Yellowstone National Park announced this week that August 2020 marked the 2nd highest attendance for the month of August, with 881,543 visitors. The record for August park attendance is 2017, when the total solar eclipse visible in portions of North America drew thousands of visitors to certain regions of the west (including the Yellowstone area) in the eclipses path of total darkness.

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While annual park attendance has actually been dropping for the past four years, when our family visited in late July this year it was more crowded than I have ever experienced. Much of the increased traffic has been attributed to travelers hitting the road instead of flying this year and apparently many of them headed to our first national park. I should have waited for the "shoulder season" that we're now in. There is about a month in the spring and a month or so in late summer/early fall that are ideal for locals. Most tourist from out-of-state have wrapped up their summer vacations and are now back to school.

If you would like to sneak in a quick getaway this fall, here are some details and dates to remember.

  • Beartooth Pass, a popular entry to Yellowstone National Park through Cooke City is scheduled to close October 13th. Access may vary depending on weather conditions and at this point, the road may close at anytime. Currently it closes from 8 pm to 8 am Monday - Thursday. You can get updated info on road conditions on the WYDOT website.
  • All roads in Yellowstone National Park are closed to public access beginning at 8 AM on November 2, 2020 EXCEPT the road between Gardiner and Cooke City.
  • For winter travel in the park (on snowmobile or snow coach), most roads are open beginning December 15th.
  • Many amenities like restaurants, gift shops and visitor centers in the park have been operating in limited capacity this year because of COVID-19. As the summer season winds down, you may find even less attractions open in gateway communities like West Yellowstone, Cooke City, Cody and Gardiner. Check before you go.
  • Fall weather in Yellowstone can be drastically cooler and/or snowier than in surrounding communities. Bring warmer clothes and plan accordingly.

This time of year can be a great time to visit, with less crowds and active wildlife. Soon Yellowstone will be blanketed in tons of snow, which offers an entirely different experience.