It’s that exciting time of year. The time of year Yellowstone National Park road crews break ice off interior park roadways and passenger vehicle travel south of Mammoth Hot Springs into Yellowstone’s interior becomes possible. As the park awakes from winter slumber all sorts of amazing sights await those willing to brave unpredictable springtime elements. Bears, hot springs, migrating birds, and springtime snowscapes are among sights visitors can anticipate. Although many businesses at the park’s only year-round entrance—Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone—remain closed before summer season starts a little advance planning helps early visitors find places to eat, shop, and stay. Below are some ideas of how to spend your time exploring during an early springtime visit.
The road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs east to Cooke City remains open year-round and is a great place to look for bears emerging from dens – including female bears with cubs. Bears and other animals tend to be more active in the morning and evening so we recommend grabbing a cup of coffee and a morning snack from one of Gardiner’s restaurants and hitting the road early so you can take an afternoon break before heading into the park again in the early evening. Look for black bears in the forested area between Mammoth and Tower-Roosevelt junction and grizzly bears in the wide-open landscape between Tower and the Lamar Valley. Always remember, for your and the bears’ safety, to never approach or feed wildlife and allow at least 100 yards between yourself and bears, wolves, and nesting birds; allow 25 yards between you and other wildlife.
The road connecting Mammoth to Old Faithful Geyser Basin is now open and allows ample opportunity to enjoy colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mudpots, and hissing steam vents called fumaroles. Closer to Gardiner, water descends peacefully down staircase-style travertine pools at the Mammoth Terraces. Norris Geyser Basin showcases a variety of hydrothermal features including Steamboat Geyer, the largest active geyser in the world, known for being infrequent and unpredictable in its eruptions. Farther south, the Fountain Paint Pot Trail is a half-mile loop that includes every major type of hydrothermal feature in Yellowstone. For those looking for colorful hot springs, try Midway Geyser Basin, home to the famous Grand Prismatic Spring. Make your Yellowstone visit complete with a stop at Old Faithful Geyser Basin. Witness Old Faithful Geyser shoot into the air in intervals ranging between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on the duration of the previous eruption.
Springtime is famous for migrating wild birds in Yellowstone so look to the skies to see birds in flight. Fish-hunting osprey, sky-colored mountain bluebirds, and outspoken robins can be found in all parts of the park including east of Norris toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Also, consider heading south into Hayden Valley when that road becomes open. Look and listen for nesting Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans along waterways as well as iridescent mallard, cinnamon teal, and green-winged teal ducks dabbling in both running and standing water from spring snowmelt. Bring binoculars and a bird identification book—or a bird app downloaded on your phone—and see how many different types of birds you can find. Remember to respect areas marked off for swan nesting closures—Trumpeter Swans are a species of special concern in Yellowstone— and that using bird calls to entice bird sightings is disruptive and strictly prohibited.
Although roads are open services remain extremely limited throughout Yellowstone so you’ll want to ensure you’re well prepared before venturing into the park. Gas up your vehicle in Gardiner and make sure you have a full tank. Pack plenty of food and water to take with you as you won’t find anywhere to eat in the park until later in the season. Make sure you pack plenty of warm layers including boots, gloves, and hats as some parts of the park still have snow and temperatures can be cold. Consider packing traction devices for your boots and a walking stick for added balance as boardwalks can be icy and slippery. Updated road conditions, opening dates, and a link to purchase a park pass online can be found here. Most of all, enjoy having the area to yourself during the unique springtime shoulder season while you eat, stay, and play in Gardiner, Nature’s Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park™.
Chelsea DeWeese writes from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.