A visit to Yellowstone in autumn brings out a different side to the park. Animals and visitors alike start to slow down as summer wanes, and nights get colder as days grow shorter. But with the fresh season comes new ways to enjoy your time here, including taking in the fall colors.
With predominantly evergreen forests in the park, foliage season in Yellowstone might look a little different to anyone used to the color shows back east. But here, grassy hillsides turn a soft amber, aspen and cottonwoods along the riverbanks go to flashy gold, and some leafy shrubs and trees like Rocky Mountain maple shift to fiery red. Here are a few of the best spots to see fall colors in Yellowstone.
Lamar Valley puts on a color show of golden grasses, with the Lamar River making a happy home for aspen and cottonwood, whose yellow leaves seem to glow in autumn sunlight. And the color show isn’t the only draw that Lamar Valley holds in fall. Home to abundant wildlife, this wide valley also gives you an opportunity to observe animals as they prepare for the winter ahead.
In sections, the Firehole River meanders between grassy banks, which in autumn are bounded by fiery orange and yellow grasses and shrubs. Or within the rocky canyon walls of Firehole Canyon, shrubs change color at water’s edge, highlighting the deep blue of the tumbling river.
Grand Prismatic is known for its color all year. But on those chilly autumn days, steam rising from the hot pool makes for a moody fall scene. The orange layer at its edges is colored by heat-loving organisms that live in the scalding water, and it embodies the spirit of the season as much as the strongest pumpkin spice latte.
Abyss Pool at West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake is a Grand Prismatic mini-me, with the lake making a sapphire backdrop. If all that color isn’t enough, the grass around the geothermal features turns golden as summer fades, bringing a bit more autumnal color into the equation.
Another golden grassland with woody shrubs that seem to burn in vivid red during fall, Swan Lake Flat is an unexpected foliage spot. If you’re making your way between Gardiner and West Yellowstone, you’ll pass through this area. When you see a stand of aspen, know that each individual tree trunk is often a clone of those around it connected by a shared root system. So whole groups of trees will change colors all at once.
Between the amber grasslands and the stands of quaking aspen, Blacktail Plateau Drive is a worthy detour off of the Grand Loop Road if you’re on a hunt for fall color. This is a six-mile, dirt-road drive, so be sure your vehicle is up for the adventure.
Plan your Yellowstone trip for the last week of September or into October if you’re shooting for fall foliage. And while you look forward to the peace that fall brings to the park, don’t forget to plan ahead for weather (and road conditions) that could change at a moment’s notice. For all the trip planning help you need, Yellowstone Country has you covered.
At Yellowstone National Park Lodges, you’re invited to discover or rediscover the magic of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. As proud stewards of the park and this truly extraordinary American wonder