Cold Nights, Sunny Days, and Little Snow - Late Fall in Yellowstone

What's New in Yellowstone

Greetings from Yellowstone…Another wonderful autumn has come and gone from Yellowstone. The leaves have fallen, cold mornings are a daily occurrence, snow covers the upper hills and mountains, and bears make their last forage before winter, October and November are a great time to visit the park.

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Yellowstone broke the previous visitation record of 3.5 million established in 2010, and welcomed over 4 million recreational visits this year to date. WOW! No surprises as the road based services and attractions continually seemed busy this year. The visitation is a year to date increase of 16.72%. What will the yearly total be?  I’m guessing 4.1 million visitors. The park services believes the annual and October increases are attributed to warmer weather, the National Park Service’s “Find Your Park” campaign, state and local marketing, and lower fuel prices.

Fall always brings many closures to Yellowstone and the surrounding area. Services, facilities, hotels, and roads all begin to shutdown. The Beartooth Highway closed on October 5th due to construction. Nicer October weather helped to have Dunraven Pass remain open for an extra week. The road officially closed on October 19 at 8 am. Dunraven Pass or the segment of road from Tower Junction to Canyon is not only a beautiful drive, but also connects visitors to the most wildlife rich areas in Yellowstone, the Hayden Valley and the Northern Range ecosystem. Luckily, there is no more roadwork between Mammoth and Norris. The freshly finished stretch of road is a nice addition to the upper loop. Roads to Yellowstone’s interior closed on November 2.

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More good news for the beloved grizzly bear! Research by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team shows that the population of the Yellowstone grizzly bear remains strong, continues to grow, and exhibits no loss in the bears’ genetic diversity. The number of breeding bears has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Hopefully the trend will continue!!!

The National Park Service proposed to kill 1,000 bison as an effort to reduce the herd size in

Yellowstone. Currently there are an estimated 5,000 bison roaming the boundaries of Yellowstone. Colder temperatures and snowfall often push bison to lower elevations and the gateway communities surrounding Yellowstone. The set goal of 1,000 bison will be managed through state agency hunting programs, special authorized Native American hunts, and NPS management removal. Local environmental and advocacy groups believe the number goal is too aggressive. Stay tuned for more as the bison controversy continues. 

The official population survey for wolves in Yellowstone National Park will be released this December. Many are eager to hear the tally for this beloved and controversial animal. Current estimates have the number of wolves at approximately 100. We have been seeing wolves of Yellowstone’s northern range ecosystem on the regular. Just the other day we had a count of 12 wolves on an elk kill between Mammoth and Tower. The Prospect Peak pack were enjoying their freshly killed meal, digesting the fruits of their labor, and playing amongst each other. 

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What to look forward to this winter –

Winter is a great time to be in Yellowstone.  Highlights include small crowds, a snow covered winter wonderland, and lots of wildlife. We are continuing to offer guided winter wolf watching and wildlife tours. Wolf watching is the best in the winter. As the ungulates or prey animals of Yellowstone struggle to survive during the harsh winter months, wolves take advantage of the vulnerable and weak. Deep snow in the mountains pushes the elk, bison, deer, moose, antelope, and bighorn sheep into the lower elevations, providing better viewing opportunities.