Fall visits to national parks can often turn out to be some of the best of the year. You can smell the seasonal change in the air, see it in the reds, browns, yellows and golds flecking the hillsides, feel it in the leaves crunching beneath your feet, and hear it in the bugling elk.
In many parks, the shortening days mean fewer crowds. But they also mean some parks are getting ready to close roads and facilities. In Yellowstone National Park, fall offers greater odds of seeing elk, wolves, and even bears. However, as the weeks go on, access shrinks.
The majority of the park’s roads are open until November 5, when they'll close to allow crews to ready Yellowstone for the winter season. After that date, only the year-round North Entrance Road from Gardiner, Montana, to Cooke City, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs will remain open to auto travel, weather permitting.
The road from Tower Junction to a barricade just north of the Chittenden Road turnoff on Dunraven Pass actually was scheduled to close for the season this past Saturday, September 22, for a road construction project. Visitors will be able to access Chittenden Road and the Mt. Washburn area from Canyon Village to the south until that section of road closes for the season at 8 a.m., October 9.
Outside the park, the high-altitude section of the Beartooth Highway (Highway 212), between the junction of Highway 296 and Red Lodge, Montana, can close unexpectedly depending upon snowfall. The highway officially closes for the season October 9, and travel between Red Lodge and the Northeast Entrance is not possible until it reopens in late May.
Fall weather is unpredictable, and roads may be closed temporarily by snow or other weather conditions with little or no warning. Visitors should be prepared for winter weather and winter driving conditions, and are advised to have flexible travel plans.
Updated information on park roads is available 24 hours a day by calling 307-344-2117. Outside the park, you can check Wyoming roads by calling 888-WYO-ROAD or by visiting this website. If you're traveling through Montana, you can call 800-226-7623 or check this website for road conditions.
By the end of October, all lodging and most visitor centers will have closed in the park, and all services (food and shopping) will be unavailable by the first week in November. Limited lodging and services will not be available again until the winter season begins in mid-December. Twenty-four-hour pay at the pump fuel remains available at all service stations year-round. For winter season information in Yellowstone, visit this site.
For specific facility and service closing dates, visit this website. For lodging outside the park, visit local Chamber of Commerce web sites for Gardiner, Montana, West Yellowstone, Montana, Cody, Wyoming, and Jackson, Wyoming.
By the first week of November, most campgrounds will be closed for the season. The Mammoth Hot Springs campground is the only site that remains open all year. Check specific campground closing dates at this website.