first couple days of the summer season
- 2019 dates: Monday April 15—Sunday April 21
Spring 2019: other useful dates
- Friday March 15: West Entrance will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach
- Saturday March 16: West Entrance closed to vehicles; if the weather is nice, enter on foot or by bike
- Thursday April 18: last day to experience a vehicle-free Yellowstone before summer season begins
- Friday April 19: Opening Day of summer 2019 season. West Entrance gates open to vehicles at 8am
- Saturday April 20: National Park Week begins; entry is free on one or more days this week
Other useful tips
- Where to stay: check out our full review of the Explorer Cabins
- Best tacos in town: the Las Palmitas Taco Bus
- Where to rent bikes: Freeheel & Wheel
- Don’t leave home without: bear spray
- Download both Yellowstone apps (“Yellowstone” & “Geysers”) before entering the park: these proved quite useful as they worked perfectly inside the park, even when we didn’t have cell or data service
- Check the official NPS website for info regarding road closures and weather forecasts before your trip. In April, certain roads and landmarks (for example: Lake Yellowstone) will not be accessible.
Follow in our footsteps, and your trip to Yellowstone in April is one you will not soon forget.