Memorial Day weekend is always a great time to visit Yellowstone National Park. There is less traffic, the animals are active after a long and cold winter, and it is baby season! This series will focus on general travel information including road and weather conditions, and will break down YNP by area and focus on common animal sightings.
By the end of May, YNP has only been open on the average of 4-6 weeks and there is far less traffic this time of year than in mid summer. Many of the campgrounds are still closed, so the travel trailer traffic is minimal. Of course, there are road closures within certain areas of the park due to the high altitude and excessive snow fall. ALWAYS check the road conditions http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/hours.htm and services available prior to traveling there. A little planning will better enhance your YNP adventure.
Remnants of a long and cold winter will surface often, however. And to be prepared, coats, hats and even gloves often will be well worth the extra effort to bring. Many of the deciduous trees are leafless, and green grasses are sparse. Rivers and lakes can be muddy and murky due to the runoff of melting snow in higher elevations. An occasional snow flurry will attack at any given moment to be replaced by high mountain sunshine the next. Learning how to watch a mother grizzly nurse and play with her cub, or watching a white wolf scouting a bison herd through binoculars or a spotting scope in rain whipping sideways is very difficult, but very rewarding.
The most isolated parts of YNP are the very best to see at this time, although not all the roads are open. The internal highway, known as the Grand Loop Road, can be visualized as a figure eight. (See map in link above) Dunraven pass (north east), which connects the Tower Junction area to the Canyon Village area, was closed to a late spring snow storm this past Memorial Day (2010). The pass reaches nearly 9,000 feet in elevation, and understandably difficult to manage in late spring.
It’s uncommon for folks to drive all the way to Tower Falls just to turn around and backtrack because of a road closure. So this part of the Park is not heavily traveled and contains some of the best wildlife viewing – including playful bear cubs – in the early spring. In the next few parts of this series, the focus will be on where wildlife can be found and in what particular area(s) of YNP – complete with original photos.