Yellowstone in April Grand Prismatic Spring
National Parks,  Travel Guides,  USA

Through the Lens: A Visual Itinerary for Yellowstone in April

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

Best time to visit Yellowstone National Park

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

Yellowstone in April

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.

Cameras set up in front of the Blue Star Spring. We were the only people over here and it offered a unique perspective of Old Faithful.

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.

Yellowstone in April Upper Geyser 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 – opening day, April 20th, 2018 – you can see the kind of crowds we were up against!

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.

In Spring, elk graze in riverbeds on the west side of the park. During March-April, the males (called bulls) lose their antlers. Don’t worry, a new set of antlers will grow back in 3-5 months.

***

Day 3:  Mammoth → Tower Junction → Lamar Valley

Yellowstone in April

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.

Mammoth

Yellowstone in April Drive to Mammoth

Yellowstone in April Mammoth
Bison are the largest mammals in North America, and the undisputed ambassadors of Yellowstone National Park.

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!

Bison roaming freely in the town of Mammoth, Wyoming.

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!

Yellowstone in April Lamar Valley

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.

Whatcha looking at, A?
D in search of bears.

Yellowstone in April Coyote Sighting
One of many coyotes we saw over the span of 3 days.

Yellowstone in April

Yellowstone in April Hammock Break
Quick hammock break.
Yellowstone in April Bear Sighting
Yet another reason to visit Yellowstone in April! In March, grizzly bears emerge from their dens. In April, black bears emerge. Meanwhile, grizzlies can sometimes be seen in meadows not too far from the road, since the presence of cars hasn’t yet driven them away.
Yellowstone in April Mammoth
Entering Mammoth, from Lamar Valley.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone in April Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone in April Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone in April Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone in April Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone in April Mammoth Hot Springs

The drive back to West Yellowstone

Yellowstone in April Sunset

Yellowstone in April Sunset

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.

Cheers,

-DnA

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2 Comments

  • Andy

    Hey There,
    Thanks for the info!
    We are trying to go there this summer opening day weekend (April 19 weekend) next month. How were the crowds during the opening day weekend last year? Also any other must see and accommodation tips would be appreciated.

    • A

      You’re so welcome! And you’re in for a treat: even on opening day weekend, the crowds were a lot lighter than what we expected. Our other Yellowstone guide “The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone: a Tale of 2 Off-Seasons” (https://travelhelix.com/2018/10/25/best-time-to-visit-yellowstone-off-season/) has some more detailed info on what you’re asking, including how to prepare, where to rent bikes, etc. Also, here’s a snipped from that article on the dates in question:

      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. The crowds are still a fraction of what you’ll find in the summer months, and entry is free on one or more days this week.

      Enjoy!

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